The Detroit Tigers Aren’t Out of the Playoff Race Yet

Entering Friday, the Tigers sat an uninspiring 13 games out of the American League Central lead. However, they also began the day only five games back of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second wild card spot.

Why is this important?

Because Miguel Cabrera is back.

The slugger returns from a lengthy disabled-list stint and immediately gives the Tigers a massive shot in the arm (understatement of the century).

Cabrera’s numbers on the season? A .350 batting average, a .456 OBP, a 1.034 OPS (!), 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 32 extra-base-hits.

Yeah, he’s going to help the Tigers.

Detroit opens a three-game set in Houston against the Astros on Friday before facing the Cubs in Chicago before returning home to face Texas. The former Marlin slots in at third in the Tigers’ batting order. His arrival means the red-hot Ian Kinsler (.374 batting average, .979 OPS since the start of July) receives more at-bats in the second spot in the order. It also means less pressure on Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, who slide down the order. At the very least, Cabrera moves everyone but Kinsler down in the lineup, thereby lengthening it considerably.

To put Cabrera’s importance to the team in perspective, his WAR is 4.0. That’s for wins above replacement. Four wins. Add four wins to the Tigers and they would be .500 on the season.

Not only is Cabrera back, but Bruce Rondon is pitching like the pitcher most thought he would become. Rondon owns a 1.80 ERA over his last 11 appearances, striking out 14 batters in ten innings in the process.

Rondon’s resurgence gives the Tigers three dependable, late-inning arms at the end of games. With Rondon, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, there less of a need to feel anxious when the Tigers close out games.

Further stats of note on Rondon? His FIP (Fielding independent pitching—basically an ERA that the pitcher can control) is 2.43, lower than every reliever the Tigers have used this season. He’s also allowed only three base-runners (one hit, two walks) over his last six outings. He’s struck out 40% of the batters he’s faced over that span. In terms of his last six outings, Rondon’s opponents are managing a .259 OPS.

If he continues to pitch like that down the stretch in save-situations, the Tigers are going to be tough to beat.

The tricky part of the wild-card situation is that the do have to beat a number of teams (at least in the standings) in order to make it into October. The Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays all sit ahead of Detroit in the wild card race. That’s not to mention the New York Yankees and the Angels, who lead the race. Even with all those teams ahead of them, the Tigers can take solace in the fact that all of them (with the exceptions of Tampa Bay and Texas) have struggled as of late. New York and Baltimore are both 4-6 over their last ten respective games while Anaheim is 5-5. Minnesota is the fastest sinking ship in the harbor with a 3-7 record over the team’s last ten contests.

With Miguel Cabrera back in the fold and the back-end of the Tigers bullpen gaining some much needed consistency, the Tigers aren’t out of the playoff picture yet, not even close. Throw in some uncertainty ahead of the team in the standings and Detroit has the potential to make some noise down the stretch and once again make the postseason.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers: Grading the Tigers’ Trade Deadline Trades

As the MLB Trade Deadline passed, the Detroit Tigers firmly planted their flag on the “rebooting” side of things (as they like to call it). For a team that was so used to buying at the deadline, the Tigers replenished their farm system (the most overused term of the day) and generally did well for themselves.

General manager Dave Dombrowski turned rental players David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes into prospects Daniel Norris (Van Man!), Jairo Labourt, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Luis Cessa and JaCoby Jones.

All seven players are now top-fifteen prospects in the Detroit system, per MLB.com.

While the Tigers system was heavy on position players, Dombrowski and company clearly focused on adding pitching. Norris is already in the Tigers’ rotation while Boyd, Cessa and Fulmer have the potential to join him next season. This won’t happen obviously, but it gives the team more options moving forward than Buck Farmer and Kyle Ryan.

Now onto the grades.

The Trade: Price to Toronto for Norris, Labourt and Boyd

Grade: A

The Tigers probably weren’t going to re-sign David Price thanks to his likely out-of-this-world price tag, and did well to cash in on him when they had the chance. Norris is a future front-line starter and already owns a 3.86 ERA this season in five starts for the Jays. He’ll likely fill Price’s shoes in the coming years and gives the Tigers a legitimate piece to build around—pitching wise.

