Detroit Tigers: Mid-Season Report Card
Team: Detroit Tigers
Record: 52-42 (1st Place)
Biggest Surprise of the First Half: Jhonny Peralta(?)
To be honest, how the season is unfolding in Detroit isn’t all too shocking on nearly any front. Most assumed the bullpen might be shaky. Many were positive the Tigers had a deep rotation. The defense was going to be mediocre. Miguel Cabrera is the greatest hitter on the planet. The AL Central looked soft. The Tigers being at the top of the Central simply isn’t too surprising at this point.
But if there is a positive “surprise” it’s probably Jhonny Peralta regaining All Star form after a down year in 2012. Peralta had a slash-line of .239/.305/.384 last season good for an OPS+ of a lowly 84. There was plenty of consternation over the off-season about having to “live with” Peralta at shortstop in the final year of his contract. Peralta isn’t a glove-centric shortstop. He has to hit to be valuable and last season’s showing inspired little confidence. However Peralta showed up in shape in Spring Training from all accounts and he has hit well from the Opening Bell. Peralta is cruising along at a .300/.358/.436 clip to be one of the better hitting shortstops in the American League and this enabled him to capture his second All-Star berth in three seasons.
Biggest Disappointment of the First Half: Justin Verlander
For most pitchers they would be perfectly satisfied with Justin Verlander’s first half. But it hasn’t been the same Verlander we’ve been seeing since his true breakout performance in 2009 (for my money, his greatest season despite winning the Cy Young and MVP in 2011). Verlander has recorded a grand total of 3 outs in the 8th inning in 2013. He simply hasn’t been the reliable workhorse we’ve seen over the seasons. There have been good starts and occasional signs of dominance…but nothing approaching the consistent mastery of the opposition that was his trademark from ’09 through ’12. The one red flag giving observers reason to worry is his velocity noticeably slipping a tick or two this year. He has rarely, if ever, reached back for the triple-digit heat in the late innings.
All is not lost. His K-rate is still good. While we can deem his first half a disappointment, it’s not like the bottom has fallen out. He is still a massive talent and the hope is some mechanical tweaking can put him back on track. It will be important for the Tigers moving forward. Max Scherzer can’t do it all. The Tigers need Verlander to regain form down the stretch and into the autumn. Can they win the division with this year’s version of Verlander? That’s probably a “yes”. However if he’s starting Game 1 or Game 2 of a playoff series, the Tigers would be a lot more comfortable seeing the version of the guy who won the Cy Young not too long ago.
Team MVP: Miguel Cabrera
The reigning AL MVP is showing nothing to indicate that he won’t be the leading candidate again in 2013. Cabrera has the Tigers on his back doing more than his share of the heaving lifting in Motown. Dominating the field in his quest for a third consecutive batting title and keeping Baltimore’s Chris Davis in sight in the homer race in order to stay smack in the mix to defend his Triple Crown. (think about that ….”defending the Triple Crown”!)
Simply put, there is little that Cabrera can’t do with a bat. Power to all fields. No fear with two strikes to simply serve balls into the outfield to drive in runs. No true weakness where he can be pitched consistently. Willing to take a walk when necessary. “Best Batter on Earth” as one sage observer calls him? Yep.
It should also be noted that Cabrera has been acceptable at third-base defensively. No, he isn’t good. He’s below average and plenty of balls that might get scooped up by Evan Longoria scoot past Cabrera. But he’s also not the utter embarrassment that many had predicted when he moved back there in 2012 with the Prince Fielder signing. Cabrera is playable at the hot corner. He has soft hands for the balls he gets to. He has a rifle arm that is accurate. Cabrera has even seemed to have gotten more confident charging bunts and assorted dribblers in front of him and throwing on the run in 2013 versus some issues he had on that type of play in 2012.
Prospect Ready to Make an Impact: Hernan Perez
Hernan Perez probably isn’t one of the “Top 5” prospects in the Tigers system, but an injury has pushed him to the head of the line for the time being. Regular 2B Omar Infante was taken out on a controversial slide by Colby Rasmus in Toronto and hasn’t played since. Infante is sitting on the DL which necessitated the Tigers calling up the speedy Perez to handle 2B duties on at least a part-time basis while Infante recuperates his ankle. Perez earned solid comments from manager Jim Leyland back in Spring Training and made those statements look good by hitting an even .300 with 24 steals at Double-A Erie in 382 Plate Appearances so far this year. Perez is known for a solid glove and has the ability to slide across and play a little shortstop. Given the struggles of utility man Ramon Santiago, it will be interesting to see what move is made when/if Infante returns. Perez may just make Santiago a DFA candidate.
Contender or Pretender:
Contender: The Tigers will almost certainly be making moves during trade deadline season in order to bolster the roster and shore themselves up for big games in September and hopefully October. The bullpen is the area of utmost concern. Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly have been the only two reliable entities for Leyland to trust and that simply won’t do in order to get through the last 68 games after the All Star Break. It will be a seller’s market for relievers because nearly all clubs would welcome bullpen help. The Tigers will look to convert their organizational depth of young outfielders in their minor league system to get a deal done. (John Axford, Steve Cishek, and Tom Wilhelmsen would seem like possible Detroit targets over the next few weeks)
Other areas of possible acquisitions could possibly be a middle infielder if Infante recovers slowly from his injury and perhaps a left-handed hitting outfielder if a true upgrade from the inconsistent Andy Dirks can be found by GM Dave Dombrowski.
Overall Team Analysis: The Tigers are probably playing a little below the expectations of many fans and their Pythagorean Record indicates they have underachieved a bit in the win column in relation to their runs scored/runs allowed components. However they are also playing to their strengths. The top four in the batting order have carried the club as expected and DH Victor Martinez has been heating up in a big way in the month of July. Martinez had been a huge concern as he slumped badly in the early weeks of his return from last year’s ACL surgery. If the stirring from Martinez is real and sustained then the Tigers offense should be able to bludgeon AL Central pitching down the stretch. The Tigers rotation is deep and assuming it stays healthy it’s also the best starting unit of arms the division has to offer. The Tigers are definitely built around starting pitching and a core of dangerous bats. Which is exactly what is carrying the club right now. If Dombrowski is able to identify and acquire the right bullpen arms to slot in with Benoit, Smyly, and possibly rookie flamethrower Bruce Rondon, then the roster is ready to compete on the big stage in baseball’s playoffs once again this season.
The rest of the AL Central seems to have just a few too many holes to go the distance with the Tigers. The Tribe has a dearth of starting pitching, the Royals aren’t hitting, the Twins are mainly dreaming about their exciting minor league bats, and the White Sox are in tatters.