It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.
The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.
Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.
On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.
More generally and more recently, Detroit’s offensive engine finally seems to be cranking up. They returned to American League play last night on the road against the Rangers, touching up the Texas starter for five runs in the first inning on the way to an 8-2 victory in which Porcello got the win. Josh Hamilton did finally get the Rangers on the scoreboard with a late-inning home run, but he still threw more bats into the seats than balls last night. Say what you will about his various addiction and redemption stories, but the bat throwing has got to stop. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve seen, and its frequency is confounding and annoying.
Now one game below .500, Detroit can reach that mark tonight (whee!) in Arlington, where the young Drew Smyly returns to the rotation to face Yu Darvish.