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Detroit — This is an odd thing to say riding a seven-game losing streak into Game 81, but the second half of the season might not be as much fun for the Tigers.
These first three months have been surprisingly entertaining, have they not? Even in losses, the team played with verve, with aggression, with a never-die spirit in the first year under manager Ron Gardenhire. And for a long stretch — without two of their veteran starting pitchers and without their franchise player Miguel Cabrera — they challenged the .500 mark and stayed within striking distance of the Central Division-leading Indians.
The first three months brought us the Rally Goose, the Bullpen Cart, a near no-hitter by Francisco Liriano, three walk-off home runs, one walk-off bunt (it happened), 24 one-run games, 16 two-run games, 14 come-from-behind wins — good, clean fun.
Not to say the team will stop playing with verve and aggression and a never-die spirit, but these next three months will feature a different agenda. The July 31 (non-waiver) and the Aug. 31 (waiver) trade deadlines loom large for a team in the early stages of a rebuild.
Veteran players were signed in the off-season for two reasons — to help get the club through the first three-plus months in good stead and then to be hopefully flipped for prospects to further fortify the Tigers’ organizational depth.
Liriano, Mike Fiers, Leonys Martin fit that profile. Of those three, Liriano is the most likely to be moved.
The Tigers also will keep their options open for Jose Iglesias, Michael Fulmer, Nick Castellanos, Shane Greene and Matthew Boyd. Of that group, Greene and Fulmer would probably draw the most interest, although the asking price for Boyd, Fulmer and Castellanos will be commensurate with what the Astros paid to acquire Justin Verlander.
Even if they are unable to make many trades — which is very possible— there is likely to be a lot of roster churning in these next three months.
There are players at Triple-A Toledo and even possibly at Double-A Erie that the club will want to look at. Left fielder Christin Stewart, for example, may get his first exposure to big-league pitching. If Martin is traded, for example, JaCoby Jones would move to center field and Stewart would get some playing time in left field.
There will be players coming and going, you would imagine, even before the rosters expand in September.
It will be interesting, too, to see how Gardenhire appropriates playing time for veterans like Victor Martinez (who is expected to retire after this season) and Iglesias (who will be a free agent) after the trade deadline.
Will Dixon Machado play more at shortstop down the stretch, to help determine if he can bridge the gap for a year or two until Sergio Alcantara or another prospect is ready?
Another area of interest will be the pitching staff going forward without pitching coach Chris Bosio, who was fired Wednesday. Rick Anderson takes over, but it’s clear he is doing so on an interim basis. The Tigers will have a new pitching coach in place by next season.
Will roles change? How will his absence impact a pitcher like Boyd, who made great strides under Bosio’s tutelage?
Gardenhire will continue to demand competitive baseball be played and certainly the players will be incentivized — trying to cement their place in the team’s plans going forward. But once the calendar turns to July, the business side of the game tends to overshadow the games themselves, until the playoff races begin.
And the Tigers will not be part of that race.