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The fight for Number One in the AL Central

 

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If we learned anything this season, Detroit and Chicago are going to battle it out until the very end.

As of Saturday, Detroit sits a game out of first. They’ve been pretty impressive too. Their schedule hasn’t been the easiest, seeing how they battled the Yankees and now began a series against the first place Rangers. But with their ability to downright outpitch teams lately, they’ve managed to win 7 of their last 10 games— six of them in a row starting August 1st against Boston and ending August 8th against the Yankees.

So when it comes down to the wire, what are we going to see? Are we going to see a repeat of the 2009 season, where the Twins miraculously beat the them in a decisive tie-breaking game to win the AL Central and a spot in the playoffs? Or are we going to see something different? What should known is that Detroit has the ability to win 90+ games a season. They’ve got everything any manger could dream of.

SPEED

Austin Jackson is the essential leadoff man. But just like wide receivers in the NFL, the centerfield position is changing in baseball. We’re starting to see moon-shots off bats of speedsters who had no business hitting home runs before. RBIs and slugging percentages are jacked. It’s all changed now.

Jackson has grown into a player Detroit had hoped for. He’s a five-tool guy. He has incredible range in the field, and with his 185 total bases, which is third best on the team, he has become the ultimate threat— (Clears throat) Let’s remember, Jackson’s inside-the-park home run on Friday in their win against the Rangers 6-2.

There’s also the emergence of Quintin Berry. He’s even faster than Jackson. To Leyland he’s a gift from God. He fits perfect batting second in the lineup, behind Jackson. This gives him the opportunity to move runners over— sometimes even beating out bunts.

POWER

Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Need I say more? This is a classic, power-on-power hitting machine. Cabrera leads the league in total bases with 261. The closest one to him is Andrew McCutchen with 249. He’s fourth in homers with 29 and is tied with Josh Hamilton with 96 RBIs. It’s safe to say Cabrera is a leading MVP candidate. Jackson is also coming on strong. Look for his on base percentage and his RBIs to rise these last two months of the season.

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PITCHING

This is the one area that could make or break the Tigers. Justin Verlander has been lights out all year. He has a good case at being a Cy Young finalist. Max Scherzer is 11-6 on the year. His ERA of 4.65 is a tad high, but he has the ability to go deep into a ball game and come up with big, necessary outs. Rick Porcello and Doug Fister are the big question marks here. They lack consistency in wins. Porcello has yet to win three starts in a row this season, and Fister, while having better outings, runs out of gas earlier than the rest of the rotation. Anibal Sanchez is the latest addition to this staff, but is only 1-2 since joining the club— he’s still unproven.

Their bullpen is so-so. Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke have been the only pitchers that have started the season with the club and have stayed the healthiest. Jose Valverde has blown four saves, and some are already calling for him to be replaced next season. But with his experience, I wouldn’t want any other pitcher to close a game in important situations.

UNSUNG HEROES

Yes, Berry has been clutch, but it’s still too soon to call. Yes, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante can come up big at times, but I like Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young here. Delmon hasn’t been the bat many have hoped for this year, neither has Boesch, but these two find ways to create something out of nothing. They swing hard and keep fielders on their toes.

With runners in scoring position, Boesch has accumulated 35 of his total 48 RBIs this year— 23 of them have been when he’s ahead in the count. It’s apparent he’s becoming more patient at the plate, which was a struggle for him last season.

Young is similar. Of his 45 RBI this season, 28 of them have been with runners in scoring position. He’s becoming more aggressive at the plate too, despite his lack luster July where he batted .250.

DEPTH

What’s not to like here? Andy Dirks can play anywhere in the outfield. He has a decent mix of speed and power, and is one of the smartest base-runners on the club. This is his second season with Detroit, and has already become a fan favorite.

Ramon Santiago is one of three Tigers left that were on the World Series team of 2006. It’s no wonder why either. He’s a speedy infielder with great range for his small 5’11 frame. At the plate he’s disastrous, however. In 83 games he’s batting a whopping .213. It’s unfortunate because he can be a threat on the bases, if he could just get on more.

Gerald Laird is a great backup for Alex Avila. He calls a good game and can make things happen at the plate. This is why Detroit brought him back. With Avila’s aching knees, Laird will see more action if Detroit can get a commanding lead atop the AL Central.

But what should scare Detroit is how good Chicago is, despite their lack of star power. No one can deny their ability to win games. Their best hitter, who should win the comeback player of the year, has been Adam Dunn. With the exception of Phil Humber’s perfect game back in April, the rest of the pitching staff is blah. Somehow, since Ozzie Guillen’s departure, manager Robin Ventura has assembled a good team capable of making a run for the Division.

If the Sox hold them off, Detroit has no one to blame but themselves. The essential pieces are there. Now can they maintain and continue this tear? The month of September has a good way of showing us what teams want it more. It’s a simple fact of all athletics, and in this showdown it couldn’t be more true.

Both clubs will face each other seven more times . The battle starts August 31st-September 2nd at US Cellular Field in Chicago. Then the Sox go to Detroit for four games, starting September 10th-September 13th.


 

By: Michael Dault
MLBCenter.com Detroit Tigers Correspondent


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