Detroit Tigers: Neftali Feliz has a Chance to Solidify Himself as the Tigers’ Closer for 2016

With news coming out of Detroit that Brad Ausmus will continue to manage the team next season, and thus keep his job, it’s now a time of evaluation for the Tigers as the team decides which non-core players to keep around next season.

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With a number of starting players set in stone (Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, James McCann, etc.) the likely focus of the evaluation process will be positions where there is uncertainty. Naturally, the most uncertain area of the Tigers’ roster will be under close examination. That uncertain area? The bullpen. More specifically, the back end of the bullpen.

Alex Wilson has performed admirably for Detroit, pitching wherever he’s needed. The former Red Sox pitcher owns a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings and is one of the few relievers with job security heading into next season. However, Wilson’s ERA is nearly a run higher in save situations then it is in non-save situations. He’ll pitch effectively wherever the Tigers pitch him, but ideally the team would probably have Wilson throwing in the seventh or eighth inning in front of a lockdown closer.

Where that closer emerges from (free agency, trade, the minor league system, etc.) remains to be seen, but the Tigers have one building block in Wilson.

With so little certainty in the bullpen heading into next year, especially with Bruce Rondon being sent home early, now is the time for relievers not named Wilson to make their respective marks.

One reliever who could benefit greatly from Rondon’s absence is Neftali Feliz.

The former Texas Ranger still owns an unsightly 7.33 ERA for the Tigers, but a closer look at his numbers reveals a much better product. Feliz’ FIP, or of fielding independent pitching, is 3.78. Additionally, over his last 12 appearances (12.2 innings), the ex-Ranger has a 2.13 ERA and is holding batters to a .178 batting average. Over those innings, Feliz has struck out 11 batters while only walking one. Opposing hitters have managed a .457 OPS against the reliever.

Looking at those stats, Feliz clearly has the talent to be a significant contributor to the Detroit bullpen. He may even end up as closer. As of now, he has three saves in a Tigers’ uniform, two of which have come in the last two wins for the team. With Rondon no longer with the team for the duration of this season, Neftali Feliz has a chance to cement himself as a late-inning option for the Ausmus heading into next season.

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

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Tigers Catching Options Without Bryan Holaday

Any plans for the Tigers to call up catcher Bryan Holaday when rosters expand in September have been sufficiently dashed. The catcher recently injured his thumb during a game in with Triple-A Toledo and will likely miss the rest of the season.

The news comes as a blow to the Tigers given Holaday’s status as the team’s third catcher. Third-string catchers are generally locks to be called up during September when rosters expand simply based on the beating catchers take. In other words, more depth is always nice.

Detroit will have to find different depth, at least for this season.

Holaday was hitting .205 in 46 Triple-A games, but put up much better numbers at the big-league level. The 27-year-old produced a .271 batting average and 12 RBI in only 16 games. The catcher spent last season as Alex Avila’s primary backup, but was sent to Toledo this time around thanks to James McCann’s emergence. It’s widely thought that Holaday has the inside track in terms of being McCann’s backup next season should Avila depart via free agency in the offseason.

Given that McCann, Avila and Holaday are the only catchers on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, a move will have to be made to add another. There is an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that spot is likely going to Kyle Lobstein, who is nearing a return from an injury of his own.

Regardless of who vacates a 40-man roster slot, Detroit will likely be in the market for a new catcher. There are a few in-house options, as well as the possibility that a number of players could hit the waiver wire once teams start expanding their rosters come September.

In terms of in-house options, Detroit already has both Manny Pina and Miguel Gonzalez in Toledo, but their respective numbers don’t inspire much confidence.

The 28-year-old Pina is a career .188 hitter in the majors. His Triple-A batting average (.239) isn’t much better.

Gonzalez has minimal big-league experience, but did collect two hits in nine plate appearances with the White Sox two years ago. However, he did strike out (three) more times than he did reach base. Gonzalez has hit an underwhelming .195 in 28 games with Toledo.

