Victor Martinez

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Looking ahead to the second half: The Tigers are in deep, deep trouble

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The Tigers have made the playoffs in each of the last four years. They came into 2015 as a somewhat diminished team, but many nonetheless expected them to once again win the AL Central or, at the very least, remain relevant in that conversation.

As of now, however, they are a full nine games behind the Kansas City Royals in the division. They are only three and a half back in the Wild Card race, but there are three teams ahead of them, another team tied with them and another four teams within two games of them on the backside. And the worst part about it, Detroit looks to be in worse shape than any of them heading into the second half.

The biggest reason for that is obvious: Miguel Cabrera, perhaps the best hitter in the game, is on the shelf with a Grade 3 strain of his calf muscle. That will keep him out of action until at least mid-August, and likely a bit later than that. Losing a guy hitting .350/.456/.578 for weeks on end is going to hurt anyone, but there is perhaps no other team who relies on one guy as much as the Tigers rely on Cabrera.

The rotation is also kind of a mess, as only All-Star David Price has posted a better-than-league average ERA on the year. The back end of the rotation has been horrific lately, with Alfredo Simon posting a 11.12 ERA in his last five starts, Shane Greene has posted a 12.57 over that time and Justin Verlander, finally back from the DL, has been getting beaten around on the regular.

Because there may be children reading this we will not speak of the bullpen, as they need not be exposed to such obscenity.

So what can the Tigers do? And, more importantly, what will they do?

If you were looking at this objectively, you’d probably think that it’s time to rebuild or, at the very least, re-jigger with the hope of competing anew next year or the year after. How to do that? Think hard about shopping David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria, Alex Avila, and Alfredo Simon, all of whom are in their walk years. Price may be nice to keep around but he’s going to be super expensive on the market this winter. The rest could all bring in some much needed young talent to place around Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler young catcher James McCann and an aging yet still effective Victor Martinez. It’s not ideal — questionable trades and free agent decisions have decimated a once-dominant rotation — but getting something for these guys rather than nothing seems to make a heck of a lot of sense given where the Tigers are right now.

Except that scenario is highly unlikely given what we’ve seen from the Tigers front office in the past and given what they’ve been saying publicly. Owner Mike Illitch is 85-years-old and has plowed money into this team. Nothing about his approach or what people close to the Tigers say about his expectations suggests that he’s interested in a rebuild. GM Dave Dombrowski is likewise an historical buyer, not a seller, and nothing he or people close to him have said anything to suggest he’s approaching this trade deadline any differently.

But what is available for him to buy? And what does he, with his nearly barren farm system, have to sell? Not much, frankly, so if he is buying, it would likely involve taking on some bad contracts and accepting second-tier trade fodder. That doesn’t seem like a difference-making proposition in a longshot battle for the division title and a chaotic Wild Card race.

What it does seem like, however, is a futile gesture. The Tigers are old, they’re hurt and they’re expensive. If nothing changes in the second half, they’ll also be on the outside looking in come playoff time for the first time in years. And, perhaps, they’ll be facing a future like that of the Cincinnati Reds or — perish the thought — the Philadelphia Phillies. Teams which didn’t rebuild aggressively when it became clear they were about to fall short. And which now face a long time in the wilderness.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

Brian Dozier
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Twins 4, Orioles 2: Brian Dozier wasn’t selected for the All-Star team because the format we have no encourages managers to treat it like some cross between Little League in which everyone must be represented and some form of awful FutureBall in which every team has 20 or so relievers hanging around because people, the theory goes, would rather see relievers instead of genuine ballplayers who do things like slug .500 in the first half. Well, he showed them by hitting a two-run walkoff homer in the 10th. And he’ll show them more when he goes to Cabo or someplace better than Cincinnati next week with his days off.

White Sox 4, Blue Jays 2: Chris Sale’s 10 strikeout streak came to an end — he only punched out six — but that’s OK. He just needed to relax, all right? And not try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. He needed to throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic. Besides, by not striking everyone out he went the distance in this one.

Pirates 2, Padres 1: Pedro Alvarez hit a walkoff RBI single. Which is fun because the opposing manager, Pat Murphy, is his father in law. Which is exactly the plot of that Pauley Shore movie. You know the one: “BioDome.” I dunno, maybe “Son-in-Law” is closer to all of this, but I’m the wrong guy to ask. If that’s on I just mute it and watch Carla Gugino’s scenes.

Reds 3, Nationals 2: Reds shortstop Eugenio Suarez went 3 for 4 with two RBI including a tiebreaking homer. Suarez is batting .329 with three homers and 13 RBI in 21 games while filling in for the injured Zack Cosart. Otherwise a boring game it seems, at least from the box score, but it’s Cueto vs. Scherzer tonight making that seem like the game to watch.

Astros 9, Indians 4: The Astros offense just doing its Astros offense thing: Preston Tucker had four hits and an RBI. Jose Altuve, extended his hitting streak to 14-games with two hits, including an RBI double. Marwin Gonzalez homered and drove in two runs. Colby Rasmus drove in two. All of this despite facing Carlos Carrasco, who came a strike away from a no-hitter in his last outing.

