Jun 25, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) looks into the stands after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington . Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway Home: Can An AL Central Foe De-Claw The Tigers?

Detroit Tigers Favorite To Win The Central But Expectations Higher

The 2013 Detroit Tigers won the American League Central for the third year in a row finishing the season with a record of 93-69. They defeated the Oakland Athletics in five games in the American League Division Series before losing in six to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

When looking back at 2013, fans seem to struggle with the realistic nature of baseball, as expectations of a title may have led to a feeling of failure, despite the team’s success. As Paul Sporer (@Sporer) details, “it’s unreasonable to truly believe there is some missing “it” factor between the 162 and then a one month sample with three playoff series. It’s disappointing to have two ugly World Series losses, especially given how well they played in the lead up to each, and then last year was similar where they were playing lights out against Boston until two different pitches led to series-changing homers. Are they a bad team because of those pitches? No, of course not. Things are measured by championships, and I get that, so they still have another hurdle to clear to get the respect they deserve.”

At the halfway point, where does this Tigers team stand and how will they measure up at the end of the season?

What Was Expected?

The 2014 season marks the 30th year anniversary of the Tigers last World Championship (1984).

According to Josie Parnell Motor City Bengals adds that the general consensus around the Tigers fan base is World Series or bust in 2014.

“The win-now mentality of Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski has tricked down, and fair of nor, anything less than a Championship is going to be a huge disappointment.” Parnell said. “The Detroit fans don’t take losing well, the heartbreak will be palpable.

Over the winter the roster was shaken up with the departure of some well known names. Jhonny Peralta signed a 4-yr/$53MM contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, Omar Infante signed a 4-yr/$32.5MM deal with the Kansas City Royals, Joaquin Benoit signed a 2-yr/$15.5MM deal with the Padres, Doug Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals, and Prince Fielder was dealt to the Texas Rangers.

The Tigers fortified their roster by signing Rajai Davis to platoon in left field, added Ian Kinsler (via Fielder) to take Infante’s place at second base, the shortstop position was to be manned by Jose Iglesias, with Fielder gone Nick Castellanos would take over 3rd base with Miguel Cabrera heading back to first, and they attempted to fortify their bullpen by signing both Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan.

The biggest change in personnel may very well be in the dugout where Jim Leyland retired and Brad Ausmus took his place.

When prompted for her response about Ausmus Josie Parnell showed concern about his decision for removing a pitcher from a game. “Sometimes he seems to let the starters decide on their own when it’s time to leave a game, and in almost every situation it’s been the wrong call, with Verlander or Scherzer getting shelled and giving up runs immediately after seemingly making their own decision to stay in.” Paul Sporer went in a different direction when prompted on Ausmus, the formerly non-existent running game, saying, “the running aspect got a lot of play early, but they are stealing at a 66% clip at which point I’d rather they stay put and just utilize the speed on in-play running (1st to 3rd, scoring on base hits, etc…).”

Parnell also pointed out how batting Rajai Davis in the leadoff spot versus  a righty or batting Don Kelly in the five hole have been negative complaints by the fan base.

Where Do the Tigers Stand? 

The Tigers got off to a fantastic start of the season starting 27-12 before posting a 6-20 mark. They have since rebounded to win eight of their last ten games to improve to 44-34 and have a 3.5 game lead over the Kansas City Royals and 6.5 game lead over the Cleveland Indians.

Who Has Impressed:

J.D. Martinez was released by the Houston Astros in March and signed by the Tigers and has been one of the best stories of the season. He is posting a triple slash line of .317/.347/.612 with nine homers and 32 runs driven in. Can this type of production continue?

After losing Jose Iglesias for the year due to shin surgery the Tigers used Austin Romine at shortstop before finally turning to youngster Eugenio Suarez who has blistered the ball since his promotion posting a .297/.384/.516 spanning 76 plate appearances.

Can the success of each player continue through the second half? Probably not to the degree that each has shown thus far but a huge drop off is not to be expected.

Victor Martinez is having an MVP type season posting a slash line of .323/.384/.589 with 20 home runs and 52 runs driven in – and of course Miguel Cabrera is batting .311/.364/.533 with 13 homers and 64 runs driven in.

Biggest Concern?:

The Tigers bullpen has been the biggest concern. “Aside from Joba Chamberlain the pen has a whole has been woefully inconsistent.” Parnell said. “Losing Bruce Rondon to Tommy John surgery prior to the start of the regular season was a massive blow to the pen.”

The biggest let down in the pen has been closer Joe Nathan who carries a 6.37 ERA, has allowed five home runs, and has walked 3.9 batters per nine innings.

Justin Verlander has not pitched up to his standards posting a 6-7, 4.80 ERA mark while striking out a career low 6.9 batters per nine innings while walking 3.9 hitters per nine innings – his highest rate since 2008.  Parnell points out that last year Verlander wasn’t great by the standards he set for himself but when it came down to it he was ready for the playoffs.

Help From The System:

Th Tigers have signed Joel Hanrahan who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is currently facing live hitters and may be ready to return near the tail end of the 2014 season.

As far as position players Parnell mentions Ezequiel Carrera and Hernan Perez as players within the system that may be able to contribute to the Tigers in 2014. Sporer also mentioned Carrerra as an option, while observing that most of the high-impact talent has already been promoted.

Who Will The Tigers Target For Playoff Push?:

According to Parnell the names that keep popping up with the Tigers are the Tampa Bay Rays Ben Zobrist and Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit from the San Diego Padres.

Sporer provided a blanket statement regarding relievers, stating, “I think it’ll all center on relievers, especially with Suarez hitting. If you look over the roster of a team you believe will be a seller, just look at their tradable relievers and that’s who the Tigers will almost certainly at least call about,” while also mentioning Street, Benoit, and Dale Thayer as options from the Padres. 

What to Expect in the Second Half:

Fans in Detroit may be a bit confident in the club based on their recent run of AL Central dominance, but Paul Sporer thinks it may not be as easy as they think, saying, “If the Royals offense is ready to be a consistent force, I don’t think they can be ignored. Meanwhile, Cleveland has the talent for a run and they can make moves based on both their tradable assets on the major league club and their prospects, so I’d be reticent to count them out, either.”

Outside of possibly Oakland the Detroit Tigers are the most talented roster in the American League. After a bumpy 6-20 stretch they seem to have righted the ship. They still have Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello to throw every five days.

The quartet of Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, and Miguel Cabrera can be a very powerful force for the opposition to contend with.

The one area the Tigers will have to shore up is the bullpen and if they do this there is no reason why the Tigers should not win 90+ games and run away with the title in the AL Central.

But that won’t be enough this year. Expect Detroit to make some noise at the trade deadline to make their roster even deeper as they need to have a team in place that enters October as a favorite to win the World Series.

Special thanks to our Detroit Tigers sources, who provided great responses and details on the club at the halfway point:

Josie Parnell is the co-editor of FanSided’s Detroit Tigers blog, Motor City Bengals. You can follow her on Twitter at @josiliciousness.

Paul Sporer is a baseball writer all over the place, including several websites and podcasts. You can find his work at Baseball Prospectus, Paint the Black, PaulSporer.com, Rotowire, RotoGrinders, and on Twitter at @Sporer.

Tags: Austin Jackson Cleveland Indians Eugenio Suarz J.D. Martinez Joba Chamberlain Joe Nathan Justin Verlander Miguel Cabrera Victor Martinez

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