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|Subject: Contending Tigers ready for exciting summer Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:45 pm|| |
Contending Tigers ready for exciting summer
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 06/16/11 1:58 AM ET
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander is chasing history this summer. The more often he goes into the middle innings without giving up hits, the more his next no-hitter feels like a matter of when rather than if.
The Tigers, too, are chasing history. They went to the World Series five years ago and stayed in the American League Central race twice after that, but they haven't won a division title since 1987.
Baseballprospectus.com, using simulated seasons, puts their chances at winning the division this year at better than 60 percent. The Tigers, who have seen these races unfold before, aren't counting on anything.
"Yeah, it feels good [to be in first], but we've got [about] 100 games left," starter Max Scherzer said. "That's a lot of games. A lot of things can happen. But you've got to love the talent on this team. You've got to love what our offense is doing, love what our pitching staff's doing. We're in a real good position, and we're starting to really come on strong. I definitely like our team."
Both of those pursuits should make for a fascinating summer.
The Tigers' chase of their first division crown since 1987 is the big-picture goal. With manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski officially in the final year of their contracts, it's a little more urgent than that. Though they went to the World Series in 2006, they made it through the AL playoffs as the Wild Card, having lost the division lead on the final day of the regular season.
They've taken the division lead in June or later for the fifth time in the last six seasons, but this time, there's a feeling that this is their best opportunity to finally break through. Minnesota, Detroit's nemesis in 2006 and '09, got off to a terrible, injury-plagued start before working its way back to within sight of the lead pack. The White Sox weren't in much better shape thanks to a slumping offense, but are climbing their way back into the race.
The Tigers, too, had to climb back from their eight-game deficit little more than a month ago.
"I thought we had a good team," Leyland said. "I thought we'd play good at some point. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be tied for first place. It doesn't mean much right now, obviously. I don't put much stock in that. It's June. Like I said, when we were seven or eight games out, I wouldn't put much stock in it. And I'm not putting much stock in the fact that we're tied for first. I just want to play good. I think we will. We have a good team. So wherever that takes us, it takes us. "
Their chances ride on their pitching. Topping their staff is Verlander, whose chase of a potentially historic second no-hitter of 2011 is shaping up to be a summer-long saga in itself.
On Tuesday, he fell within five outs of no-hitting the Indians. Four weeks earlier, he was 10 outs from joining Johnny Vander Meer as the only Major League pitchers to throw back-to-back no-nos. Six days before that, he settled for a no-hitter at Toronto, the second of his career, after getting within five outs and a 12-pitch battle with J.P. Arencibia of a perfect game.
The excitement is building every time he takes the mound, and it's reaching another level whenever he gets through a lineup unscathed the first time. They're feeling what others are thinking: On any given night, he has a shot at something memorable.
He isn't in Nolan Ryan's class just yet, but he's building that anticipation. Considering he said Tuesday he has that expectation going into every start, he isn't going to temper it. When asked if he expects to throw another one, he was pretty confident.
"The way I've been answering questions, I would have to say yeah," Verlander said. "But this is a funny game. You look at some of the pitchers that have come through the Major Leagues, some of the outstanding Hall of Fame pitchers that have never thrown a no-hitter. There's a lot of things that have to go in your favor. You have to get lucky. I would like to say I'm able to, but things have to be on my side."
Alex Avila wasn't as sure as his teammates that Verlander was going to pitch a no-hitter Tuesday. But short of saying it, Avila sounded quite confident.
"He's got the stuff," Avila said. "He's got the preparation that goes into his starts. It's all there. I don't think it's a coincidence that he's been close so many times this year."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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