The Tigers beat the White Sox 7-3 this afternoon and took the weekend series two games to one. With the Indians getting swept the Rangers this weekend, the Tigers are now just 2 1/2 games behind. Cleveland has now lost 9 of 12 and the White Sox and Twins have been playing poorly all year. The American League Central is there for the taking and I think the Tigers are in great position to seize it, despite their shortcomings.
The Tigers took control of today's game with a six-run fourth highlighted by a Ryan Raburn grand slam. Chris Hannum of Motor City Bengals points out that the Summer of Raburn may have started. Ryan now has a modest five-game hitting streak with only three strikeouts in those games. That's certainly nothing to get excited about by itself. However, his track record suggests that he can be a dangerous second-half hitter. So, there is hope that this is the start of something good.
The Tigers bullpen, which was very shaky for much of the first two months, has been much better as of late. Brad Penny only pitched five innings today allowing three runs, but the bullpen contributed four shutout innings. The amazing Al Alburquerque pitched the sixth and seventh, Joaquin Benoit the eighth and Jose Valverde the ninth.
Alburquerque now has 35 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings giving him 16.01 K per 9 innings pitched. How good is that? According to Baseball-Reference, only one pitcher in the history of the game has finished a season with a higher ratio in 20 or more innings pitched. Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel had 17.42 K/ 9 IP in 20 2/3 innings in 2010. The highest ratio in a full season was by Carlos Marmol of the Cubs with 15.99 K/9 IP in 77 2/3 innings last year.
Many Tigers fans including myself panicked when Benoit allowed 11 runs in 6 appearances between April 27-May 16. However, he has not allowed a run in his last eight appearances.