The Orioles and Tigers come into this three-game series with an identical 44-44 record. Both teams need to take the series to get some forward momentum in their quest to get themselves closer to a playoff spot than they are right now. That's a bit of an easier task for the Orioles than the Tigers, since they're closer, but if they don't start winning, they won't be closer for long.
If you're like me, you probably haven't thought much about the Tigers since last October, since that's the last time the Orioles happened to be playing them. Lucky for me, and for you, I got some insight on this year's Detroit team from Rob Rogacki, my blog manager counterpart over at Bless You Boys, one of our excellent sister blogs on the network.
You can check out my thoughts on the Orioles over at BYB. And now let's hear from Rob on the Tigers.
Mark: When I started looking at some Tigers things ahead of this series, the thing that jumped out at me most was that you guys sit at 44-44, just like the Orioles. That was quite a surprise to me, since I'm just used to the Tigers kind of being good by default. I'm guessing it must be more surprising to fans who've watched them win the last four division titles. How are you feeling about a 9-game deficit at the break?
Rob: I don't think it's possible to feel good about a nine-game deficit at the All-Star Break unless you're the Philadelphia Phillies, but relatively speaking, I feel better about the Tigers' performance this season than most fans.
The Tigers are just 33-42 since an 11-2 start this year, but they have seen several key contributors miss time due to injury. Justin Verlander didn't make his season debut until June 13 due to a triceps strain he suffered during spring training. Victor Martinez missed a month of action after hobbling through the first six weeks of the season on a surgically repaired left knee. Starting catcher Alex Avila avoided knee surgery, but spent nearly two months on the disabled list. Now, Miguel Cabrera is on the disabled list, and the Tigers are struggling to stay afloat.
Thankfully, the offense has not missed a beat so far. They are scoring over five runs per game since June 1 and nearly six runs per game in July. Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, a healthy Victor Martinez, and a resurgent Nick Castellanos have been keys during this stretch. The starting pitching has been their downfall, though. How bad is it? I'll put it like this: the Tigers are 15-3 when David Price starts, and 29-41 (a .414 win percentage) when someone else takes the mound.
Mark: Last year, at age 31, Miguel Cabrera posted his lowest OBP, SLG, and home runs out of any year in the past decade, prompting some to expect a decline from the $240 million man before that contract even starts. He's responded to all of that by wrecking the league for a 1.034 OPS, but now he's on the DL for the first time in his career. How worried are you about him short-term and long-term?
Rob: I'm more worried about Cabrera short-term than I am in the long run. Cabrera was "hobbled" by the after-effects of offseason core muscle repair surgery in 2014, but still hit .313/.374/.524 with 25 home runs and 109 RBI. He put up an .890 OPS in the second half. After the season, Cabrera had surgery on his right ankle, which revealed that he had been playing on a stress fracture in his foot.
He hasn't been hampered by the surgery whatsoever this season, batting .350/.456/.578 before suffering a Grade 3 calf strain when running the bases against the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera is expected to miss six to eight weeks, which puts him in line for a September return. The Tigers have not had good luck with their stars returning to injury on time in recent memory -- Cabrera, Martinez, and Verlander have all struggled early on after recent injuries -- but with what Cabrera was able to do last September on a broken foot, a calf strain might not be the end of the world.
Mark: My eyes must be playing tricks on me, because as I looked over your roster, I couldn't help but notice that someone named Alfredo Simon has started 17 games for the Tigers this year. How is our old buddy Weak Sauce doing, and how in the heck did he end up in your starting rotation in the year 2015?
Ok. Simon was acquired by the Tigers in December when they traded young, cost-controlled shortstop Eugenio Suarez and former first round draft pick Jonathon Crawford to the Cincinnati Reds. No, the Tigers did not receive any other players in return.
Tigers fans hated the trade then, but started to come around when Simon went 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA through April and May. Hey, he did it in 2014 when he made the All-Star team after a stellar first half, so why couldn't he do it again?
