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Uneven first half leaves Tigers with work to do

MLB.com

The 2016 Detroit Tigers were within a half-game of a American League Wild Card spot on the final weekend of the season. With almost an identical rotation and set of starters in the field, led by 2016 AL Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander and 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera, there were high hopes in Motown that the team had one more playoff push left.

At the 2017 All-Star break, the Tigers are 6 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race and eight games behind the AL Central-leading Indians. Verlander has a 4.73 ERA and the highest WHIP (1.52) of his career, while Cabrera has career lows in batting average and slugging percentage. The rebuild Detroit tried to avoid could be just weeks away.

The 2016 Detroit Tigers were within a half-game of a American League Wild Card spot on the final weekend of the season. With almost an identical rotation and set of starters in the field, led by 2016 AL Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander and 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera, there were high hopes in Motown that the team had one more playoff push left.

At the 2017 All-Star break, the Tigers are 6 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race and eight games behind the AL Central-leading Indians. Verlander has a 4.73 ERA and the highest WHIP (1.52) of his career, while Cabrera has career lows in batting average and slugging percentage. The rebuild Detroit tried to avoid could be just weeks away.

:: 2017 Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

What went right
If Detroit still has a magical run left this year, the best place to start is by winning division games, which the team has done at a strong clip. The Tigers are 20-16 (.556) against the AL Central, the highest win percentage within the division. They've also beaten the Indians, the reigning AL champs, in six of 12 meetings this year after going just 4-14 against them last season.

What went wrong
To find what's gone wrong for the Tigers, it's easy to point to the 5.04 ERA of their relievers, which ranks last in the AL. Difficulties in the bullpen have contributed to a losing record in one-run games and an 0-3 mark in extra innings, but a lack of offensive versatility is also to blame. Detroit hasn't hit with exceptional power this year (tied for 17th in the Majors in home runs, 104; 13th in slugging percentage, .426) and hasn't found an alternative in homerless games. The Tigers are 2-24 this year when they don't hit a home run.

What we learned
What the Tigers have shown to this point is, unlucky or otherwise, they haven't strung together enough wins to be in the position of a contender (only one winning streak of four games). As for the team's group of young starters who made the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, it's clearer now that Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris still need time to harness their stuff, while Michael Fulmer shrugged off a potential sophomore slump with his first All-Star appearance.

First half top everyday player
Justin Upton was the team's best everyday player in the first half, leading Detroit in doubles (21), home runs (15) and RBIs (54) while receiving his fourth career All-Star selection. Upton has six outfield assists, tied for second in the Majors, and he maintains an even-keeled attitude that is influential to teammates, such as his clubhouse neighbor Ian Kinsler.

First half top pitcher
The aforementioned Fulmer has been the rock of the Tigers' rotation, and he is the team's proven top pitcher thus far. After rattling off an MLB-best 10 quality starts to begin the year, he's settled into a 3.19 ERA in 17 starts (a run and a half lower than any other Detroit starter). With an uncertain bullpen, Fulmer has pitched six or more innings in all but one outing.

First half top rookie
Figuring out a top rookie from Detroit's first half is tough because the team is driven by veteran players, without a single first-year player making consistent appearances in the field. But utility man Dixon Machado has batted .324 in 34 games (18 starts) while playing second, shortstop and a couple games at third. He's been even more effective lately, batting .375 with six RBIs in 13 games (seven starts) since the beginning of June. Depending on how Detroit's lineup changes by the end of the month, Machado could have an opportunity for an increased role in the second half.

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers