The halfway point. The 2009 Major League Baseball season is half over.
And this year – 2009 – just like 2006 and 2007 – my beloved Detroit Tigers are in first place. They a three and a half game lead over the Chicago White Sox, and a four game lead over the Minnesota Twins.
So for this brief break in the season play, it's nice to sit and cherish the moment – but not for too long, both Chicago and Minnesota could pass by the Tigers in a single week.
The Tigers have the schedule on their side for the second half of 2009, but unless the bullpen gets it done, and the bats wake up more often, it will be a very close race right up to the final game in October.
And baseball is a funny game. Any team can win on any given day.
The Tigers as a Team
Q: The Tigers are winning the American League Central, how good are they really doing?
It is true that the American League Central Division is the weakest division in baseball. The Tigers win / loss average right now is .552. If they were in the American League East, they would be in third place behind Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In the American League West they would be behind the L.A. Angels (of Anaheim) and tied in second place with the Texas Rangers.
So in the American League, the Tigers are tied with Texas as the fourth best team. If they were in the National League, they would be the fourth best team in the National League.
In all of the Major Leagues, the Tigers would be tied for seventh place – again with the Texas Rangers.
The good news is that if they hold on and win the Central Division, they go to the playoffs – and anything can happen in the playoffs.
The bad news is that if they slip even to second place – surpassed by with Chicago or Minnesota – they will likely be out of play offs – because most likely the wild card team will be from the AL Easter division – and New York and Tampa Bay are fighting it out for that spot at the moment.
So – the Tigers are first in the AL Central – but tied for fourth in the American league, and tied for seventh overall in the Major Leagues.
Q: Is that good?
Considering four teams from the American League, and four teams from the National League – eight teams in total – go to the playoffs – so far the Tigers are making the cut. But they are on the outer edge.
Q: Well, are the Tigers any good?
One of the Tiger's most famous managers, Sparky Anderson, used to say he couldn't judge how good his ball team was until they had played forty games. Give a season consists of one hundred and sixty two games, that's nearly the whole first quarter of the season. But here we sit at the half way point. The Tigers of played eighty seven – six games past the halfway mark.
So the second half of the season is actually already under way, and the Tigers have won five of those six games. But those games were played against Kansas City and Cleveland, the two bottom feeders of the AL Central.
So at the halfway mark, I still cannot tell if my Detroit Tigers, leaders of the American League Central, are any good.
Q: How the Tigers stack up against their American League Rivals?
To me, the proof of how good the Tigers have been is how they have played against the four teams ahead of them in the American League. The Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and the Rangers (whom they are tied with). How did the Tigers fare against these teams?
- The Tigers were swept by Boston Red Sox – losing all three games. So that's not good.
- The Tigers won one game and lost two to the Yankees – so that's not so good either.
- The Tigers won three against the Angels (of Anaheim) and lost three – so that's not good or bad. Home field advantage is the key when these two teams face each other.
- The Tigers have won all six games they played against the Rangers – two sweeps. So that is very good. I would say that even though their record shows them tied with the Rangers, the Tigers are the better team.
So it sounds like the Tigers are clearly the fourth best team in the American League.
But what about against those other teams in their Division? The Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins? It's more important that they can beat those guys, right?
Well, kind of. Let's see.
Detroit has won four and lost two to the White Sox. And the Tigers have won two and lost four to the Twins. Yet the White Sox are in second place and the Twins are in third place.
In the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins are the team the Tigers have to watch out for - and play their best against. They have to be up for games against Minnesota.
The only conclusion I can make from these team win loss records is that it is more important how the schedule falls. Who you play more often and when?
Any team can beat any other team on any given night.
So how do the Tigers schedule look for the next half of the season?
- The Tigers play better at home – at Comerica Park. Their winning percentage at home is quite high.
- They play six games against the White Sox at home, and only three in Chicago.
- They play seven games at home against the Twins, and only three games in Minnesota. These will be very important games - at the end of a long season.
- The last seven games of the Tigers schedule are against Minnesota and Chicago in Detroit at Comerica Park.
The Tigers Roster
Q: How is Manager Jim Leyland doing?
In my opinion, Jim Leyland - the Skip - has done a very good job in the first half. He has dealt with both expected and unexepected circumstances smoothly. He has made moves to pull runs out of no where, double switching, pinch hitting, and positional changes that have pulled the Tigers through some close games. Some would debate that Leyland has left the odd pitcher in too long, or pulled a pitcher too early, but that - I think - is pure speculation.
Overall I would give Jim Leyland a solid A for the first half of 2009. His intuition and sage like wisdom will again be key in the second half of the season. But the Skip has a habbit of easing up in the second half.
Q: Let's talk about the Tigers players
Things can change very quickly. This is simply assuming the current trends will hold, and they likely will change a bit. Trades will be made in the next several weeks. Contending teams will try to bolters their rosters with pieces they are missing – trading with teams likely out of contention and that need to change direction or ease their payolls.
It would be safe to assume that both Minnesota and Chicago will make a deal in their bid to catch the Tigers. Who knows what those deals will be?
The Tigers also need to make a couple of trades. Who knows if anything will be available though. Their payroll is quite high - half of it spent on the stars that are not performing. So any deal the Tigers would make would likely be minor moves aimed at their weaknesses.
Tigers superstar Maglio Ordenez is not playing very well at all. Mags has a career average of .310. He is hitting .260 this year. He has never been an outstanding right fielder. He has a strange contract that states if he reaches a certain amount of games played for the Tigers this year, he earns an automatic extension and another 33 million dollars.
The expectation is that Mags has to go. I'm sorry to say that. His quality is still in the upper echelon of baseball, but that damned contract paints the Tigers into a corner that they must … well .. get out of.
My own feeling about Maglio – for what little it's worth - is that a controversy he was caught in the middle of – where he publically supported an unpopular Venezuelan president caused his fellow Venezuelan fans to boo him harshly through this springs World Baseball Classic appearances. Mags batted around .220 in those exhibitions, and that slump carried well into this season. I think that hurt Maglio emotionally, and is a big part of the reason for his slump.
I would hate to see Mags traded to a team and have him come back to beat us, But I also appreciate the fact that his numbers this season do not warrant a 30 million dollar contract extension.
Q: The Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in baseball?
As well, the Tigers starting pitching has been their strongest weapon. Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson have been spectacular so far. So has rookie phenom Rick Porcello. The fourth starter Armondo Gallarraga has had a bumpier start than his break out rookie season last year, but he could step it up in the second half. Some would say Gallarraga's 2008 break out year was a abnormally high blip - and that in 2009 he has come back down to his expected level. I only hope they are wrong.
The fifth starter, Dontrelle Willis has been a dud since joining the Tigers in 2008. His ERA is 7.49. And so the Tigers basically are stuck with a four man rotation. But now with the rising of Lucas French up from the minor league system – a no decision in his first start – a sixteen inning marathon in Minnesota loss, and a brilliant start in Kansas City that made people take notice - the Tigers might think they now have a five man rotation again.
French will start the first game back from the All Star break against the New York Yankees - in the new Yankee Stadium - a field already known to be a hitters paradise. This may be the best test of French's mettle - and we will know a lot more about French after that start.
Time will tell. But it's unlikely any pitching trades will occur. Perhaps the dismissal of Dontrelle Willis.
Q: Fernando Rodney has never blown a save this year.
The Tigers bullpen has been as much to blame for Tiger losses as the often quiet bats of an explosive Tigers Offense. Fernando Rodney has stepped in to assume the role of closer – and has a perfect save record of 19 – 0, with an ERA of 3.92. That ERA is a bit high for a perfect save record. The news is that in Save situations – Rodney has given up less runs than the Tigers explosive runs have provided as a lead. Every outing is a roller coaster ride, and his record in non-save starts is rather abysmal.
In short, Rodney can get the job done to close a game out when the Tigers are leading into the ninth inning, but he is unlikely to hold the opposition off from scoring to give the Tigers a chance to catch up.
Solution? Only use Rodney in true save situations.
Q: How bad is the Tigers bullpen? That's what everyone nationally wants to know.
Our bullpen needs help.
The only problem is that every team hordes their quality bullpen staff. To acquire from another team means paying costly with talent you already have. The hope is that Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, and Fu – Te Ni can raise to the quality Tigers management expect of them.
Bobby Seay, Freddy Dolsi, and Brandon Lyon – on the other hand – have done well to hold up their end of the bullpen, and it is critical they maintain those levels.
So I do not expect to see any big trades for pitching coming, just some shuffling and perhaps a release or minor league repositioning or two.
Q: So Fred, sum this all up – what is your conclusion?
Well, if our quality starters – Cabrera, Laird and Inge can maintain their above normal paces this year, and Granderson, Anderson, Polanco, and Ordonez can raise their games to where they should be – the Tigers regular players will be competitive with any team in the Majors.
As well, if the players trying to stay in the majors from the minor leagues – Raburn, Thomas, Kelly (who might pop back up from Toledo) – can continue to contribute the way they have in the first half of the season, the Tigers chances grow even higher. These guys have played extremely well for the Tigers while regarded as 4A (AAAA) players – too god for the minor leagues but not quite major league material. And this has been a big reason (in my opinion) for the Tigers first half success.
As well, if Verlander and Jackson stay hot and healthy, and Luke French does not get found out, our starting rotation will be among baseballs very best.
But the starters can only be expected to get you six or seven innings in a game. The Tigers bullpen is the key to the second half. If Rodney continues getting saves – in his own roller coaster fashion that would make Todd Jones look dependable – then the Tigers can continue to win games with a lead into the ninth.
But if Joel Zumaya, Zach Minor, and Ryan Perry don't step upon the middle relief roles – the Tigers explosive bats get cancelled very quickly.
But the Tigers have the advantage of the smartest Manager in the American League Central in Jim Leyland. And that again will be worth a couple of close game wins.
I think the key to the second half of the Detroit Tigers second half of the 2009 season is the bullpen, and the often quiet bats of the offense to wake up a bit. There will be something done with Maglio Ordonez, Dontrelle Willis, and most likely a couple of our super 4A role contributors – but who and what that will bring to the Tigers is a crap shoot.
The Tigers have the schedule on their side for the second half of 2009, but unless the bullpen gets it done, and the bats wake up more often, it will be a very very close race right up to the final game in October.
And baseball is a funny game. Any team can win on any given day.