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 Fans: Go Away “Panic Mode”

I’m not panicking yet. And I’ll tell you why. The Tigers not only feature a plethora of All-Stars, but they also play in the pick-your-expletive -est division in the game. Have you noticed how bad the AL Central is? Yeah Chicago is “hot” right now, but come on; third base is a general black hole, and I’m sure as heck not buying their bullpen (and that’s without swearing). Their numbers may be high right now, and you can argue those numbers till the cows come home, but come on, Chicago? Just wait, you can bet there is a colossal ice-age-like cold streak coming. Tell me I’m wrong.

Cleveland is another matter entirely. While I acknowledge that the Sox have some actual talent and it isn’t too surprising that they are doing well, the Indians puzzle me. Asdrubal Cabrera is nice and Carlos Santana has tons of potential, but this team confuses me. Their outfield is decent if Johnny Damon can actually swing a bat. But here’s the thing, the pitching isn’t all that great. I wouldn’t trust the back end of the… let me rephrase that:  I wouldn’t trust any of their starters other than Derek Lowe.

I’m not even going to go into detail on KC and Minnesota because, well they’re rebuilding and that’s about as nice as you can be about those teams at this stage of the game (pun intended… yadda yadda yadda…).

If you’ve forgotten what the aim of this lovely piece is, well then you are in the same boat as I am. No, I’m only kidding, but the point of the whole ranting that you can conveniently view above is that it’s definitely not panic time for the Tigers. Call me an exceedingly loyal fan or someone who has his head screwed on straight, but it’s true.

I’m not going to blame injuries to the team’s recent shortcomings, but I am going to tab injuries as the reason for a second-half (or sooner) surge. By tabbing injuries, I mean guys getting healthy. Alex Avila has taken more hits than an armored truck in a crossfire and is the best catcher in the AL when fully healthy; Doug Fister is one of the better number two options in the rotation when he can actually get run support. But perhaps the two biggest injuries of all were to Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson. Jackson is having an All-Star season (yes, let out your groans of annoyance, I said it again) and is really starting to show his worth offensively. Jackson and Dirks are the table setters for Death Row. And let me tell you, they were doing a pretty damn good job of it before they got injured. Granted had they never been injured we would have never experienced the revelation that is Quintin Berry.

With Berry’s success there have been speculations by fans that he would take over in left for Dirks or in right for Brennan Boesch. I like Berry as a speed/energy guy, but I’d much rather have that weapon off the bench to pinch run. Where, if you haven’t noticed yet, our fastest option after Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Let me rephrase that, our only non-catching option besides Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Those two guys have good speed, but not necessarily game-changing speed. The kind of speed where everyone including the foul pole knows you’re going to run, and you steal second anyways. As it is, Jackson and Berry are the only guys with that speed on the roster. I’ve just realized that I probably said “speed” and “steal” more times than a healthy human being should. I’m sorry readers.

So after all that, healthy lineup and pitching staff, plus playing in a terrible division, the Tigers should be fine. Not to mention the possibility of a scrap-heap/deadline addition at second base, not because the Tigers’ current situation isn’t satisfactory, just because we could use another option to platoon with Worth and Santiago, for all it’s worth. (Again, sorry, had to do it. Too corny to pass up.)

The point is… (Reshuffles fake paper notes, adjusts glasses and starts speaking in a British professor’s voice) just kidding, scratch the British accent. No, but the point here, and one that I have strayed from, is that the Tigers aren’t out of it, and I am not panicking yet.