Labourt is a potential starter, but control issues may force him to the bullpen. At worst, he’s a reliever at the big-league. The former Jays’ farmhand is the “lottery ticket” of the deal and the hardest to project. Norris and Boyd are more surefire bets to make The Show, but Labourt has a chance talent-wise.

Last but not least, Boyd has big league potential. He’s displayed good control and feel for his pitches. This has clearly been on display this season with the left-hander posting a 9-2 record with a 1.68 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 112.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting a measly .178 off him. The former sixth-round pick has been effective at both Double-A and Triple-A, so a Major League call up may not be far away. Worst-case-scenario (in terms of his future) he’ll compete for a job with the Tigers next Spring Training.

The Trade: Soria to Pittsburgh for Minor League Shortstop JaCoby Jones

Grade: B+

While not the biggest haul for Soria, Jones is an intriguing prospect. Well, maybe “intriguing” is underselling the point. Tigers’ fans probably thought Soria would bring more of a return, but Jones has the chance to be special.

Granted he’s still a work-in-progress, but the Double-A shortstop has raw power to go along with plus speed. He’s big for a shortstop (6’2”) and has the athleticism to play other positions. The outfield is also a possibility for a player who has drawn comparisons to Adam Jones.

Jones comes with a great deal of risk, but his combination of raw power, plus speed and elite athleticism (not to mention his ability as a plus-plus defender at a number of positions) make him a player with difference-maker/star potential. He’s certainly worth the gamble for a half season of Soria.

The Trade: Cespedes to the Mets for Fulmer and Cessa

Grade: A

If Labourt (acquired in the Price trade), pans out as a big-league starter, the Tigers will have acquired an entire starting rotation for Price and Cespedes. Judging on a number of reports, tweets and what-have-you, the Mets seemed to like Fulmer a lot.

And rightfully so, Fulmer has a mid-90’s fastball and some nasty off-speed offerings. In terms of the future, it’s not hard to imagine Norris and Fulmer headlining the Tigers’ rotation for a decade. The former first-round pick was blocked in New York thanks to the presence all the Mets’ young starters (i.e. Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom), so a move to Detroit is clearly beneficial for his future prospects.

Cessa is another starting pitcher who profiles as a back-end starter more than anything. He’s a converted infielder with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90’s with two off-speed offerings that could play in the Majors. He’s struggled at Triple-A this season, but nonetheless shows promise.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Tampa Bay Rays 7/28/15

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Tampa Bay Rays 7/27/15

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Seattle Mariners 7/22/15

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs Seattle Mariners

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Detroit Tigers: Twitter Images from Baltimore Series, All-Star Game

Here’s Jose Iglesias flashing the leather at the All-Star Game.

Not to be outdone, J.D. Martinez made a highlight-reel defensive play against the O’s.

And then Iglesias did his best Martinez impression.

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Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera Replacements

The Detroit Tigers earned a vital win on Friday to break out of a slump, but they may have sustained a potentially crippling injury. The key word here is “crippling,” because while Miguel Cabrera’s likely six-week absence might be detrimental to the Tigers hopes this year, it also might rally the team together until Cabrera returns.

The unlucky part of the situation is the severity of the injury. It will keep Miggy out longer than a quick trip to the disabled list, meaning the Tigers can’t just can cobble together internal replacements to bridge the gap. The injury is short enough  from a time standpoint that it prohibits the team from moving for a replacement that brings a similar skillset— like when Prince Fielder was signed to make up for the loss of Victor Martinez.

Detroit can’t acquire a player of Cabrera’s ilk who plays first base, because they won’t have anywhere to put him when Miggy returns. A bench/platoon power hitter would be ideal. That way the player can shift to the bench as pinch-hitting option number one.

Finding that player is the tricky bit. Internal options are scarce and the trade market isn’t exactly swimming with loads of options either.

Jefry Marte was called up from Triple-A as the corresponding move when Cabrera hit the DL. Marte hit .277 with Toledo this season. He isn’t necessarily a prolific power hitter, with 13 being his career high. Those 13 bombs have come this year, in only 77 games. Still, Marte is a third baseman and doesn’t play first. You get the feeling he’d be the first one heading back to the minors once another addition is made.

