“Get to .500, then we can talk.” So goes the ancient baseball adage and so go the Tigers who finally seem to have righted the ship after taking a tight series from the White Sox this weekend to move to 14-13.
I wrote a similar post around this point in the season a year ago about how the Tigers were looking like they were about to separate themselves from the rest of the AL Central and I don’t need to point out how correct I was, but I’m about to do it anyway—sorry about that.
After 27 games in 2011, the Tigers were actually in worse shape with a 10-15 record. They had suffered through being swept at home by the Mariners just as they have this season, but began turning things around after taking a series from the White Sox. Sound familiar? Detroit went 85-52 from that point on to cruise to their first division title since 1987 by 15 games. Now it’s looking like history is repeating itself.
The Tigers could be using the Sox as a launching pad once again as 17 of their next 24 games come against sub-.500 ball clubs including Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Boston. The only exceptions are Oakland and Cleveland who are both bound to come back to earth.
Detroit’s starting pitching had struggled until last week when they combined to give up only 12 runs while eating 40 innings over six games for a 2.70 ERA. Justin Verlander‘s 2-1 record doesn’t reflect his repeat Cy Young performance thus far, averaging almost 7 2/3 innings per start with a 2.38 ERA and .184 batting average against. Rookie Drew Smyly has been dominant with a 1.61 ERA over his first five starts so more consistency from Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer coupled with the return of Doug Fister from the DL to face his former teammates in Seattle tonight suddenly give the Tigers one of the deeper rotations in the game.
There’s no need to fret about a Tigers offense that has sputtered at times this year. There’s simply too much talent there to flounder all season. PV is a lot more worried about Prince Fielder than I am since he’s sure to improve on his already solid .300 AVG, four HRs and 13 RBI as he gets more and more familiar with American League pitching. Jhonny Peralta finally got his first bomb of the year in spectacular walkoff fashion Friday night. Austin Jackson is showing vastly improved plate discipline and Miguel Cabrera is simply Miguel Cabrera—on pace for 42 HRs and 132 RBI.
The defense hasn’t been nearly the issue that most pundits predicted it would be before the season started as they currently rank in the top third in the Majors in fielding percentage. However, the bullpen does tend to make me throw up in my mouth at times as the back end has been anything but impressive. Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit are simply allowing way too many base runners (1.82 and 1.86 WHIPs respectively) and need to get back to the numbers on the back of their bubblegum cards. When they do, we’ll be seeing a repeat of 2011’s runaway victory in the AL Central.