Twins: A year later, a year better ... Tigers will be tough to catch

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2007 - 9:55 PM

The Twins begin a three-game series against Detroit convinced that they are chasing a team that will finish better than it did last season.

Last year, the Detroit Tigers sneaked up on people. Now, even President Bush picks them to repeat as American League champions.

"I think Detroit will be in the World Series," Bush told ESPN on Sunday. "I think they'll nose out Boston. I know that may be counterintuitive, but their young pitching is great, and they've got the flamethrower Zumala back."

When "Baseball Tonight" host Karl Ravech corrected Bush on Joel Zumaya's last name, the former Texas Rangers owner said, "Zumala, Zumaya. I think they'll be pretty tough."

Fresh off that presidential endorsement, the Tigers begin a three-game series against the Twins tonight at the Metrodome, hoping to stunt Minnesota's recent momentum. The Twins, 4-0 since the All-Star break, have pulled within six games of the Tigers in the AL Central. Even though the Twins are chasing both Detroit and Cleveland, they sense the Tigers are the team to beat.

Last year, Detroit went 59-29 before the All-Star break but only 36-38 after the break, losing the division title to the Twins on the season's final day. This year, the Tigers weren't quite as good at the break (52-34), but they're poised for a much better second half.

"They've had some injuries to their bullpen, but I think their lineup is second to none," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They're averaging five or six runs per game. You expect them to be very good."

The Tigers lead the majors with 535 runs scored, and unlike the Twins, their lineup has no obvious holes:

• Leadoff man Curtis Granderson leads the majors with 55 extra-base hits.

• Placido Polanco, the MVP of last year's AL Championship Series, has a back injury, but he's batting .335.

• Gary Sheffield has 20 of his 22 home runs and 54 of his 62 RBI since the end of April.

• Magglio Ordonez leads the majors with a .358 batting average.

• Carlos Guillen leads major league shortstops -- by a long shot -- with a .943 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

• Ivan Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star catcher, is batting .296.

• First baseman Sean Casey is batting .300.

• Left fielder Craig Monroe is batting only .220, so manager Jim Leyland has been playing Marcus Thames, who has 11 home runs in 148 at-bats.

• Brandon Inge, one of the finer defensive third basemen in the game, also has 11 homers.

"We have to stay healthy; that's the key," said Guillen, who was hobbled last August, as was Polanco, leading to the team's second-half slump. "Yeah, we've got a pretty good lineup, but it's a long season. You've got to be ready to play nine innings every day."

If Detroit's offense doesn't get teams, its pitching often does. The Twins are 5-4 against the Tigers this year, but the last meeting -- July 1 in Detroit -- left a disappointing taste, as Jeremy Bonderman outdueled Scott Baker for a 1-0 victory, the run coming on Thames' eighth-inning homer.

Bonderman is 10-1. Justin Verlander is 11-3. At age 42, Kenny Rogers (3-1) is back from surgery to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder. And while tonight's starter, Nate Robertson (5-6), has struggled, rookie Andrew Miller's emergence allowed Detroit to trade soft-tossing Mike Maroth to St. Louis.

"We know we've got a good team," Verlander said. "And the best part about it is we like each other, and we just play and have fun. If we can do that, I think we should have a good second half."

As Bush knows, the bullpen has been this team's one question mark. Zumaya has been out since early May because of a ruptured finger tendon, and Fernando Rodney has been on the disabled list twice because of right arm issues. The Tigers hope both can return to the mound by mid-August.

Meantime, Detroit has found ways to patch the holes. Former starters Chad Durbin and Zach Miner have moved to relief roles and been increasingly effective.

The Tigers also miss lefthander Jamie Walker from last year's World Series team, but now they have Bobby Seay and Macay McBride (obtained from Atlanta) pitching well from the left side.

The beleaguered bullpen recently ran off a string of 16 2/3 scoreless innings. On June 28, Tigers relievers ranked third to last in the majors with a 5.25 ERA, but that number has since been trimmed to 4.75.

Remember, the Tigers overcame last year's late-season collapse, defeating the Yankees and A's en route to the World Series.

"I think we learned a lot just going through those situations," Verlander said. "Anything we come across this year -- adversity, and playing under pressure situations -- I think all those experiences helped us."

Now expectations are high. Even from the Oval Office.

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@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:M.Gonzalez(7-7) L:T.May(0-4)
HR: MIN- T.Plouffe (11) BAL- D.Young (7), C.Davis (24)

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Cincinnati - LP: J. Broxton 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: T. Watson 2
Minnesota - LP: T. May 1 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez 9
NY Yankees - WP: C. Capuano 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Buehrle 3
Philadelphia - LP: J. Diekman 1 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 4
Boston - WP: A. Ranaudo 8 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: C. Archer 4
Miami - LP: C. Hatcher 2 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: D. Carpenter 5
Cleveland 4 Top 8th Inning
Kansas City 0
Detroit 7 Bottom 9th Inning
Chicago WSox 1
Texas 13 FINAL
Houston 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: N. Ramirez 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: P. Neshek 2
Colorado 0 Top 7th Inning
Arizona 1
Oakland 0 Bottom 5th Inning
LA Angels 0
Los Angeles 1 Top 5th Inning
San Diego 2
Washington 5 Top 5th Inning
Seattle 2
Milwaukee 1 Bottom 3rd Inning
San Francisco 5
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 21 3rd Qtr 7:00
Houston 0
Colorado State 14 4th Qtr
Colorado 17
UNLV 0 2nd Qtr 13:46
Arizona 14
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Houston 3 2nd Half 23:00
Sporting Kansas City 1
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Minnesota 47 3rd Qtr 0:00
Phoenix 67
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