The Tigers lost six of nine on their just completed western swing which included three games each in Los Angeles, Seattle and Oakland and are now 24-35 and eight games behind the first place White Sox. They are not hitting, their relief pitching is awful, and the fielding miscues and base running blunders continue. Is the season over?
No, the season is not over when you are 8 games behind on June 4.
When will it be over?
Very soon if they don't get going right now. It will be over if the White Sox or some other team gets hot and the Tigers continue to bumble along. Once they fall 10-12 games behind, it's going to be really tough to come back even if they get rolling later in the season. If they don't do well on the upcoming home stand, they might reach the point of no return.
Is there any reason to expect they will turn it around?
I don't really expect them to turn it around but it's not at the point where "it will take a miracle" to do so. Their starting pitching has been solid for three weeks posting a 3.98 ERA in their last 21 games. I also don't think their offense is going to continue to struggle as it has. Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria and maybe some others are likely to get better and there is nobody whose performance is likely to regress.
What will be their biggest hurdles?
There are a lot of problems with the team this year but the one that seems most difficult to fix is the bullpen. They have absolutely no reliable relievers on the team other than Todd Jones and he is only good for his narrow role of one inning closer on a team that doesn't give him many save opportunities. Poor infield defense is another fairly big problem but that could get a little better if Brandon Inge plays more third base and Cabrera continues to learn the first base position. Yeah, hitting has been a surprisingly big problem this year but I still think that can fix itself to an extent.
Won't the bullpen get better once Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are ready later this month?
It should get better but both have had many health problems the last couple of years so there is no guarantee that they'll be in top form when they get back or that they'll stay healthy. The reports on both of them have been positive lately but I'm still skeptical.
Is Gary Sheffield going to help?
I think he's about done. He hasn't been healthy since last June and has hurt the team trying to play his way into shape. I wouldn't be surprised if he were released before the end of the year.
What's wrong with Miguel Cabrera?
I answered that yesterday.
What's wrong with Justin Verlander?
I don't know. His velocity was down early in the season but it has gotten better in recent starts. His command is still not that good, he's not striking batters out and walking too many. The results have been better as of late but he's still not in peak form. They need a big last two thirds of the season from him if they are going to have any chance of contending.
He seems to have gotten older in a hurry. His range, which was about average last year, seems to have declined some more this year and his offense has been awful. I do think he is better than a .667 OPS though. He should do better.
Will they be sellers at the trading deadline?
If they don't improve substantially, then yes. If they climb back close to .500 and are in striking distance of first place, then no.
Who might they be selling?
I don't envision a fire sale. I can't see them trading Granderson, Verlander, Cabrera (his contract would make him tough to move anyway) or Magglio Ordonez. Players who they might be willing to move and might bring back something of value are Nate Robertson, Jones, Renteria and Pudge Rodriguez. Placido Polanco is a possibility but I think they'll keep him. Carlos Guillen would be tough to move with his long term deal and there is no way they'll get anything for Sheffield.
Why not a firesale?
Because I still think they have a core of talent that can compete in the AL Central if they make the right acquisitions during the off-season and some players having bad seasons bounce back in 2009.