Legends On Deck

June is Make or Break in the Motor City

May was another month leaving Detroit baseball fans with plenty of questions.  Having played 20 of their 29 games on the road, they finished the month with a 13-16 record (25-28 on the season).  On the surface, the record does not look that bad.  The Tigers sit only three games behind the AL Central leading Twins and Indians.  However, the stats tell a somewhat different story.


The pitching woes from April have not been well remedied, as they still hold one of the highest team ERAs at 4.7 (27th in MLB).  Strangely, some of the bright spots have actually been in the bullpen, particularly Alex Wilson (1.88 ERA) and Shane Greene (1.82 ERA). New Closer Justin Wilson (2.86 ERA) has some traits reminiscent of Todd Jones, but picked up 5 saves in his 8 outings after replacing K-Rod on May 9.  What has become clear is Michael Fulmer is the new Ace of the starting rotation. While he is not the strikeout machine Justin Verlander has been, Fulmer sits at a 2.65 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 5-3 record.  He pitched no less than seven innings in all his May outings and a little run support against Houston on May 22, could have given him a sixth win.  The rest of the rotation has simply struggled.


Perhaps more troubling than the pitching staff, however, is the underperforming performances at the plate.  As a whole, the team has dropped from 13th in Batting Average in April (2.49) to 22nd (2.41); yet still 13th overall in run production.  Despite a few efforts to slug out victories, Tigers hitters were shut out four times in May.  Among a few bright spots in the lineup, Alex Avila is having a career season (thus far), hitting 3.13 with 7 Home Runs and 21 RBIs and the return of JD Martinez, who’s put up 8 HRs and 19 RBIs since his return on May 12.  Victor Martinez had a strong month, overcoming his rough April start, while Justin Upton suffered a May slump after a strong April. Miguel Cabrera missed a few games this month and has yet to really heat up, but has provided some clutch hitting and one can expect he will be back over the .300 mark by mid-season.

Can the Tigers Reverse Course?

Several articles have already circulated in recent days speculating on what Tigers talent might be available for the July 31 MLB trade deadline.  Without a major shift in the team’s direction in June, plenty of teams may come dealing for Detroit’s veterans.  First, let’s consider that the June schedule is more favorable; 16 home games and 10 road games scheduled and only 11 of those against teams with winning records. And sitting only three games out of the AL Central lead still leaves them in a strong position.  If there’s any opportunity to steer the ship in the right direction, June is it.  The Tigers will need to finish June with 15-18 wins to really make headway; possible indeed, but how probable?  What they really need is a 5-7 game win streak to shift the momentum.

Is it Time to Sell?

The average age of the Tigers roster is older than average and they have a roster full of veteran talent that could bolster playoff bound teams into October.  Additionally, the Tigers have been ranked as having one of the weakest farm systems in MLB.  So, if they have the solid veterans and need the prospects, the trade deadline could indeed be the right time to break loose and retool.  The most obvious name to shop would be JD Martinez, who’s got a hot bat and a contract that expires at the season’s end.  Victor Martinez offers a solid bat in the lineup, but his salary and his role as a DH, severely limits his appeal.  Rumors swirled over the off-season that the Tigers were entertaining offers on top stars like Kinsler and Verlander, perhaps this is revisited in July.  

As a Tigers fan, it is difficult to complain about a franchise who has won two AL Pennants and four AL Central titles in the last decade.  But with aging stars, the fourth highest payroll and continued underperformance, it is reasonable to question whether the current formula is working.   Watching both division rivals Kansas City (2014, 2015) and Cleveland (2016) recent success, with lesser star power and smaller payrolls, is good reason to consider a strategy adjustment.  Let’s see what June brings.

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