Tigers Separating Themselves in AL Central


The Detroit Tigers nearly let one get away last night. Leading 2-0 just three batters into the game, The Tigers’ bats went silent against Royals’ starter Felipe Paulino for much of the rest of the night. The lone exception being a booming home run to dead center field off the bat of Alex Avila, which extended Detroit’s lead to 3-0.

Things looked like they’d stay that way, but in the seventh Rick Porcello ran into a bit of bad luck as three of the first four batters of the inning hit groundballs that found holes through the Tigers’ infield. Porcello was lifted for Phil Coke, but Coke missed his inside locator on a breaking ball that drifted out over the plate to Mike Moustakas, who delivered the second Kansas City run with a ringing single through the right side. The Royals tied the game when David Pauley left an 0-2 pitch up to Alcides Escobar, who dumped a soft single to center.

This game had all the classic elements of a game the Tigers could have easily let get away, and one that in years past maybe they would have. The Tigers turned the ball over to Daniel Schlereth, recently recalled from Toledo, and the southpaw turned in two innings of hitless, scoreless relief to get the Tigers to the tenth. Detroit scratched out a run on a clutch single from Brennan Boesch and the Tigers held on for a victory in a game they could have easily lost.

To better illustrate the fortunes of the Tigers right now, Cleveland was playing the Rangers at the same time the Tigers game was taking place. The Indians jumped all over Derek Holland and Carlos Santana had knocked in five runs in the first three innings. Ubaldo Jimenez was on the hill for Cleveland, making his AL debut. As the Royals fought back and tied the game against Detroit, Cleveland was holding a 7-3 lead on the Rangers.

Jimenez wouldn’t retire a batter in the sixth, however, as Mike Napoli continued his assault on AL Central pitching with a solo homer to lead off the inning. Jimenez issued a walk to the next batter before leaving for a reliever. That batter eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly to cut the Tribe lead to 7-5. It stayed that way until the ninth.

Chris Perez retired the first two batters of the frame, but then allowed a single to Josh Hamilton. Michael Young the stepped to the plate and took Perez deep over the centerfield wall to tie the game. The Rangers would go on to win in 11 innings.

Two game in two cities involving the top two contenders for the Central division’s post season berth. Had the games turned out they way they seemed to be going, the Tigers’s lead on Cleveland would have been trimmed to a mere two games. Detroit found a way to win a game they maybe could have lost while Cleveland found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The result is that the Indians, at four games back, now sit closer to third place Chicago (who topped the Twins last night and are 6.5 back) than they do the Tigers.

A lot has been made of Jim Leyland’s second half record as Tigers’ skipper and it’s been noted that since 2006, August is the Tigers’ worst month. This team, as some have noted, has a different feel about them than the teams of years past did, or least it seems that way in hindsight. To me, I think it’s a combination of having a deeper, more professional lineup and the maturation of Justin Verlander that lends itself to these thoughts. But it’s also the competition that gives me the feeling that this could finally be the year the Tigers bring home a divisional crown.

Cleveland wasn’t ever expected to be here. That they’ve hung around this long, long enough to make a move to add Jimenez, is a sign that they think they can win. But their lineup is still incomplete and their pitching staff has seemed to be producing over their heads. Even with the addition of Jimenez, even if they can get Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore back and healthy this year, the Tigers look to be the much more talented club.

Chicago and Minnesota have both played well below expectations all year long and it doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime soon. The Twins, marred by injuries early, haven’t had their full lineup for most of the season and never had the pitching to overcome the offensive shortcomings brought on by the significant lost time of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Jason Kubel.

Chicago was the scariest team on paper and the club I picked to win the Central back in March. Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin have done as much or more than they could have been asked to do to keep this offense afloat, but Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have all but disappeared this year. Even a strong starting staff hasn’t been good enough to make them strong contenders and now it appears that first-half savior Phil Humber is backsliding into the pitcher who was DFA’d twice before coming to the White Sox.

There are roughly 50 games left in the season, so there is still time for the Indians and White Sox to right their ships and make a run. But the Tigers only have to play .500 ball the rest of the way to reach 85 wins this year. In order to catch them, Cleveland would have to win 30 of their last 52 (.577) and Chicago would have to go 35-16 (.686) to reach 85 wins. Obviously, each win by the Tigers over that number will make it that much harder for their rivals to reach them. To say that a comeback from either club is unlikely, given what they’ve shown in the first two-thirds of the season, seems like an understatement.

This is Detroit’s division to lose.

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