All told, the Pina/Gonzalez duo has ten games of major league experience.

If Pina or Gonzalez isn’t handed the role of third-string catcher, let’s be clear, Detroit isn’t going to give up much more than a PTNBL/cash for a catcher who likely will have to beat Holaday for a job next spring training.

That being said, there are players cut all the time. Both Eric Fryer and Taylor Teagarden were recently designated for assignment, and while neither is a world-beater, they are solid third-choice catchers.

Reserve catchers can become available at the drop of a hat given other team’s personnel decisions. When one becomes available in the coming months, don’t be surprised to see the Tigers pounce on one.

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

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Chicago Cubs 8/18/15

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Detroit Tigers: Steven Moya and/or Mike Hessman Should Be Called Up in September

With September right around the corner, the Detroit Tigers will soon be joining the rest of Major League Baseball in the process of calling up players when rosters expand. There are a number of players who seem locks to be called up (Bryan Holaday, Ian Krol and Dixon Machado) while others’ chances aren’t guaranteed (Marc Krauss, Jeff Ferrell and Wynton Bernard).

Regardless of the other players packing their bags and heading to Detroit, there is one type of player the Tigers will almost surely call up– a slugging, bench bat.

As of now, the two obvious (and really only) candidates are Steven Moya and Mike Hessman. Expect at least one of the players to get the call come September—if not both.

The Case for Moya

At 24-years-old, Steven Moya ranks as the Tigers’ prospect—even after the trade deadline acquisitions of top prospects like Michael Fulmer, Luis Cessa, JaCoby Jones and Jairo Labourt.

Moya has (insert adjective here, somewhere between outstanding and exceptional) power as well as a strong arm and the ability to run well. The only knack on him is that he doesn’t really hit for average, and strikes out a lot (129 in 103 games at Triple-A this season). The lack of hitting for average (as well as a low walk rate), could hurt Moya. However, if he can hit even .250, he’ll enjoy at least a 10-year career. He’s got that kind of power.

Adding him to the roster in September would give the team a powerful—if raw—bench option. He can also provide dependable defense while also brining some speed. If called up, the Tigers will be hoping that Moya’s experience in September will help pave the way to bigger things next season, similar to James McCann’s situation last year.

The Case for Hessman

While the 37-year-old Hessman doesn’t possess the same potential as Moya due to his age, he does bring power.

The veteran is the minors’ all-time home run leader, with a whopping 433 minor league bombs. He has 16 in 103 Triple-A games to go along with 52 RBI, 21 doubles and four (!) triples. Like Moya, Hessman has never been much of a contact hitter. He’s hitting .241 this season and is a career .233 hitter in the minors.

For all his power, one would think the minor league home run king would have received an extended look in the big leagues. However, Hessman has never logged more than 32 games in a season and has only played in 109 big-league games.

While his career batting average in the majors (.188) isn’t pretty, Hessman has actually performed solidly while wearing a Tigers uniform. In 29 career games with Detroit the slugger has mashed nine home runs to go along with 19 RBI, a double and 13 runs scored. He hit .256 with a .945 OPS over that span. Here’s hoping, should he be called up, that he repeat those numbers.

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

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Houston Astros 8/14/15

Miguel Cabrera is back. Rejoice! Here’s the lineup as the Detroit Tigers take on the Houston Astros and starter Dallas Keuchel.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Kansas City Royals 8/12/15

Here’s the Detroit Tigers’ lineup as Daniel Norris takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals. 

(RELATED: Tigers must stop being patient with the bullpen).

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Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Lineup in 2020

After trading David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes (in that order no less!), the Detroit Tigers are seem to have an eye on the future. The team will still be ultra-aggressive in winning in the short-term, but the trades of the impending free agents signal that the team is at least conscious of building a long-term winner that is more sustainable. Here’s a look at what that future might entail. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, you’re 2020 Detroit Tigers (as it stands right now anyways…).

