Will the Tigers survive and contend?

Updated: August 4, 2010, 3:19 PM ET
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Cabrera
Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera

If there were any doubts about Miguel Cabrera's mindset and commitment to his craft coming into 2010, he's more than erased them; he's obliterated 'em. This season Cabrera has solidified himself as the Tigers' franchise player -- and the club's best player since Al Kaline. His assault on American League pitching this year -- an average hovering around .350, 26 homers, a 1.075 OPS -- has people talking Triple Crown. With injuries to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, and rookie Brennan Boesch's inevitable cooling-off, Cabrera's challenge over the season's final two months will be getting pitches to hit.
-- Mike McClary, Tigers blogger (The Daily Fungo), SweetSpot Blog Network

Laird
Laird

Gerald Laird

I can hear Tigers fans already: Gerald Laird?! Yes, him. And here's why: The bottom third of the Tigers' lineup this season has been where rallies and promising innings go to die. Laird opened the season as the starting catcher, but primarily due to his feeble offensive output, he began losing playing time to rookie Alex Avila. But Avila, just two years out of college, hasn't worked out yet either. So that leaves it up to the .189-hitting Laird to push his average closer to his career .241 average if the Tigers have any hope of a second-half surge.
-- Mike McClary, Tigers blogger (The Daily Fungo), SweetSpot Blog Network

The Tigers played consistent baseball for much of the first half of the season, never dropping below .500 and remaining within five games of the division lead. At 48-38 and a half-game back in the AL Central, Detroit headed into the All-Star break with high expectations for a playoff run.

The team has been in a freefall since the break, having lost 15 of 20 entering Wednesday's game against the White Sox (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), and is seven games back of Chicago. This second-half fade is nothing new for fans in Motown. Since Jim Leyland's first season in 2006, Detroit has the second-best record in the majors before the break but the fifth-worst record after the break.

Recent injuries to Guillen, Brandon Inge and Ordonez have put a dent in the Tigers' offense since the break. The team is hitting .240 and averaging 3.1 runs per game in the second half, both of which ranked ahead of only the Mariners among AL teams.

As the Tigers enter the dog days of August trying to remain in contention, here are a few key things that went right and wrong for the team in the first four months:

Cabrera's Triple Crown chase

Cabrera has carried the team on offense for much of the season and is threatening to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Entering Wednesday, he has the most RBIs in the majors and is ranked second in the AL in home runs and batting average.

Jackson
Jackson

The Year of the Rookie

The Tigers have had 11 players make their major league debut this season, the most in the league, with four rookies playing regularly.

Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch have led the charge, ranking first and second among AL rookies in batting average this season.

Home sweet home

The Tigers have enjoyed the friendly confines of Comerica Park, with an AL-leading 36-18 record at home. They have 27 home games remaining, including their next eight against the White Sox, Angels and Rays.

Lack of timely hitting

The Tigers have struggled at the plate in key scoring situations this season. Entering Wednesday's game against the White Sox, they are hitting .247 with runners in scoring position and .260 with the bases loaded, both of which ranked 11th in the AL.

Disappointing rotation

The starters have performed poorly for much of the season, with a 4.73 ERA, the third-worst mark in the AL. They've combined for a 32-39 record, which could have been much worse, considering that 17 times the starter has left the game in position for a loss but the team came back to tie or take the lead.
-- Katie Sharp, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From Baseball Prospectus

In many ways, the Tigers' season ended July 24, when Ordonez broke his ankle while sliding into home plate in the third inning. A few innings later, Guillen departed with a severe enough calf strain to hit the disabled list as well, where he joined not only Ordonez but also Inge, who had suffered a fractured metacarpal the previous week. The devastation wrought by this injury stack left the Tigers with a lineup half-full of Triple-A fodder …

For more of BP's analysis, click here Insider .