We were primed by the hype surrounding the arrival in the big leagues of Cameron Maybin. We all heard that someone in the Detroit front office had called Maybin the greatest talent he’d ever seen, but most writers were rather skeptical that he was ready to make the jump to the big leagues from the low minors.
Admittedly it would have made for a great story, one I’d rather be writing, but those who suspected Maybin was a little too green were right. Maybin’s six games at AA didn’t prepare him for major league pitching and it shows. Through 13 games he’s hitting a mere .158 and that’s not what a team fighting for a playoff spot needed, especially when the Tigers heralded his arrival by trading away veteran left fielder Craig Monroe to open a roster spot for the youngster.
Perhaps coincidentally with Maybin’s arrival the Tigers began the freefall which dropped them from first place to 7 games out in the American League’s Central division. It may have been a mistake, or a bad move, or just plain bad luck, but with just 23 games left any hope of a division title seems little more than a pipe dream and even a Wild Card berth looks dubious.
The unavoidable fact is that the Detroit has played sub .500 baseball over the last five weeks. If you spent your time listening to sports radio in New York or Seattle you might think the Tigers were 10 games off the pace for the Wild Card - they’ve essentially become a non factor in the thinking of fans in both those cities. But that all may be about to change. Just in time for the final push the Tigers are getting a shot in the arm, with the return of de facto ace Kenny Rogers and offensive leader Gary Sheffield.
They are going to need the firepower that Sheffield can add to the lineup if they have any hope of dragging themselves back into the Wild Card race. They have one of the toughest schedule of any of the teams still (realistically) in the chase for that final playoff spot. Their schedule includes 13 games with teams who are playing .500 or better ball (3 games v. Seattle, 3 v. Cleveland and 6 v Minnesota. and a make up against the Blue Jays).
And the Tigers may be playing for more than their playoff hopes too. Magglio Ordonez has a legitimate contender for an MVP award, but his only chance of winning it will be for the Tigers to come out on top over the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez. Right now A-Rod has to be considered the top man in that contest but if the Yankees failed to make the playoffs behind him, while the Tigers surged over the last month, it would probably sway an awful lot of voters.
But even if the Tigers manage to find that first half magic again it’s going to be an uphill battle requiring good starts from everyone involved. Kenny Rogers will have to be a strong starter, Sheffield and Magglio will have to put a lot of runs on the board. And Cameron Maybin will have to rapidly evolve into a big league hitter. That’s a tall order but sometimes you have to grab a Tiger by the tail and see what happens.
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