COMMENTARY | Three months ago, it looked like another American League Central crown was merely a formality. With no real contender in the division, it was supposed to be easy.
But as the Detroit Tigers finished the first half of the season with an 8-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on July 1, they found themselves in second place in the division, trailing the Cleveland Indians by a half game. The Tigers, with their superstar players -- and superstar contracts -- are looking up in the standings to a team of thrown-together parts led by a manager in his first year with the team.
For a club with a payroll nearing $150 million, there are plenty of holes in the Tigers' roster. While the majority of headlines center around the bullpen, the offense has been the biggest bust thus far. While the Tigers hold the second largest run-differential in the AL, they've had numerous stints this season where they've proved to be unable to score.
They've been shut out six times and held to two runs or fewer 15 times. In those 21 games, (more than a quarter of their games played) the Tigers are 2-19. Even worse, in the 30 games when they score three runs or fewer, the team is 3-28.
Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and the rotating left field spot have accounted for practically nothing this season. If not for the efforts of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers would be even further behind Cleveland. Cabrera, Fielder and Peralta combine for nearly half of the team's RBIs and more than a third of the runs scored. The team cannot continue to rely on three players to supply that much of its offense.
Most of the lineup is actually getting on base at a solid rate. The problem is, aside from Austin Jackson and maybe Andy Dirks, this team does not have the speed to make teams pay once they're on base. As a team, the Tigers have 23 stolen bases; Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox has 32 alone.
The Tigers have grounded into more double plays than any team in the AL other than the Los Angeles Angels. Unless the Tigers' hitters string together multiple hits, the threat of a multi-run inning is pretty slim when you have guys in the lineup struggling to hit .250. Even the very best hitters in baseball fail at a 70 percent rate, so to expect multiple hits in a row on a frequent basis is unrealistic.
With the news that Avila has been recalled from Triple-A Toledo, some fans and media members have asked if prized prospect Nick Castellanos should join Avila on the trip to Detroit. Maybe Castellanos is the answer, but that is an awful lot of pressure to put on a 21-year-old kid who was playing A-ball last year. Besides, one guy isn't going to correct an entire lineup's problems.
Baseball is marathon, not a sprint, we all know that. However, the Tigers continue to stumble and if they don't correct the issues soon, they'll be a in an all-out race to the finish with a team it should've blown away from the start.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
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