So close, yet so far is the best way to describe the recent history of the Detroit Tigers. After making the playoffs in 1987, the Tigers were dormant for nearly two decades which included them enduring four seasons in which they lost at least 100 games. But in 2006, the Tigers would turn things around and make the playoffs as the American League’s Wild Card team. The Tigers would ride this wave of momentum to a World Series appearance that fall, but there they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games which was a sign of things to come for them as they’ve been close to a title, but simply unable to seize it.
Since 2006, the Tigers have only had one losing season. In 2009, the Tigers were in cruise control for the entire season until a late season swoon saw them caught and ultimately passed by the Minnesota Twins in a one-game playoff for the American League Central Title. In 2012, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera became the first Major League Baseball player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown as he led the AL in home runs (44), runs batted in (139), and batting average (.330). Cabrera would go on to be named the AL MVP in 2012 which resulted in the Tigers once again making the World Series. But in the 2012 Fall Classic, the Tigers would be swept by the San Francisco Giants. Detroit would go 93-69 in 2013, but their suspect bullpen and a determined Boston Red Sox team would be their undoing in the American League Championship Series. Last year the Tigers had three former AL Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation in the form of starting pitchers Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer, but those three arms were unable to prevent Detroit from being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Divisional Series.
Last off-season the Tigers would lose Scherzer in free agency to the Washington Nationals while injuries and age have taken away from Verlander’s effectiveness this season. Cabrera is currently on the disabled list as he is recovering from a calf injury and the Tigers are searching for answers at the MLB All-Star break.
Detroit is currently 44-44 and they are in third place in the American League Central as they’re 9 games behind the first place Kansas City Royals and 3.5 games behind the Houston Astros for the final wild card spot in the AL. In recent years the Tigers have started out of the gate slow only to find their way in the second half of the season. But 2015 has seen the AL Central become an improved division as both the Royals and Twins appear to be legitimate contenders for the playoffs which could make it tougher for the Tigers coming down the stretch.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has never been afraid to pull the trigger in order to improve his team and it will be interesting to see if he can make a deal or two prior to the MLB trade deadline this year that can get Detroit going in the right direction.
Even without Cabrera, the Tigers continue to have one of the top offenses in the American League as they are first in hits (862), batting average (.281), and third in runs (386); but it is their pitching that needs the help. This season Price has a 9-2 record with an earned run average of 2.38. But there is a good possibility that Price could be pitching for another MLB team next year as he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this winter and his asking Price could be too much for the Tigers. Because of this Dombrowski and the Tigers must protect themselves if they lose Price in the same fashion that they lost Scherzer last winter. Starting pitchers such as Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds, Scott Kazmir of the Oakland Athletics, and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies could all be available before July 31 as one of them could have their bags packed for Detroit being that the Tigers starting pitching is hurting due to the fact that Verlander doesn’t have the same zip on his fastball that he possessed when he won the AL MVP in 2011 when he led the league in wins (24), earned run average (2.40), and strikeouts (250). The Tigers recently signed relief pitcher Neftali Feliz who was released by the Texas Rangers. Feliz was the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year and he totaled 72 saves in his first two MLB seasons as he helped the Rangers record consecutive AL Pennants. But Feliz has not been the same pitcher after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. The Tigers however are counting on him being close to being the pitcher that he was his first two years with the Rangers as opposed to the guy that has been unable to find his groove in the ninth inning which has been a recurring theme in Detroit over the past several years.
The next two weeks are crucial for the Tigers as they have seven home games against the Orioles and Seattle Mariners before they take to the road to meet Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Orioles as they look to stay afloat in the playoff picture without Cabrera. But when you’ve been at the doorstep of a championship as much as the Tigers have without tasting victory recently, it simply might not be in the cards for this bunch at all.