Monday, July 16, 2012

For Tigers: Time To Be Big Boys

It feels good to say the Tigers won 7 out of 8 games (should have been 8 out of 8) doesn't it?  It is the first time this year we can say that.  The bats are coming alive (FINALLY) by getting contributions from players not named Jackson, Cabrera, or Fielder, Fister appears to be back on track, and the defense has tightened up some.  It feels good.  Take it all in...until 7PM ET tonight when they face off against the Angels which begins, what I like to call, Big Boy School.

Beating the Twins, Royals, and Orioles felt nice.  It kept the team within 3.5 games of first place, it got numerous players who were struggling on track, and it served as a much-needed confidence boost for a team that has underachieved.  However, beating up on bad teams is expected for good teams.  It is the bare minimum.  Now it is time to see if they can really make a surge and win this division.  Tonight they start an almost month long gauntlet that consists of the Angels, White Sox, Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers.  Big Boy School.  There is no sugar coating this.  This stretch will probably decide their ultimate destination come October.  By destination I mean either the baseball field or the La-Z-Boy eating Cheesy Poofs.  And don't kid yourself, they will need to come out of this stretch above .500.  The Southsiders don't appear to be tanking anytime soon so it will be up to the Tigers to show they belong in the playoffs.  Nobody is going to do it for them.  They must do it themselves.

The trade deadline is quickly approaching.  However, there is no fix-all move to be made and if there were, the Tigers do not have the pieces to make such a deal.  We also cannot take to the bank that Martinez will be back in time to make a difference let alone in top form.  They may be able to make a small move to help such as acquiring Marco Scutaro to fill the black  hole that is 2B, but no trade is going to suddenly make this team world beaters.  They must grind it out on their own with what they have, and it starts tonight.

There still are a couple concerns that could cripple the Tigers.  As mentioned above, the 2B position continues to be underwhelming to put it nicely.  Their best option still seems to play Santiago every night but Leyland still seems reluctant to do so.  That will be a situation worth keeping an eye on. 

Jose Valverde blew his 4th save on Saturday night which wasted a valiant effort by the Tigers in which they battled back down 3 in the 9th only to see Papa Grande fail to hold on in the 11th.  Even when he does save a game it is dicey and never comfortable.  All you need to look at is his 4.06 ERA.  Every appearance he makes you can almost guarantee 2 base runners.  That has to stop and he has to become reliable in order for the Tigers to come out of this stretch alive.  If not, Leyland may have to take a serious look at closing games with Benoit or Dotel.  He simply must get better for this team to have a chance.

Lastly, Scherzer continues to be completely unpredictable.  After several very good outings, he gave up 4 runs on Saturday before you had a chance to finish your first beer.  Some nights he appears unhittable and a very solid #2.  Some nights he looks close to a Toledo demotion.  In this next month the Tigers will need at a minimum 3 dependable starters.  Those will most likely have to be Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer.  The teams they are about to face smash the baseball.  If these 3 starters are not on their game it is going to be very difficult to imagine the Tigers being in the race come mid August.

The Tigers appear to be righting the ship.  They beat up on some bad teams.  Hopefully, they now have some confidence to go out and play some real baseball against some real contenders.  If they come out of this on the plus side (and I mean more than 1 or 2 games) they could very well be on their way to fall baseball or at least in great position to do so.  If they do not, I think the writing is on the wall in big bold letters.  If you think I am exaggerating simply take into account the fact that they have 9 games vs. the teams they are chasing (Tribe and Chisox).  Those are big swing games.  The beginning of the end, good or bad, starts tonight.  Get used to it and strap on your seat belts.  It is going to be a crazy ride regardless of what happens.  This year's Tigers wouldn't have it any other way.

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