Monday Morning Thoughts: Rick Porcello taking the next step, Daniel Schlereth sliding

Apr 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello (48) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field. The Tigers won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Over the weekend, the Tigers briefly dropped out of first place in the AL Central Division. Dreams of a wire-to-wire division championship were always nice to have, but were maybe not realistic. But after a day in second place, Detroit beat Chicago to move back into the lead by a half-game. Don't be surprised if the standings remain untidy, but remain confident things will work out in the end.

Here are a few of my thoughts on a Monday morning ...

Rick Porcello is taking the next step. The Tigers' 22-year-old right hander left fans concerned when he didn't live up to the predraft hype or the promise many saw during his rookie season. To hear many fans tell it over the offseason, trading Porcello would have been a wise move so his potential became someone else's problem. But there was reason for optimism, as we tried to point out at BYB many times. Porcello's done nothing to prove us wrong in his two starts this year. He's struck out eight and allowed 12 hits and a walk in 14 2/3 innings. He's allowed three runs for a 1.84 ERA. Someday he may even be remembered for picking up the Tigers' first win by a starting pitcher on the 2012 season -- it only took the team nine games! If the Tigers see this Porcello more often than not, it's going to go a long way toward taking care of the division.

Where did the offense go? The Tigers exploded for so many runs against the Red Sox we couldn't help but salivate at the thought of what kind of runs totals the team would put up during the season. And as quick as our minds began to wonder, we were brought back to reality. Detroit was held to just two runs in Justin Verlander's second start of the season. Friday against the White Sox, they scored two more. Saturday, they scored just one. It took a Sunday lineup that featured Brandon Inge at designated hitter, Gerald Laird catching and Ramon Santiago batting second to break out of it. Man, sometimes baseball doesn't make any sense. But that's why I say: That's baseball. Who can really explain it?

The middle of the order failed to produce. How's that for an explanation? Cabrera went 0-for-the-weekend. Add in the last game against the Rays, and Cabrera went hitless for four games. That sort of slump has happened just three times in his career. Meanwhile in three of those games, Prince Fielder failed to get an extra-base hit. Before hitting a double on Sunday, Fielder's only power showing came in the second game of the season when he hit two home runs. It's not that Fielder wasn't producing in other ways. In between the two games, he had seven singles and three walks. Yet with fewer opportunities and few successes on those he had, Fielder managed to drive in just one run during a six-game period. The middle of the Tigers' order will undoubtedly produce better in the future: the key batters both have proven track records. But when they don't step up, the other Tigers in the batting order have to find a way to claw out more than two runs.

The bullpen has issues. I don't need to tell you that, of course. A key issue is that Daniel Schlereth has started off horrible. As one of the key left-handers in the bullpen, he's provided Detroit nothing. Unsurprisingly, many fans are calling for his head. But what options do Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski really have? Duane Below is more of a multi-innings reliever, and he's provided key appearances in that role. The Tigers don't have a lot of good options waiting in the wings to replace Schlereth. Matt Hoffman with seven hits and a walk allowed in 2 1/3 innings has started off the year rather poorly in Triple-A Toledo. Casey Crosby and Andy Oliver are not realistic options because the Tigers see them as starters. But pretending for a minute they are relievers, they suffer from the same control issues as Schlereth. You can look for help outside the organization, or you can move Adam Wilk there when Doug Fister rejoins the rotation. No matter what you do, it's not ideal.

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