Even with 7.0 Game Gap AL Central Still a Tight Race

By parmyjr22
Sep. 19, 2016

The Tigers have pulled the heartstrings of fans all season long. Will they make the playoffs only to be bounced after making some noise?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a 7.0 game lead for the first place Cleveland Indians over the Detroit Tigers, the American League Central division can still be considered a tight race. Both teams have been riddled with injuries throughout the season; some may even debate that Cleveland has had it worse on the injury front than the Tigers. Despite two powerful offenses, ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the league with a .265 batting average, the Motor City Kitties have the more potent offense in terms or big blows and late inning heroics.

Before we take an in depth look at the two offenses let’s take a look at the pitching staffs. The Tribe recently lost starting pitcher Danny Salazar for an estimated 3-4 weeks. However, it is a possibility that he is lost for the remainder of the season and may not even pitch in the post season. Salazar has had a number of issues with his elbow this season; spending multiple stints on the Disabled List with elbow inflammation and the most recent mild elbow strain.

Clevinger has been impressive so far this season, however, he may not quite be ready to take on a constant starting role for the tribe.
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Another starter who has had a rough season for the Tribe is Josh Tomlin; the pitcher is “boasting” a 4.75 ERA this season. Unfortunately for Tomlin, he has won only one of his last six decisions; only making it out of the fifth inning once in those six starts. Cleveland is also hoping that rookie Mike Clevinger will be able to fill the void left by Salazar in the rotation. The biggest question surrounding the rookie is whether or not he is ready to step into the role of big league starter. While Clevinger had an impressive 17 starts at Triple-A this season, going 11-1 with a 3.00 ERA, manager Terry Francona seems to prefer to use Clevinger out of the bullpen in the Bigs. During his time on the roster, he has made a total of 7 starts along with six relief appearances. If Clevinger is inserted into the rotation, his arm strength and stamina will be in question.

Over the last 30 days, the Cleveland Indians have had the No. 6 overall starting rotation, collecting a 10-10 record to go along with a 4.61 ERA. The starting staff is also striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings while surrendering less than 3 walks per nine as well.

Moving over to the Detroit Tigers starting rotation; the No. 21 starting staff over the last 30 days. The Tigers rotation has gone 5-11 in the span with a 5.24 ERA and only 8 strikeouts per nine. Perhaps the biggest addition in the off season, Jordan Zimmermann, has had an extremely rough 10 start stretch. Zimm has posted a 8.23 ERA in that run while hitting the DL twice. If the Tigers are to succeed, Zimmermann will have to find the sharpness he had over his first seven starts of the season, during which time he had a microscopic ERA of 1.50.

Verlander's second half has put him in the Cy Young talks. He continues to look to lead this Detroit Tigers team to the playoffs once again.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for the Detroit Tigers, ace Justin Verlander has turned it on during the second half, posting a 2.29 ERA with 96 strikeouts to only 16 walks while holding opposing batters to a .185 batting average. The only issue with Verlander, which could become a major problem down the road, is the number of home runs he has surrendered. Of the 56 hits he’s given up in the second half, 12 of them have been home runs, a majority of which were of the solo variety. Despite giving up the bombs, Verlander’s ERA continues to fall. Tigers fans just need to hope he doesn’t start to give up multi-run bombs. One a brighter note, Verlander’s name is in the Cy Young talks once again.

Rookie Michael Fulmer has been a grace from God this season. Without Fulmer Detroit wouldn’t even be in the playoff discussion. Despite being roughed up lately, Fulmer is still posting a solid 3.03 ERA on the season. The rookie currently finds himself in uncharted innings territory and his stamina may be in direct correlation to the recent rough outings.

When you look at the bullpens for both teams, they are similarly matched throughout the entire season. Detroit finds itself with the No. 7 bullpen this season, collecting a 28-18 record with a 4.15 ERA and a WAR of 4.6. The Tribe is not too far behind at No. 10, with a 23-19 record, an impressive ERA of 3.38 and a WAR of 4.1. The Tigers bullpen has collected 28 wins due to a number of 8th and 9th inning heroics from the top of the lineup.

When you look at the offenses, they are spread apart in the rankings according to FanGraphs; the Detroit Tigers are currently ranked No. 19 and the Tribe is No. 4. On paper, the Tigers should have the better offense. However, this season has been underwhelming in that regard. Thus far, the Tigers, who have Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, have managed to hit 189 homeruns as a team while the Indians have hit 176 with nowhere near as many power hitters in their lineup. Despite both teams batting .265 on the season, the Tribe is walking at a higher rate and striking out at a lower rate, which is likely the reasoning behind the run differential of 55 between the two teams.

I’ve said it time and time again that I am a Detroit Tigers fan and that I hope Detroit can manage to slip into the playoffs and make some noise. While I truly believe that the AL Central is a tight race despite a near 10 game difference, I do not believe the Tigers will be able to overcome the Cleveland Indians. The schedule was built in the Tigers favor. However, after losing 2 of 4 recently to the horrific Minnesota Twins and losing the series against the Indians, the Motown Tigers have not helped themselves at all. Going 2-13 against your divisional rival is not the way to win your division.

The Cleveland Indians, barring some kind of utter collapse, will win the Central Division this season. The Detroit Tigers will continue to fight for a wild card berth, which I believe they will achieve. Now comes the time for my bold prediction. The Tigers will win their Wild Card game and then, whoever they end up facing in the ALDS, will win the Divisional Series in a sweep. The Tigers will make so much noise early on in the playoffs that the city of Detroit and Tigers fans across the nation will have an abundance of hope that the team can win the World Series. Only to have this hope crushed and their hearts ripped from their chests when the Tigers go down in a dumpster fire in a short 5 game ALCS.