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5 things Tigers must do to make the playoffs in 2015

The Tigers have a lot of work to do if they are going to make the playoffs in 2015.

Getting this guy back would help
Getting this guy back would help
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers can make the playoffs this season. With a .500 record at the All-Star break, they are nine games out of first place, three-and-a-half games out of a wild card playoff spot, and sixth overall in the American league standings. The Tigers have some serious work to do if they want to make the postseason, let alone make a run at a fifth consecutive division title. Here are five things that the team must do to be serious contenders.

1. Acquire a starting pitcher

(Preferrably to replace Alfredo Simon in the rotation.) Landing Yoenis Cespedes from Boston was a coup for president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, but the spot in their rotation once occupied by Rick Porcello has not been capably filled. Simon has not gotten the job done, and would be better off in the bullpen, where he has been effective in the past. Replacing Simon in the rotation could simultaneously upgrade the bullpen and the rotation.

2. Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander have to be their usual selves

Even with a new starting pitcher, Sanchez and Verlander have to pitch up to their capability. There is no scenario where the Tigers make the playoffs without these two pitchers returning to form. Sanchez struggled in the early part of the season, going 3-8 with a 5.69 ERA in his first 13 starts. He has pitched much better lately, going 5-0 with a 2.84 ERA in his last six games. Sanchez led the league in ERA in 2013, and has posted one of the league's lowest home run rates in previous years, but has allowed 19 home runs this season. Detroit needs him to be closer to his 2013-2014 form than the one who showed up earlier this year.

Verlander missed most of the first half of the season with a triceps strain, and has struggled since coming off the disabled list, going 0-2 in five starts with a 5.34 ERA. His last start was an eight-inning gem, more in line with what the Tigers need to get from their former MVP and Cy Young winner.

3. They need a fifth starter

After filling one of the two vacancies created by the trades of Porcello and Drew Smyly, the Tigers are going to need a fifth starter to emerge from among Shane Greene, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan, and Buck Farmer. So far, this group has been a collective failure, posting an ERA of 5.94 in 29 starts. Two new starting pitchers is a bit much to ask for, so one of these guys probably has to step up or they will need another starting pitcher, perhaps a waiver wire acquisition.

4. Fix the bullpen

The Tigers’ bullpen has been the worst in the American League so far this season. Veterans Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, and Tom Gorzelanny are gone. Getting Bruce Rondon back may help, although he has yet to prove that he can handle late inning duty. Neftali Feliz could be a bargain find as a free agent if he can stay healthy and regain his form. Simon could give the bullpen a boost. Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy have been the Tigers' best relievers this season, and it would help if they were used accordingly. Another setup man is needed. They could look to former Royals reliever Jason Frasor, who was released on Monday. If all else fails over the next two weeks, they could trade for a decent relief pitcher before the deadline.

5. The offense needs to keep producing

In the seven games since Miguel Cabrera went on the disabled list, the Tigers have scored six runs per game. J.D. Martinez is one of the hottest hitters in the league, Victor Martinez is back in form, Yoenis Cespedes is having an All-Star caliber season, and Jose Iglesias continues to hit.

A lineup that features Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos batting fifth and sixth is a shaky proposition -- admittedly, Castellanos has been better lately -- but getting contributions from the other players will be essential to keep the ball rolling until Cabrera returns in late August. Otherwise, an acquisition either at first base or third base will also be necessary.

It goes without saying that a team must stay healthy to remain competitive. The Tigers have lost Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera for a total of 100 days, and Cabrera figures to be out at least another month. That’s a huge loss of valuable manpower for any team to endure. They need to get Cabrera back in good shape and keep the rest of their players healthy if they hope to earn their fifth consecutive postseason berth.