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by Tom Stryker - 06/30/2006
The NBA Draft is still hot news.
The NFL training camps are just around the corner - more hot news.
But the hottest news may be from the American League Central, home of the hottest teams in baseball. We are going to take a break from our Big Ten football series on this site and provide a quick update on that baseball division, especially the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox.
The Tigers most assuredly are the surprise of the 2006 baseball season. Detroit is heading into a weekend series at Pittsburgh as the best team in baseball. The Tigers are 54-25 (.684), and no one other than the White Sox, 51-26 (.662) is even close.
Detroit has won 17 of its last 20 games - an amazing .850 pace. The White Sox, only a step behind, have won 16 of their last 20 - .800. And donâ€™t forget about the Minnesota Twins, now third in the A.L. Central. The Twins are making their own midseason noise by winning 17 of their last 20. The Twins now stand 42-35, nine games behind Chicago, but 11 behind the Tigers.
Manager Jim Leyland has been wearing a smile or two throughout June. Almost half-way through the season, Leyland has two 10-game winners (Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander), along with Nate Robertson (8-3) and Jeremy Bonderman (7-4) just cruising on the mound.
Of those four, Bonderman has the highest ERA at 3.65, yet Bonderman leads the staff in strikeouts with 102. Detroitâ€™s combined earned run average was 3.50 at midweek, clearly the best in the Major Leagues. Tigersâ€™ starters have a combined ERA of 3.39, an easy indication of why Detroit has won 12 of its last 13 games.
Three times this season Tiger pitchers have amassed streaks of 20 scoreless innings against their opponents. Detroit pitchers have posted 11 shutouts already this season - the most for the Tigers prior to an all-star game in 37 years.
Yes, the pitching has been superb. Ditto for the defense. But Detroit is scoring runs, too.
The Tigers have six players who have hit at least 11 homers, with Brandon Inge leading the way with 16. But Marcus Thames and Magglio Ordonez have hit 15 each.
Nine Tigers have 30 RBIâ€™s or more, with Ordonez leading the way with 57. Ordonez is also leading the Tigers with his .313 batting average, but six regulars are at .290 or higher.
THE WHITE SOX
The defending world champions started the season on fire and have been playing stellar baseball all season. Only the near .700 Tigers have diminished what is an outstanding first half. The White Sox are only two games back and there is still plenty of baseball left.
Chicago travels to Wrigley Field this weekend for what should be an emotional series.
But the Sox play on an even keel - and could be getting some additional help for an already strong bullpen. Cliff Politte, out most of June with shoulder tendonitis, is ready to go again. He had a 2.00 ERA last year and surely will help bolster the Sox pitching staff.
The White Sox have four pitchers with eight or more victories - led by Freddy Garcia and his 10-4 mark and Jose Contreras at 8-0. Mark Buehrle is 9-4, Javier Vazquez 8-4 and Jon Garland is 6-3. In the bullpen, Bobby Jenks has 24 saves to go with his 2.48 ERA. The Sox have pitchers in every corner, drawer and on every step.
Offensively, the White Sox may be better than last year. Four regulars are hitting at least .306 with catcher A.J. Pierzynski leading the way at .317. Paul Konerko is at .314, Jermaine Dye at .306 and Joe Crede at .302.
Designated hitter Jim Thome has proven to be an outstanding addition to the Chicago Southsiders. He has clubbed 24 homers and driven in 63 runs.
Dye has 20 homers and Konerko 19 heading into the Cubs series.
No one can forget Pablo Ozuna, who has hit .425, but in only 39 games.
The Sox are solid. So are the Tigers. It is going to be a torrid battle between those two as the season grinds along. Stay tuned.