  • C: James McCann

Anyone under the impression that James McCann would take time to acclimate have been dead wrong. The catcher has lived up to his reputation defensively—he leads all catchers in fielding percentage (0 errors) while grading out well in defensive metrics. McCann also has thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers. The 25-year-old is hitting .282 with 22 extra-base-hits and owns a 1.3 WAR as a rookie. The Tigers seem set behind the plate for the next decade.

1B: Miguel Cabrera

By this point, Miguel Cabrera will be one of the game’s greatest all-time players. He isn’t going anywhere, regardless of his salary.

2B: Dixon Machado/ JaCoby Jones

Here’s where it gets interesting. Ian Kinsler will be 38 by this point, and the Tigers have two excellent converted shortstops ready to take the reins. Machado is currently at Triple-A, and is a plus-plus defender while Jones is at Double-A and has tantalizing potential.

Machado has already earned a cup of coffee with the Tigers this season and with a .267 batting average in the high-minors, there’s hope that he’ll offensive potential to go along with his excellent defense.

While further down the minor-league ladder, Jones possess just as much potential as Machado—if not more. The former third-round pick has raw power to go along with elite athleticism and plus-plus capabilities on defense that allow him to play most positions. This will obviously be the case with Jose Iglesias entrenched at shortstop, so expect Jones to be in the Tigers lineup come 2020, if not much, much sooner. The prospect is off to a strong start in Double-A after hitting three home runs in one game soon after arriving from Pittsburgh.  

SS: Jose Iglesias

When a 25-year-old shortstop can do this

And this

Then you’ve clearly found a keeper. Throw in the fact that Iglesias is hitting .318 this year (and in the process earning his first All-Star nod) and you might just see him in a Tigers uniform in 2025, let alone 2020.

3B: Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos is finally starting to become the hitter everyone thought he would be.

While his .237 batting average this season is far from encouraging, his recent numbers are. The third baseman is hitting .276 with seven home runs, 24 RBI and an .846 OPS since June 23rd.

Castellanos still has work to do in terms of reaching full potential, but the fact that he has almost surpassed his home run and RBI totals from last season is an extremely good sign moving forward. It seems like he’s been around for ages, but Castellanos is still only 23-years-old. When he reaches his prime, he should be a more-than-competent middle-of-the-order bat.

LF: Anthony Gose/ Christian Stewart/ JaCoby Jones

Again, another tough decision. Gose will only be 29 in 2020, so he’ll likely still be with the team if he performs well. But, by that time he’ll likely have shifted to left in order to accommodate top prospect Derek Hill.

Stewart is one of the team’s better outfield prospects. He may not be on Gose’s level defensively, but it seems that his offense will be his meal ticket in the bigs. Jones’ potential won’t be recounted again, but put it this way—he can be a plus defender in the outfield as well as the infield.

CF: Derek Hill

Hill isn’t going to be a power-hitting player in The Show, but he’s got plenty of speed to help him reach the bigs and stay there. Hill has what scouts would call “plus” speed. The prospect also possesses good plate discipline. He’ll be a dangerous leadoff-type hitter for the Tigers for years to come—not to mention a strong defensive centerfielder.

RF: J.D. Martinez

Maybe the biggest lock here not named Miguel, J.D. Martinez isn’t leaving Detroit any time. Right now its probably a safe bet to assume he’ll be with the team until he retires. The Tigers will need protection for Cabrera once Victor Martinez retires/departs, and they already have that in J.D.

Fun fact: J.D. Martinez has homered in three consecutive games three different times this season.

DH: Steven Moya

If Moya can put it together in Triple-A, this job’s his. Dude can hit the ball a mile.

Bookmark/subscribe/follow/keep on eye on Know Hitter over the next few days—coming soon, predicting the Tigers pitching staff in 2020.

