The 2009 season has been an eventful one thus far for the Detroit Tigers.
A season full of ups and downs, injuries and breakthroughs has been the way of life in the Old English D uniform.
As of now, the Tigers lead the A.L. Central by a slim 2 1/2 games, but the Chicago White Sox are playing phenomenal baseball, and the Minnesota Twins are as pesky as ever.
Due to injuries and disappointing starts, many players have had to step up and make a difference this season. Players like Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis have all sat out most of the season on the DL.
It's almost that time, the time for the Mid-Summer Classic, the 2009 All-Star festivities. The Tigers have four All-Stars this season: Curtis Granderson, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and the winner of the American League Final Vote, Brandon Inge.
Since it's halfway through the season, I decided to link up with many Detroit Tigers writers and see what they had to say about the team so far, and to get their take on who would win some hardware if it was given out today.
The Panel: John Parent (JP), Conrad Guest (CG), Austin Drake (Me, AD) Matt Snyder (MS), Greg Eno (GE), John Manzo (JM), and Johnny Lawrence (JL).
Brandon Inge - 3
Justin Verlander - 2
Miguel Cabrera - 1
Curtis Granderson - 1
JP: “He leads the club in home runs and has kept his average respectable. Defensively, there are few better than Inge, and he has displayed much more patience at the plate this year, leading the club in pitches seen.”
CG: “…I give the nod to Justin Verlander. He’s been a stopper, a workhorse and at times downright dominating. Let’s hope he doesn’t hit any speed bumps the second half.”
AD: “I think this goes to Cabrera, although Inge is close by. Miggy is simply tearing up opposing pitching with a .323 average and 17 home runs. He has some leather, too!”
MS: “He's the MLB leader in strikeouts and has an ERA and W-L record to match. You just know the Tigers are going to win when JV is out there.”
GE: “Brandon Inge, who's delivered one clutch hit after another, and who continues to play excellent defense. He changed his batting stance, has a great attitude, and wants to be a Tiger for life.”
JM: “In 2008, Granderson missed the first part of the season and the Tigers greatly struggled. With him fully healthy in 2009, the Tigers find themselves leading the division. He has all the tools for now and the future.”
JL: “Inge leads AL third basemen in assists and double plays, and his timely hitting has single-handedly kept Detroit at a distance from division foes Minnesota and Chicago.”
Justin Verlander - 5
Fernando Rodney - 1
Edwin Jackson - 1
JP: “I can't leave Edwin Jackson without a mention, but as good as he has been, Verlander has been better. I think we are seeing him pitch better than he ever has, and we're talking about a guy that won 35 games over his first two years in the league.”
CG: “At this point, Justin Verlander. Sure he started the season in a funk, but since a discussion with Zack Greinke of Kansas City, he has really turned in some fine performances, even dominating hitters.”
AD: “He started off the season very rough. But he worked through it and has become one of the most dominant starters in the game today. With Verlander back to his 18-6, 2007 form, Detroit is on their way to an AL Central crown.”
MS: “He's [Verlander] been the rock of the Tigers staff, his velocity continues late in games, and he's just downright filthy.”
GE: “JV has that Jack Morris/Bob Gibson kind of attitude: ferocious on the mound and supremely confident. He is every bit the No. 1 man on a pretty solid staff.”
JM: “The guy [Rodney] is 19/19 on save opportunities this year and has totally lost the roller coaster situation that the Tigers had with Todd Jones as the closer.”
JL: “With little limelight, Jackson ranks second in the AL in quality starts (12) and earned run average (2.59)… He has surrendered more than three earned runs just twice and no Tigers pitcher has kept Detroit in more games.”
Rick Porcello - 7
JP: “He was just supposed to keep the spot warm for Bonderman or Willis to take over when they came back. Porcello has been better than advertised, by far.”
CG: “This is a no-brainer. Rick Porcello has done nothing but win and look good doing it. The second half of the season will be a test for him…”
AD: “Rick Porcello has lived up to the hype, so far. If he continues to pitch the way he is, I believe he has the AL Rookie of the Year locked up.”
MS: “He [Porcello] has displayed the ability to get big league hitters out and has been more than dependable every fifth day.”
GE: “This kid [Porcello] is 20, but pitches like he's 30. Unflappable, steady, and this is just the beginning.”
