The Detroit Tigers find themselves mired in mediocrity as the MLB season nears its midway point. At 36-34, Detroit holds the 16th-best record out of 30 teams in the majors.

This is a big underachievement for a perennially contending team.

Not that it is entirely unexpected. Fate has conspired against Detroit in many ways since the end of the 2014 season. Injuries have beset key contributors Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez for extended periods. Also, one of the game’s best pitchers, Max Scherzer, decided to flee the scene last offseason.

Even with these setbacks, the Tigers are still punching well below their weight. Lagging behind eight teams in the American League is unacceptable for a team with the third-highest payroll in the game.

Here’s why they find themselves in their current position…


The offense has not delivered consistently

After finishing second in the AL in runs the past two seasons, Detroit has slid well down the pole in 2015. They currently rank eighth in the league with 4.2 runs per game.

The Tigers are somewhat of an offensive enigma. Despite crossing the plate less frequently, they have still swung the bat well this year. Their batting average (.273) and OPS (.746) are second and third in the league, respectively.

However, Detroit just isn’t getting it done in the clutch.

Matthew B. Mowery of the Oakland Press recently documented the team’s struggles in key spots:

By the stat of WPA Clutch (wins probability added, adjusted for the leverage of the situation), key offensive cogs Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, James McCann and J.D. Martinez all rank in the negative. Utility man Andrew Romine is clutchest at 0.5. Last year, this was the spot that J.D. Martinez was so stellar, hitting .271 with five homers and 12 RBI in late and close situations. This year, he’s hitting .154, with one RBI, no home runs and nine strikeouts.

The return of Victor Martinez from injury could trigger a turnaround. After the switch-hitter’s recall on June 19, Detroit has scored 25 runs in four games. This includes a season-high 12 runs against the Yankees on Father’s Day with Martinez contributing four RBI.

But can Detroit do it when counts?


The starting pitching is not what it once was

Detroit’s rotation has also slipped this year after being prolific in recent seasons.  In 2014, they ranked first in the AL with a 3.38 Field-Independent Pitching (FIP) mark. This year they languish at 10th with a 4.10 FIP.

Behind David Price (6-2, 2.50 ERA) and Alfredo Simon (7-4, 3.29 ERA), the team is searching for answers.

Justin Verlander was being counted on to provide a lift upon his return from the disabled list earlier this month. So far he has not. In two starts, the righty is 0-1, 6.17 ERA, 4 K, 3 BB.

The Tigers urgently need Verlander to step up and for Anibal Sanchez to continue his recent upward trend—3-2, 2.18 ERA, 37.2 IP in his last five starts. Otherwise, continued mediocrity—as well as every un-hittable outing by Scherzer—will feel like a punch in the gut to Tigers fans.


The bullpen is still flawed

Not so long ago, this looked like a bright spot for Detroit. Apparently, old habits die hard.

With Joakim Soria sitting pretty at 13-for-13 in saves on May 20, the Tigers’ bullpen was at least looking sturdy. Times have changed…

As the closer’s standards have faded, so have the unit’s as a whole. The Detroit relief corps now ranks third-bottom in the majors in FIP (4.24).

We saw the Kansas City Royals ride the success of their bullpen all the way to the Fall Classic last year. Detroit simply must get better in this area to be contenders. The trade market seems like the only solution to their problem.


The defense is genuinely good

There is cause for optimism amid the gloom. After years of being average at best, Detroit can now go get it in the field.

We all know what Jose Iglesias can do, but center fielder Anthony Gose has made some gems, too.

Their presence, along with newcomer Cespedes and the ever-consistent Kinsler, makes the Tigers’ defense one of the best in baseball. According to FanGraphs, they have the fourth-highest total of Defensive Runs Saved (26) in the majors.

All is certainly not lost for Detroit. Even with all their issues, they still maintain a winning record and are only two games back of the playoff places. After dropping back to .500 on June 20, they seemed to draw a line in the sand.

Their journey has only just begun.


All stats in this article are courtesy of FanGraphs

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