Why the Tigers will make the playoffs:
Offense – J.D. Martinez slugged his way to the All-Star Game with 25 home runs in the first half of the season, Victor Martinez is healthy again and Yoenis Cespedes’ numbers nearly earned him a place in the All-Star Game. Even without Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, the Tigers have averaged nearly six runs per game in their last nine contests and should be in good shape if their offense keeps producing.
Defense – The Tigers have improved immensely defensively in 2015 with Jose Iglesias working his magic at shortstop, Anthony Gose’s quickness in center field, Nick Castellanos’ continuous development at third base and J.D. Martinez’s consistent play in right field. While the bullpen is still an issue, the Tigers’ improved defense could help them earn a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Miguel Cabrera – Miguel Cabrera went on the 15-day disabled list on July 4 and is expected to miss six weeks with a Grade 3 left calf strain. If Detroit can maintain its place or gain ground in the standings without Cabrera in the lineup, there’s no reason to panic as long as he returns in pre-injury form.
Justin Verlander – Although Justin Verlander is still looking for his first win of the season, his last start should give the Tigers confidence going forward. Verlander was dominant through 7 2-3 innings against the Twins last Friday, which was spoiled when the Tigers’ bullpen gave up six runs in the ninth. If Verlander can build off his last outing and remain consistent through the end of the season, he will be key to the Tigers’ playoff hopes.
History – The Tigers have a history of bolstering their roster at the trade deadline, which could give them a boost in the second half of the season. Dave Dombrowski added David Price in 2014, Jose Iglesias in 2013, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez in 2012, and Doug Fister and David Pauley in 2011. If Trader Dave can add another piece to the Tigers’ roster that will help them reach the playoffs, there’s no reason to panic.
Why it’s time to press the panic button:
Bullpen – The Tigers’ bullpen problems are nothing new. Already without Joe Nathan (torn UCL), Joba Chamberlain (released) and Tom Gorzellany (released), Joakim Soria is the only member of the bullpen with a specific role. Soria has been mostly effective as a closer, but the inconsistencies throughout the rest of the bullpen and meltdowns already displayed this season are two very good reasons to panic.
Starting Pitching – David Price has been the lone bright spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation. Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Alfredo Simon have been too inconsistent for comfort. The fifth spot could be filled by Shane Greene, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan or Buck Farmer, but if the Tigers don’t acquire another pitcher or receive solid performances out of the starting rotation, press the panic button.
Justin Verlander – Speaking of starting pitching, Verlander’s second-half output will likely help determine the Tigers’ postseason fate. He has made just four starts since returning from injury, and while none of his performances were horrible, he’s only had one solid start. If Verlander struggles down the stretch, it could have a crippling effect.
Miguel Cabrera – Just as a healthy Cabrera could give the Tigers a much-needed boost to cruise into the playoffs, an unhealthy Cabrera is a justified reason to panic. Cabrera is expected to return to the lineup in mid-August, but if he struggles to stay healthy, the Tigers will face an unfortunate reality. There’s simply no way Detroit will be able to reach the postseason without the league’s best hitter in the lineup.
Schedule in second half – The Tigers have an unfavorable schedule in the second half of the season, which includes 39 games against teams with winning records. They have six games against the Twins and three against the Astros, which are the two current wild-card teams. The Tigers also have 12 games left against the Royals, all in August and September. A major slump against any one of these teams could cost the Tigers a playoff berth.