Cardinals 6, Cubs 0: John Lackey tossed seven shutout innings, but you figure he’s going to be fined for giving up a hit to Jon Lester. It was Lester’s first hit in 67 career at bats. Came on a 95 m.p.h. fastball too:

Sure, it would’ve likely been an out or a fielder’s choice or whatever had it not hit Jon Lackey’s foot, but it still counts, man.

Braves 5, Brewers 3: Matt Wisler allowed three runs and seven hits while pitching into the sixth inning to help end the Brewers’ eight-game winning streak. Seven of those eight wins came against the Reds and Phillies so it wasn’t a Winning Streak For The Ages, but still. Bad scene in this one: a woman sitting behind the dugout was hit with a foul ball and taken out on a stretcher. More netting, Major League Baseball. Please, more netting.

Tigers 12, Mariners 5: The Tigers’ pitching may be a grease fire, but their offense is doing just fine. Nineteen hits here, including four from Victor Martinez and four from J.D. Martinez, who also drove in four runs. That made Hisashi Iwakuma’s first game back since late April less-than-fun. The Mariners starter gave up five runs on eight hits before turning it over to the pen, which didn’t fare much better.

Dodgers 10, Phillies 7: A four-hour and thirteen minute nine inning game which involved blown leads and bad pitching. It’s the Dodgers and Phillies wanted to party like it was 1999. Jimmy Rollins 2-for-4 and drove in the go-ahead runs in his first game against the Phillies since being traded away last December.

Mets 3, Giants 0: The Giants have lost seven in a row now, this one coming against Jon Niese, who tossed eight shutout innings. It was scoreless until the ninth when Johnny Monell, who had eight plate appearances for the Giants two years ago, hit a two-run double.

Rays vs. Royals: POSTPONED: Nothin’ lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it’s hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain

In the wake of the Miguel Cabrera injury the Tigers have few good options

Miguel Cabrera
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DETROIT — It may be the Fourth of July, but Miguel Cabrera’s calf strain has sapped Comerica Park of its festive spirit. Indeed, despite sunny summer skies and red white and blue everywhere you look, it’s the gloomiest I’ve ever seen it.

When Cabrera came out of last night’s game with a calf strain you knew it had to be serious. Cabrera has played hurt in the past. He’s played injured in the past. He’s played when he probably shouldn’t have more times than I can count. But short of him literally missing a limb you never expect him to come out of a game.

That’s when Brad Ausmus knew it was bad, well before the MRI results showing a grade-3 calf strain came back.

“When Miggy says he can’t play, it’s serious, because Miggy plays through anything,” Ausmus said this morning. But he won’t be playing though this. Ausmus said he’s still waiting on a second opinion, but he doesn’t expect it to be any better. “I looked at the MRI. You can ask me about it,” Ausmus said. But even Dr. Ausmus is resigned to the fact that the best hitter in baseball will be out six weeks. And as he sat and spoke to the media this morning, he made it clear that the Tigers’ options are limited.

Alex Avilia will get the start today, but he has played only three career games at first base. And, Ausmus reminded us, he was just activated from the disabled list himself. He’s worried enough about Avila playing back-to-back games at the position he knows, let alone one that’s mostly unfamiliar.

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Jefry Marte taks grounders the morning after being called up. — photo Craig Calcaterra

The Tigers called up Jefry Marte from Toledo to take Caberea’s spot on the roster. Marte is 24 and is an eight-year minor league veteran. He’s hitting a respectable .271/.337/.497 at Toledo this year, but he is a third baseman, having only played a handful of games at first base in the Texas League and the Arizona Fall League. The system is devoid of anyone at first with major league experience. “Minor league free agent first basemen don’t want to sign with the Tigers,” Ausmus said “knowing that the best hitter in the game is here on a long term deal.” The 37-year-old Mike Hessman, just a few homers shy of the all-time minor league record, has played over 450 games at first between the majors and minors, but no one considers him an option.

What say you about Victor Martinez, Brad Ausmus? He’s played nearly 200 games at first.

“Victor in my mind is not an option,” Ausmus said. “He’s not on the radar.” The reason is simple: health. And, Ausmus added, “if you play him at first base and he gets hurt, then you’ve lost two bats.”

That leaves the trade market, but the pickings for a solid first baseman look slim. Ryan Howard is out there, but given how he’s hitting this year you can’t bet on him being a better option than Marte, at many, many times the price, either in salary or trade. And what do the Tigers trade anyway? Their most obvious trade chit may be Yoenis Cespedes, but you have to think the Tigers were hoping to hold him for a trade for a pitcher. Or two. And if you deal him now, the lineup will have only one serious power threat in J.D. Martinez.

One option, which I presume no one associated with the Tigers is eager to consider let alone speak about in public, is to make the best of a bad situation and use the Cabrera injury as an excuse to punt on 2015 and reposition for 2016. Be willing to go without that power in the second half if you can get someone who helps next year. Move some other pieces or even engage in an on-the-fly rebuild. After all, the Tigers are six games out in the AL Central. Maybe it’s time to get creative.

Or, maybe, when your owner is 90-years-old and has poured serious, serious money into this club, “rebuild” is a four-letter word.

Where does that leave the Tigers?

“Sometimes you find out more about a team when a player like Miggy goes down,” Ausmus said. “We’ll see what type of fight we have.”

We’ll find out right along with him.