With the "month-long" all star break finally over, here are some random thoughts on the second half:
The Tigers have been getting on base most of the year, but they have not hit for enough power, especially not with runners on base. They showed signs prior to the break, that they were pulling out of their slugging slump. First base baseman Prince Fielder and designated hitter Delmon Young led the charge. They'll need to keep it up and they'll need help from right fielder Brennan Boesch, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and utility man Ryan Raburn. I'm not throwing Alex Avila in there. He's been beat up bad and still hitting pretty well for a catcher. The Avila/Gerald Laird combo has been fine.
If the Tigers struggle out of the gate, look at them to make a move to improve their offense. I'm guessing that outfielder Carlos Quentin will be a prime target.
The Tigers have the worst defense in baseball and it has been embarrassing to watch. They don't have the range or fielding skill to ever be good, but they need to do better. Many of their miscues appear to have been due to concentration rather than ability and they need to cut down on those types of errors. I have a suspicion they will pick up Placido Polanco and use him at second base for the stretch run. However, he would only be a marginal improvement over what they have now.
The Tigers staff has received a lot of criticism for inconsistency, but I actually think they've been OK considering the poor fielding support. Nothing more needs to be said about ace Justin Verlander. Beyond that, Max Scherzer has his awful days which raise his ERA, but he has more good days than bad days and appears to be getting better as the season progresses. Rick Porcello is OK as a fourth man and Drew Smyly and Jacob Turner should be able to handle the fifth starter job.
I think the key is Doug Fister.. He's been injured and re-injured and has not really gotten going. A lot was expected from him and is still expected. They might have to make a move for another starter if Fister does not look good in his next few starts.
The Tigers bullpen is as deep as it has been in a long time. With Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke Octavio Dotel and Brayan Villarreal, they are all set from the the sixth to the eighth inning and lefty Duane Below is an excellent long man. The weakest link is closer Jose Valverde. He's been better as of late, but doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. He'll have to be a little more dominant in the second half. Either that or Jim Leyland needs to try someone else in the ninth inning role.
They have plenty of time to catch up in a division which lacks an elite team. The Indians are hanging in there, but they have a weak starting staff and don't have enough offense to overcome it. In fact, they have allowed 29 more runs than they have scored which does not bode well for the second half. Needless to say, the Royals and Twins don't have much of a chance.
There is one opponent, however, that looks much stronger than they did when the season started. The White Sox have received a big boost this year from some surprise players - pitchers Jake Peavy and Chris Sale, slugging designated hitter Adam Dunn and more recently a rejuvenated Kevin Youkilis. They are legitimate and I wouldn't expect them to quickly fold.
The Tigers still have the best high-end talent in the division, but they dug a hole for themselves with a lackluster first half and can no longer be expected run away with the division any time they want. They are going to have to play very good ball the rest of the way in order to beat out the White Sox. They will have to field better and slug more and they'll need more out of Fister if they want to keep playing in October.
I believe it will be a close race between Detroit and Chicago and I'll go with my heart and pick the Tigers. However, I've had an unusually hard time staying positive with this group this year and I still fear them blowing the division on a terrible fielding play late in the year.