Tigers' 1st half: Disappointing

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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DETROIT - The Tigers' five-game win streak certainly makes you feel good about the team right now.

But don't be fooled. The Tigers' first half of the season was a total disappointment.

Coming into the season, the Tigers weren't supposed to just win the American League Central, they were supposed to run away with the division. By far, they had the most talent.

That never happened. In fact, if it weren't for the two worst teams in the division, the Tigers might have an even bigger a hole to climb out of in the second half of the season.

The Tigers' 7-1 victory over lowly Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park earned them their longest winning streak of the season.

The Tigers, 44-42 and in third place, head into the All-Star break with hope that they can still win the division most baseball experts predicted would be theirs.

"We were inconsistent," said catcher Gerald Laird before the team took off for a few days to enjoy the break in the baseball season. "Obviously, we're a little disappointed. But we've had some injuries, battled through some injuries. Guys are starting to get healthy now. I think we, losing bits and pieces of our lineup all the time, we couldn't get consistent enough and play well together."

It was so true. At one point, the Tigers went for more than a month, April 18 to May 25, without winning back-to-back games.

But despite the rough patches, manager Jim Leyland still believes in his team and expects them to be in the thick of things when the dust settles.

"Very few pennant races are won before the All-Star break," Leyland said. "I think it's going to end up with a lot of head-to-head competition. Just like last year and we did pretty well and hopefully, we will be able to do that again."

The Tigers got off to a 9-3 start and were impressive out the gate, including a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. But the Tigers, playing shoddy defense and getting spotty pitching, went 16-28 over the next 44 games. They were 25-31, in third place, and six games out.

The puzzling part was how poorly they played at home. After losing the first two games of this home stand, the Tigers won five straight. It allowed them to up their home record to 22-20, still, nowhere near where it should be.

Although the pitching and defense have been disappointing in spots, one thing that hasn't let the Tigers down has been Prince Fielder's bat. The $214-million man has done his share of damage in his first season in Motown.

Fielder hit a three-run homer to help bury the Royals on Sunday.  In his last 52 games, Fielder is batting .321 with 10 homers and 47 RBI. Fielder, the starting first baseman for the AL All-Star team on Tuesday night in Kansas City, will also take part in the Home Run Derby.

Miguel Cabrera didn't care about how many he'd hit in the contest but had a prediction. 

"I'll give you a number," said Cabrera, who was selected to the AL All-Star team. "He's going to hit over 20 home runs in the second half. I don't care about what he does during the break."

Cabrera's happy with his team's hot streak, but knows it's going to take a lot to come back and overtake the surprisingly-good, first-place Chicago White Sox.

"It's good we finished this way," Cabrera, who had 71 RBI in the first half. "But everybody knows we have to play better."

The second half of the season opens much tougher than the first half ended. Instead of playing also-rans -- the Twins and Royals -- the Tigers face Baltimore, the Angels and White Sox. It will be a good test right out of the box.

It could tell us if the Tigers have honestly turned the corner or were just fortunate to beat up on some bad teams at home.

"We have some tough games," Laird said. "Anaheim is playing some good baseball, Baltimore is playing good baseball. The main thing is that we have to win in our division."

To this point, the Tigers are just 17-14 against the AL Central.

"When we play against the White Sox and the Indians and the teams like the Royals in our division, we have to win those games," Laird said. "This was a big sweep for us today. Hopefully, this momentum carries  us on into the second half."

If not, many fans will be even more disappointed than they were about the team's first 86 games.

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