Forget the Central race; these Tigers are too good to be challenged

Gregory Shamus

The AL Central consists of one very good team and four pretenders. Can a division be clinched by Memorial Day? We're about to find out.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled bitch session about the bullpen to bring you this bulletin.

The Tigers are a pretty darn good baseball team. It may not matter if the guys between the starters and Joe Nathan have a season-long case of the hiccups.

It may not matter, because the AL Central pretty much shapes up like this: there are the Tigers and four pretenders.

This race may be over before Memorial Day, folks.

The Tigers are distancing themselves from the division pack as if the other teams all had Limburger and onion sandwiches for lunch.

This isn't a pennant race, it's an anointing. The only way the Tigers don't win this division is if they stop showing up---and even then they might squeak it out by a game or two.

This was supposed to be the Kansas City Royals' year. The Royals won 86 games last year and their young talent and all that pitching was to mesh and bring post-season baseball back to KC for the first time in 29 years.

But the Royals can't hit, they never could hit, and the trendy folks who picked the Royals to be serious threats to the Tigers either ignored the lack of offense or tried to see through it.

The Royals' so-called young studs---Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer---can't hit their way out of a wet paper bag. It takes them a week to launch a home run, and two weeks to score 20 runs.

The Minnesota Twins can't pitch. The Chicago White Sox can't, either.

The Cleveland Indians are so 2013.

The Tigers are 19-9 and the competition in the Central is getting smaller in the rearview mirror everyday.

The Tigers have won the Central Division three years in a row but this time they're doing it a different way.

They're taking the extra base. They're actually scoring from first on a double. They're stealing bags.

This isn't Jim Leyland's Tigers.

The at-bats are being grinded out like a pepper mill. Opponent's pitch counts are being driven up. These Tigers can actually score a base runner from third base with less than two outs.

Gone is Prince Fielder and here is Ian Kinsler, who could have hit lead-off for the Gas House Gang Cardinals teams of the 1930s.

Kinsler shows up to the ballpark already dirty. He wears his socks so high, it looks like he's got knickers on. He's the 21st century Pepper Martin.

There's Rajai Davis, who steals bases like he's taking candy from a baby. He gets on base at a brisk clip and it's only a matter of time before he's putting himself in scoring position. You don't need a catcher to throw him out, you need a howitzer.

There's the rookie third sacker, Nick Castellanos, who's hitting the juiciest .230 that I can reckon. Castellanos has been lasering home runs and he hits the ball hard every time he makes contact. You just know that the .230 is an aberration.

The Tigers are 19-9 and this is before Miguel Cabrera really gets it going, though he is shaking off the April chill, game by game.

And then there's Victor Martinez, who is like DiMaggio---he hits .300 and he never strikes out.

I haven't even mentioned the starting pitching.

The Tigers run more arms at you than an octopus. For the American League competition that was hoping that the trade of Doug Fister and the DL-ing of Anibal Sanchez would weaken the rotation, I give you Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello.

Porcello, the oldest 25-year-old in the world, is having his best year, statistically. Smyly, the token lefty, reminds me of Steve Avery, the southpaw from Taylor who was the token lefty for those great Atlanta Braves teams of the early-1990s.

So now we're back to five reliable starters, when most teams have trouble identifying two.

Teams thought that after Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Sanchez, there might be a soft underbelly in the Tigers' rotation.

But then Porcello is among the league leaders in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) and Smyly is transitioning nicely from long relief.

Did I mention that the Tigers might have six reliable starters?

There's Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Porcello and Smyly---and now there might be Robbie Ray.

Ray, the 22-year-old lefty acquired from Washington in the Fister trade, made his MLB debut on Tuesday against the lovable Houston Astros. He was fantastic.

Yes, it came against the Astros, who should be playing in Triple A, but the results were nonetheless impressive: 5⅓ innings pitched, five hits, one run, one walk, five strikeouts. And a win.

It's only one start, but if the Tigers are blessed to have six starters, albeit one in Toledo, then you can forget any magic number talk; the Tigers will have clinched this thing before the grills get started.

Brad Ausmus must have sold his soul to the Devil.

Few rookie managers come into situations like Ausmus has with the Tigers. But give him credit---the Tigers are beating teams playing baseball the Ausmus way.

The skipper is smart, funny and has a quiet calm and confidence about him that is almost spooky in its surety. He knows he has a whale of a ballclub, but the unwritten rules forbid him from tooting his team's horn. It is looked at as unseemly.

But whether he brags or not, Ausmus still manages one of the best teams in the big leagues.

It's a team that is playing baseball a whole different way than the fans in Detroit are used to seeing. Frankly, this is real baseball that we're seeing now. Waiting for the three-run homer is no way to live.

The Tigers seem to be on a mission. They've been knocking for three years but the big door always gets slammed in their faces.

The AL Central is child's play now. The division will be clinched by the All-Star break, at the latest.

The bullpen still got you down? Relax. It won't matter.

The Tigers are men playing among boys.

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