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

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Detroit Tigers: Time for Dave Dombrowski to Pull His Usual Trade Deadline Magic

With the news that the Detroit Tigers are in fact not going to be sellers, its once again time for general manager Dave Dombrowski to pull is standard trade deadline magic.

The Tigers need the help, and thankfully, Dombrowski is adept at providing it.

Dombrowski has a long history of winning trades. He fleeced the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera, turned Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson into Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke as well as acquiring Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson (plus a prospect) for Rick Porcello.

While those trades are wonderfully lopsided (at least in the Tigers’ favor), some of the Tigers GM’s best work has come at the trade deadline. He convinced the Mariners into parting with Doug Fister essentially for a singular reliever while acquiring Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for what has amounted to a couple of A-ball pitchers.

However, the most impressive trade on Dombrowski’s resume may have been dealing for David Price. The Tigers dealt Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly and Willy Adames (a top shortstop prospect, but not one that was going to unseat Jose Iglesias as the team’s long-term starter) in order to acquire their current ace.

It’s time for Dombrowski to work that same magic.

There’s probably skepticism in the Tigers adding at the trade deadline. If you made a dollar for every time someone lambasted Detroit’s “lack of a farm system,” you’d have more cash than Bill Gates. Still, Dombrowski acquired Price without surrendering a hoard of top prospects, and did the same with both Fister and Sanchez.

It would not be surprising to see Dombrowski dip into the Tigers’ farm system and deal for talent. The reality is that Detroit’s system isn’t nearly as bad as people think. Two of the team’s top prospects last year (Detroit was again critiqued for having a bad farm system), now rank as two of Baseball America’s top 50 prospects in. Both were traded at the deadline, but it just goes to show that the prospects in the Tigers’ system may get a bad rap.

Additionally, the system has produced notable, young big leaguers such as Devon Travis, Smyly, Avisail Garcia, Eugenio Suarez, Nick Castellanos and James McCann.

Travis is hitting .302 in his rookie year in Toronto. Smyly has been injured a good deal since heading to Tampa Bay, but owns a stellar 1.96 ERA as a member of the Rays. Like Travis, Suarez has been a force at the plate for his new team, hitting .315 with five home runs and 18 RBI in only 35 games. Garcia is a cornerstone player for the White Sox, while Castellanos is finally showing signs of being the hitter the Tigers envisioned when they drafted him. McCann has quickly established himself as one of the premier young backstops in the league, making Alex Avila and his comparatively massive salary expandable.

If anything, the trade for Price, with Adames and Smyly going the other way, has proven that Detroit’s system is underrated. While it is unlikely that consensus top prospect Steven Moya is moved, the team has a glut of minor league catchers and relievers that may interest teams. The Tigers are set behind the plate with McCann and have Bryan Holaday in Triple-A. They could deal Avila, or top catching prospects Grayson Grenier, Shane Zeile or Arvicent Perez. Infield prospect Javier Betancourt (Adames’ former double-play partner) could also be dealt in the right trade given not only Iglesias and Ian Kinsler’s presences, but also the presence of two-way infield prospect Dixon Machado.

Regardless of who is traded, it’s time for Dombrowski to slightly rejig the team in an attempt to claim the World Series. The Tigers have the offense to succeed in October, and can look to their division-rival Royals as an example of a team that (last year) made a second-half run all the way to Game Seven.

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

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Players the Detroit Tigers Could Move at the Trade Deadline

Even with all the evidence pointing towards selling, the Detroit Tigers will more than likely be a buyer at the upcoming trade deadline. Most of the reasoning behind selling has to do not only with the team’s .500 record, but also the lack of a supposed farm system.

Look, Detroit’s system isn’t the best in the league, but it may get a bad rap. Two former Tigers prospects are ranked in Baseball America’s top 50 mid-season prospects, while the system has produced other talent in recent years such as Devon Travis, Drew Smyly, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, James McCann, Eugenio Suarez and Bruce Rondon. Detroit also has two exciting outfield prospects in prolific slugger Steven Moya (prolific is probably an understatement. Dude’s got power like you wouldn’t believe) and speed demon Derek Hill.

