The Tigers' struggles over the past couple weeks have been well documented. They have lost five of the last six series and 11 of the last 18. While there is plenty of blame to go around, the majority of the Tigers’ problems are mental.
This can partly be accredited to playing so many games in so few days, yet while the energy can't always be there, the mental focus can. Staying a little sharper in the second half is the difference between winning the division and a third-place finish.
The Tigers’ problems begin at the plate. Recently, many hitters in their lineup have obviously been guessing. Trying to guess the pitch can only leave you off balance and looking stupid, two frequent occurrences of late.
The Tigers have not been nearly aggressive enough at the plate. They are constantly falling behind in the count as pitchers are throwing get-me-over pitches early in the count that a more aggressive team would take advantage of. Aside from taking too many pitches, many Tigers are expanding the strike zone with two strikes. Raburn, Inge and Jackson have been major culprits of this of late.
With runners aboard, the Tigers have had terrible at bats. Avila, Dirks, Cabrera and of course the Raburn/Inge duo have consistently failed to move runners in crucial situations. Hitting behind runners and scoring runners from third with less than two outs has gone by the wayside. These are not insurmountable tasks; just heady, necessary plays that aren't being made.
Mental mistakes have not been limited to the batter’s box, however. Throwing to wrong bases and overall lack of hustle have been very disconcerting. Effort and focus are the two things you can control at all times.
The change in pitching coaches was the first step in solving the Tigers’ woes on the hill. It remains to be seen if Jeff Jones is capable of righting the ship. I'm not convinced that he is unfamiliar enough for the pitchers to enact sufficient change.
One obvious issue that is plaguing Tigers pitchers is overthrowing. Scherzer in particular is constantly overthrowing and it's wrecking havoc on his arm slot. The bullpen arms have been victimized of trying to be too fine. Picking at the corners and overuse of breaking pitches have led to way too many walks.
None of these issues are physical. Playing that many games is draining, but a lack of focus is inexcusable. I am not convinced that Jim Leyland is the right man to lead the team to the promised land, yet it is not out of the realm of possibility that he can get them back to playing heady baseball. It may be his job if he can’t.
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