While the Tigers have already passed the midpoint of the season in terms of games played, the All-Star break represents the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half.
With the non-waiver trade deadline looming, the Tigers are in the position that many predicted. Sitting 12 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the Central Division and little chance to challenge for the wildcard, the Tigers look to continue a rebuilding process that began last July.
So what did the first half of the season tell us about the organization and where it stands? Here are a few observations.
The Tigers absolutely made the right decision in hiring the former Twins skipper. Gardenhire provides the Tigers with a blend of baseball savvy and a healthy portion of patience. Fundamentally, the Tigers are not where they need to be. Much of this is due to the youthful makeup of the roster. Yet, Gardenhire does not use that as an excuse. He continues to demand that the game is played the right way. If that means sitting a player for transgressions involving hustle, then so be it. Gardenhire knows this team is far from a finished product. The components of the roster are evolving and will continue to do so in the future. One thing that won’t change is his philosophy. Gardenhire was not the most talented player on the field in his playing days, but his years in the game have taught him what works. Blending his style with the ever-evolving world of analytics remains a work in progress. Baseball is a numbers game in many ways, but the human element will never cease to be part of the equation. Humans are not perfect, but neither are the numbers that are provided to the manager daily. With the trend leaning toward hiring younger, less experienced managers, the Tigers bucked the trend by hiring a veteran skipper. With a young roster that is still in flux, and the challenges that it presents, Gardenhire’s experience is a perfect fit.
A stellar first half for Castellanos did not result in an All-Star bid, but that was more circumstance than anything. He is the Tigers best player and there is little debate about that. More than his ability to hit a breaking ball, Castellanos’ biggest strength just might be his mental toughness. His defense in right field has been sub-par at times this season, but he has the ability to let go of a bad game quicker than any player I know. It’s a short memory that makes Castellanos the great player that he is. Beyond that, we all know that he crushes breaking balls and left-handed pitching. He also plays hard. Every single day. The next time I see him loaf down the line on a ground ball will be the first time. I’m convinced I’ll never see it. When Miguel Cabrera’s season ended with a ruptured biceps tendon, Castellanos bat became the centerpiece of the Tigers lineup. He hasn’t been disappointed. Castellanos leads the American League in line drive percentage at 29.5%, which is not surprising because it seems everything off his bat these days is loud. Will he be part of the next Tigers contender? I know he would like to be and he wants to stay in Detroit, but if a club calls Al Avila with an enticing package, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be moved.
Since last season’s deadline purge, the Tigers have offered many of their minor leaguers a chance to win a big league job, but no one has seized the opportunity like Niko Goodrum. The former Twins second-round draft pick was signed as a free agent in the off-season with a chance to battle in spring training for a utility spot on the roster. After eight seasons in the minor leagues with the Twins and only 17 major league at-bats to show for it, Goodrum has never had anything given to him. A change of scenery has breathed life into his career and he has outperformed his competition every step of the way. Goodrum made the Tigers roster out of spring training, winning the job over veteran Alexi Amarista. When the season began, Gardenhire used Goodrum all over the diamond, finding at-bats for him where he could. Then, starting second baseman Dixon Machado began to struggle. Goodrum received more and more of Machado’s at-bats as the first half progressed until Machado was designated for assignment and Goodrum stepped in as the everyday second baseman. In July Goodrum has punished pitching to the tune of a .351 average. Why anyone would continue to challenge him with fastballs is beyond me. His average against the heater this year is .346. He hits good pitching too. Goodrum’s resume already includes James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, and Jose Berrios as top-flight starters he has homered against. Not bad for a minor league free agent looking for a chance this past off-season.