The signing of slugger Prince Fielder was supposed to lead the Detroit Tigers to the American League Central Division crown and the playoffs this year, but so far, they’ve struggled.
At the All-Star Game break, Detroit is in third place, behind Chicago and Cleveland, three-and-a-half games out of first. A five-game winning streak heading into the break is cause for optimism, though.
WKAR’s Scott Pohl talked with Lynn Henning, who covers the Tigers for the Detroit News, about what went wrong in the first half of the season. He says the bottom half of the lineup hasn’t been hitting, and the defense hasn’t been good.
LYNN HENNING:You had all of these pistons here in this V-8 engine that just weren’t doing anything, and that’s how you end up with a record here at midseason that not many people would have thought possible for a team this loaded with talent. I think it speaks to the fact that if they get a couple of bats going, and it looks now as if that might be the case, they could have a little stronger second half here and still win a division that’s winnable.
SCOTT POHL:The defense was poor at times though, wasn’t it?
HENNING:Very much, and you knew out of the gate that was the thing that I really wrote about and had to write about, the first day the Fielder signing was made, and not anybody wanted to hear around here. They were all so excited, for two reasons: Prince Fielder was coming to the batting order, and Brandon Inge was going to be knocked off third base. So, they didn’t want to hear about this thing called defense, and yet you knew that defense was going to be pivotal and critical in that it was going to be substandard, and it has been.
Clearly, they’re not going to make any changes at the corners, and Miguel Cabrera has been a surprise on the plus side in that he has played so well there. Their real big problem in the infield is at second base, as we know, and (General Manager) Dave Dombrowski is trying to get that patched, but this trade market ahead of the July 31st deadline is historically as bad as we’ve ever seen, and it’s going to be difficult to get that replacement part. It seems as though Dombrowski, when he’s on safari, comes back with some kind of big game, and I expect him to make some kind of deal.
PITCHING HAS BEEN GOOD
POHL:How would you evaluate the starting pitching and the relief pitching in the first half?
HENNING:Good, and the only thing that’s really hurt them is health, with (Doug) Fister having been on the disabled list for a combined five weeks. I can’t believe they’ve really played as well as they have given that they had so many hitters that weren’t doing anything, and when you look at the fact Drew Smyly was gone for a couple of weeks, they’ve acquitted themselves very well with their pitching.
I think if you’re going to look at the Tigers over the second half, it’s the pitching that you still bet on. The challenge is going to be that you’ve got a good White Sox team there that also is getting good pitching. It’s going to be incumbent on the Tigers to put together a very strong September, because they’ve got a brutal schedule over these next 60 days, but they’re also a team that is capable of producing a big kick finish, and that’s because their pitching intact.
MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? MAYBE, MAYBE NOT
POHL:Alright, Lynn: the odds that the Tigers make the playoffs or win the division.
HENNING:Fifty-fifty in my mind. This has been a very puzzling season, as we all agree, and I still can’t really get a handle on it because I don’t know that all of the pieces that they’re going to have over the second half are in place yet. Even though it’s a tough trade market, I always look to Dombrowski to come away with some kind of answer for a critical need, and second base is that primary need right now. If they would be able to patch up there, with their pitching and with those big bats that they’ve got stacked in the middle, you could certainly make a case for them playing well enough, defeating the White Sox in head to heads, and the Indians or whoever else might be there, and eking out the division, but I put that again at no better than fifty-fifty, because this is going to be an extremely difficult eight weeks that they’re confronting here now.
If they’re too far behind, that is a lot of catch up to try to put together in the final three weeks. It’s a good team, and good teams tend to figure out a way to win, and yet they’re not the only good team right now in that division.