Detroit Tigers Reach the Top of the American League Central

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The Detroit Tigers are a game behind the Cleveland Indians in the loss column, but tied for the AL Central lead. The momentum for the Tigers has been phenomenal lately. The Tigers and the Indians are the only two teams in the division that have won over half their games, but the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox are also approaching their potential lately.

The Kansas City Royals are and will continue to be an afterthought.

Detroit starts the make-up game against the Tampa Bay Rays with Phil Coke on the hill and Magglio Ordonez making his return from the disabled list. This added potency to the line-up could only improve their offensive output. There may be a period of adjustment, but his power is still a force to be reckoned with.

The starting pitching is the best in the division. Max Scherzer continues to lead the club in wins, but Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Brad Penny are all ahead of him in walks and hits per innings pitched. A pitcher obviously cannot control the kind of support that he receives from his club during a given start. The area of concern for the team should be the lack of stolen bases.

The number will increase if outfielder Austin Jackson stays healthy and continues to go deep into counts in his plate appearances, but not many others are even a threat to take a bag. This is problematic late in games with a one run deficit in certain parts of the order. There is only one Miguel Cabrera and eight other players could be at the plate with runners on base. This reliance on power hitting in Comerica Park is what the team is built around, so hit and run situations should mix things up on occasion for manager Jim Leyland.

Closer Jose Valverde has anchored the bullpen with his sixteen saves. His earned run average is below three and his performance has picked up the slack for the lack of production from righthander Joaquin Benoit. The brass had counted on him to provide numerous holds this season for Valverde, but he has imploded countless times. His statistics have improved over the last three weeks, so his confidence should be at a season high. This could only increase Valverde’s chance at an All Star selection and a shot to play in Phoenix.

The midweek series against the Indians will decide the leader in the division, for now. The Tigers rotation during that stretch should  win them at least two of the three games. If I were Jim Leyland, I would not even take my starters out of the line-up on Thursday for the getaway game. Keeping catcher Alex Avila in the game, along with the other regulars, would send the message on the importance of the game in the grand scheme of things. One of my pet peeves is when commentators say that games in late September “really count.” They obviously did not matriculate very far in mathematics. This series against the Indians could, however, dictate the course for the two clubs going forward.

–Patrick Herbert

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