Where Tigers stand heading into All-Star break

After Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers are 53-38 and lead the Central Division by 6 1/2 games.

John Rieger

As the Tigers head to the All-Star break, it’s time to take stock of where they stand so far.

After Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers are 53-38 and lead the Central Division by 6 1/2 games. They have won 17 of their last 23.

"We’ve played much better in the last three weeks," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating. "There’s nothing to feel bad about. You never enjoy losing, you never enjoy losing the last game in the series, but we took three out of four and we played well lately. We hope to enjoy the time off and come back and start over."

It is the Tigers’ third-largest lead at the break in team history. In 1968, they led by 9 1/2 games and in 1984, by 7.

At the break last year, the Tigers were 52-42 and led the Central by 1 1/2 games. 

This year the break comes after the Tigers have played 91 games. Last year after 91 games, the Tigers were 50-41 and led the division by 2 1/2 games.

For the most part, the starters have done a very good job, with the notable exception being Justin Verlander.

After Sunday, Verlander is 8-8 with a 4.88 ERA.

"I felt like I pitched pretty well, I felt like I pitched well in the seventh," Verlander told Keating. "Just really the only hard-hit ball that inning was (Raul) Ibanez up the middle. So you just look at that and say, all right, on a given night those balls are grounders at somebody. Instead of being a blooper, they find the outfielder’s glove, whatever it may be. That happens. It’s the game of baseball. It’s disappointing, especially after we play the first three games so well. I would have liked to have won this one but it didn’t happen."

All-Star Max Scherzer is 11-3 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.17 WHIP; Anibal Sanchez is 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.04 WHIP; Drew Smyly is 5-8 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

Smyly returned to the rotation after spending last season in the bullpen and his innings will be closely monitored.

As for Verlander, there’s no question he needs to find what he found in the postseason last year when he went 1-1 with an 0.39 ERA and 0.57 WHIP.

Pitching coach Jeff Jones and manager Brad Ausmus have been working with Verlander on correcting some mechanical flaws, but that remains a work in progress.

"This first half just hasn’t gone well for Justin Verlander," FOX Sports Detroit analyst Craig Monroe said. "It is definitely not Verlander-like. But this is a challenge for him to go home and try to clear his mind and not focus so much on the mechanics that he’s going through or even worry about the numbers. 

"This guy will show up and the Tigers are gonna need him to show up in the second half."

As for the much-maligned bullpen, they came into Sunday’s game with an 11-10 record and 4.25 ERA. 

However, that included an 18-inning scoreless streak which ended in the seventh inning.

Overall, the best reliever has been Joba Chamberlain, who is 1-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. 

Chamberlain has settled nicely into the eighth-inning role and has justified Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski’s signing of him during the offseason.

It proved to be particularly fortuitous when Bruce Rondon was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Al Alburquerque, or "Everyday Al" as he is being called because of his 44 appearances, is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA.

Youngsters like Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, Justin Miller and Chad Smith have all come in and contributed with varying levels of success.

The biggest disappointments have been closer Joe Nathan and lefty Phil Coke.

After last year’s career year in which he went 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves, Nathan is 4-2 with a 5.61 ERA and 19 saves.

However, Jones and bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer have worked with Nathan to correct his arm slot, which has resulted in a 1.80 ERA in his last five outings.

We hope to enjoy the time off and come back and start over.

Brad Ausmus

Before Sunday, Coke had also shown improvement, with nine straight scoreless appearances and a 2.45 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 16 outings since June 1.

As Joel Hanrahan’s recovery from Tommy John surgery has been slow, the Tigers might not be able to count on him in the second half.

It would not be a surprise if Dombrowski were to acquire a veteran reliever before the trade deadline, perhaps former Tiger Joaquin Benoit, who is currently with the San Diego Padres.

Offensively, the Tigers have been quite good, especially All-Stars Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.

Cabrera took over the AL lead in RBI with his 75th on Sunday, passing Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz, who plays Sunday night.

Rajai Davis has contributed with six home runs, 32 RBI and 24 stolen bases.

Torii Hunter, while limited defensively, is third on the team with 52 RBI.

Rookie Eugenio Suarez has helped bolster the shortstop position both offensively and defensively.

In his first big-league season, Nick Castellanos has been pretty good, with 20 doubles, six home runs and 34 RBI.

The Tigers could use more from Austin Jackson and Alex Avila.

Jackson seems to have found more of a comfort zone since returning to the leadoff role and Avila’s on-base percentage is behind only Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.

Speaking of J.D. Martinez, he’s been an absolute revelation. 

"Seriously, where would the Tigers be without this young man," Monroe said. "He was an outcast with the Houston Astros, but boy, has he found a home here in Detroit. This kid has been on a tear at the plate."

Picked up after the Houston Astros released him, Martinez is batting .379 with 14 doubles, a triple, 13 home runs and 37 RBI in his last 42 games.

"It seems like every team that does well has someone you don’t expect to do well," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating on the post-game show. "There’s always someone that steps up, plays well, hits well, pitches well. This last month and a half it’s been J.D. Martinez for us."

The Tigers have their flaws but they’re certainly set up well to reach the playoffs. 

If they can play a little better at home, where they’re 25-22 compared to 28-16 on the road, stay healthy, get Verlander pitching well, keep Nathan heading in the right direction, and continue to get good pitching from the rest of the starters, things should be fine after the All-Star break.

NOTE: Victor Martinez hopes to be ready to play after the All-Star break.

Bothered by soreness in his back, Martinez has played in just two of the last 13 games.

"He took some swings (Sunday) off the tee and felt good," Ausmus said. "He’s going to rest it for the next four days, come back on Friday and we’ll see where he is."

Martinez will attend the All-Star Game but will not play.