Last week, I posed some questions about the Tigers' second half of the season. Some of them were thrown out there just for the sake of argument, to discuss amongst ourselves. Maybe they're mostly moot points, given how well the team is playing. But I think a couple of them might hang over the team going into August and September.
Anyway, Kurt at Mack Avenue Tigers and Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience not only played along, but hit the ball back at me. I let it hang in the air for a couple of days before finally taking a swing, but sat down with myself and handed over my ten questions.
(1) Do the Tigers still need to upgrade at first base, or is Sean Casey's production acceptable, especially considering how many runs this team scores?
Sure, it would be nice if the Tigers got some more power out of first base, but they don't need it. They're not losing games because Casey isn't knocking the ball out of the park. Besides, with free swingers like Marcus Thames, Craig Monroe, and Brandon Inge at the bottom of the batting order, Detroit needs someone with a little more patience, who can make contact and move runners along. Casey might not be enough at first base for a lot of teams, but he suits the Tigers just fine now. I don't think, however, that Detroit will settle for "just enough" at that position next season.
Unlike with first base, the Tigers are losing games because of their bullpen, and I think that's why they have to make a move. I realize the bullpen has been pitching well in July, but look at Saturday night's game. After Kenny Rogers loaded the bases, would Jim Leyland have let him pitch to Kenji Johjima if he could've brought in Joel Zumaya for a possible strikeout? There's no one in that bullpen right now who's close to a sure thing. The one guy who may have been - Zach Miner - gave up three runs (albeit unearned) in the ninth inning yesterday.
There's just too much at stake, and there's no guarantee Zumaya or Rodney will come back healthy. Enough relievers are (presumably) available that Detroit doesn't even have to pursue one of the big names, like Brad Lidge, Eric Gagne or Chad Cordero. Chad Qualls, Octavio Dotel, Akinori Otsuka, Al Reyes, or Salomon Torres could be there for the taking, as well. The organization has the depth in starting pitching and outfield to give a trade partner the prospects it's looking for. Some of those guys likely wouldn't have a spot on Detroit's major league roster anyway, so they might as well be dealt to fill some holes.
(3) Who scares you more: The Indians or Twins?
I should say the Indians because they're playing "King of the Mountain" with the Tigers for first place in the AL Central. I wasn't quite a believer in Cleveland because of its pitching staff. But thanks to Fausto Carmona, I think the rotation's been better than I expected, and the bullpen has pitched well, too (though Joe Borowski might be the second scariest closer in baseball, behind Todd Jones).
I could change my mind after the next three games, but Minnesota scares me more because of their pitching - especially now that they've quit pretending they could win games with Ramon Ortiz or Sidney Ponson. And if they get a hitter - like, say, Dmitri Young - the Twins could be even more fearsome.
(4) Is there another team the Tigers should be worried about, as a wild card competitor (Mariners, Yankees)?
Excluding the Twins, I think the Mariners could stay in the race because of their bullpen. And if they get another starting pitcher like Dontrelle Willis, that could be dangerous, too. So I think attention has to be paid. But from a head-to-head standpoint, Detroit showed they were the better team this past weekend.
(5) Will Magglio Ordonez win the AL batting title? (Or would you prefer to see him hit for some more power?)
No, I think Ichiro will eventually overtake Maggs for the batting title. That's just what he does. And if it means sacrificing some average for more home runs, I actually hope Magglio doesn't win the batting title. But with the way he's hitting to right field this season, I don't see why he can't finish in the .320-.330 range.
(6) Speaking of Maggs, will he win the AL MVP? Or if Gary Sheffield continues to hit as he has, might he leapfrog Maggs in voters' eyes?
It's kind of hard for me to imagine Sheffield not being in the MVP race because he's been such a dangerous hitter since the first month of the season. But unfairly or not, I think his mouth might get him in trouble with some voters (especially since his remarks have more to do with what happened before he got to Detroit). Plus, voters tend to look unfavorably upon designated hitters for MVP awards, even if Sheffield could definitely play in the outfield if the Tigers wanted him to.
Regardless of those factors, however, I think Magglio's numbers in average, doubles, and RBI would give him the award, anyway. If he's seen as the best hitter on what could be the best team in the league, that should sway the vote in his favor. But I think his closest competition will be Vladimir Guerrero, not Alex Rodriguez.
Yes, he can, and yes, he will. I know 11 more triples is a lot to ask, since that's an impressive total by itself. The difference between Granderson and a speedster like Jose Reyes is that Curtis has the additional extra base power to hit the ball deep into the outfield, to the gaps and over defenders' heads.
(8) Will Nate Robertson still be in the Detroit starting rotation by the end of the season?
I think he will be, but by default rather than merit. Obviously, I hope I'm wrong, and maybe I shouldn't be so harsh, considering how well he pitched in last year's playoffs. But he's been pretty bad this season, and if not for the emergence of both Chad Durbin and Andrew Miller, I think the Tigers would've been hurt much more by Robertson's mediocrity.
Leyland will likely be exceedingly patient with him, based on last season's performance, and Nate has probably earned that. But in terms of talent, I think he's pretty solidly the Tigers' fifth starter right now, and they could probably do a lot worse with that spot. I'd rather see Durbin in the rotation, because Robertson is a five-inning pitcher (and seems to tire after four), but I understand that asking someone to pitch in relief if they haven't done so before is a big risk.
(9) Is there someone in the minors now - pitcher or batter - who will make a notable contribution to the Tigers this season?
I'm sure Chris Shelton will get a shot in September, and Mike Hessman has earned a call-up, too. This is probably a bit of a cheat, since he's not a prospect, but I think Timo Perez will make a contribution by the end of the season, and into the post-season, as an extra outfielder, left-handed bat, and pinch runner.
(10) Will Craig "Mendoza" Monroe be the Tigers' regular left fielder by the end of this season?
No. C-Mendo's already lost his job. Leyland kept saying he wanted to put Monroe in the lineup because he's been more of a second half player, but here we are in the second half, and Marcus Thames is getting his at-bats. C-Mendo is a platoon player against left-handers now. Unless Thames runs out of gas with the extra playing time, I don't think that's going to change.
Okay, thanks to Kurt and Big Al for not only playing ball with me, but challenging me to put up my own thoughts. It's not narcissistic if you're asked by someone else, right?
Also, thanks to me for taking the time to answer my questions. I enjoyed talking to myself throughout the morning, though I think I may have alienated a couple of people at the coffee shop. I think they were just curious because I was using a tape recorder. Just trying to keep it professional.