So who would that addition be? It remains to be seen.

Mike Hessman is a phone call away in Toledo. However, while he has plenty of power, he’s a career .233 hitter in the minors and is 37.

Other than Marte and Hessman, the internal options include playing other hitters out of position at first. Alex Avila and his sudden defensive wizardry could receive more starts, especially if James McCann continues to play well behind the dish. Another player that could be shoehorned into the slot is Andrew Romine, who is quietly hitting .314 in 53 games.

Outside of those underwhelming (compared to Cabrera of course), options, there’s always the trade market.

There aren’t that many enticing options on the market, but the upside to that is the team won’t have to sacrifice too much to bring in a replacement.

Adam Lind may be the most expensive in terms of what it would cost to acquire. The former Blue Jay and current Brewer is hitting .295 this season, mainly against right handed pitching. Lind destroys/mashes/obliterates (you get the point) righties to the tune of a .308 batting average and a .927 OPS. If the Brewers were in the American League, they’d have the league’s worst record. Only the Rockies, Marlins and Phillies have fewer wins in the National League. To put it plainly, the Brew Crew are putrid this year. Dealing a 31-year-old who belongs at designated hitter in the AL may be the best move for Milwaukee.

For as much flack as the Tigers’ minor league system takes, they have a number of catching prospects and relief pitching prospects who could be moved. A rebuilding team like Milwaukee can use all the young pieces it can get. They’ve already reaped the benefits of bringing in former Tiger Hernan Perez, who’s hitting .362 in 26 games. Perhaps they’d be open to acquiring more Tigers players.

Coincidentally, the other first baseman on the market come from the NL’s other cellar dwellers. The Phillies’ Ryan Howard and the Rockies’ Justin Morneau could both be moved. However, Howard is a .220 hitter this year and led the league in strikeouts in 2014. Did I mention he also has a monstrous contract? The Phills would probably eat a considerable amount of Howard’s salary, but Detroit can likely find better production elsewhere—minus the salary commitment.

If healthy, Morneau would provide a solid addition. He’s experienced a career renaissance in Colorado, hitting .319 last season and .290 this year. Morneau isn’t the MVP candidate he once was, but he’ll more than likely give you a high batting average, 20 home runs and 80 RBI over the course of a full season. Adding Morneau would continue the Tigers’ recent trend of bringing in former Minnesota All-Stars to bolster their team. Morneau would join Torii Hunter and Joe Nathan as recent former Twins to suit up for the Tigers.

There’s also the wild card factor to consider with general manager Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers. No one really tabbed Detroit as front runners, or even contenders to trade for Cabrera or David Price. Going purely on that, Dombrowski might pull the unexpected.

Regardless of what route the Tigers take in attempting to replace Miguel Cabrera, it won’t be easy. The team isn’t stocked with trade chips, thus making the task tougher.

There are few positives to be had. Victor Martinez is beginning to regain his hitting stroke while J.D. Martinez continues to mash home runs. Victor and J.D. aren’t alone. Anthony Gose, Romine and Josh Wilson are all providing above-average production for hitters generally confined to the bottom of the lineup.

Still, Cabrera is the league’s best hitter and one of the best hitters of the century. He’s impossible to replace. The Tigers will certainly be tested with their best player out, but they have enough talent to stay in contention and make a run.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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3 Stats from the Detroit Tigers 6-0 Win vs the Chicago Cubs

  • 13

The number of hits by the Tigers as a team each Tigers hitter produced a base knock, including Josh Wilson, who is now hitting .462 since joining Detroit.

  • Six

The number of hits allowed by Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez in 7.2 innings pitched. Sanchez didn’t allow any runs and struck out seven. He walked two. Hopefully this start turns things around for the former Marlin, whose ERA sits at 5.16 on the season.

  • Two

The number of hits allowed by the Tigers bullpen. Joba Chamberlain and Alex Wilson combined to hold the Cubs scoreless and finish the shutout. Both relievers have ERAs under two this season. Chamberlain’s is 1.13 while Wilson’s is 1.86.

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