Detroit Tigers Dissector: Minnesota, Chicago Roadblocks To Second Half

Johnny LawrenceCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2009

Welcome to Rudy Dominick and Johnny Lawrence's Week 15 installment of Detroit Tigers information and analysis. Each Thursday, we will delve into all things Tigers.

Read and digest, or skim and spit out our insightful banter.

Keep An Eye On

Adam Wilk, Starting Pitcher—Oneonta Tigers (A)
(Since June 24)
1-0, 18 IP, 10 H, 19 K, 0.00 ERA


Drive-By Argument: Does Chicago or Minnesota Pose A More Significant Second-Half Threat To Detroit?

LAWRENCE: John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jose Contreras finally turned the corner for the White Sox in June. Together, they posted a 2.04 earned run average over 105.2 innings.

Beyond these three surging pitchers, a surprisingly effective Bartolo Colon nears a return to the bigs—if the Charlotte Knights ever track him down. While few teams can boast three quality starters, Chicago may be sitting on four come late July.

Just as Chicago's pitching is coming of age, Scott Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez are picking up an offense that went stagnant early in the season.

Podsednik's reacquisition filled the desperate holes at center field and lead-off, while Ramirez has scorched the ball after a .214 April. Teamed with imposing figures in the heart of the order, the White Sox stack up well against anybody.

And let's not forget, Chicago beat out Minnesota for the AL Central crown last year.

DOMINICK: Sorry, Mr. Lawrence, but Chicago's shot at the AL Central crown died when Cy Young winner Jake Peavy refused a trade to the Windy City.

Minnesota is always a consistent threat and Detroit's main competition this season.

Joe Mauer, healthy and on fire, joins Tiger-killers Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, who is a perfect 28-for-28 in career save attempts against Detroit.

Their starters have a combined 4.60 ERA, yet remain in the race despite their high team ERA. One can only expect that number to improve.

Youth sides with the Twins, so Minnesota will be able to avoid the late-season decline veterans often experience. Chicago has far too many aging players—Jose Contreras, an unconfirmed 64 years of age, should wear down, as will several other veterans.

Lawrence, you rank Detroit and Chicago's rotations at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in your recent American League Rotation Rankings. Following your lead, I would prefer Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and company over Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and crew.

Chicago's offense doesn't inject fear into me, but maybe that's because several of their players are old enough for 20-year-old Rick Porcello to call "Dad."

Minnesota: Possible Roadblock To Detroit's First Ever Central Division Title

In each Detroit Tigers Dissector thus far, we have included a Drive-By Argument and a feature article covering a separate topic. For the next two weeks we will change course slightly and expand upon each Detroit rival.

Minnesota has won three division titles since 2004, never once finishing below third. Steady and consistent, a dearth of nationally unrecognized pitching talent joins All-Stars Mauer and Morneau.

But on May 20, a six-game losing streak reversed the Twins' trend, dropping them to 18-23.

Possibly the biggest contributor to their lackluster beginning was a spotty bullpen. Through May 19, Twins' relievers posted a 5.19 earned run average. April was particularly tough for Minnesota, as the bullpen surrendered nine homers through the first 22 games.

Minus setup man Pat Neshek, an offseason Tommy John surgery recipient, it took some time before Manager Ron Gardenhire discovered who belonged in what role.

Since the slow beginning, however, Minnesota has ripped off a 27-21 record to climb above .500.

Eventually, pieces fell into place in the bullpen. Matt Guerrier and R.A. Dickey filled major holes and now consistently hand the lead to Nathan in the ninth. Combined, the duo sports a 2.15 earned run average since the beginning of May.

Though the rotation is still scuffling, Minnesota's bats have done more than enough to keep the Twins in the race.

In typical Mauer fashion, his batting average sits closer to .400 than .300 (.373). Meanwhile, Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Crede have supplied power atypical of a Twin Cities team.

29th in the Majors in homers last season with 111, Minnesota needs just 15 more bombs to top that mark. They rank 12th in the category at the break.

With 10 games remaining against first-place Detroit, Minnesota possesses multiple opportunities to narrow the slim four game lead.

The Twins' are no stranger to late season surges and Tigers Manager Jim Leyland certainly does not expect them to peel back in the second half.

Favorable Matchups

July 17: DET Brandon Inge vs. NYY AJ Burnett (.444, 4-for-9, 1 HR, 3 RBI).

July 18: DET Edwin Jackson vs. NYY Johnny Damon (.136, 3-for-22, 0 XBH).

July 19: NYY Nick Swisher vs. DET Justin Verlander (.171 , 6-for-35, 11 K).

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