COMMENTARY | When the Detroit Tigers take the field Friday, July 19 against the Kansas City Royals, not only will it mark the start of the second half of the season, but it should also start the beginning of the end of the AL Central division race.
With a slim 1 1/2-game lead in the division over the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers are in a prime spot to start distancing themselves from the pesky Tribe.
The Tigers' next 15 games are against teams with records near or below .500. Upcoming series with the Royals, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals should help the Tigers continue some of the momentum they picked up over the last 13 games before the All-Star break. The Tigers were 9-4 before the break and although they dropped a series to the pitiful White Sox, they did take two of three from the Texas Rangers and three of four from the Indians.
Continuing that trend shouldn't be a problem for the Tigers as the offense has shown more consistency over the past three weeks, and the pitching staff should thrive against the middle-of-the-road offenses they're facing during this stretch. All four teams rank in the bottom half of baseball in terms of runs scored and on-base percentage, and none of the teams are top 10 in batting average or slugging percentage.
Tigers starting pitching has feasted on poor offenses this year and, not surprisingly, the team is at its best when the pitching is dominant. With Anibal Sanchez back from the disabled list and Justin Verlander looking like his former MVP self recently, the rotation can go a long way during this upcoming stretch.
Of course, the bullpen continues to be a concern but with the sub-par offenses ahead of them, now is a perfect to restore some confidence to that shaky group.
This season, the Tigers are seven games over .500 in their own division and with 10 games against the Sox and Royals -- two teams with sub-.500 records. They need to continue that dominance over division rivals.
It wouldn't be unfair to suggest the Tigers should go 10-5 or 11-4 during this stretch, considering the favorable matchups and light travel schedule. The Tigers will only change time zones once during the stretch, which helps make the road trip a little more tolerable.
The Indians face a pretty light schedule as well with series against the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners, howeve,r both of those series are on the road where the Indians are below .500 on the season. The Indians have also largely overachieved this year and are bound to come back down to earth at some point.
The Tigers won't be able to salt away the division over the next 15 games, but there is no reason why they can't increase their lead to four or five games, either. A critical four-game series in Cleveland is set to begin on Aug. 5, and the Tigers need to be in control of the division entering that mid-week series. With a favorable two weeks ahead of them, there will be no excuse if they're not.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
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