Detroit’s system may not be the greatest, but don’t underestimate it. Dave Dombrowski has pulled off some stellar trades for the team before, dealing prospects from a supposed “awful system” for impact players.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the players Dombrowski and the Tigers could deal in order to improve the team at the trade deadline.

Angel Nesbitt

The Tigers don’t have a ton of relievers who are close to major-league ready, so dealing one of the few away could be problematic. Still, if the right trade comes along, Dombrowski and company shouldn’t think twice.

The young reliever’s best pitch is his heater, and that will likely be his calling card in the big leagues. Teams with more pitcher-friendly parks could find him especially useful given that he isn’t a finished product and would have more room for error as he develops.

If Neftali Feliz’ signing has taught us anything it’s that quality relievers go on the market all the time, and if the Tigers feel they need depth in Triple-A, there’s always the waiver wire.

(RELATED: Neftali Feliz Signing a Smart Move by the Tigers)

Javier Betancourt

Who is Javier Betancourt you ask? Betancourt is (according to MLB.com) the Tigers’ eighth best prospect and plays both middle infield positions. He’s estimated to arrive in the big-leagues in 2017. He has two-way potential, and may be Ian Kinsler’s long-term replacement, but the Tigers have already dealt one second baseman (Travis), so the team may not have found Kinsler’s heir-apparent yet.

Plus-plus defender/ middle infielder Dixon Machado is only three years older and was an All-Star in Triple-A this year thanks to a .272 batting average, 19 extra-base hits, 12 steals and 36 RBI. He was recently called up to the Tigers’ roster and may be better suited in Andrew Romine’s super-utility role until Detroit is ready to move on from Kinsler.

MLB.com calls Betancourt “an above average defender” at second base and is “an advanced offensive player for his age”. If you remember, the “advanced for his age” tag was one given to Betancourt’s former double-play partner (and centerpiece of the David Price trade) Willy Adames. If Betancourt is comparable to Adames (a top 50 prospect), Detroit should sell high in search of starting pitching help.

Grayson Greiner

Catching prospect Grayson Greiner is another prospect at a position of surplus who the Tigers could move. While he’s struggled in the minors, he remains the top catching prospect in the Tigers system. MLB.com ranks him ahead of minor leaguers standouts like Betancourt and Machado and Tigers’ Futures Game representative Joe Jimenez.

Detroit already has James McCann and Alex Avila behind the dish, as well as Bryan Holaday in Triple-A. Catcher is one position (like middle infield) where the Tigers have depth to play with. Given Greiner’s upside and age, he could entice a rebuilding team in a swap, or be packaged along with someone like Betancourt in a larger deal.

Marc Krauss

The Tigers just acquired him, and while he did well to homer in his first game for Detroit, he’ only has one hit since. Hitting .111 in Motown. Platoon mate Jefry Marte has shown better (albeit in limited playing time) and strikes out less often than the swing happy Krauss. Marte also provides manager Brad Ausmus with more defensive flexibility as the rookie can play both first and third base

Krauss won’t bring much in return, but he’d be one of the first hitters jettisoned if a different alternative to Miguel Cabrera is found.

Alex Avila

This one will be tough to swallow. Not only is Avila one of the longest tenured Tigers, but his dad works in the front office. However, McCann is the Tigers’ future behind the dish and is outperforming Avila on a number of levels this season. McCann rates out much better defensively and has trumped Avila offensively. McCann’s batting average and OPS are both nearly 100 points higher than Avila’s number. Additionally, McCann has scored the same number of runs as Avila has hits. Dealing an impending free agent like Avila to a team in search of help behind the plate (like Seattle) for pitching would make sense.

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

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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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