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5/22/2007 11:26:00 AM

AL Central: Old Foes

By Joe Lemire

Forget the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals, the real battle between Cleveland and Detroit will happen on the baseball diamond. The two are separated by a mere half-game in the American League Central and will play each other seven times in 10 days, starting with three this weekend in Detroit and finishing with four next weekend in Cleveland.

While the Cavaliers-Pistons series will undoubtedly be a defensive struggle, if Game 1's 79-76 score is any indication, the Indians and Tigers sport the league's two best scoring offenses (both are averaging 5.5 runs per contest, with the Indians edging out the Tigers at the second decimal place).

Best of all, both teams' rotations are lined up to feature their best starters (of late) this weekend, headlined by the middle contest: Nate Robertson vs. Paul Byrd, Justin Verlander vs. C.C. Sabathia and Mike Maroth vs. Fausto Carmona. And Jeremy Bonderman may well return from the DL in time to pitch Friday, making the series even juicier.

Perhaps this is the start of a new twist in the division. As Tigers beat writer Danny Knobler points out, these two franchisers arerarely good in the same season. The highlight:

"The Tigers and Indians have been playing for 107 years now. Just twice -- in 1908 and 1940 -- has there been a pennant race where one of the teams won it and the other finished second (with the Tigers winning both times).

There's more. Only twice in all those years have both the Tigers and Indians finished with 90 or more wins (that would be 1908 and 1950). And just in case you think it's because they've both been bad, only once in all that time (in 2003) have the Tigers and Indians both lost 90 games in the same year."

Just think back to the last two seasons: while the Tigers were a woeful 71-91 in 2005, the Indians should have made the postseason. They held a 1.5-game lead for the wild card at the close of play on Sept. 24 before losing six of its last seven and falling out of the postseason. Still, they finished 93-69.

In 2006, Cleveland was a hip preseason pick but struggled to a 78-84 mark, while Detroit emerged out of nowhere to go 95-67 and reach the World Series. Of course, the Tigers had their own late-season collapse, losing their last five -- and the division -- and settling for the wild card.

This season, however, Cleveland and Detroit are winning the all-important one-run games (Indians are 8-4; Tigers 10-6) and they're winning divisional games (Indians 9-2, Tigers 12-7).

Just a three-hour drive -- or a swim across Lake Erie -- apart, a rejuvenated Indians-Tigers rivalry would make for a great divisional race.

  • Chicago is underachieving so badly that general manager Kenny Williams his team's play is "embarrassing" and Ozzie Guillen gave a profanity-filled radio interview. What started Guillen's tirade? The radio host asked, "How you doing, Ozzie?" Not a good sign for the South Siders.

  • Quote of the week: Said Torii Hunter, after Fausto Carmona outdueled Johan Santana and embarrassed the Twins' hitters in a 2-0 win Thursday night, "It was so scary. I thought I was hung over."

  • For the make-up of April's snowed out Indians-Mariners game, Jacobs Field sported ice sculptures, fake snow machines and giveaways for ski trips.

  • If only it were still 1921: The Tigers swept the Cardinals over the weekend so, if it were 86 years ago and the World Series were still a best-of-nine affair, we're headed to Game 9 all tied up at four.

  • I missed this article two weeks ago about Billy Butler's promotion to the Royals -- and it's a little less relevant now that he's been sent back to Triple A -- but it's a neat story about a kid's first week in the bigs.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  


    Posted: May 22, 2007 2:27 PM   by Anonymous
    Don't cry for the White Sox. Cubs series sturm and drang aside, they're heating up, the starting pitching has been great, they just got Thome back and the schedule is favorable. And they're three games over .500 as it is.
    Posted: May 22, 2007 3:57 PM   by Anonymous
    The underachieving White Sox are only 4 games back. I'd watch out for them after Detroit & Cleveland come back down to earth.
    Posted: May 22, 2007 10:49 PM   by Anonymous
    Detroit and Cleveland?

    I guarantee you that come the seasons end the White Sox are going to be in the hunt.

    Detroit's pitching will burn out after the All Star break.

    Minnesota will pick it up by August.

    Cleveland is going to lose ground by that time.

    The AL Central will come down to the White Sox and Minnesota. And the Wild Card is going to be one of those teams as well.

    Detroit and Cleveland? Give me a break!
    Posted: May 23, 2007 11:10 AM   by Anonymous
    Haha, you guys must be smoking some good stuff there in chicago. The Tigers have the best lineup in baseball. Curtis Granderson has done nothing but get better, Polanco will strike out under 20 times in 600 at bats this year, sheffield and ordonez, enough said, guillen one of the best switch hitters out there, pudge hall of famer, sean casey will get hot and hit near.300, monroe and inge could combine for more then 60 hr's from the 8-9 slot
    Posted: May 23, 2007 7:08 PM   by Anonymous
    white sox fans make me laugh. ok rotation, young and talented but extremely erratic bullpen, and a lineup that is seriously underachieving. sorry sox fans, you arent even the best team in your own city, let alone the central.
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