As bad as it’s been for the Detroit Tigers so far this season, the Tigers only find themselves 5 and 1/2 games back of the Chicago White Sox for the Central Division lead after defeating the Cleveland Indians 7-5 on Thursday. As the Tigers head to Cincinnati to start a three-game series against the Reds, the team is in desperate need of a winning streak during its next 15 games against National League opponents.
The Tigers have traditionally dominated the National League. The team has gone 70-38 in Interleague Play since 2006, although they posted just a 7-11 record last season. Will the team be able to use Interleague Play as a launching point to get back into the division race? It won’t be an easy start. The Reds are in first place of the NL Central, and have been playing good baseball posting a 12-5 record over their last 17 games. Next, the Tigers will get a bit of a break by playing two of the worst teams in the NL. The Cubs and the Rockies are both 12 games back in their respective divisions. Detroit’s final two opponents, Saint Louis and Pittsburgh are hovering around the .500 mark.
It may be a blessing in disguise for the Tigs to eliminate the designated hitter over the next week. Manager Jim Leyland has penciled in 12 different players in the DH spot so far this season. According to baseball-reference.com, the DH position as a whole is hitting a dreadful .227 and accounted for only three homers and 18 RBI so far this season. Yikes. Delmon Young has taken over the role on a more permanent basis as of late, but expect him to move back to left for the road games against the Reds and Cubs.
If the Tigers are unable to win at least 10 of the next 15, major changes could be coming for this team. One change I would like to see the team explore is using first baseman Prince Fielder as more of a DH after this stretch of Interleague Play. Fielder has been absolutely dreadful in the field this season committing seven errors. He also has one of the worst fielding percentages in all of the majors. If the Tigers continue to struggle and begin to fall out of the race heading into July, I expect top prospect Nick Castellanos to be brought up and play 3rd, Miguel Cabrera to be moved back to 1st, and Fielder to DH.
One bright spot for the Tigers in all of their recent injury problems has been center fielder Quintin Berry. Q-Bert has been stellar defensively and his speed has made a significant impact on the lineup. He’s also hitting a surprising .306 in 15 games played. Expect Berry to stick around even when Austin Jackson returns sometime next week. Check out his best catch since being brought up to the big leagues.
Although the season feels lost for many fans, the reality is that if the Tigers win four of the next five series (which isn’t that big of a leap of faith) they’ll likely just be a game or two out of first heading into July. If the Tigers are able to right the ship and stick around in the standings during the month of June, the team will be getting healthy and likely add a piece or two near the trading deadline (second baseman please!) and be dangerous heading down the stretch.
In baseball, talent almost always rises to the top during a long 162-game season. In my opinion, a healthy Tigers team is still the most talented team in the division. It does seem that the Tigers are in need of a momentum changing moment to change the mindset of the team–a brawl, a huge comeback–something. If the way this team is playing isn’t turned around by July 1st, it could be too late.