Maybe I’m the wrong person to be writing about any team in the AL Central. Going into the season, I was pretty darned sure that the Cleveland Indians would win the division quite handily, and that the Minnesota Twins were a fourth place team. And I totally bashed the Chicago White Sox and Kenny Williams, calling them a third-place team at best. Oh how embarrassingly wrong I was. How incredibly, utterly, hopelessly, know-nothingly wrong I was.
But so far, I think I’ve been fairly accurate in my assessment of the Detroit Tigers (Hazzah!). To me, they were a second place team that was going to miss out on the playoffs. Good, but not good enough. I wasn’t sold on Miguel Cabrera this year. His transition to a new, tougher league wouldn’t be helped by Comerica Park. I felt that both Gary Sheffield and Pudge Rodriguez’ age would eventually catch up with them. Although Pudge has slightly exceeded my expectations, Sheff’s been hurt and hasn’t produced while he was on the field. And I like Magglio Ordonez, but there was simply no way in hell that he was going to duplicate his 2007 season at the plate. Nate Robertson never was a very good pitcher to begin with, Kenny Rogers was 43 years old, and Dontrelle Willis is no one’s answer. Consequently, what we have at the All-Star break is a .500 team that’s 7 games out of first and 8 games out of the Wild Card spot.
So while I do think that the Detroit Tigers will be better than they had been before the All-Star break, I also wouldn’t be very surprised if they never get within 3 or 4 games of the Chicago White Sox for the rest of the season for two reasons – pitching and defense. Justin Verlander’s Ks are down and his walks are up. Same with Jeremy Bonderman but even more so. And although Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria had been fine defensive options in the past, their Revised Zone Rating indicates that they might be slipping. Combine that with Miguel Cabrera at first and Carlos Guillen (who still hasn’t gotten this third base thing down), you have yourself a pretty weak defensive infield. With the pitchers not striking nearly enough guys out (averaging an MLB worst 5.3 Ks per game), your defense needs to be much better because a lot of batted balls are coming their way.
How to go about accomplishing this? Frankly, I have no idea. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many answers down on the farm. Their top prospect, pitcher Rick Porcello, is a top-ten talent. But he’s also still a teenager and in High-A. And the rest? Not too helpful, especially since they traded away Cameron Maybin to Florida in the Cabrera deal and also sent Jair Jurrjens packing to Atlanta to acquire Renteria (yeah, that one’s worked out quite well, hasn’t it?). So what they’re essentially left with is a decent crop of talent who are all in the lower classes of the minor leagues. I suppose neither Polanco nor Renteria are untradeable, but who would take these guys and give back a better player at the same position?
And here’s also a big problem – this is a team that cannot afford to look into the future right now. Aside from Curtis Granderson and Cabrera, the lineup has no young talent. The Tigers have a very small window to win with veterans the likes of Ordonez, Guillen, Pudge and Sheff.
So basically, here’s what Detroit can do: Hope for the best. Hope that the rotation will be better. Hope that Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney stay healthy and effective. And pray to god that Todd Jones can continue to prove all statistical metrics wrong by successfully closing out games despite allowing way too many runs (the man has successfully converted 86.8% of save opportunities since 2006 – all while sporting a 4.29 ERA. How do you do this???). Although I personally may not think that they can secure a playoff berth, this doesn’t mean that they should go and blow the whole thing up (which may not even be possible at this point). Because as we’ve seen, I’ve been very, very, very, very wrong before. And it’s not like the Tigers have many other options.