COMMENTARY| Trailing, but never too far behind, the Detroit Tigers have been the American League Central Division's enigma of the 2012 MLB season.
A team loaded with talent, Detroit (44-42, third place) has had trouble connecting the dots through the first 86 games, but was just four games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox (47-37) as of late Sunday afternoon.
When on its A-game, the pitching trio of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer is easily one of the American League's top 1-2-3 punches. Scherzer (8-5) was effective Sunday in the Tigers' 7-1 win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, striking out seven and giving up five hits in seven innings of work. He's been steady during his past handful of starts, but there is surely more to come from the young righty.
Had Fister not been shelved due to side strain, or if Austin Jackson played through his, the Tigers may be atop the Central. It's a surprise that they're not, but it's no surprise that they're not too far behind Chicago. Consistently inconsistent is the best way to describe this year's Tigers ball club.
The second half of the season promises to be a wild ride for the Tigers, who are 19-11 in their past 30 outings. Detroit has 39 home games left to accompany 37 on the road, which includes a trio of three-city road trips (22 games combined against the Cleveland Indians and White Sox).
Quintin Berry has certainly proved that he deserves to be up with the big club. He had a triple Sunday due to his blazing speed and has been the spark the Tigers needed. Berry will undoubtedly be a key factor for Detroit after July 10's All-Star Game in Kansas City. He's hitting .299 with five triples, four doubles and a home run in 42 games (144 at-bats).
After an encounter in New York, Delmon Young was thrashed by the media for his racial/cultural slurs directed at a Jewish man outside a hotel, just hours before the Tigers were to take on the New York Yankees. Young, who was all but written off by most, has homered in four consecutive games. His bat was a big part of the Tigers' success in 2011, and it'll have to continue bashing the ball if Detroit hopes to claim a division title that was all but theirs prior to the season's start.
Tigers followers have found it difficult to watch their team. Up and down, never truly consistent, the Tigers pieced together a five-game winning streak, boosting confidence and shrinking their deficit in the standings prior to the All-Star break.
Were the Tigers simply victims of circumstances in the first half of the year? Were they experiencing problems in the clubhouse, struggling to find an identity as the locker room doors ushered in new player after new player? It's probably a combination of all those factors.
Now that a topsy-turvy first half is behind the Tigers, the real test starts. Detroit has the talent to make a run at the Central title. Despite frantic lineups that have often featured questionable choices, slumps and scandal, incredible highs and even lower lows, the Tigers appear finally ready to play baseball.
Adam Biggers has followed Major League Baseball for over 20 years, specifically the Detroit Tigers. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.