To many Detroit Tigers fans, being 10 games over .500 and protecting a meager 1.5 game lead in the AL Central produces vitriol and rancor directed toward a perceived underachievement. Four of the other six divisions possesses a team that has TRULY underachieved – spent a ton of money to revamp a roster, or tweaked a playoff-caliber club, only to see pennant hopes disappear like a Miguel Cabrerashot into the cheap seats. On the eve of the second-half of the season, let’s take a quick look at the fan bases who would gladly switch spots with the Motor City:
- Toronto 45-49 11.5 GB Last in AL East
The Blue Jays added Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera to their already potent lineup and revamped 3/5’s of their rotation with R.A.Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, committing to nearly $200 million in salaries in the process. The results have been predictable; Reyes was hurt almost immediately; Bonifacio never met a grounder he couldn’t kick; Melky misses his syringes; Dickey’s knuckler isn’t quite as effective vs. deeper AL lineups’; Johnson is still oft-injured and inconsistent; and Buehrle’s best years are behind him. A 12-game winning streak pulled Toronto within sight of the rest of the division, but the chances of climbing out of this pit of despair is unlikely – they will be waiting for next year once again north of the border.
- Washington 48-47 6 GB 2nd in NL East
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are the young studs, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche the productive veterans, and Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman the talented moundsmen to build around – so the Nationals merely added Denard Span to set the table, Dan Haren to eat up 200 innings, and Rafael Soriano to close the door. For a squad that was one out away from the NLCS, these seemed like shrewd fortifications. Alas, it has been an inconsistent first 95 games for the Nats, and the offense has been the main culprit – 13th in the league in runs, hits, BA and OPS. The pitching is primed for postseason – will the bats heat up enough to catch the Braves and/or sneak into a Wild Card spot?
- Los Angeles Dodgers 47-47 2.5 GB 2nd in NL West
New ownership opened up it’s checkbook for Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon League, and Josh Beckett – and the performance of this bunch of once-stars nearly got Don Mattingly canned. It took an amazing six-week stretch from rookie Yasiel Puig to light a fire under this kettle of under-achievers. A little provocation from division rival Arizona also seemed to spur the erstwhile Trolley Dodgers on. Now the D-Backs are squarely in their sights, and they have 60 games or so to salvage a division title.
- Los Angeles Angels 44-49 11 GB 3rd in NL West
Up the road in Anaheim, the Angels once again stumbled from the gate, allowing the field to lap them before catching stride. Mike Trout has been phenomenal again, but Albert Pujols is achy, and Josh Hamilton has an OBP of .283 with 95 K’s already. The Angels have wasted some nice contributions from Mark Trumbo and Howard Kendrick, and C.J. Wilson has been steady atop the rotation. The Halos are looking up at two of the better teams in the AL, Oakland and Texas, and they are 9 games out of the last Wild Card spot.
So take a deep breath, Tigers fans, it could be worse – much worse! Their current winning percentage – .553 – represents a 90-win season. The remaining schedule is much easier than the first half, and Dave Dombrowski is scavenging to find the right pieces to complete the bench and the bullpen. I expect the Tribe to keep it close, but it seems safe there will be baseball in the “D” again this October.