The Tigers have struggled since their 11-2 start, and are now they’re at .500 68 games into the season. This has led many fans in Detroit to give up on the team. The season is long though, and it isn’t even close to being half over. Remember, in 2012 the Tigers started the season off 33-35. Here are the reasons that this Tigers team is still in the race:
1. Like in 2012, this is a likely a two team race between KC and Detroit. There’s no way the Twins will sustain their success this year. Mike Pelfrey has pitched out of his mind and is their only good starting pitcher right now with Phil Hughes struggling. Most of their starters FIPs is higher than their ERAs. The Twins offense can’t keep up. They have outperformed their Pythagorean record by 3 games. The Twins should go away. I’m guessing sooner than later.
The Tigers biggest competition is the Royals, who have a starting rotation led by Chris Young. Young’s sub-2 ERA obviously isn’t sustainable and the Tigers honestly have a chance to catch KC once the Tigers talent (that’s currently underperforming) and Royals talent (over performing) evens out. The Tigers started the season hot and the offense showed what it was capable of doing. They can return to an output level around that and should finish out the season with better numbers than they have now. The Royals’ “ace” coming into 2015 was Yordano Ventura, who while still talented is being figured out and going through a sophomore slump. Ventura is now on the disabled list, but will have to make adjustments all year after he comes back and shouldn’t be much of a threat this year. The Royals rotation outside of Ventura wasn’t very intimidating and the fact that Yohan Pino is starting games for them right now, should buy the Tigers some games. This is not mention the fact the Tigers and Royals have 12 head-to-head games left and the Detroit destroyed Kansas City last season with basically the same players both squads have now.
2. The Tigers have been plagued by the injury bug. Many fans don’t realize how valuable of an asset Alex Avila has been. His on base percentage is still higher than James McCann‘s. Also keep in mind that McCann hits .228/.258/.307 against righties, and over .300 against lefties. Avila hits and gets on base better against righties to a tune of .256/.356/.433. They need that platoon for the bottom of the order. Also, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander are getting back and filling in huge holes for the offense and pitching staff. Through two starts Verlander’s velocity already looks better and it’s not unreasonable to think he may return to his 2013 level of production, even if it’s a tad worse, it’ll help a ton. Victor was the best hitter on the 2014 squad and you can’t say that losing him for a month wasn’t a huge blow. If Victor goes back to his career norm and Kinsler starts hitting a tad better the Tigers offense will look a lot better. If not, it is always an option to move Kinsler down to the 6-hole and let Miguel Cabrera hit second.
With the Avila/McCann platoon hitting seventh and the way Iglesias is hitting ninth the offense should be able to start scoring a lot more runs. Nick Castellanos is struggling, but he needs at least another year. The kid is 23 and his bat was great at every level before the majors. I’ve seen glimpses of what he can do in the future and his bat has gap power and could easily be a .300 hitter.
The last thing Tiger fans want is a reverse J.D. Martinez, where they give up on a talent like Castellanos too soon and he goes to another team and reaches his full potential. Most hitters are still in the minors at 23, so it’s important to not expect the world out of him. The lineup is good and even though Castellanos is struggling, he’s keeping his average above the Mendoza line, so he’s not an “automatic” out. Just give Castellanos a little more time. The Tigers have no better options. Andrew Romine hasn’t gotten on base since May, and while Josh Wilson got off to a hot start, there’s a reason he’s 34 and has never started regularly at the MLB level for a full season.
3. There’s also still the trade deadline. The Tigers could add an arm for both the bullpen and rotation, and probably will. This could help their depleted rotation from last year and the bullpen of theirs that’s regressed. If they find a good arm to pair up with Soria and Wilson and use the three consistently, I’m a lot more comfortable in the playoffs. The Tigers have tons of solid options for starters that could help them a lot too, from Scott Kazmir to possibly a huge name like Johnny Cueto. General manager Dave Dombrowski has improved the Tigers every year at the Deadline since 2011, from Fister and Young, Sanchez and Infante and last year’s acquisitions of Iglesias and Price; he finds a way to help the ballclub. The Deadline is an important factor.
This squad has its differences, but it reminds me of the 2012 team because they didn’t find their stride right away despite immense talent. Some people say the division is tougher, but in 2012 it was a two team race just like it probably will be in 2015. Even if the Royals overpower the Tigers all year, I still like the Tigers in the Wild Card game and playoffs with a guy like David Price on their team. Plus, as we know, this isn’t English soccer where the best team throughout the course of 38 games wins. It’s the team that gets hot in the playoffs that wins, not always the “best” team.
Last year, the World Series was between two Wild Cards. Who’s to say the Tigers don’t finally get really hot in the playoffs if they win that Wild Card game (like the Royals last season.) The 2015 Tigers team might have even more talent. I’ll take the offense, defense, and base stealing abilities of the 2015 club over last year’s team any day. Delmon Young had a sub-.300 OBP in 2012 and was the five hitter on a pennant winner. This year, Yoenis Cespedes, who has the third best WAR for AL outfielders according to Fangraphs.
The rotation is slightly worse, but like I said, the deadline could shore it up. The 2012 Tigers had many first half struggles with the rotation and then Max Scherzer started his emergence after the All-Star Break. A guy like Verlander could emerge this year and if Johnny Cueto becomes a Tiger, this rotation is suddenly something to be feared in the playoffs. Not to mention Anibal Sanchez is starting to look like himself again, as he’s limiting his mistakes and hard hit balls. The 2015 Tigers have talent. Whether or not you agree if it’s better than the 2012 team, they both could have a similar result. Be patient Tigers fans, sometimes in baseball it takes time for everything to come together.