Paul: There's no sure fix for Tigers, but here are some ideas

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Ryan Howard

What the heck has happened to the Tigers?

That's the question everyone's asking, but nobody really knows the absolute answer.

There's too much talent on this team for it to still be sleepwalking, a month after first encountering rocky waters.

The defense is great. The athleticism is improved. The bullpen, a source of heartburn for so many years, is much improved, even if fans haven't totally bought into that. Starting pitching isn't what it's been in years' past, but it's not terrible, either.

And then there's the offense.

The darn offense.

It's almost impossible to fathom the offense that roared through 13 games has basically been in a coma ever since.

Consider this: Through 52 games, the Tigers have scored two runs or fewer an unbelievable 25 times. Compare that to 2003, the awful year the Tigers, you'll remember, lost 119 games: Through 52 games that year, they scored two runs or fewer 27 times.

That 2003 team was an embarrassment, but this might be worse, considering the sky-high expectations that come with a $170-million payroll.

Let's be honest. Little was expected from the likes Warren Morris, Eric Munson and Alex Sanchez. That's not the case for a lineup that includes the best hitter in the Milky Way, Miguel Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes, and Ian Kinsler.

Yet, here the Tigers are -- 28-24, 3.5 games back in the American League Central, and clearly starting to wonder when, or if, things are going to turn around.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus doesn't see an easy fix, and that's because there isn't one.

But here are five ways the Tigers could try to get going again.

1. Find a lefty bat

It's never a good idea to have a lineup so right-handed-heavy, because 80 percent or so of pitchers are right-handed.

The Tigers are stuck with a righty-heavy lineup, thanks to knee injuries to Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. And, as a result, they've been mush against a lot of right-handed pitchers, particularly ones who throw a good sinker.

Look at the Padres. Everyone loved their offseason moves, but they made the lineup right-handed-heavy -- and that offense, no surprise, is in a rut, too.

Getting Martinez back -- check that, getting a healthy Martinez back -- could make all the difference in the world, but nobody knows when he's coming back. It could be two weeks, it could be two months, it could be 2016.

In the meantime, the Tigers need to search for a lefty bat -- which could be a tricky proposition this far from the July 31 trade deadline, since in this era of two wild cards in each league, few teams are ready to declare themselves sellers.

The one option: Ryan Howard. He seems rejuvenated, the Phillies are going nowhere, and they'd certainly be willing to eat a large chunk of the $60 million he's owed through the end of next season, and be willing to accept a minimal return in a trade. In Detroit, Howard could DH until Martinez returns, then play first after Martinez returns, moving Cabrera back to third, and the completely lost Nick Castellanos to the bench.

Ian Kinsler

2. Move Kinsler down

It's time for Ausmus to consider removing Kinsler from the No. 2 hole. He's mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, batting just .125 in his last 13 games. It seems, too, the offensive woes have carried over to his defense, where he's been oddly shaky.

Kinsler batted No. 2 in all but one game in May, and had a rotten May -- particularly the second half of May.

The Tigers can't keep getting nothing out of the No. 2 spot, because that means Cabrera, at No. 3, is just more likely to be walked.

My suggestion: Take Jose Iglesias from No. 9 and make him the leadoff hitter, use Anthony Gose or Rajai Davis No. 2 -- depending on if it's a right-handed or left-handed starting pitcher -- and move Kinsler down to six or seven.

It doesn't have to be a permanent move, and, yes, the idea of Iglesias No. 9 and Gose/Davis No. 1 is appealing -- it gives the lineup a look of two leadoff hitters -- but with the offense scuffling so, it's probably not an option right now.

3. Start Wilson

The Tigers rotation has had its ups and downs, from just about every starter. The starter who's the biggest concern, though, is Shane Greene, who, in his latest appearance, did what no major-leaguer before him had done -- allow five home runs in 1.2 innings or fewer.

Like so many young, upside pitchers before him -- ahem, Max Scherzer -- Greene could use some time in the minor leagues figuring some things out.

His spot in the rotation could be taken by Justin Verlander, who's probably one more rehab start -- preferably, a good one -- from rejoining the Tigers.

There's still a spot for Alex Wilson, though, as Kyle Lobstein is injured -- and likely leaking oil anyway -- and Buck Farmer, while promising, probably needs more time in Toledo. Wilson could fill the void, as he showed in an emergency start in Oakland last week, and then 3.2 more innings of relief after the Greene debacle. Wilson didn't allow a single hit in either outing, and has allowed just 13 hits in 26.1 innings this year, his first in Detroit.

Bruce Rondon could take his spot in the bullpen when he gets off the disabled list, or Lobstein or Farmer or Alberto Cabrera could move to the bullpen.

Joba Chamberlain

4. Alter the eighth

Joba Chamberlain, yet again, is Ausmus' go-to guy in the eighth inning. This, despite the fact that the Tigers, statistically, have several better options.

The Tigers, for whatever reason, are enamored with Chamberlain, who came back to Detroit on a one-year, $1-million deal -- after imploding in the second half, and in the playoffs, last season.

Ausmus insists Chamberlain's stuff is as good as he's seen, and I'll concede this: Chamberlain is throwing a nice, firm fastball this year, and that could be a big-time weapon. The problem is, Chamberlain still doesn't throw the fastball all that much. He relies on a little-breaking slider, a slider he way too often hangs -- as he did again in the eighth inning Sunday against the Angels' Johnny Giavotella, who lined a winning single up the middle on the second hanger Chamberlain threw him.

Chamberlain's sporting a 1.26 ERA this season, but talk about smoke and mirrors. The four runs he allowed in the Chicago debacle were later changed to unearned after Castellanos was charged with an error, and Chamberlain has allowed three of eight inherited base runners to score. Those runs are tacked on to other pitchers' ERAs.

The numbers I care far more about: His WHIP is 1.465, opponents are batting better than .300 against him -- and better than .300 when he gets ahead in the count. That's so alarming, perhaps telling that he has no putaway pitch.

Last year, Chamberlain remained the setup man because the Tigers didn't have other options. This year they absolutely do, and they should try using them.

5. This and that

Some other quick-hitter suggestions:

* The Hernan Perez experiment has to end, even though the Tigers risk losing him to waivers. What would they be losing, anyway? Kinsler isn't going anywhere, nor is Jose Iglesias. There's no spot, long-term, for Perez, and he's not helping in the short term. Dixon Machado could be a better fit as Iglesias' backup, then allowing Andrew Romine to be the super-utility guy.

* Speaking of Romine, some more starts for him at third probably are in order, especially since Castellanos looks so lost right now. What happened to all the line drives Castellanos hit last year? They've turned into popups this year.

* It probably wouldn't hurt for the Tigers to start being more aggressive -- not just on the bases, but at the plate, too. Too often, several Tigers take meaty first-pitch strikes, rather than hacking away. The guiltiest party here is Cepsedes, who then is susceptible to leaving the strike zone later in the count.

* With the game on the line late in the ballgame, perhaps it's time to start thinking of turning to Joakim Soria, even if it's the eighth inning and not the ninth. It's unconventional, but smart, too. Otherwise, you're saving him for save situations that might not ever come.

* And for the love of the Lord, stop making fashion statements. Last year, after sporting the Zubaz pants, the Tigers went into a free-fall. This year, it happened after Alex Avila (allegedly) ordered up and handed out the "Dreamy" Ausmus shirts.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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