Should Tigers fans start to panic?
No, not even a little. Sure, it would have been nice to split one of the first two games in this series heading into the Verlander start tonight, but there is still a lot to love about the Tigers' chances heading forward.
After today, the Tigers will only have four more series left against teams with a plus-.500 record, and three of those series are against Cleveland. Sure, we haven't won yet in Cleveland, but only one of those three three-game series are away from home. So far this year, we have fared pretty well against Cleveland at Comerica Park, going 2-1.
Other than that, we have a lot of winnable series and we end the season with three games against Cleveland in Detroit.
Talk about controlling your own destiny!
So all is rosy in Motown?
Now I certainly wouldn't say that. The lineup continues to be a study in absurdity. Plenty of fans have asked me "does Leyland ever play the same lineup two days in a row?"
I don't want to take the time to really look at 100+ box scores to find out, but I would guess that it is a rare occurrence.
So what gives?
Seriously, I wish I knew. At this point, it almost looks as though Leyland is playing with all of us and basically dangling his ridiculous lineups in our faces and sneering at us through a cloud of cigarette smoke.
Fans have been calling on him to mix up his lineup just a little bit and put some hitters with better on-base percentages in front of the big boys.
At the very least, let's move Austin Jackson down to the bottom third of the lineup. Why not? What's the purpose of having speed if he is not going to run once on base?
Too often, the No. 2 hitter is coming to the plate with one out and very little clue as to what the pitcher is throwing.
Jackson strikes out way too often, and way too early. He is the only hitter in the majors in the top 20 in strikeouts without double-digit home runs.
What's the worst that can happen by moving him down in the lineup? Maybe a knock to his confidence, but wasn't that supposed to happen earlier when he was demoted? Instead, he came back and boosted his average to the mid-.200s.
Jackson seems like a kid that can handle adversity.
But trying out Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta or even Wilson Betemit at leadoff might give the lineup a better shot of succeeding.
Speaking of Betemit, where is he?
It has been joked on this site that Leyland isn't playing Betemit as a type of silent protest for Brandon Inge's demotion.
Typically I would laugh that off, but I just don't know what the Marlboro Man is thinking these days.
Betemit is hitting .286 for the season with a .346 OBP. Yet he has been sat down for six of the last 19 games including three in a row this week.
There really has got to be something that we aren't seeing here. Betemit isn't the most prolific defender, but neither is Magglio Ordonez or Carlos Guillen, two players that are regularly playing much more often than Betemit.
Betemit really should be the everyday third baseman in this lineup. Of the 13 games he has played for Detroit, he has only failed to get a hit three times, and only failed to get on base twice, including a game where he only had one at bat.
Compare that to Don Kelly who is only 2-for-11 in August, and you have got to be wondering what is going on here.
A switch hitter that is near the top of your team in OBP at a position of need?
Leyland logic apparently.
But don't look now, Brandon Inge is tearing it up in Toledo, hitting .300 with an absurd .411 OBP. Plus, he has five homers.
The September call-ups will certainly be interesting!
Is Carlos Guillen the answer at second
No, no, sadly no.
After starting out solidly, Guillen has frozen stiff production-wise.
He is only 2-for-25 in the month of August. That is a cool .080 batting average. That is worse than most pitchers in the National League.
Meanwhile, Will Rhymes is hitting a cool .311 at Toledo with an excellent OBP of .380. He has much better range and doesn't strike out all that often (41 times in 339 at bats).
I'm sure Leyland is hoping that he can hold off on making a move until the September call-ups, but the Tigers need to get at least something out of their second baseman.
It might be time to put Old Yeller down, once and for all.
Should we be worried about Chicago?
We will know on August 26.
They will have just wrapped up eight games playing against Cleveland, Texas and Los Angeles of Anaheim. During that same eight-game stretch, we will be wrapping up series against Minnesota, Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
If we have less than five games on them at that point, it could be time to worry. But if we are sitting in the six to eight game region, we should be feeling pretty good about our chances against them.
But Cleveland is not going away.
Should the division be this close?
It wouldn't be our style if it weren't.
But no, the Tigers have no excuse for being up such a minimal amount on two clearly inferior teams.
The Tigers have the best pitcher in the league, arguably the best hitter, and a lineup that includes an All Star at shortstop, an All-Star at catcher and an All-Star closer.
The Tigers, top to bottom, are much better than either Cleveland or Chicago.
The reasons that the Tigers are floundering in a division they should own are pretty simple.
Mainly, they aren't managing their pieces well.
I already stated the issue at leadoff, but what about Cabrera? Cabrera is our best OBP player, yet he is hitting cleanup. Power guys that can get on base need to be hitting third.
Want some examples? Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, Mark Teixeira and David Ortiz to name a few.
Smart managers bat their best combination OBP and home run guys third. It is deep enough into the lineup that they can be rewarded with RBIs, but early enough that they can still keep an inning going.
So you're saying there's a chance
Sure, they can still blow this one. But the Tigers are certainly the best bet to win this division.
They have the best rotation, the best bullpen and the best lineup. They have the easiest schedule, and they control their own destiny by playing at least two more series against their biggest obstacles.
This could come down to the wire, but I personally think that the Tigers will be in a much better position a month from now.