By Paul M. Banks and Adam Musto
After finishing in last place in the American League Central Division in 2008 with a 74-88 record, the Detroit Tigers (28-23) are back in first place.
The last time the Tigers (picked to finish last by numerous “baseball experts”) won the division was 2006, when the team represented the American League in one of the least watched World Series of all-time. That autumn they fell to an 83-79 St. Louis Cardinals team in a Fall Classic best remembered for reliever Joel Zumaya’s pick off throw to third with no one covering the bag, prompting the always insightful and brilliant Tim McCarver to yell this stunning revelation “that was a bad play by Zumaya right there.” Yep, Tiny Tim McCarver: always pointing out the intricacies and nuances of the game.
Moving on to today, this Tiger team’s success can completely be attributed to pitching. Detroit leads the AL with a 3.90 ERA, seven shutouts and 8/5 hits per nine innings pitched. They have allowed the fewest hits (417) and runs (216) in the league.
Justin Verlander (6-2) currently is second in MLB with 90 strikeouts, one behind the San Francisco Giant’s Tim Lincecum. Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (5-3) boasts a 2.30 ERA and has allowed 59 hits and 25 runs in 74.1 inninngs pitched with 57 strike outs. Starter Fredrick Alfred “Rick” Porcello III (born December 27, 1988) is a rookie sensation for the Detroit Tigers He is considered by many to be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. The teenager was drafted #27 overall in the first round of the 2007 Draft. Rick Porcello will soon become a household name with his (6-4) record, 3.70 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 53 innings. Closer Fernando Rodney converted all 10 of his save opportunities into successful saves. Four other pitchers have had save opportunities, but have gone just 1-6. The ancient Todd Jones is no longer the Motor City’s closer and that’s a good thing for them; not good news for the rest of the AL Central.
As a team, Detroit ranks in the middle of all the pack in all the major offensive categories. Their lineup is mediocre but does feature a couple of standouts. First baseman Miguel Cabrera and center fielder Curtis Granderson have paced the Tigers offense. Cabrera is second in the AL batting .358 with 38 RBI, and T.F. North (SICA!) and UIC product Curtis Granderson has 13 homeruns, ranking sixth in the AL. Cabrera has also recorded 67 doubles with a .578 slugging percentage.
Detroit is 0-2 so far in June with consecutive losses to the Boston Red Sox and 4-6 over their last 10. Upcoming is a three game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Following that is five critical games against division rivals: the Chicago White Sox, including a double header on Monday, and the Minnesota Twins, who are both 3.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the division. O far Detroit is the only team in the Central that doesn’t look to be mediocre or worse. Just two years ago, the AL Central was the toughest and deepest division in baseball, where 90 wins still left you home in October.
This year, it’s the weakest: and 84 wins might just grant you the title. Look for Minnesota and Chicago to be the Tigers main competitors down the stretch for the AL Central Division “crown” in ’09.
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