It’s easy to point to injuries as being the major culprit behind the demise of the Tigers this year.
For a two week period, Detroit was missing their three, six, and seven hitters, solid veteran bats with good pop. During that time, those guys were replaced by a group of Will Rhymes, Don Kelly, Scott Sizemore, and Ryan Raburn, with a little bit of Jeff Frazier sprinkled in. Not exactly household names, unless you live in their households.
The injuries to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Brandon Inge certainly hurt. They were compounded by a horrendous slump by Brennan Boesch and a killer schedule. That combination of events is what turned a small deficit in the AL Central into the 9.5 game chasm now staring the Tigers in the face.
That said, the worst should be behind us now.
While Ordonez isn’t coming back anytime soon, Inge and Guillen have already returned. Boesch is slowly showing signs of coming out of his funk, and the addition of Jhonny Peralta should, in theory, bring more offense to the shortstop position down the stretch.
Now, the Tigers must show improvement.
The Tigers are still missing Ordonez, and that does create a pretty big hole in the lineup, but it’s the rest of the order that now must get the job done. No longer do the Tigers have to use five or six rookies on a given night. They have two or three at most, and those guys have been here all season long.
Boesch’s slump saw his average slip from .342 at the all-star break all the way to as low as .280 in early August. Over his last seven games, however, Boesch has started to come around. He hitting .286 since August 4, and has homered twice in his past 21 at bats, giving him a .919 OPS since that date. He’s been batting third a couple of times recently, and I think keeping him there should help to get his bat going again.
But the Tigers won’t even make the last 49 games of the season interesting if the veteran guys don’t perform better than the rookies they replaced. Guillen hasn’t had so much as a hit since coming back (granted it’s only 10 at bats), Inge is batting .172 since his return with 11 strikeouts in 29 at bats, and Peralta has done virtually nothing since his two-homer debut game, hitting .136/.224/.159 over his last 12 games.
Opposing pitchers have taken notice as well. Miguel Cabrera, the team’s lone great hitter, is getting walked at an alarming rate, and when he does get a pitch in the zone, he’s pressing to make something happen. The result is a .227 average in his last seven games, but with a .469 OBP. Cabrera hasn’t homered this month, and has just two RBI, both coming on August 1.
Cabrera’s fortunes, and those of the Tigers, don’t figure to change anytime soon unless guys like Guillen, Inge, and Peralta find their strokes, and quickly. The Tigers open a seven game road trip tonight that will see them take on the White Sox and Yankees. If everything was clicking just right, you’d like to see the Tigers come home 4-3 on this trip. They can’t afford to do worse than that.
They don’t have inexperience to lean on as an excuse for the lack of runs they produce as a team anymore. Raburn has joined Boesch in picking up the slack for Ordonez in the outfield and also in the order, batting .308/.357/.577/.937 over his last eight games. There is no reason that the Tigers cannot begin to creep back towards .500 with this lineup.
Unless, of course, the struggles of Inge, Guillen, and Peralta continue.