12 July 2012
Now that the All-Star game is over, it’s time to focus on the second half of the season. So Justin Verlander can forget about those five earned runs in one inning at the Midsummer Classic and concentrate on making a push for another Cy Young.
The Tigers come into the break with a 44-42 record, which by their standards and expectations is very mediocre. However, they are only 3.5 games behind the first place Chicago White Sox and 0.5 games behind the second place Cleveland Indians. As a means of comparison, last year Detroit was 49-43 at the All Star Break and sat 0.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
The Tigers went on a tear in the second half of the year and finished the season 95-67, which gave them a 15 game cushion over the Indians. Detroit could use some of the same magic that led to a 46-24 record post All Star break. This year, the Tigers have two teams that they need to chase down in the second half. So what happened in the second half last year for the Tigers and how can this year’s team duplicate the second half surge of a year ago?
Verlander pitched like an MVP
Verlander was absolutely dominant after the All Star break last year. He lost his first decision back against the White Sox, allowing seven hits and four runs in six innings. After that he was unbeatable, winning his next 12 starts before earning a no-decision in his final start of the season. Of the 14 games Verlander started, the Tigers won 12. He went at least six innings in every single start racking up 100 innings while striking out 103 batters. His 2.97 ERA after the break was actually higher than his 2.15 ERA before the break.
Verlander has been very effective so far this year. His 2.58 ERA is higher at the break than his ERA at the same time last year, but it’s still extremely good. Usually dominant in the strikeout category, Verlander’s punch-outs are a bit down at under one per inning (128 in 132.2 innings). Despite his rough performance in the All Star Game, Verlander heads into the break pitching well. He pitched a complete game in two of his last three starts before the break. Look for Verlander to continue to put up strong numbers. It will be hard for him to match the 12-1 record of last year, but he could easily pitch to a lower ERA than his 2.97 mark from the second half last year. The White Sox have dominant pitching at the top of their rotation with Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. The Tigers need Verlander to pitch like he did after the break last year in order to overtake the White Sox.
Victor Martinez was a key part of the lineup
Hitting behind Miguel Cabrera last year, Martinez provided the protection behind the Tigers’ best slugger. But a preseason knee injury has forced Martinez to miss the whole year. Martinez’s injury led the Tigers to go after and sign Prince Fielder to a huge deal. But last year Martinez was a big reason why the Tigers played so well after the break. He hit .345 with a .399 on base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage. Martinez was an RBI machine, knocking in 53 runs in 253 at bats. He continually provided clutch hitting for the Tigers and was the main run-producer aside from Cabrera.
With Martinez likely out until mid-September at the earliest, Prince Fielder will be called upon to drive in the key runs and give Cabrera some protection in the lineup. Fielder is more than capable of doing so. He is arguably a better run-producer than Martinez and he already has 63 RBI before the break and has knocked in as many as 141 runs in a season. Fielder is heating up of late, with three homers and 11 RBI in eight July games. Look for Fielder to continue his hot streak in the second half and put up similar numbers to Martinez’s last year. While he probably won’t hit .345 like Victor, he should post better power numbers.
Doug Fister pitched lights out
After Fister came to the Tigers from the Mariners in a trade near the deadline last year, he was surprisingly effective. Effective might be selling him short. Fister went 8-1 over his 11 starts, posting a 1.79 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP pitching in August and September. Fister was a key part of the rotation, providing another arm behind Verlander in the rotation.
This year has been much different for Fister. His record at the break is 2-6 and he’s already made two separate trips to the DL with a side injury. It doesn’t look like Fister is ready to repeat his amazing second half of last year. So if not FIster, who could give the Tigers that kind of quality starting pitching? A prime candidate is Max Scherzer. Scherzer can be almost unhittable when he is on top of his game. He sits as one of the leading strikeout pitchers in the American League. Scherzer is 8-5 at the break and has gone 6-2 over his last ten starts. He has lowered his ERA to 4.72 after it was as high as 6.26 on May 5. While he most likely won’t match Fister’s peripheral numbers from last year, he should continue to strike out batters and rack up the wins.
The Fister trade paid huge dividends
The Doug Fister trade didn’t receive too much attention when it happened right before the trade deadline. However, Dave Dombrowski looked like a genius after he acquired the right hander from the Mariners in exchange for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush among others. Fister was 6-14 for the Mariners before he came over to the Tigers. But the Tigers’ front office saw something in Fister and it couldn’t have worked out any better last year. Fister was key in propelling the Tigers to an AL Central title.
So will the Tigers try to make a similar splash at the deadline this year? The Tigers could look to add a veteran pitcher but it is doubtful that anyone acquired for the second half of this year will provide the same impact that Fister did last year. Even a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke would have to pitch very well to come close to Fister’s numbers last year. But the Tigers could use another bat in the lineup and that could be where Dombrowski and the Tigers’ front office focus their efforts. The Tigers have a clear need at second base and could possibly try for a corner outfielder.