Our Boys of Summer are gearing up for a title!
The Tigers have just eighteen games left in the 2013 baseball season. The Boys of Summer look to close up the Central Division, overtake the mighty Red Sox for the top seed in the American League and possibly make history. Right now, the Tigers have a 4 ½ game lead over Cleveland, with a Magic Number of 15. We are 82-62, but the Red Sox are 87-58. This gives them a 4 game lead for the coveted Home-Field Advantage. If they gain that advantage, they will keep it for the entirety of the postseason because the AL won the All-Star Game. On personal accomplishments, Max Scherzer is still the favorite for the Cy Young at 19-3. Jose Iglesias is such a great all-around player, he must be the favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year out of the mundane selection. Future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera, is still chasing his unprecedented second straight Triple Crown. But, for every bright side, there is tarnish on the shine.
What Happened to JV?
Justin Verlander has been off all season long. His record is 12-11 this season. He is 0-3 with three no-decisions in six starts since his win in Cleveland on August 6th. The Tigers have dropped his past six starts and are 13-17 in his 30 starts this season. This is very uncharacteristic of both the team and of Verlander, himself. He is pitching well, but almost every game he throws a few bad pitches that every opposing batter manages to see and exploit. JV needs to get his head back in the game for the stretch and the postseason. Whatever the true reason is behind his struggles this season is needs to be fixed or the postseason is going to be a short one for the Tigers.
Injuries Pile Up…
Two of our biggest players in August, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias, are dealing with lingering injuries. Cabrera’s abdominal strain is not healing well and has hampered his performance and cut down his playing time. Meanwhile, after shock and awe-ing his new hometown fans with many spectacular plays, Iglesias is suffering from shin splints. Fortunately, we are at the 40-man roster time, so we have acceptable replacements to fill in for the rest of the regular season. But, other Tigers have had injury problems all year, as well; Austin Jackson was out for a couple months and Infante just returned from the DL. Avila has also spent time on the DL, healing from a concussion. The Tigers need to get healthy and stay healthy to have any hope of returning to the World Series.
The Inconsistency of Our Hitters:
After sweeping the Mets from August 23rd-25th, the Tigers have dropped 9 of the 14 games since. This include a 20-4 rout handed to them by the Red Sox. Sure, they bounced back and pummeled the Royals 16-2 the next game, but we are still losing more than we are winning. This is not a good omen for the future. Our seemingly potent offense has quieted down, but at the wrong time. The only worse time for such a shutdown is in October, like they did last year in the World Series.
Bright Side of Life for our Tigers…
There are silver linings in all of this mess. For our stretch run, Nick Castellanos has been called up to the big leagues. He finally has a chance to prove himself. He is batting .286, getting his first major league hit in the 4-3 loss to Kansas City on Saturday. He is widely considered to be a great hitter and a top prospect. If he gets hot, expect to see him be our everyday left fielder through the stretch and into the playoffs.
Jose Iglesias is another bright spot. When he is healthy, he keeps making outstanding plays like these two:
This helps the Tigers defensively, quite a deal. He looks to be the best defensive shortstop we have had since the days of Tram. The combination of Iglesias and Infante gives us a solid double play combo that can make great plays up the middle, something else we haven’t had in quite a few years.
Suggestions for Leyland & Company:
My biggest suggestion is to place Miguel Cabrera in the DH spot and move Victor Martinez back to the catcher spot. He seems healthy enough or into a platoon role, so this could be a good go-to option for the Tigers. This leaves the ability to use Castellanos’ glove at third. This may seem insane, but Fangraphs has Miggy ranked as the worst defensive third baseman in the league, costing the Tigers about 17 runs over the course of the season. Meanwhile, Castellanos is in a new position in left, so no one is quite sure of his ability there. But, everyone knows that, defensively, he is a great third baseman. This move will also give Miggy some rest from his abdominal injury. I hate to say this, but Miggy may have to abandon the chase for the second Triple Crown in order to heal, as well. It is hard to hit homers with an abdominal strain.
Another suggestion for the Tigers is that the team needs to take its next off-day, Thursday the 12th, and work on their fundamentals. Position players with troubles need to go in the cage and pitchers that have control problems need to work out their challenges, as well. Yes, it is late in the season and players are getting tired. But, this is a critical time of the year and there is always room for improvement in your career. This is especially true for a ballplayer at the premier tier of the national pastime.
Remaining Tigers Schedule:
Here is what games the Tigers have left for the season, which makes up the final 18 games of the stretch.
Tue, Sep 10 @ White Sox 8:10 PM Porcello (11-8) Johnson (0-1)
Wed, Sep 11 @ White Sox 8:10 PM Sanchez (13-7) Quintana (7-6)
Fri, Sep 13 vs Kansas City 7:08 PM Verlander (12-11) Duffy (2-0)
Sat, Sep 14 vs Kansas City 7:08 PM Fister (12-8) Chen (7-2)
Sun, Sep 15 vs Kansas City 1:08 PM Scherzer (19-3) Santana (8-9)
Mon, Sep 16 vs Seattle 7:08 PM
Tue, Sep 17 vs Seattle 7:08 PM
Wed, Sep 18 vs Seattle 7:08 PM
Thu, Sep 19 vs Seattle 1:08 PM
Fri, Sep 20 vs White Sox 7:08 PM
Sat, Sep 21 vs White Sox 7:08 PM
Sun, Sep 22 vs White Sox 1:08 PM
Mon, Sep 23 @ Minnesota 8:10 PM
Tue, Sep 24 @ Minnesota 8:10 PM
Wed, Sep 25 @ Minnesota 8:10 PM
Fri, Sep 27 @ Miami 7:10 PM
Sat, Sep 28 @ Miami 7:10 PM
Sun, Sep 29 @ Miami 1:10 PM
We have a slightly harder schedule than Cleveland does over the last three weeks. Our opponents’ average winning percentage is .444. Cleveland’s opponents average is .436. However, we do have a much easier schedule than the Red Sox. Their opponents have an average winning percentage of .515. The roster expansion may also help Miggy catch Davis because other teams will be starting their inexperienced players. Miggy will eat them alive. Plus, half of the remaining games are at Comerica Park. Cabrera is .386/.473/.661, with 13 HR and 46 RBI in 52 games at CoPa. However, two away series are played at homer-unfriendly parks, Minnesota and Miami. These ballparks are ranked 22nd and 29th, respectively, in home runs allowed per game.
The Tigers need to overcome injuries and get consistent to build momentum into the playoffs. Without being healthy, having solid pitching and run support, the playoff run will be another disappointing short run. It is almost certain that the Tigers will have to face the Red Sox and that series last week in Boston was a disaster. Looking at the prospect of taking at least two out of three in Boston does not appeal to me. Another October series against Oakland, who took us the full five games in last year’s Divisional Series, is also a tough matchup. If the Tigers do not focus, we will be singing the tune of “Wait ‘Til Next Year”.