The Detroit Tigers leave the All-Star break on top of the AL Central. They have turned in a nice first half but are far from a finished product. This is the best team that the Motor City has seen since the AL championship squad of 2006.
In recent memory, the All-Star break has been where the season for the Tigers has either taken off or gone downhill. In 2011, there is optimism on the highest level. There is no reason to think that this team can't win the World Series.
There are seven things that need to happen if the Tigers are going to win the division and have success in the playoffs. None are unreasonable, and if they are all achieved the roar could be back in Detroit.
Justin Verlander was, without a doubt, the best pitcher in baseball in the first half. He has been a guaranteed win every time he has taken the mound. If the Tigers are going to win the division and do damage in the playoffs, this has to continue.
Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Verlander improved on his numbers over the second half. He has put up gaudy strikeout numbers and has a WHIP under one. His slider has been improving with every outing; you can see its improvement from start to start. An increased sense of urgency down the stretch will also contribute to him staying locked in.
You can call me crazy, a homer or whatever you want, but when Al Alburquerque returns from injury, the Tigers will have the best bullpen in the AL. Before succumbing to elbow soreness, Alburquerque was establishing himself as the best strikeout reliever in all of baseball.
His slider reminds one of Carlos Marmol, yet he can actually control it. He brings the heat and has great makeup for a late-inning guy.
The strength of the bullpen is its depth. Valverde has been one of the best closers in the game this year and is perfect in save opportunities. Benoit has been coming around and gives Leyland a reliable option in the eighth.
David Purcey has been a recent revelation in the seventh inning. He seems to be a pitcher that doesn't handle inheriting runners very well, but when he starts an inning, is great. Phil Coke, now back in the bullpen, has returned to his dominant self. Add all these guys to Alburquerque and Ryan Perry and there's a lot to like.
Say what you want about Carlos Guillen coming back, but Ryan Raburn is the man at second this year. Whether you like that or not, it's a reality. While Guillen has a history of being a clutch player, you have to remember that he will be getting back midseason. Its going to take him time to get his timing down. The Tigers don't have time to wait around.
Ryan Raburn is a notoriously good second-half hitter. Last year he finished the season very strong, hitting .315 with 13 bombs and 46 RBIs in the second half. Last August he hit eight home runs. Anything close to that production and the Tigers will be in business.
Alex Avila was the breakout star of the AL in the first half. There is cause for concern, however, as he leads the league in BABIP (batting average on balls put in play). While Alex hits the ball hard on a consistent basis, this shows that he was a little on the lucky side in the first half.
If Avila can continue to drive in runners and solidify the bottom third of the order, the Tigers will yet again boast one of the, if not the most, prolific offense in the American League.
The Tigers have been known for their pitching phenoms recently. Obviously Justin Verlander lived up to that billing quite nicely, but since him there have been some misses in that department. Andrew Miller, after being traded, failed to deliver on his immense potential, and Rick Porcello has been up and down in his young major league career.
The difference between the Tigers making the playoffs and finishing in third place is the success of the two current wunderkinds: Porcello and right-hander Jacob Turner. There has been a lot of noise being made about Turner getting the call-up in the next two weeks.
If the Tigers are going to go anywhere, Porcello needs to start delivering. He has the sinker and the makeup to be a big winner, it just hasn't happened yet. Turner only needs a chance. His talent is so immense that he will be successful right away.
As appealing as the idea of trading for Jose Reyes is, it is highly unlikely, and we all need to move on. This doesn't mean that the Tigers wont make a deal. They have been linked to Hiroki Kuroda, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Francis and Wandy Rodriguez.
Of these four, Kuroda makes the most sense. Long one of the most underrated starters in the game, Kuroda isn't sexy, he just gets outs. This would be welcomed as the rotation has been up and down past Verlander.
Carlos Beltran really makes a lot of sense as well. The Tigers could use a true No. 3 hitter as Ordonez is better suited to hit seventh. There are prospects aplenty and Dombrowski is known for his willingness to pay the guys he trades for.
Jim Leyland has the state of Michigan divided. Half of Tigers fans think that he is the best manager you could ask for, while half despise him. I will abstain from picking a side, but it is imperative that he give a big league effort.
Leyland is notorious for giving guys too many days off. While there is something to that, the Tigers are in the middle of a playoff chase, and the regulars need to be in the lineup. He walks a fine line however, as the playing time of the veterans needs to be closely monitored.
Being a little more unpredictable in his game managing would help as well. Even a casual observer is capable of detecting when he is going to hit-and-run, and everyone knows they will never steal. He also needs to give his starters shorter leashes as his bullpen is top-notch.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know... www.twitter.com/lefthandsmoke23