Tigers shift focus to continuing strong season in second half

Detroit leads AL Central division by 6.5 games

(AP Photo)

DETROIT – The first half of the Tigers' season can easily be broken down into three distinct parts. The team that many expected to be the best in baseball came out of the gates on fire, winning 27 of its first 39 games and leading the rest of the AL Central by seven games. Detroit stood 1.5 games above Oakland for the top record in the country and showed no signs of slowing down.

But instead of slowing down, the streak came to a screeching halt.

From May 19th to June 18th, the Tigers went 9-20, the second worst record in baseball over that span, and fell precariously close to the .500 mark at just 36-32. The Kansas City Royals knocked the three-time defending division champs out of first place for the first time and held a 1.5-game lead. The overwhelming confidence that surrounded the team throughout the first 50 games slipped away as the starting pitching and offense struggled to keep the Tigers competitive.

Then, after salvaging one of the four games against the Royals, the Tigers returned to Cleveland, where the slide previously began with a 5-4 loss in 10 innings on May 19. This time Detroit made Progressive Field feel like home, sweeping the series and even winning a 10-inning, 5-4 game of its own.

The sweep was one of four during the 17-6 finish that put the Tigers back atop the division and in the hunt for the top record in baseball once again.

Where do the Tigers stand as the second half looms?

Despite the long losing streak, the Tigers are arguably in the most favorable position in the MLB. Sitting 6.5 games above Kansas City, Detroit owns the largest division lead in baseball. In fact, the Orioles are the only other division leader with a lead as large as two games over the second place team.

With such a comfortable division lead, the Tigers can afford to look at the bigger picture in the whole American League as the playoffs crawl ever closer. Since the AL All-Star team won in Minnesota on Tuesday, the Tigers only have to worry about securing home field advantage for the first two rounds of the postseason.

Baltimore, the leading team in the AL East, is closest to Detroit in the overall AL standings. The Orioles are 2.5 games behind the Tigers heading into the second half, but could fall much farther behind during the final weeks of July.

Baltimore will play its first 10 games on the West Coast against top-five teams in the American League. Then its next 13 games will be against winning teams before the Yankees visit on August 11. While the Orioles are playing their first 23 games against winning teams, the Tigers will play just six games against teams that currently own winning records during that span.

Detroit: 5-1 against Baltimore this season with no matchups remaining

The other division leader battling for the top seed in the American League is Oakland, which owns a four-game lead over Detroit heading into the second half. The Tigers have 23 games scheduled against teams with winning records in the second half, while the A's have 29. If these two teams finish with the same record Detroit owns the tiebreaker, having won the season series against Oakland.

Detroit: 5-2 against Oakland this season with no matchups remaining

If the Tigers endure another long skid and fall in the standings, then missing the playoffs is still possible. Manager Brad Ausmus must avoid another losing streak like the 9-20 stretch that began in late May, or Detroit could be scrambling to earn its fourth straight playoff berth down the stretch.

Of the team's final 71 games, 37 will come against AL Central opponents. The Tigers have the most wins (22) against the Central this season, and are one of two teams within the division (Twins) that hold a winning record in those games. Detroit appears primed for a fourth straight division crown and could be looking to further improve its position during the second half.

Stats: Does Detroit want home field advantage?
Home record: 25-22
Road record: 28-16

Home record vs. current playoff teams: 9-2
Road record vs. current playoff teams: 7-5