Ninety two games down, 70 to go for the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers, but how can the Tigers make sure they will still be on top come October?
That's one question the Tigers would like to know, but before they reach the answer to the golden question, they need to face 10 bigger questions facing the organization. For the time being, these questions have yet to be answered, but without a doubt, they will end up deciding whether Detroit will be seeing their first playoff series since 2006.
Carlos Guillen, who is 36 years of age, has the body of a 65-year-old. Guillen has failed to hit close to .300 and 50 RBI since 2007, and that comes from a combination of back, knee and arm injuries and age. First thing of business is finding a spot where Guillen can play with his limited range. Outfield may be out of the picture, shortstop is already occupied and first base has Cooperstown talent on it.
My only guess as to where Guillen would play is possibly second base, but how long can he stay there before he breaks down again? Sure, he’ll have some pinch hit situations, but with a nearly $13 million price tag, they will want to squeeze as many innings out of him as possible.
The two are coming from opposite situations. One is trying to get as much as he can in the last years of a great career, the other is trying to produce to get his career solidified and started.
Unfortunately, they are both in the same boat for now when it comes to hitting and fielding. With Raburn hitting .213 and “Maggs” sporting a .217 average, the Tigers are seeing them as a liability rather than an asset.
Now here is what the Tigers can hope for in an at-best situation. Ordonez has been heating up lately, showing his career-.300 hitting self with going 8-for-26 before the break. So if what Ordonez was showing earlier is just a fluke, then expect him to be a pivitol hitter in pinch-hit or designated-hitter situations down the stretch. As far as fielding goes, sorry, but he will still continue to cover as much ground as a stalled car.
Raburn is fifth in homeruns for the team with eight and sixth in RBI with 31, so expect for him to keep his power, if not strengthen it, in the second half. The reason why his power will stay is because Raburn, to be quite frank, can’t be doing a whole lot worst at the plate. Fielding will hopefully improve if the skipper moves him out of second base, because I think I speak for most Tigers fans when I say I would rather have Jim Leyland himself play second.
At the end of the year, our great starter Jose “Papa Grande” Valverde will become a free agent, and with Joaquin Benoit’s $5.5 million contract, I doubt they will want to throw money at Valverde to keep him for more time.
In order to make sure Benoit is primed and ready to come in as the closer, the Tigers will most likely throw Benoit into some save situations, therefore robbing Valverde of some save opportunities. Molding Benoit runs the risk of losing some games in the ninth, but if Valverde does have a skid like in 2010, then the Tigers do have option number two.
Again, the Tigers roll the dice with Benoit on the mound rather than their usual closer, but they also have the chance to have a gem pitching in the ninth. There’s no telling what the answer will be until it actually happens, but keep in mind that Valverde won’t be guaranteed to come out of the bullpen in the ninth inning.
Ever since Inge was graced with an all-star selection in 2009, he has turned into a player with the caliber of his high school self. So far this season, Inge isn’t even hitting his weight, with a .187 average, and has eight errors to his name at the all-star break.
If Brandon remains a Tiger the rest of the year, provided he is not sent to Toledo or traded, the organization will obviously demand some productivity from the 11-year Tiger.
At the end of the year, Jim Leyland’s current contract will be brought to a halt (I know some of you just nodded your head in excitement), and the skip has his number of skeptics already.
All the questionable roster moves Leyland has done, like bat Toledo kids third, taking pitchers out too early, etc., but no problem is worse than the late season choke the Tigers have seen the last few years. They’re so bad, I won’t even go into far detail to save fans of developing facial tics.
At this point, Leyland is setting his team up for another run at the playoffs, and with the Twins and White Sox down in the first half, Leyland will have to carry the Tigers to October or his job will end in the “D." Leyland has faced playoff pressure before, but this year, the seat’s temperature is cranked up a little bit with his job on the line.
Walking in to the second half of the season, the Tigers are in a mad search of a fifth man in their rotation. Phil Coke is most likely out of the picture with a 1-8 record, and Charlie Furbush doesn’t look fully developed yet.
If the Tigers try to land a legit fifth starter I would expect seasoned veteran pitchers, like Derrick Lowe or maybe even Chris Carpenter in a long shot, to jump into the Tigers rotation in order to bring them to season-ending success.
The Tigers ventured into the break as the fifth best hitting team in the majors with a team .264 batting average. Looking at the lineup, the Tigers have four starters batting over .300, which looks very impressive until you see the rest of the lineup. The big hitters for the team are picking up the slack for Austin Jackson (.245), Ryan Raburn (.213) and Brandon Inge (*gulp* .187).
If it wasn’t for players like Peralta, Cabrera and Martinez, the Tigers would more than likely be a few games back in the AL Central. The only way the Tigers will have a shot to stay on top of the division is if the hot hitters stay smoldering, because if even one dips below .300, the end product may suffer.
Verlander is the team MVP so far this season, period. JV has won seven of his last eight outings, and the one he lost was only a 1-0 game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Verlander will still have to pitch out of his mind, especially in September, or otherwise some of the load will fall on Brad Penny, who isn’t having his greatest season per se. It shouldn’t be a total surprise if Verlander keeps up his Cy Young vying season, but it will be something the fans will be thankful for.
Before the 2010 All-Star break, Valverde couldn’t be stopped, but then the wheels simply fell of the bus. “Papa Grande” came back and blew two crucial saves for the Tigers and losing three games, which led to bullpen questions, which led to all momentum to be lost for the remaining of the season.
Just as the theme goes for sports, every player is important, but Valverde has debatably the most important role to perform. Since the start of June, 12 of the Tigers' wins have been decided by three or less runs, and if Valverde slipped on even one of those 24 save chances, then the Tigers would be staring at the Indians on top of the AL Central.
He may not go 1-2-3 every single outing, but he gets the job done and gives the Tigers a great chance to win the division if he stays on his game.
The most obvious question is also the most important one, but it will be a lot harder than it was the first half of the season. This could be the Tigers hardest run to the postseason, and here is why:
-The Indians have surprised everyone in baseball by not only staying above .500, but also leading the division for most of the season, so why count them out yet?
-The Twins still have Ron Gardenhire as their head coach, who is the best coach in the AL Central and arguably the best coach in baseball. If the Twins can stay healthy the second half of the season and land a big trade, don’t be surprised to see them battling for a playoff spot.
-The White Sox are filled with players looking to snap out of a group of slumps, and if any demographic of players is good at snapping slumps its veterans, just like most of their roster. If the ball gets rolling for Chi-Town, fans can start looking forward to seeing a possible Jose Guillen press-conference where he isn’t ready to throw the microphone.
-The Royals are just the Royals. Could give you a scare in a series if its late in the season, but coaches won’t be rushing to a TV to see if they took their first place spot.