As fate would have it, Simon has regressed considerably since then. He is sporting a 7.07 ERA since June 1 and has given up at least five runs in each of his last five starts. We aren't sure exactly why Simon has dropped off -- his father passed away on May 27, so his struggles may not just be baseball-related -- but the Tigers have not gotten the innings they were hoping for when they picked up "Pasta Grande" during the offseason.
Mark: The cool kids of Baseball Twitter seem to have a default stance of "lol Tigers bullpen" and "lol Ausmus" ... yet I see three guys with ERAs under 3 and a closer in Soria whose numbers look OK other than giving up homers like they're going out of style. What's been the problem with this unit, and do you think Brad Ausmus could be handling the relievers better than he is?
Rob: You're asking these bullpen questions at the right time, sir. The bullpen has been an issue for years, but until a week ago, there wasn't much panic to be found. Then, last Friday, the Tigers coughed up a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins.
A. Six. To. One. Lead. In. The. Ninth. Inning. (As the person who had to recap that game, I'm doubly furious about the outcome).
Instead of moving within a half game of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central standings, the Tigers dropped their final three games of the first half, falling to their current 4 1/2 game deficit.
Yes, Soria has been generally effective. Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy have pitched well, though Brad Ausmus continues to use them in low leverage situations for reasons we cannot fathom. The rest of the bullpen has struggled, including Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny, who have been since designated for assignment (Chamberlain was released). The Tigers picked up Neftali Feliz just before the All-Star break, and he looked decent in his lone inning of work, so hopefully things turn around. Ausmus could use his pitchers better, but he is being asked to play poker with a set of UNO cards at the moment, so I'm not going to lay much blame at his feet.
Mark: As this series gets underway, we're two weeks out from the non-waiver trade deadline. Where do you think the Tigers will be looking to make moves between now and the end of July? What moves do you think they will actually end up making?
Rob: Unfortunately, the Tigers are in trade deadline limbo at the moment. Their deficit in the wild card isn't insurmountable, and some of the teams above them (hello, Minnesota) are ripe for regression. With the talent on their roster and an impatient owner hovering overhead, I think they will eventually be buyers. However, after overpaying for relief help in the past two seasons, they may not have the pieces to make the impact move they need to bolster their rotation.
Past deadline acquisitions Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez were key components in second half runs to the playoffs, and David Price was crucial to the team's success down the stretch in 2014. Without that kind of addition, I don't know if they make the playoffs this year.
Mark: Finally, and most importantly, how many babies do you think were sacrificed to Satan in the Kansas City area to fuel the Royals' dark rise? How in the world do they manage to cover up the source of this black magic from the gaze of the world?
Rob: With so many recent postseason losses to the San Francisco Giants, the braintrust of the St. Louis Cardinals seems to be the real culprit of this madness. The Cards did their best to sabotage the Giants' run to the World Series in 2014, handing the Royals carefully guarded secrets on how to eek out extra-innings victories before their run through the postseason. Proximity plays a role here, and the Cardinals are vengeful you-know-whats (just look at what they did to Jeff Luhnow!).
Now, with an offseason to train his young Sith Lord, Emperor Mozeliak is slowly but surely spreading his dark ways throughout the flattest and most boring parts of midwestern America. Contained by the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River for the moment, it is a matter of time before we all meet our demise.
No slight intended to any of my fellow managers who've done Q&As with me up to now, but that's got to be the greatest answer I've gotten all year. And, my goodness, the Tigers went out of their way to trade FOR Weak Sauce! What in the world must have happened for that to transpire? Pasta Grande - that's a good one.
So there you have it on the thus-far disappointing Tigers. With apologies to the fine staff over at BYB, I hope this is not the series where the Detroit team starts to turn things around.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 one-day fantasy baseball league today. It's $3 to join and first place wins $8,000. Enter now!