Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Detroit Tigers State of the Team Address

Given the fact that the Tigers have been perennial losers since the days of Rob Deer, it's a nice feeling to look at the standings a week before the All-Star break and see a .500 winning percentage. Having said that, the first half has been a roller coaster of emotions. It seemed as though the stars were aligned on opening day when everything went right. Bonderman pitched a gem. The offense was in full force. It's been 3 months and sadly, that's still the highlight of the season so far. It seems as though that game had more to do with the opponent (Royals) than the ability of the Tigers. The Tigers were inconsistent for much of the first few weeks and that was before the injury bug hit. Mags went out for 3 months with a hernia. C. Guillen's knee flared up. Percival missed a month. The up and down play was a staple of the first half. Every time the Tigers approached .500, they promptly went on a losing streak.

Now for the good news. The regular day lineup that the Tigers will field in the second half will be drastically improved. With the addition of Placido Polanco in the Urbina trade, C. Guillen's return from the DL and Mags pending return, the Tigers will be poised to break out offensively. You can expect a lineup like this on a regular basis:

Inge 3b
Polanco 2b
C. Guillen SS
Mags OF
Pudge C
D. Young 1b/DH
R. White OF
Shelton 1b/DH
C. Monroe/Nook Logan OF

That's a far cry from the lineups that featured Marcus Thames, Omar Infante, Carlos Pena, Tony Giarrantano, Vance Wilson, Ramon Martinez and Alexis Gomez. Most of those guys have potential but don't provide much to a lineup at the moment. There won't be a weak spot in the lineup. To be honest with you, the first 5 hitters could be the best in MLB. I'm giddy.

Although the Tigers have wasted way too many quality starts from their pitching staff, there is room for improvement. Jeremy Bonderman appears to have arrived as the team ace. He's 9-5 with a 4.30 era. Jason Johnson has added a new pitch to his repertoire and appears to be confident throwing all his pitches. Nate Robertson bounced back after a slow start to put together a fine first half. Mike Maroth has been average to disappointing. If I knew before the season that these four pitchers would pitch the way they have, I would've been happy. The big problem has come from the 5th spot. Wil Ledezma was atrocious. The Tigers stuck with him a little too long before opting to go with a 4 man rotation while the schedule allowed. Last week, the Tigers needed a 5th starter and that gave Sean Douglass his first major league start. He pitched 6 innings of 1 run ball to get the win. If Douglass can hang on to the 5th spot with average pitching, the Tigers will be in much better shape in the second half.

The bullpen has been the big surprise. After Percival started off slowly and then got hurt, it looked like all of the pre-season hype for the bullpen would turn out to be just that. However, depth can make up for a lot of things. With Farnsworth, German, and Walker pitching well from the start, the Tigers have had one of the top bullpens in the majors. The Tigers were even able to part with bullpen stalwart Ugie Urbina and not miss a beat. With Fernando Rodney and Chris Spurling coming on as of late, it looks like the bullpen will continue to be dependable.

Now it's time to be honest. The Tigers have no chance to make the playoffs this year. Despite all of the excitement of a +.500 winning % and the young pitchers in the farm system, the Tigers are at least a year away from contending for the playoffs. The White Sox could play .500 ball for the rest of the season and still run away with the division. The Wild Card is a pipe dream. With the Yankees, Orioles, Rangers, Twins, Indians, A's, and Blue Jays all fighting the Tigers for the Wild Card, I highly doubt the Tigers will be able to pull it out. I know that Dave Dombrowski has to keep some semblance of optimism so you surely won't hear him say that the Tigers are out of it until it's obvious. However, deep in the doldrums of the front office, Tiger brass knows this isn't the year. To be honest, I don't care. All I've wanted for the last decade is a competitive team. I am happy with this year. Next year is a different story. However, with the Wild Card being such a long shot, Dombrowski should be willing to trade away some of his veteran commodities. I love how Jason Johnson has pitched. It's almost as if he's a completely different pitcher. His string of 8 inning games has been phenomenal. However, he's 31. That's not prehistoric by any means but the Tigers have depth in the farm system. Johnson's value will never be more than it is right now. There is no doubt that the Tigers could trade him in for some prospects. The other bargaining chip is R. White. White could be the second most valuable Tiger batter of the first half behind Brandon Inge. White, like Johnson is not too old to perform but with the depth in the outfield, White becomes expendable. I admire how both of these guys have played this year and it would be tough to see them go. However, you get better by trading depth. For the first time in ages, the Tigers have depth.

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