Last season, just one game separated the Royals and Tigers for the Central Division Championship. Through the first few weeks of the season, it looked like the same two teams would be vying for supremacy in the division. The Tigers, like the Royals, won their first six games of the season. As late as May 16 they were tied with the Royals for first place with a 23-14 record. Since then, they have dropped 40 of 68 and now stand at 51-54, the latest they've been under .500 since 2010.
Detroit's biggest issue has been pitching. They have given up the third-most runs with 4.79 per game and have yielded the most home runs. The bullpen has predictably been an issue with the second-worst ERA in the league, but the starting pitching has been equally bad, only Red Sox starters have been collectively worse than the Tigers 4.53 ERA for the rotation. The team traded away its top pitcher David Price last week, leaving a rotation full of disappointments, none of which has posted an ERA lower than 4.50.
Justin Verlander, who has potentially five years and $134 million left on his current contract, has missed most of the season with a tricep injury. His velocity is down from his peak and his curveball has become very hittable, but he has a 3.29 ERA over his last four starts, including an eight inning, one run, ten strikeout performance his last time out.
Buck Farmer has given up 30 runs in 27 1/3 career Major League innings, with opponents hitting .342/.412/.632 against him in his career. Anibal Sanchez has dominated the Royals in his career with a 1.98 ERA in nine starts, but they have touched him up for nine runs in 15 1/3 innings in two starts this year. Sanchez has seen a slight decline in his velocity and his once-effective slider has become quite hittable.
The bullpen, as previously mentioned, has been dreadful. The Tigers are just 37-11 when leading after six innings, compared to the Royals record of 41-2. Closer Joakim Soria was dealt to Pittsburgh last week, leaving save situations to Alex Wilson, who recorded his first career save last week. Wilson has a 1.76 ERA but has significantly outperformed his FIP and has a career strikeout rate of just 5.9 per-nine-innings. Former Royals farmhand Blaine Hardy has had an effective season as a lefty-specialist and Al Alburquerque has been a reliable setup man, but the Tigers have no depth after that with former All-Star Neftali Feliz pitching terribly since being picked up after his release by the Rangers.
Detroit's lineup has been solid, even with the absence of Miguel Cabrera due to injury and awful seasons from veterans Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and disappointing young third baseman Nick Castellanos. The Tigers are still fourth in the league in runs scored, leading the league in batting average and on-base percentage, while sitting third in slugging percentage. The Tigers have been paced by outfielder J.D. Martinez, whose 29 home runs are third in the league. Detroit has also had a great comeback season by Jose Iglesias, who missed all of last season with stress fractures, and may be the biggest threat to Alcides Escobar winning a Gold Glove.
Detroit has improved their defense considerably and now boast one of the better fielding teams in the league. Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler would rival Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante as one of the best defensive double play combinations in the league. The Tigers lose some defensive value with the trade of Yoenis Cespedes, but Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose are solid defenders and J.D. Martinez has been surprisingly good.
Manager Brad Ausmus has been under tremendous scrutiny all season and he may well be managing to keep his job. The team no longer has the pressure of competing for a pennant on their shoulders, but the Tigers will be looking to "reboot", and the new operating system may have some different names next year. We won't get an exciting Tigers/Royals divisional race this year, but Dave Dombrowski is one of the best General Managers in the game, owner Mike Ilitch has enough reserves to fund the team for years, and the Tigers shouldn't be down for long.