In fact, you could say it’s “troughing”. It’s more or less a given that the Tigers are going to make the playoffs. In fact, MLB.com estimates their “playoff odds” at 100%. So we’re primarily concerned now with how the Tigers are going to fare once the playoffs start, and you always want to see a team firing on all cylinders in September rather than slumping their way through to the end of the season. As far as the Tigers offense is concerned, slumping would be an accurate description.
Going into today’s game, the Tigers were 9-8 in the month of September but 11th in the American League with only 59 runs scored. That’s about 3.5 per game. Though Tigers pitchers haven’t been too shabby, they have allowed 65 runs over that span – with their apparently structural half-run gap between actual runs allowed and runs that they statistically should have allowed (based on xFIP). That makes the September Tigers a rather poor team that has been lucky to win the close ones. As far as team offense goes, the Tigers aren’t walking quite so much in September and they are striking out more, but the big issue is a nearly team-wide power outage that has produced only 9 dingers (tied for last in the AL with the Astros) in those 17 games. The Red Sox and A’s, who are also both locks or near locks for the postseason, have 27 and 25 respectively.
While these are small sample numbers and we do have another 10 games before we start the ALDS (probably against Oakland), bear in mind that slumps can be real as well as “statistical anomalies” and you’d never know from the data. A guy’s mechanics can get out of whack, or his psychological approach and he’s not going to hit well until he gets it figured out. The two guys that I’m not going to “blame”, which is to say the two guys that don’t seem to need to figure anything out right now (they needed to figure some stuff out to get where they are right now), are Alex Avila and Prince Fielder. In the month of September, both guys have batting averages in the .370′s and OPS’s over 1.000. Their slumps lasted a long time, but are apparently over. Andy Dirks, Omar Infante and Austin Jackson all have high BABIPs recently that have propped up their batting lines, but all three are striking out too much and walking too little. The same goes for Jose Iglesias, but I’m not sure it’s reasonable to demand more. Dirks, Jackson and Infante are also struggling to get balls over the fence – though they’re hitting doubles, none has a home run this month.
Tigers reserves are not hitting – which plays a significant role here. Not that they were ever expected to provide the same sort of production as AJax or Fielder, but Bryan Holaday, Brayan Pena, Nick Castellanos, Matt Tuiasosopo, Hernan Perez and Danny Worth have combined for 6 singles and a walk in 42 plate appearances. We would be hoping for something from these guys off the bench in the postseason, so there is reason for concern. Santiago and Kelly aren’t really doing much, but they have been providing the same sort of mediocre production we have long grown accustomed to from Santiago and Kelly.
The guys we most need to snap out of it are Victor Martinez, who seems to be making a lot of unimpressive contact lately – with the same number of RBI and GIDP, Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter. Cabrera and Martinez have combined for 2 home runs and 7 RBI in September. The Tigers offense will be terrible if these two guys are not producing, even if Fielder and Avila stay hot. Hunter has a .404 OPS in front of Cabrera and though the high line drive rate gives hope that this could be a “statistical anomaly” he has struck out 16 times against only 1 walk. Cabrera seems to be doing little besides walking this month – that could be a product of the way that guys have been pitching him, or he might have changed his approach a bit in compensation for his various lingering injuries. I doubt it’s due to the inability of opposing pitchers to throw strikes, or somebody else on the Tigers would be walking too. If over the next 10 games Don Kelly and Jose Iglesias again hit as many balls over the fence as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter we should be seriously concerned about the Tigers chances in the ALDS – and seriously concerned that we could see a debacle as shameful as the last Oakland series…