Starting Monday night in Chicago, the Detroit Tigers will begin a stretch of 14 games against each of their division rivals, without a day off on the schedule. Needless to say, it is a critical part of their 2014 schedule that could go a long way toward sorting out the contenders from the pretenders in the American League's Central Division.
The Tigers begin this stretch of division games with four at Chicago. They return home for three games against Minnesota and four against Kansas City, then finish up with a three game series in Cleveland, where their recent troubles all began.
The schedule had originally given the Tigers a day off on June 19th, but that was filled in with a make up date against the Royals, for the game that was postponed on April 3 in Detroit. The result is a grueling 20 game stretch without a day off, starting with the six games they've just played against Toronto and Boston, and finishing with 14 consecutive games against division rivals.
In each of the past three seasons that have seen the Tigers wind up on top of their division, they have been able to dominate their division opponents, posting a combined record of 140 wins against 80 losses, for an impressive winning percentage of .636. If you project that same percentage over a 162 game schedule, you wind up with 103 wins.
Detroit is 12- 9 in their 21 games against division opponents thus far in the 2014 season, with a winning percentage of .571. That looks pretty good, and probably good enough pace to win the division barring a complete collapse in their non division games. But it's not as good as their pace of .694 in 2011, or .618 in 2012, nor .597 last season.
When the Tigers don't dominate their division. bad things tend to happen. In 2010, Detroit went 38- 34 (.528) against the AL Central, and finished at .500, in third place, 13 games out of first. In 2009, they were 39- 34, losing a one game playoff to the Twins. The last time the Tigers had a losing record against their division was in 2008, when they finished in last place. Recent history suggests that the Tigers need to clean up against the AL central if they are going to come out on top.
For what it's worth, the Tigers have had a winning record against the AL East in each of the past three seasons, and are 10- 5 this season. The west has given the Tigers the most trouble, as they've gone .500 against those teams twice and had a losing record against western clubs in 2012. They've split 18 games against the west so far this year.
The Tigers also have a winning record against each of their division rivals over the past three seasons, going 35- 20 against both the Twins and the Indians, 33- 22 against the Royals, and 37- 18 against the White Sox. They are off to a poor start against Cleveland this season, winning just one of their five games against the Tribe. The Tigers went 15- 4 against the Indians in 2013, finishing just one game ahead of them in the standings. No matter how you work the pythagorean formula, those head to head games made the difference for the Tigers in winning the division title.
It's time for the real Detroit Tigers to stand up. If they play over the next two weeks like the world beaters that started out 27- 12, they could blow the division lead wide open. If they decide to have a June swoon, looking like the team that went 4- 13 running up to this past weekend, we could be in for a long hot summer with a division race that is closer than anticipated.