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We're 44 games in...it's time to evaluate.

By: Channing Cummins

It's difficult to create a starting point when trying to evaluating your favorite teams. Of course, you want your team to become better but doing too much can create a negative effect. Do you start with offense first, considering the league is always in demand for better hitters? Maybe pitching second? After all, a pitcher can put a team on his back in the playoffs and prove to be key. No matter where you start it's crucial for a great team to find the right combination of players to produce a productive season.

The Tigers are currently 44 games in and remain one game behind the division leading Minnesota Twins. It's safe to say that the Tigers have proven to be a contender for the playoffs based on their early production. Of course the production must remain constant but it's your combination of players that must continue to deliver when needed. For me, the excitement of the season is growing stronger by the day as the Tigers seem to be generating a stronger team. The vibe the team is giving off is starting to remind me of the '06 season when everything seemed to go right. Whether it's the mohawks being supported by the pitching staff or the pre-game festivities in the dugout, the energy and focus is still there on an every night basis.

The early success has a lot to do with the production of the rookies. What the rookies Jackson and Boesch have given the Tigers during the season has proved to be crucial for victory. You can compare the two guys but all you need to know is that they're good, at least for now. Austin Jackson is supporting a .337 batting average, sixth in the A.L., and 59 hits which ranks third in the A.L. This has given the Tigers exactly what they needed and what Granderson didn't provide. He has become a reliable lead-off hitter, something we've been desperate for.

Brennan Boesch is carrying a .340 average with a strong 4 home runs and 22 r.b.i's. His ability to perform almost immediately has also provided relief for the Tigers. He has given the Tigers a productive fifth hitter and much needed protection for Cabrera. With the return of Guillen, Boesch will have a prime opportunity to solidify himself in the big leagues.

The production from the 1-5 hitters have in a sense carried the team all year. They rank near the top of the American League in almost every offensive statistic and carry a lethal combination of run producers. There's not too much you can say about these guys except that they're good. Damon has given us everything we've wanted, Ordonez has the stroke back and Cabrera is a machine. Through these 44 games, Cabrera has batted in 40 runs along with 10 home runs. At this pace he would finish with 40 homers and 150 r.b.i....machine.

Similar to 2006 season, the bullpen has risen up to become an effective group of shut down pitchers. The addition of Phil Co
ke has given the pen a reliable lefty and Jose Valverde has allowed most Tigers fans to relax a bit more in the ninth. When I see his 0.46 e.r.a and his 11 saves, I can only smile. Ryan Perry and Joel Zumaya have provided lights out stuff, as well, only giving the team more adversity. They carry a swag with them each time they hit the mound and have continued to dominate.

All of the above have kept the Tigers in the hunt, while all of the below are some reasons we don't have the division lead.

The 6-9 hitters for the team, well not so great. They're supporting a .200 average and have shown little reason for us to be excited. Inge is currently sitting on a .217 batting average with more strikeouts than hits and he bats sixth or seventh. It's hard to think the Tigers will put up with his lack of production for much longer if they want to bring home the championship. The rest of the order is almost too hard to watch at times. Laird's .155 average is humiliating and Everett's .197 isn't much better. With the recent production of Wells and Worth, the Tigers might have stumbled upon some more answers.

The starting pitching still has to remain a question mark. Although, certain pitchers have provided great games this year, overall there has been a lack of dominance. Their e.r.a. is the bottom of the American League and the rotation is still up for question. Verlander and Porcello have recently found their groove but the others are still waiting. Scherzer who once owned the 3rd spot is currently pitching in the minors. Dontrelle Willis is beginning to fall into the vortex and we may never see him again. His early success is becoming old news as signs of the feared player are starting to emerge. Jeremy Bonderman has pitched well but it's difficult to give him any trust. Galarraga is getting his chance for now but for how long can that last? Overall, their starting pitching has yet to define their true identity and it needs to be watched.

Off of the stat sheets there are definitely reasons the Tigers have had their ups and downs. Timing has been essential and momentum has to considered. For the Tigers, there were recent series that proved to be pivotal. After losing all three in Minnesota the Tigers could've easily fallen off track.

The crucial turning point for them definitely had to be the series' after. Winning 5 out of 7 against the Yankees and Red Sox was enormous. Not only did they prove to world they could beat good teams they also showed tremendous adversity. Because of that we are only one game behind with a good chance to make the playoffs.

The key is going to be finding that right combination of players. There are many questions the team will have to face before the trade deadline. Finding the right group of players and creating good player chemistry is what a great team needs to succeed. Putting all of that together and creating a winning environment is often difficult and is almost always going to be questioned.

Looking ahead the Tigers will take on the Mariners for a two game series in Seattle before heading home for a four game series with Oakland. There's opportunity to collect much needed wins and need to take advantage.


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