By Dan Leach/Follow Dan on twitter @dtmleach
As the calendar crosses over into June, the Tigers find themselves with a very important month ahead. It’s one that could see them completely run away with the AL Central, or give teams like KC or Chicago a glimpse of hope. It’s obvious that players like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are two of the most valuable Tigers, as they have been and will continue to produce at an absurdly high level. What I am focusing on here is who are the most important Tigers as the team traverses towards the All-Star break, looking to put its fellow AL Central mates out of contention as early as possible.
3. IAN KINSLER (stats as of June 3rd .304 avg 38 runs 68 hits 23 RBI 4 HR 6 SB .774 OPS) – Kinsler has seamlessly transitioned himself from longtime Texas Ranger to a Tiger who you feel like has been here for years. His grit, passion and confidence have endeared him to his new teammates from day one, and he has fast become one of the glue guys on Brad Ausmus’ first foray into managing. Whether it is battling to ten pitches in an at-bat, ending up with a hit, driving in a game winning run, or playing a solid second base, Kinsler is one of the guys on this Tigers roster that will be key if Detroit is to finally get that elusive World Series trophy.
2. JUSTIN VERLANDER( 6-4 3.99 ERA 1.44 WHIP 31 BB 57 SO 3.50 FIP) – The Tigers starting rotation doesn’t begin and end with JV anymore, but he is still ultra-important at the top in setting the tone 1-5 for Detroit’s starters. The club is in a very advantageous position having the likes of Scherzer, Sanchez and Porcello which, in my opinion, is the best top-four in MLB. That takes a little pressure of Verlander compared to years past, but the fact that JV has struggled in bunches at times over the past two years has become more and more of a concern. Verlander’s numbers – an ERA just shy of 4.00 and a WHIP a shade over 1.40, will need to come down if he is to be a major threat again. If Verlander can even get close to the JV of 2012 and stabilize the top of the rotation, there is no reason to think Detroit won’t be in prime position. The team could not only win the AL Central by midseason, but will be able to take away the stress of needing an A-plus start in the dog days of summer. That could help JV get ready for a big run in the postseason.
(if the pitching thing doesn’t work out maybe JV can become a DH:)
1. JOE NATHAN( 2-2 5.23 ERA 13 Saves 1.30 WHIP 4.96 FIP) – The Tigers closer seemed to be a forgotten man at times during the team’s hot start to the season – the fourth best in franchise history – before getting swept by Cleveland back in late May. Not until the Oakland series last week did Tigers fans really start to realize how important Nathan is to the club’s success, but also how tenuous the role of a closer, proven or not, can be. Nathan came into June 3rd action with 13 saves in 23 appearances, but has blown four opportunities. As Detroit gets to the meat of their 2014 regular season schedule, Nathan’s ability to close out one and two run games will be the difference in the Tigers running away with the Central or having to scratch and claw in the latter part of the season.
Who do you think is the most important Tiger as we head into June? Coffee talk among yourselves.