JM: “Can this be anybody else? The 20-year-old [Porcello] is pitching well for the Tigers and has established a spot in the Tigers starting rotation.”
JL: “No AL rookie starter has exhibited such dominance as Porcello, who in 30 May innings went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA… the 20-year-old phenom has put the rest of baseball on notice.”
Miguel Cabrera - 5
Brandon Inge - 1
Marcus Thames - 1
JP: “He's [Cabrera] still hitting better than .320, he's among the leaders in home runs and RBI. He is the only feared slugger in this lineup, he has had almost no protection from Day One, but he's just as content to take a base hit when the situation calls for it. The guy is a beast at the plate.”
CG: “…he’s [Inge] had more late inning clutch hits than Cabrera. Case in point: theTtwo-run shot in the ninth against the Astros that won the game to salvage one game of that series.”
AD: “This was a toss up between Inge and Cabrera, but Miguel takes it because it’s called Silver “Slugger” and I don’t quite consider Inge a slugger. Miguel hits some mammoth shots, which makes him a slugger.”
MS: “Miguel continues to be one of the best hitters in the league (.323) and even though a hamstring issue seemed to sap him of some power for a while, he's still on pace for 35 home runs.”
GE: “Miguel Cabrera, who has cooled off slightly but who is still a beast at the plate. Miggy is one of those guys who makes you stop what you're doing to check out his at-bat.”
JM: “Home run or bust for "big country" Marcus Thames. It is great to see him hit those balls deep, but it's quite upsetting to see him miss three pitches for an out.”
JL: “A Hall of Fame offensive talent, Cabrera's 34 extra-base hits and low strikeout ratio propose a challenge to even the best of AL pitchers.”
Brandon Inge - 5
Curtis Granderson - 1
Placido Polanco - 1
JP: “…tempted to go with Curtis Granderson, if just for the catch he made against Cleveland to save the game. I'm going with Inge though. He gets to balls that are hits with anyone else playing third.”
CG: “…Inge gets to more balls and makes more plays than anyone around the horn. It’s a shame that hitting even plays a part in a gold glove…”
AD: “This was most likely the hardest category to decide on. I’ll go with Granderson, over Inge, simply because he hustles 150 percent every time he is out there, and rarely does he misjudge or drop a ball he can get to.”
MS: “…best there is at third base in the AL and maybe in all of baseball. He [Inge] plays the position with athleticism and recklessness.”
GE: “He's [Inge] maybe THE best third baseman in baseball; certainly among the Top Five. Makes the hard plays look easy -- a true hallmark of a great fielder.”
JM: “He is an amazing athlete with a great defensive presence. Now with him hitting the ball, Inge has become a key ingredient for the Detroit Tigers.”
JL: “With just one error on the season, Polanco is tied for third in double plays and putouts among AL second sackers. Perhaps Polanco is making a run at his Major League record 186-game errorless streak.”
Justin Verlander - 3
Brandon Inge - 2
Joel Zumaya - 1
Ryan Raburn - 1
JP: “I was tempted to go with Brandon Lyon here, but Raburn's recent play has me convinced that even with Carlos Guillen's potential return, Detroit has got to find a way to keep him in the lineup, and I never thought I would say that.”
CG: “After shoulder surgery, it was questionable whether he’d [Zumaya] ever achieve the velocity that was such a huge part of the 2006 campaign, but he’s touched 104 on the gun.”
AD: “Over the past few years he struggled to find a position to call home, and over his entire career, Inge has struggled at the plate. But in 2009 so far, he has terrorized opposing pitching just as much Cabrera, and as really settled in at third base.”
MS: “After a downright bad 2008 season, JV has rebounded back to previous form...Many doubted Justin before the year began, but he has himself in Cy Young contention in July.”
GE: “Inge, once again. Just look at the numbers.”
JM: “After a subpar 2008 season, Verlander has showed he can pitch like he used to. Verlander has his power and location back on track.”
JL: “From April 27 to June 10, Verlander displayed dominance unmatched by a Detroit pitcher in decades. In 65.1 innings, he fanned 81 and allowed a mere eight earned runs (1.10).”
Ramon Santiago - 2
Edwin Jackson - 2
Brandon Inge - 2
Adam Everett - 1
JP: “Here's a guy that hit so poorly in the past, that he lost his starting job twice at two different positions. What he [Inge] has done this season, I think has made all the difference in the team's success.”
