Tigers: Struggling to win

The Detroit Tigers’ Austin Jackson (14) dives back to the bag as Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko takes the throw on a pick-off play in the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois Tuesday, September 11, 2012. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

The Detroit Tigers have been struggling on the road lately, and their chances of making the playoffs are in serious jeopardy if they can’t win crucial away games.

Before Tuesday’s win in Chicago against the White Sox, they had lost six of their last nine games. After Tuesday’s win, they narrowed the gap in the American League Central to two games behind the White Sox. Winning the AL Central is the team’s only chance to make the playoffs. They are five games back for the two wild card spots, and the two teams that would win the wild card if the season ended right now are the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics.

There are many reasons for the Tigers’ current struggles, but the primary reason is they simply can’t score runs at crucial points in the game. Miguel Cabrera is still producing relatively well, but players like designated hitter Delmon Young who is hitting .167 in the last seven games and even first baseman Prince Fielder who is only hitting .182 over that same stretch are just not getting the job done.

The struggles don’t end there. The starting pitchers are having some problems too. Justin Verlander, in his last five starts, is 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA. Rick Porcello is really struggling too. Over the same five-start period, he is 0-5 with a 4.18 ERA. Verlander’s issues are more concerning, as he is the ace of the pitching staff and won the AL Cy Young Award as well as the MVP award last year.

The only real positive in the pitching rotation right now is Max Scherzer. He is pitching lights out baseball right now. He is 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA over his last five starts and has struck out 45 batters.

Another possible reason for the Tigers’ current issues is the variety of lineups being put on the field by Jim Leyland. He has fielded four different starting lineups in the last week, with only one (Tuesday) yielding a win. Having players like Ryan Raburn, who is hitting .171 for the season, batting second in a lineup that needs to start producing is a huge problem.

Don Kelly, hitting a balmy .179 on the year, has played in two games (starting one) since being called up from AAA Toledo on Sept. 1. Kelly, who was sent down at the beginning of August, has only seven RBI’s and an on-base percentage of .269, which means in the 106 at-bats he has had this year, he has gotten on base 26.9 percent of the time. Raburn, on the other hand, has an OBP of .226, meaning simply he gets on base less than Kelly but has 99 more at-bats on the season.

If the Tigers do not get their act together soon, they will almost certainly be watching the playoffs from the outside looking in. They have a solid team, and proved last year that they have what it takes to make the playoffs, but they are not playing with any urgency this year. They still can make the playoffs, but in order to do that they need to think they can, too.

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