Tigers turn page to make-or-break July
With division lead, Detroit faces crucial roster decisions
The good news for the Tigers is that the American League's division leaders on July 1 the past two years were still there at season's end, as were two-thirds of the division leaders since 1995. The bad news is that the Tigers were among the last teams that didn't make it. And at this point, to call Detroit's lead a solid one would be premature.
While July is usually the month when contenders separate themselves from the rest of the pack, it's also the month in which teams try to make the moves they feel they need to get there. The Tigers enter July with a chance to take command of the AL Central, starting with this weekend's three-game series at Minnesota. Win or lose, they also have plenty of questions to answer.
Detroit is very much a team in definition. A pitching staff that was expected to be the weak link has proven itself among the best in the league, certainly at the top. By contrast, an offense that ranked among the most formidable in baseball going into Spring Training has been inconsistent despite power surges from Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge. Detroit owns baseball's second-best record at home but is 20-24 on the road, having lost its past four road series since taking three of five from the White Sox a month ago.
"I think, of course, you're halfway through the season, and you've got gut feelings on all aspects of the game at this point," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. "Not that your club can't change, but it's a situation where you have a feel."
The question now is how to react. It's not just about potential trades, but other decisions to make -- from what to do about struggling right fielder Magglio Ordonez to how to fill a fifth-starter role that will audition its third candidate in four starts when Luke French faces the Twins on Friday.
Either situation could lead to a deal. The Tigers' interest in an offensive upgrade has been well-publicized, but they could also use an experienced starter with Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman on the disabled list for the foreseeable future, though Dombrowski downplayed any concern about pitching.
"Our starting pitching has actually been pretty good," Dombrowski said. "You're always concerned about any area, because all it takes is a bad day of injuries. Our top three guys have been good for us overall, and [Armando] Galarraga has been better his last couple starts. Our fifth spot, we have confidence in Luke French."
There's time, Dombrowski cautioned, for deals.
"It's early yet," Dombrowski said. "We're just going into the beginning of July. We're not even close [to deals]. Not that some things won't happen, because there have been some things taking place, but it always ramps up close to the July 31 [non-waiver Trade] Deadline. A lot of clubs are looking, trying to win right now. So they always ramp up."
Ordonez's situation seemingly has more urgency. When manager Jim Leyland rested him for four games a couple weeks ago, his batting average was at .273 with a .690 OPS. He's 5-for-30 since returning, including 2-for-12 in Detroit's latest three-game series against an Oakland club that used three left-handed starters.
Nothing appears imminent, though Friday appears like a time Ordonez could sit with Twins ace Kevin Slowey going.
"Jim [Leyland] has tried a lot of different things," Dombrowski said. "You're always hopeful that the next day is the day he snaps out of it, and we'll keep hoping."
Another situation the Tigers have to watch is the rehab of Carlos Guillen, currently on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He has been throwing for at least a week and has been hitting off a tee. He'll continue his rehab with the club next week back in Detroit.
How that impacts the Tigers remains unclear.
"Can't answer that question yet," Dombrowski said, "because I don't know what that situation's going to be. He's made good strides. That's a factor. We still don't have anything definite."
The Tigers don't have a whole lot definite about their situation, other than strong front-line pitching, timely power hitting and a tough place to play for visitors in Comerica Park. July could change that.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.