The dog days of summer are upon us, and the season has reached the point that fans and players alike can no longer say "The season is still young." So it's a good time to see what we've learned about the teams in the AL Central, and what it'll mean for the divison race in the second half of the season.
We'll start off with the division leading Detroit Tigers.
What Was Expected
The Tigers came into the season expected to compete for the division and possibly the American League if the pitching staff could do enough to keep the offense within striking range.
That meant that Justin Verlander would need to rebound from his sub-par 2008 campaign, and guys like Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya would need to stabilize the back end of the bullpen.
The big bats for the Tigers were expected to continue to produce the way they did last year. Guys like Granderson, Cabrera, and Ordonez were expected to do the heavy lifting. While Inge, Thames, Polanco and Co. needed to just be slightly above average for this lineup to be one of the most feared in baseball.
What We've Learned
The pitching for the Tigers as a whole has been good. They rank fourth in the American League with a 4.15 ERA. They've been paced by their ace Justin Verlander (8-4 3.59), who has in fact rebounded and returned to form.
Also, offseason acquisition Edwin Jackson (6-4 2.59) and rookie Rick Porcello (8-6 4.14 ERA) have given the Tigers one of the best front three starters in the American League.
The bullpen as a whole has been OK, and about as good as expected. Rodney has 19 saves, and despite an ERA over four, he's been a solution to the problem at closer.
However Zumaya has struggled recently, and has now blown five saves (compared to just seven holds).
As a whole we've learned that the Tigers do have enough dependable starters to win the division, but their bullpen might be just too unstable in its current form to close the deal on a division title.
Where's the hitting? Manager Jim Leyland has to be wondering how his offense has gone from a group of mashers, to a lineup that now looks more appropriate for the NL Central.
Cabrera started the season red-hot, but has since cooled down to the tune of a .323 average with 17 homers and 48 RBI. Other than that, the Tigers offense resembles the current economic situation in their home city: Old and bad, or in some instances young, developing, and ineffective.
Ordonez was benched (likely so he wouldn't reach the number of at bats needed to invoke his $18M clause for next season) but also because his average had dipped to .260 and he's only hit four home runs through 262 at bats.
Inge and Granderson have found their power stroke (19 and 18 HRs respectively) but have both hovered around .260 for average all season.So while the home runs are nice, with the other parts of the lineups not getting on, those long balls have been mostly of the solo variety.
Unfortunately for Detroit, we've learned the Tigers offense isn't quite as good as it appeared on paper. They still have the names, but nowadays facing Polanco or Ordonez would be favored over facing less known players like Raburn or Santiago.