So far this season, my only post regarding the Tigers has been about the need for them to acquire a new second baseman. My views haven’t changed, but at this point, I will leave that discussion to everyone else — I’ve voiced my opinion and I’ll leave it at that.
What I would like to mention, though I’ve avoided this discussion so far this season, is that “The Skip and The Stars”–my nickname for the Tigers, a team built with Jim Leyland and 3 megastars (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander), surrounded by a lot of mediocre players — is turning out to be a decent team this year.
I still don’t think the Tigers are the team they need to be, but they are definitely getting there. They have been the true definition of an up-and-down team all year, with the exception of this last stretch of games, where they’ve gone 10-2.
As the season has progressed, I’ve been thinking more about how this team compares to last year’s team. I know the cliches: “Every team is different”, “You can’t compare one year to the next”, “It’s a new year, things change.” I really don’t care — the Tigers are basically the same team as last year, save a few guys who just aren’t having the lights-out years they had in 2011.
On paper, it’s even easier to note the similarities between 2011 and 2012. The lineup looks markedly similar, with Cabrera moving to third (obviously an upgrade there over, say, Brandon Inge) and Fielder at first, replacing Victor Martinez in the batting order. Throw in Quintin Berry and you have a solid lineup that might be better than a season ago. And, remember, that lineup was good enough to bring Detroit its first division title since 1987 and help the team get within two wins of a World Series berth.
Plenty of people have argued that the Tigers’ still need another bat with Martinez’s return looking unlikely. But I say, look at Fielder’s production and the out-of-nowhere man, Berry, who has really lit a fire under all of the Tigers, superstar or not. No matter how people try to spin it, the 2012 Tigers are looking a lot like last year’s team — and that could mean good things are in store for this team come the last two months of the season and the playoffs; they performed at crunch time in 2011, so what’s to stop them from doing it again?
All past comparisons aside, what’s noticeable right now is that the Tigers finally look like a contender again on the field. They are hot, healthy and, most importantly they are hitting.
I’d even go so far as to say that the pitching is almost there. One more starting pitcher pickup prior to the trade deadline would give them a real boost, as Jacob Turner and Casey Crosby have shown that they just aren’t ready for the bigs, and Rick Porcello has been a disappointment.
Now, if VMart could come back, and Prince continues to find his home-run mojo, the Tigers would be all set. Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta had Ryan Raburn-like second-half starts — that’s right, I just said that – they are headed in the right direction; Berry has solidified himself as the starting left fielder and has locked up that No. 2spot in the lineup; and Cabrera is … well … “the man”, for lack of a better term. Meanwhile, Alex Avila is starting come around but is as solid as ever behind the dish, so there is no need to worry about him.
Ironically, I will touch on the leadoff man last — Austin Jackson has really been the spark plug for this team. Most folks are putting that tag on Berry (he was a great replacement), but I think Berry is just making Jackson even more valuable. Ajax has been an absolute beast, hitting .317 with 10 homers 39 RBI from the leadoff spot. Toss in an OBP of .397 and already 37 walks, and Jackson remains a key figure for the Tigers down the stretch.
The Tigers open a big series against the White Sox on Friday night with the MVP, Justin Verlander, on the mound. If they can stay hot through this big weekend, it might be time to sip on some red pop and dream of another pennant run.