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The time has arrived to stop trying to explain the DETROIT TIGERS and just sit back and appreciate them. "People are always asking how the hell we do it," says manager Sparky Anderson. "We gave the Phillies and Dodgers their best players, we're picked fifth every year, and we still haven't gone away." Not only have the Tigers lost catcher Lance Parrish to Philadelphia and outfielder Kirk Gibson to Los Angeles, but also their ace, Jack Morris, was 7-9 with a 5.24 ERA through Sunday and sluggers Darrell Evans and Matt Nokes, who combined for 66 home runs in 1987, had hit only 23 at week's end. Yet guess who was in first by three games at the All-Star break?
Once again, Anderson has had to do a juggling act with his team. Except for Morris, the starters have been as consistent as last year, with second-year righthander Jeff Robinson (10-3) taking over the role of stopper and the venerable duo of Frank Tanana and Doyle Alexander combining for a 19-8 record. In typical fashion, Anderson has also gotten career seasons out of two players the Tigers found on the release heap: outfielder Pat Sheridan and all-purpose player Luis Salazar, who have 81 RBIs and 21 homers between them. There's one question still nagging at the Tigers, however: How serious is shortstop Alan Trammell's recent elbow injury? Will it keep him out for only 15 days or for longer?
Not long ago the American League East was the Superpower Division, but now that most of the teams have self-destructed, the only one that seems capable of beating Detroit is the NEW YORK YANKEES . LOU Piniella, who replaced Billy Martin as manager on June 23, has begun to restore order to a team racked with internal problems. Piniella should be able to field a potent lineup in the second half, but it's still doubtful that the pitching staff Martin left behind is healthy. Righthander Richard Dotson (7-3) is on the disabled list and closer Dave Righetti's elbow has been bothering him. The rock of consistency is starter Tommy John (7-2, 3.38 ERA), but he's 45. "We can win it," says Piniella, who, 10 days into his second Yankee reign, proved that he is managing for the pennant, not the moment at hand, by holding Righetti out of a close game against Chicago to give him a rest.
One thing you can count on in the second half: The CLEVELAND INDIANS won't win the division title. They got off to a 31-19 start in the first two months, but they went 9-17 in June against their rivals in the East. Still, they are no longer the laughingstock of the division. Starters Greg Swindel, John Farrell and Tom Candiotti are an acceptable front three (26-20), and the amazing Doug Jones has 20 saves in 23 opportunities. The team's primary weakness, surprisingly, is hitting. Give the Indians another year and some lefthanded power, and they may prove to be the real thing.
The MILWAUKEE BREWERS should have been breathing down the Tigers' necks by now. Their pitching staff had the league's lowest team ERA (3.31) at the break. Third baseman Paul Molitor and centerfielder Robin Yount were both hitting over .300. Furthermore, on June 10, San Francisco Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard joined the team. But as manager Tom Trebelhorn puts it, the Brewers, who have been hurt by injuries, have played "consistent second-division baseball."
The BOSTON RED SOX should be in contention, too, but, unlike the Brewers, they have no excuses, only turmoil. The Red Sox are getting yet another Cy Young year from Roger Clemens (12-5); Mike Greenwell and Ellis Burks have overcome injuries to join Dwight Evans in the league's best outfield; and third baseman Wade Boggs is, as usual, having a .350-plus season. But the Sox have gotten only five wins from starters other than Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd—and Hurst has an 8.59 ERA in his last five starts. Reliever Lee Smith was going to be the pennant, right? Wrong. Smith has had only 16 save opportunities and failed in five of them.
Toronto Blue Jays starter Dave Stieb, who was 19-9 with a 4.09 ERA last year, has come back to 10-5 and 2.93 this season. Third baseman Kelly Gruber has blossomed into a .300 hitter, and first baseman Fred McGriff was among the league leaders in homers (15) and slugging percentage (.531) at the All-Star break. So why aren't the Jays in first? "There's something very wrong with them," says an opposing player—and it's more than the arm injury to ace Jimmy Key. Key and starter Jeff Musselman will be back for the stretch, so the pitching should return to form. But that won't change nasty dispositions.
The 0-21 losing streak is over, ace Mike Boddicker is 4-3 since mid-May, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. is playing well and the BALTIMORE ORIOLES have settled down to reality. "We're only two outfielders and a few pitchers away from respectability," says manager Frank Robinson. The definition of few? Eight is enough.