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.

  • related content

  • Blogs and more blogs

    Monday July 16, 2007

    Some athletes are hands-on with their sites. Others have their representatives provide content. Here are a few to check out.www.38pitches.comBoston...

  • Athletes gain pipeline to the public

    Tuesday July 17, 2007

    The Twins' Pat Neshek is among a growing group to communicate to fans via blogs.

  • Preview: Twins vs. Detroit

    Monday July 16, 2007

    Twins vs. Detroit series previewTHREE-GAME SERIES AT THE METRODOMEToday, 7:10 p.m. • FSN, 1500-AMRHP Matt Garza (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs....

  • Hits and misses

    Tuesday July 17, 2007

    A comparison of the offensive punch of the Tigers and Twins (through Sunday):Category Tigers AL rank Twins AL rankRuns 535...

  • Tiger trends

    Monday July 16, 2007

    1. IMPROVED BULLPENWith Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney injured, this was supposed to be the weak link. But Tigers relievers...


    Three game series begins today • Today: 7:10 p.m., Metrodome (FSN, 1500-AM) • Series preview: C5

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tampa 6 Bottom 9th Inning
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 26 1st Qtr 0:01
Houston 29
Golden State 5:00 PM
Philadelphia 5:00 PM
Portland 5:00 PM
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Oklahoma City 5:30 PM
LA Lakers
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Los Angeles 3:00 PM
Tampa Bay 4:00 PM
Columbus 4:00 PM
Toronto 6:00 PM
Anaheim 7:00 PM
St. Louis 8:30 PM
SMU 59 2nd Half 3:20
Connecticut 68
Quinnipiac 65 2nd Half 0:15
Manhattan 68
Fairfield 56 2nd Half 0:23
Niagara 55
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 31 2nd Half
California 32
South Florida 31 2nd Half 19:18
Houston 35
Marquette 25 1st Half 3:50
Providence 33
Michigan State 3:00 PM
Siena 3:30 PM
Pittsburgh 5:30 PM
Wake Forest
Oregon 6:00 PM
Purdue 6:30 PM
Ohio State
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Washington St 8:30 PM
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 2nd Half 0:10
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 14 2nd Half 20:00
Drexel 30
Illinois State 27 2nd Half
Bradley 27
Southern Ill 20 2nd Half
Loyola-Chicago 29
Northern Iowa 23 2nd Half
Wichita State 29
Minnesota 37 2nd Half
(17) Iowa 42
(15) North Carolina 40 2nd Half
(16) Duke 29
Alabama 27 2nd Half
Auburn 38
(9) Florida State 38 2nd Half
Miami-Florida 22
Arkansas 11 2nd Half
Missouri 24
Georgia 28 2nd Half
Florida 19
Dayton 41 2nd Half 20:00
Saint Louis 40
Drake 28 2nd Half
Missouri State 47
Colorado 3:00 PM
(10) Arizona State
(19) Stanford 3:00 PM
Marquette 3:00 PM
Southern Miss 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Vanderbilt 4:00 PM
(6) Tennessee
(2) South Carolina 4:00 PM
(13) Kentucky
Utah 4:00 PM
Ohio State 4:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Which Twins player are you most interested in during spring training?

Weekly Question