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Tony Paul's top-10 Tigers’ story lines for second half

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

They’ve been six games over .500. They’ve been six games under .500.

They’ve led the American League Central by a game. They’ve trailed by as many as 8.5 games.

They’ve been .500 12 times.

So, just who are the Tigers?

It’s tough to say, even 89 games into the 162-game grind.

They could prove to be a $200 million bust, the biggest waste of money in Mike Ilitch’s reign as owner.

Or they could prove to be the team that finally gets Ilitch his Holy Grail, the World Series ring that’s eluded him since he bought the team for less than this year’s combined salaries of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann.

The former, however, seems most likely. Especially if you ask a fan base bordering on apathetic.

But it’s far from a certainty.

Second-half story lines

Get healthy, stay healthy

The starters were hurt most of last season, and it resulted in a last-place finish. They’ve avoided big injuries this time, but still need J.D. Martinez (elbow) and Daniel Norris (oblique) to return and make an impact if this team is to win the division for the fifth time in six seasons.

Rotation, rotation, rotation

There’s no reason to believe Justin Verlander won’t stay strong, and Michael Fulmer won’t stay a rookie-of-the-year candidate, even on an innings watch. Jordan Zimmermann (neck) must get it together, Daniel Norris must provide a spark, and the Tigers need to find someone who can be a reliable fifth starter. It actually will be Mike Pelfrey.

Can’t wait forever

Anibal Sanchez and Mark Lowe have been beyond awful, yet remain on the 25-man roster because of their contracts. Sanchez makes $17 million this year and next, and Lowe $5.5 million this year and next. They are nothing more than place-holders who can’t be trusted in even close games. Barring immediate improvement, they can’t be kept around for long.

Going shopping

The Aug. 1 trade deadline is going to be interesting, given so many contenders are looking for starting pitching — and there aren’t that many available arms. Detroit could use some back-end depth, maybe a Drew Smyly type. Steven Moya’s stock is up and he’d be expendable when J.D. Martinez returns, and he could appeal to the light-hitting Rays.

Tigers in position to put up a fight for postseason

Say hey, kid

Joe Jimenez, the hard-throwing right-hander, has dominated the last two seasons in the minors, allowing three earned runs since last August. In 322/3 innings this season between Single A Lakeland and Double A Erie, he’s allowed 13 hits, struck out 55 and walked 11. Clearly, at 21, he’s ready to give the bullpen a boost.

Keep up the good work

It’s not a stretch to say 3B Nick Castellanos and 2B Ian Kinsler have been the team’s MVPs, with Michael Fulmer in the discussion. The margin for error for the Tigers isn’t huge, so they’ll need to remain at elite levels through Game 162.

Consistently inconsistent

This team has looked like world-beaters and cellar-dwellers. They’ve had six winning streaks of four games or more, with a high of six, and four losing streaks of four or more, with a low of dropping 11 of 12. This trend has to stop, or the season won’t prove salvageable.

Chris McCosky's midseason Tigers grades

Right on schedule

The schedule improves dramatically the second half, with 42 games at home and 31 on the road (including one brief trip out West). Detroit also gets 13 games against Minnesota, which it hasn’t lost to yet, and finishes at Atlanta. The Tigers also get seven more cracks at the first-place Indians, all in September.

Miggy being Miggy

By most accounts, Miguel Cabrera didn’t have a bad first half. His power stroke seems to be back (18 HRs match his 2015 total). But the slash line is down from his normal levels. His batting average would be his lowest since 2008, and his on-base and slugging would be his worst since his rookie year.

Need a little help

The Indians are on pace to win 95 games, and the Tigers would need an epic half to reach that number. Cleveland has a great rotation, but it's untested at the amount of innings the players are on pace to reach. There’s a good chance the rotation suffers fatigue at some point, and the Tigers must take advantage when it happens.