Heading into play on Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers are 2 full games back of the Chicago White Sox. Plenty of baseball remains on the schedule but much has to change in order for the Tigers to overtake the White Sox in the AL Central.
Yesterday I covered 7 reasons why the Tigers will win it all this year (click here). Today, we look at 7 more reasons that suggest the Tigers won’t win the big prize in 2012.
- Starting Pitching. In theory, the Tigers have as good of a 1-2-3 punch as anybody with Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer. I’m not worried about JV’s rough outing last Friday. Watching Fister blow the 5-spot his team gave him on Sunday was disconcerting, but he has to get a mulligan every once in a while. And then there’s Max, who defies statistical norms. He has a dominant 178:50 K to walk ratio yet sports a 4.41 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. The bottom line is when he doesn’t strike somebody out they’re often times getting hits against him. He has allowed 146 hits in 140.2 innings. Very Rick Porcello-like. Which brings us to the other problem. The Tigers can get away with 3 starters in the ALDS, but not if they advance any further (assuming they make it at all). Porcello or Anibal Sanchez will come into play. Porcello, as usual, has been the giver of gifts in 2012. He has allowed 179 hits in just 140.2 innings. Horrible. Meanwhile, Sanchez is tapping into his inner Jarrod Washburn and cannot be trusted at this point.
Relief Pitching. Joaquin Benoit’s recent struggles struck fear into Tiger Town. Having to ride the Jose Valverde rollercoaster of anxiety is bad enough, but Benoit losing his way is death for this team. He was outstanding in last year’s playoff run and Detroit will need that same output yet again in 2012. He has been his dominant self in his last 3 appearances, so hopefully he has righted the ship. In defense of Valverde, he generally gets the job done. But the idea of relying on him to get 3 key outs against the Rangers or Yankees, or anyone else for that matter, under the bright October lights is a scary proposition. Now, getting the ball to these guys presents another set of questions. Will Brayan Villarreal hold up under the pressure? Can Phil Coke and his 1.62 WHIP figure it out in time to help? Hey, at least there’s Octavio Dotel. The hope for Jim Leyland is that the starters give him 6 good innings (see point 1) and then Dotel, Benoit, and Valverde can bring it home.
- Road woes. The biggest difference between the success of the 2011 Tigers and the failure of the 2010 team was their struggles away from Comerica Park. Last year they went 45-36 on the road. In 2010, the Tigers were just 29-52 while out of town. The Tigers haven’t been that bad this year but their current 30-32 mark needs improvement. There isn’t a team in baseball right now that is leading their division who has a losing mark on the road. This is no coincidence. Top tier teams get it done on the road when the pressure is on. If they can’t do that in the regular season it only becomes that much more difficult come October.
- 5-8. Jim Leyland has been waiting and waiting for some of these 5-8 hitters in the order to step it up. Between Alex Avila, Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, and Jhonny Peralta, the lights have flickered a few times but by and large it’s been a season long power outage. These 4 players have totaled 40 homers on the year. Reasonable preseason estimates could have put them around 60 or more at this point in the season. Leyland has tried all 4 of these guys behind Prince Fielder in the order, with little success. The top of the order is as deadly as it gets, but if Detroit needs to out-swing the big boys in the playoffs, it rests on the shoulders of this quartet.
- Health. Listed as a strength in yesterday’s article, it could quickly become a weakness. Right now the Tigers are very healthy, much like they were at this same time last year. Eventually their luck ran out and guys like Avila, Young, and Victor Martinez played with banged up bodies in the postseason. If the Tigers are once again living on borrowed time there could be trouble brewing. The Tigers have some depth to spread around, but not a ton. Health will be a major factor down the stretch. Watch it closely.
- Jim Leyland. I’ve never been a Leyland hater. In fact, I think the Tigers have it pretty dang good with him at the controls. This year however, I have raised an eyebrow a time or two at his ability, or lack thereof, to motivate the troops. The Tigers play with an easy going demeanor, mainly because their stars, Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, and Fielder, are some chilled out dudes. Sometimes you need a Kirk Gibson to put you over the top. Or a Lenny Dykstra. Detroit doesn’t have that obvious fire, and I’m not sure it’s Leyland’s fault. He didn’t pick the players. Regardless, if this team wants to make some serious noise it wouldn’t hurt to find an edge that has been missing all year, and part of Leyland’s responsibility is to find that switch to flip.
- History. The Tigers, despite a rabid fan base, a more than respectable payroll, top-tier stars across the roster, just haven’t won when it counts in a long, long time. I was 7 years old the last time the Tigers won a World Series. Since then they’ve made the playoffs just three times. We certainly don’t have a Chicago Cubs type of drought going on here, but the happy memories are beginning to fade. The Tigers may have the right guys to bust through the ceiling and give this city another championship, but history isn’t on their side.