Recently, MCB writer Brian Sakowski offered his bold predictions for the second half. While I don’t mind going bold myself from time to time, I wanted to look at some areas of the team that are key to the Tigers overtaking the Chicago White Sox in the second half and winning the division. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list, as there are probably much more than five things that need to happen, but just some things I believe to be key.
1. Doug Fister
Doug Fister has now become maybe the most important piece to the Tigers rotation this year. While Max Scherzer has been pretty darn good since April, Rick Porcello and 5th starter Drew Smyly have been up and down. Fister hasn’t pitched up to his capabilities, and part of that might be because of the strain in his side. If he is still favoring it, which he may be, that could be a problem for Detroit in the second half. Why? Simply put, the Tigers need that strong Robin pitcher to Verlander’s Batman in order to surpass the White Sox. Fister doesn’t need to be Tigers 2011 good. He just needs to be significantly better than he has.
2. Finding a way to defend better
Things have got to get better right? Not necessarily. The truth of the matter is that guys like Miguel Cabrera have been a little bit better than most of us thought. Guys like Prince Fielder, Brennan Boesch, and Delmon Young likely can’t get any better. So, where is the improvement going to come from? Not sure I have the answer to this one. Quintin Berry isn’t a good defender either, but he is better than Boesch. Maybe if Andy Dirks returns healthy, and Ryan Raburn can hit in the 2nd half like he usually does, the Tigers could start putting those two on the corners and it will help. The range factors aren’t going to get better, but the Tigers could certainly do a better job of just catching the ball.
3. Gerald Laird staying healthy
What? I’ve got to be kidding right? Absolutely not. Gerald Laird staying healthy is a key to the Tigers down the stretch. Alex Avila is still no doubt the starter on this team, but as the dog days of August roll around, the wear and tear on Avila has been immense the past couple of seasons, and him getting a few more days off is going to be necessary. Not to mention he seems to have knee trouble as it is. Gerald Laird may be thrust into a more important role going forward, and with the season he is having, the Tigers need him to continue playing like he has.
4. David Dombrowski pulling a rabbit out of his hat
Let me first just say that I am not particularly expecting that the Tigers do any at the trade deadline. I’m not sure the market is going to provide the Tigers with a solution to the multitude of issues the 2012 Tigers team has right now. Dombrowski has his work cut out for him. He needs to find a corner outfielder that can hit and defend, a 2nd baseman, and a starting pitcher. While he isn’t likely to find all three, something of note in the trade market could not only help the team on the field, but help them mentally as well going forward. Acquiring a piece could be that jolt this team needs. The goal is ultimately to get to the World Series, not just squeak by with a Central Division crown. As it stands, I don’t think there are too many people that like the Tigers chances to be a World Series team. Making a splash is easier said then done, but like the Doug Fister deal, Dombrowski has made some magic before.
5. The Toledo shuttle needs to slow
There has been a ton of movement by the Tigers organization this year calling up and sending down guys back and forth to Toledo. A lot of that hasn’t been their fault. They can’t do anything about injuries. Some of it is things that can be controlled. One issue is the shuffling of the bullpen, which the Tigers have had to do more than they may have liked. The starting pitching hasn’t gone deep enough in games, and needs to do a better job of that in the 2nd half. The bullpen guys with options for the Tigers are sometimes valuable, and the Tigers don’t want to get into a situation like they did before the break where they have to send down useful arms like Marte, in favor of guys with fresh arms. The worst case scenario would be overusing guys like Brayan Villarreal who have been essential to the bullpen resurrecting itself from a rough April.