MLB Power Rankings: Top 5 Under the Radar Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are on an epic run right now. Something that hasn't been seen in the Motor City in five decades—and I'm not talking about corruption-free politics.
With the AL Central on the line, the Tigers have won their last ten consecutive contests, all against AL Central teams and seven against the two teams closest to them: the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The team hasn't seen such a streak since 1968.
Everyone knows Justin Verlander may soon pass the Beatles in popularity. Verlander is deservedly the poster boy for the Tigers. Dominating on the mound, likable off of it, he's morphed from a talented underachiever to the definition of ace over the last year.
Most of the country had Miguel Cabrera off to rehab and washed up after a preseason DUI (just scour the news archives) but he's responded quite nicely with another 30 home run, 100 RBI, .300 average season around the corner.
Victor Martinez is having perhaps his best season ever and has quickly become the backbone of the lineup. Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta have exploded one the scene with All-Star seasons, and Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit have solidified the back end of the rotation.
And while the Tigers were good enough to compete in the AL Central before, Doug Fister and Delmon Young are proving to be the moves that put the Tigers over the top.
With all the breakout seasons we're seeing, there's still room to recognize some guys who have quietly enjoyed fine seasons in their own right.
Maybe they're everyday contributors who started slowly or have had a few bad games here or there, or maybe they're unexpected role players who have come out of nowhere—they've all contributed in their own ways to the Tigers' tremendous success.
5. Duane Below
Duane Below has been a guy that took his opportunity and ran with it.
While Al Alburquerque was injured, and guys like Ryan Perry and Bryan Villarreal were unable to earn a spot, Below was the guy who stepped up.
A starter in the minors, he gives the Tigers something they've lacked this year without Zack Minor and Eddie Bonine on the roster: a serviceable long reliever.
His numbers aren't startling (4.15 ERA and 1.27 WHIP), but he's pitched well with some bad luck, highlighted by the loss in Tampa Bay (where he pitched well, but Brandon Inge's fielders' choice gaffe cost the Tigers the game).
He's been about the least-heralded rookie pitcher on this team, but he may be the most dependable.
4. Ryan Raburn
I know Tigers fans were ready to run Ryan Raburn (with Brandon Inge) out of town by July, but he's rebounded nicely, as is normally the case in his second halves.
Despite his reduced role, he's fifth on the team in home runs and sixth in RBI.
With the season-ending injury to Brennan Boesch, Raburn may play a significant role in the playoffs.
His inability to start hot and his atrocious glove will prevent him from having a significant long-term role with the Tigers, but he has had some huge hits for the team this year and should be recognized for it after all of the criticism he took early.
3. Ramon Santiago
The slick-fielding utility man has long been a Jim Leyland favorite.
Lately, he's turning into a fan favorite.
In order to get as hot as the Tigers have, you have to get contributions from guys like Ramon Santiago.
He's been a guy who plays defense and grinds out at bats.
He's played especially well down the stretch.
Santiago is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak. He has 17 RBI in his last 26 games and has stabilized a tenuous second base position.
2. Max Scherzer
One of the biggest names on the list, few would say that Max Scherzer has had a breakout year.
His 14 wins are a tad inflated, and he has a pedestrian 4.27 ERA and 1.34 WHIP
In addition, he's quickly being replaced by the trade-deadline pickup Doug Fister as the No. 2 starter, and he's been dwarfed by Justin Verlander all season.
Here's the thing about Scherzer—he had three awful starts of three innings or less (Aug. 29th vs. KC, July 2nd vs. SF and May 26th vs. Boston) but otherwise has been very good.
In his other 27 starts, he's 14-5 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
In those starts, he's been exactly what the Tigers have asked him to be—a solid No. 2 starter.
1. Austin Jackson
How can a .254 hitter be the No. 1 under-the-radar Tiger?
One word: defense.
Austin Jackson has been simply phenomenal in the field this year.
He's made more home runs disappear this year than the steroid-era record books.
His several game-saving catches have led to quite a few wins.
His arm was also highlighted when threw out the Indians' Kosuke Fukudome to end a game when the AL Central was still on the line.
In addition, he's the only base-stealing threat on the team and has heated up at the plate. He's hitting .359 since August 31st and has shown more power overall this year.
Sure, he strikes out too much and his .OBP is too low for a leadoff hitter, but his glove and speed are invaluable assets to the team.