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Breaking down the second-half schedules in the AL Central

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The Tigers have just 36 games remaining at Comerica Park. Better get your tickets!
The Tigers have just 36 games remaining at Comerica Park. Better get your tickets!

You've probably read the Tigers appear to have a difficult schedule in the second half of the season. That is entirely true. From July 19 to August 19, the Tigers have a challenge every night they take the field. When looking at the schedule last fall, I wrote:

Difficult stretch of schedule: Late July through mid-August sees the Tigers at Rays, at Red Sox, vs White Sox, vs. Angels, vs. Rays, at White Sox, then finally at Yankees. Just based on personal projections, all of those teams look to be pretty tough in 2010, and the Tigers spend about three weeks in a row without a break.

June was fun, but the next five weeks go a long way toward finding the Tigers' true status as division contenders or wannabes.

What we need in assessing division chances is the necessary perspective of looking closer at the White Sox' and Twins' schedules, too. Fortunately CoolStandings.com makes it easy to get a glance. (Honestly, I'd ignore the percentages of winning the division. Projections aren't real life. If anyone should know that, it's Tigers fans.)

Just for instance:

  • Chicago spends 40 of its 75 remaining games against division contenders; 18 of those are on the road.
  • The Twins and White Sox meet 13 times. While much of the league enjoys four days off for the All-Star Break, the teams open their series Thursday. FYI, the Tigers and Sox have 14 games remaining
  • The cumulative winning percentage of teams the Twins have to face is .484 -- the lowest of the three teams still vying for the AL Central title. They meet division contenders (or the Toronto Blue Jays, which would probably be one in our division) 37 times, 17 on the road. They also have the most home games remaining.

What follows may not be the most riveting reading you'll do today, but it's a quick way to get a feel for the second half.

Chicago

The White Sox immediately start with a 10-game road trip that takes them from the Twin Cities to the west coast. They return home for seven more games against AL West foes Seattle and Oakland. Lucky for them the Mariners didn't wait until the last minute to trade Cliff Lee. August sees 13 games against the Tigers and Twins, intermixed with a home-and-home with the Orioles, a trip to Kansas City and hosting the Yankees. September picks up difficulty with trips to Detroit and Minnesota, as well as a week-long visit to the west coast for dealings with Anaheim and Oakland. They finish up the season hosting the Red Sox for four and the Indians for three.

Chicago has a winning record on the road, but a losing one inside the division.

Detroit

The Tigers, too, are a game under .500 against the division. A losing record against the Royals -- THE ROYALS?! -- will do that to you.

I've already mentioned the 30-day stretch. But what comes next? Series against the Indians and Royals in August. In September, seven games against the White Sox, six against the division-dreams-busting Royals, along with five against the Twins. They also meet the Indians and Orioles to end the year, both on the road. So if Champagne is sprayed, it probably won't be at Comerica Park. (Unless there's another Game 163, anyway.)

Detroit managed to go 8-2 against the East to start the season -- 3-1 when hosting the Yankees an 2-1 against the Red Sox.

One big stat that must be turned around: The Tigers have the worst road record of the three contending teams. If they keep winning at the same .390 rate (16-25 so far) they won't be in the race at the end.

Minnesota

The Twins have the best record inside the division (20-12).

After finishing up their set with Chicago, they have 12 consecutive games against teams just playing out the year: Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle. In August, they travel to Tampa and head out west, including games at Texas. They've got six games against the White Sox and three against the Angels surrounding a set with Oakland. September is travel-to-AL-foes month. At Chicago, at Detroit, at Cleveland, at Kansas City. They finish the year hosting the Blue Jays.

Cleveland

I'm not going to spend much time on the division's two non-contenders. Things just get worse for the Indians, who may have the toughest remaining schedule of all five teams (.507 winning percentage). They did play most of the tough AL East opponents on the road, so at least they have that going for them.

Kansas City

The Royals meet opponents with a winning percentage of .504, but they've gotten past Boston. They still have to travel to New York.

Handicapping it

The Tigers have the most difficult path of the three contenders. Detroit's going to need to continue playing well against the AL East to stay in things -- and that's tough for any team to do. We can only hope the trend against the Rays (5-2 last year) continues. But if things don't reverse against KC, it's Goodnight Irene for Motown.

I think Minnesota's path to the title is slightly easier than Chicago's, especially in July. Plus they have the most home games remaining.

All three teams control their destiny with so many games left in the season. Chicago could either snatch the division away or give it away. They've played fine in the week since Jake Peavy was lost for the year but I think that'll start to catch up to them. I don't look to the previous season to tell me too much, but the Twins were 12-6 against the White Sox last year and are 3-2 this. If that were to continue, things will get real tight.

Conclusion

Yikes.