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First is the Worst

by Scott Bolohan
July 10, 2009

Has there ever been a shakier team in first place half-way through the season? It’s not like the rest of the AL Central is exactly ready to dominate the division, but someone has to win it. And that someone right now is the Detroit Tigers.

It’s definitely not a bad thing to be in first, but I don’t think anyone is too comfortable with it. Let’s face it. The number of holes on the team is just about equal with the number of spots that are filled. I mean, do you realize that some guy named Don Kelly was hitting cleanup? For a first place team? That’s just embarrassing.

In fact, if you do one of a sports columnist’s favorite things and give the players a letter grade for the season, it would basically be split between A’s and F’s. Justin Verlander? A. Magglio Ordonez? F. Brandon Inge, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello, Rod Allen? A. Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Armando Galarraga, basically the whole bullpen, Placido Polanco, Magglio’s hair? All failing.

Honestly, there’s a lot more not to like than like about this team. There are some pieces in place (namely the first three pitchers in the rotation) and much more that are not here (namely the last two spots in the rotation). But that doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause. After all, they are in first place, meaning there are actually four teams worse than them.

So what do to? Praying is a start. Bondo and Willis are lost causes and can’t be counted on for anything. Maggs is just about there (especially with the looming plate appearances kicking in his option for next year). But maybe Guillen can come back and be the left-handed bat they need. Maybe Galarraga’s last few starts were real signs of progress. Maybe Inge, Jackson, and Rodney are for real. Maybe Joel Zumaya will learn to throw a fastball for a strike. Maybe there is nothing to worry about.

Maybe not.

Alright, so it’s not going to be a quick fix. Even though the Tiger’s aren’t packing the house this year, Illitch has said he’s willing to spend to bring someone in. An outfielder and a pitcher would be a nice start, perhaps in a salary dump. The farm system is pretty much barren, otherwise they’d be up in the big leagues right now. The Tigers clearly have a shot of winning this year, but there is also just about the same chance they end up in third.

This month will say a lot about the future of the team, not just in deals they do or do not make, but it is decision time for a number of players. And I trust Dave Dombrowski do to the right thing, as long as he’s not handing out extensions. Or trading for Edgar Renteria.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) there is a lot of baseball left to play. It should be a fun one. For 3/5 of the games at least.

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