Friday, September 09, 2011

It Took Longer Than Necessary, But Tigers Finally Take Command of Division

It took them 123 games, but the Tigers finally are showing that they are the class of the AL Central.

The big cats toyed with the Indians and the White Sox into the latter part of August, playing with them like a toy mouse.

It seemed like forever that the Tigers were 5-7 games above .500 and unable to create any separation between themselves and the (then) second-place Indians.

On Friday, August 19, the Tribe came to Detroit, just 1-1/2 games behind the Tigers and feeling good about themselves. The Tigers were muddling along, their customary seven games above .500 (65-58) after 123 games. They had just acquired OF Delmon Young. Maybe Young's addition could spur a hot streak.

Since then---only three weeks ago today---the Tigers are 16-4. The Indians are 8-13.

The Tigers are claiming their division the way champions should---by mowing down the closest competition in grand style.

Since August 19, the Tigers are a combined 9-0 against the Indians and the White Sox, the two teams who had any hope of catching them.

That's called putting a division away.

The wake up call must have been that first Indians series, three weeks ago. The three-game set ended on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with a fantastic and thrilling crash-boom-bang play at the plate. The fly out double play sealed a Tigers sweep. In less than 48 hours, the Tigers turned their 1-1/2 game lead into a 4-1/2 game spread.

The White Sox came calling last weekend and the Tigers used a mind-boggling comeback from an 8-1 deficit on Saturday to roll to a sweep of that series, too.

Off to Cleveland, and with three efficient wins the Tigers demoralized the teetering Indians, whose only goal now is to finish above .500 after winning just 69 games last season.

This isn't a race anymore, it's a wake.

Here lies the White Sox and Indians, who gave it a good go but whose rosters simply aren't on the same level as the Tigers'.

It took 123 games, but the Tigers show now why no team is close to them, from top to bottom, in terms of talent and performance in the clutch.

How many two-out hits have the Tigers gotten in this 16-4 run?

The failure to deliver the key hit was one of the culprits in the team's wobbly and maddening stay of 5-7 games above .500, when the division was so ripe for the picking.

The division is now picked and is in the Tigers' basket, waiting for consumption, to be washed down with champagne.

This is how a championship team responds when the heat is on and the games increase in importance. You ever hear of the Yankees stumbling to a division after trying not to win it?

Justin Verlander is 22-5---20-2 in his last 22 decisions. He's been solid as a rock all year. So too have been Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Jhonny Peralta, too.

Now others are contributing---some who've been vilified.Link

Ryan Raburn, for goodness sakes. Even Don Kelly. Ramon Santiago. Heck, Brandon Inge has looked a lot better since his exile to Toledo.

Young has been exceptional as a Tiger. Wilson Betemit, acquired from Kansas City, has muscled some key hits into the alley and over the wall.

No, I'm not leaving Miguel Cabrera out. I will address him now.

Several weeks ago I took some major heat for a piece I wrote, crabbing that the uber-talented Cabrera wasn't pulling all of his weight. I stand behind that, still.

But since I wrote that, Cabrera has made me look even more foolish than lots of folks believe me to be. That's fine. Glad I could help.

Cabrera has been brilliant in the 16-4 run. No question about that. He is, finally, tapping further into the potential for destruction that he possesses. I don't know that he could be any better than what he's been for the past three weeks.

Before that, I don't know. But now, Cabrera is at the top of his game, which is elite.

The Tigers are making mincemeat of their division. Now they are in a neck-and-neck battle with the Texas Rangers for home field in the short ALDS.

With four games against the A's, three against the Orioles, three against the Twins and six more against the White Sox and Indians, the Tigers schedule looks delectable.

The Tigers are playing as divisional champions should. It took 123 games, but the cream has zoomed to the top.


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