Detroit Tigers: Staying afloat with solid division play
By Dave Holcomb
Baseball fans all know that division games essentially count twice in the standings. With each victory against a division opponent, there is also a loss handed to that division foe.
What baseball fans probably don’t realize is that those games make up nearly half the season’s schedule. For instance, the Detroit Tigers will play 76 of their 162 games versus AL Central teams.
April is also a month reserved mostly for division games, which can cause many teams to sprint out to a deceptively fast start or a misleading slow beginning.
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It seems to be the former for the Detroit Tigers. Detroit began the year 10-2 and nine of those first 12 games were against AL Central opponents. After the first 35 games, the Tigers were 21-14 and 28 of those games were versus division rivals.
On May 14, 18 of the Tigers 21 victories were in the AL Central.
As previously mentioned, that’s good news for the Tigers in their hopes to win a fifth straight division crown, but Detroit’s play outside the AL Central has fans perplexed.
Since May 15, Detroit is just 10-15 and during that stretch, the team played just one series inside the division. Detroit won that one series, 2-1, versus the Chicago White Sox, so taking that into consideration, the Tigers are just 8-14 outside the AL Central over the last month.
For the entire season, Detroit is 11-18 outside the division and 20-11 inside the AL Central. If readers think that’s weird, take a look at this stat:
The Tigers have averaged 5.00 runs per game versus division opponents, but against the rest of the league, Detroit is averaging just 3.21 runs per game.
Could the Detroit hitters be more familiar with the Royals, Twins, Indians and White Sox pitching staffs because they have faced them so often in recent years and thus have an advantage against them? Possibly.
More than likely, though, this is just coincidence. In all April games, the Tigers scored 4.90 runs per game and since then Detroit is averaging 3.68 runs per game. Clearly, the Detroit offense slowed overall after April and the team was just fortunate that most of those games in May were outside the division.
But it is hard to ignore the fact that the Tigers have lost nine of their last 12 games, and two of the three games they didn’t lose were to the White Sox.
What is also strange is it’s not like the Tigers are in a weak division and/or playing tough opponents outside the AL Central. The AL Central is considered one of the toughest divisions in the league, yet the Tigers seem to have it solved. The teams Detroit hasn’t solved, however, are the Brewers, Athletics and Angels.
Those teams have a combined 75-105 record, but the Tigers are 2-10 against them.
Detroit can continue to add to these puzzling numbers with another series victory over the Cleveland Indians this weekend. And as much as the Tigers struggle overall, if they can continue to win division games, they will stay in the AL Central race.