They are the team with the elite talent and the one most sabermetricians have pegged to win it all once October rolls back around, and yet here are the Detroit Tigers, wrapped up in yet another pennant race that may boil down to the final days of the regular season to be decided. They were supposed to walk away with this division last year, and did so, but not before a minor collapse from the Chicago White Sox. Here they are again, the team with the superior talent clinging to a small lead, and there are certainly more chinks in the armor this year then there were last.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this Tigers team is just how top heavy they are with talent. They have the consensus best hitter in the league in Miguel Cabrera and one of the best power hitters in the game with Prince Fielder. On the pitching side, they have Cy Young hopeful Max Scherzer and the underrated Doug Fister. It’s a collection of talent that few in the Majors can claim to match and yet here they are, in the middle of yet another perilously close pennant race, and in danger of missing out on the whole thing again, but they remain confident, and why shouldn’t they be. Their talent dwarfs those of their closest competitors, and even their roster of role players has gotten better with the offseason addition of Torii Hunter and deadline acquisition Jose Iglesias, but there are signs of a team that is not as good as it seems, and just maybe, they are in far greater danger than what they let on.
Miguel Cabrera is having yet another stellar season, one that could arguably even be perceived as one better than his Triple Crown season from a year ago, but he’s missed a few games as of late with a hip issue. It’s an issue that wouldn’t warrant mentioning from a younger player but Cabrera is right around 30 years old after starting out as a very young player for the then Florida Marlins. Along with his weight, there may be something to that hip issue that causes it to linger for a while, perhaps even into the latter part of the season. Missing Cabrera for any significant amount of time would be costly for a team in need of his production. Then there’s Justin Verlander. After putting up a monster 2011 campaign that saw him win both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards, Verlander has been more hittable this year, due in large part to a dip in velocity and a declining strikeout rate. There are some stats that indicate that he’s just suffering from bad luck, but a broader scope of them says that he’s just off, and maybe even in decline.
The Tigers know these things and are preparing for a dog fight. Whether or not they will eventually end up division winners again is up in the air at the moment, and only the conclusion of the season will truly give an assessment of where they are as a team.
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