CG: “Adam Everett. I had my doubts about this kid, coming from Minnesota with a bad shoulder, but he’s shored up the shortstop position.”
AD: “This guy lost a possible starting job this off-season with the addition of Everett. But, Santiago has really came into his own as the backup middle infielder, and has the second highest batting average on the team and has more RBIs already then he did last season.”
MS: “The trade for Jackson may be the best offseason move that any team made this year. Edwin has been able to put it all together this year for the Tigers, dropping his ERA by almost two full points from last year.”
GE: “Edwin Jackson, who was supposed to struggle a little with his control this year. Nuh-uh! This guy's been terrific just about every start and his walks total is very low.”
JM: “Hello Ramon. This guy is hitting at an unbelievable rate and he's not an everyday player. This guy needs to get into the Tigers lineup more often.”
JL: “A career .240 hitter over nine seasons, he [Inge] is on pace to slug 33 homers, knock in 105, and bat .275. In the past, he has hit for power while his on-base percentage and batting average took it on the chin, but this year he is putting it all together.”
Magglio Ordonez - 6
Armando Galarraga - 1
JP: “This year it's been all singles. Maybe the haircut will get him [Ordonez] turned around, but I think we are seeing the decline that typically comes with age. He got old in a hurry.”
CG: “Hands down, Magglio Ordonez. Who’d have thought that he’d be slumping so badly three months into the season?”
AD: “Magglio has just derailed. He simply hit the brick wall. Slumping still, in early July? The Tigers might need to move him somewhere else, and soon.”
MS: “Armando was easily the best Tiger starter last year but this year has been different...The Tigers need Armando to turn it around in order to lock up the division.”
GE: “Magglio Ordonez, who seems to be losing it, and fast, as the year goes on. Gone is the power and the gappers. He's turned into a glorified singles' hitter.”
JM: “With the new haircut Ordonez has improved, but with a horrible season so far, it makes you wonder about steroids. I believe he's clean, but he is struggling this season after being an elite player.”
JL: “Ordonez has produced just three homers to date and his severely decreased range in right field hurts whoever takes the mound. A looming multi-million dollar contract situation may alter the course of this 2006 hero...”
In the part of the article, I just asked the writers and myself to complete this sentence:
In the rest of 2009, I expect...
JP: "...the Tigers to play well and wind up winning the division. Unless the Twins or White Sox make some big changes in a hurry, I can't see them catching Detroit. The Tigers have been great at home this year and they will play the majority of the games at the CoPa the rest of the way. They still need another bat, maybe that will be Carlos Guillen, but if the pitching holds up, and I think it will, Detroit could be playing deep into October.
CG: "...the Tigers will continue to challenge for the Central Division crown. They’ve played better against teams in their own division and will have a favorable schedule in the second half. Carlos Guillen is expected back in mid-July and it will be interesting to see how Leyland works him into the lineup given there really isn’t a spot for him. We haven’t missed his bat since he was struggling before going on the DL, but if Magglio doesn’t rebound, we may need Guillen in left field, with Anderson and Kelly platooning in right.
AD: "....Detroit to finish the season strong, winning the AL Central crown, but not the World Series hardware. I see Detroit maybe picking up another bat for the lineup. A few Tigers have a great chance at winning awards; Porcello, Inge, Cabrera, Verlander and Jackson all have really great opportunities to win some trophies.
MS: "...a tight race in the Central. So far, the Tigers have not convinced me that they can consistently beat the Twins and White Sox ,and they cannot afford to let them hang around. The Tigs need to dominate the head-to-head matchups in order to secure a playoff spot."
GE: "...the Tigers to contend the rest of the way, and especially if they can acquire one more big bat in the middle of the lineup, preferably a lefty slugger. I expect someone in the Central to make a move, and I expect the Tigers to hold that team off, but barely."
JM: "...Detroit Tigers to hang on to the division lead outlasting the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers will lose in the ALCS. Great season and a chance to rebuild in 2010."
JL:"...a heated pennant race. Down the stretch, Chicago, Minnesota, and Detroit will sprint for the Central crown, and at this point, no one is running away. Each team has shown significant deficiencies, as Detroit's bats have cooled to the tune of a ninth-place ranking in AL run production. Assisting the chilly bats, Verlander should stay in contention for the Cy Young, and the Rookie of the Year Award is Porcello's to lose."