The Detroit Tigers have been tough to beat at Comerica Park, dominating the competition with an American League-best 32-13 record at home.
Away from the Motor City, the Tigers been pretty bad with a 16-25 mark, and manager Jim Leyland said that has to change.
“We have to play better on the road if we’re going to contend for anything in the second half,” Leyland said.
The quest starts in Cleveland, where the Tigers will play Friday night in their first game after the All-Star break. Detroit will resume play a half-game behind the surging Chicago White Sox and three games ahead of the defending division champion Minnesota Twins.
“I know we are a good team,” All-Star closer Jose Valverde said. “But we have to prove that on the road.”
The Tigers haven’t done that yet.
They’re averaging 5-plus runs at home while giving up just under four a game. When Detroit hits the road, opponents are averaging 5.2 runs while it scores barely more than four times a game.
Leyland called the post-break schedule “grueling” because the Tigers will travel to play AL East- and AL West-leading New York and Texas, along with Tampa Bay and Boston outside of matchups in their competitive division.
He wished the team had another reliable starter, or two, some help for Valverde in the bullpen and perhaps some more punch toward the bottom of the lineup. The Tigers will look to acquire a reliever by July 31 – the last day to trade a player without securing waivers – to try to make up for losing Joel Zumaya to another season-ending injury.
Whatever happens, Leyland is confident the team will give its fans a reason to watch the rest of the season unfold for the fourth time in his five seasons in charge.
“We’ve been pretty consistent for the most part, but we’ve got to do a little bit better in the second half than we’ve been and better in the division if we’re going to compete,” Leyland said. “I think we’ve given the fans a pretty good show since I’ve been here.
“We had that one burp in ’08, but overall we’ve been pretty entertaining. I don’t think we’ve embarrassed anybody. We’ve got a superstar (Miguel Cabrera) and a horse pitcher (Justin Verlander). We’re OK. We’re not a great team, but a pretty good team.”
Detroit played in the 2006 World Series – for the first time since 1984 – in Leyland’s first season, won 88 games the next year, then lost 88 two seasons ago. Last year, they lost the division lead in the 163rd-game tiebreaker at Minnesota.
Slugger Johnny Damon didn’t sign a one-year contract with Detroit just to extend his career, but because the veteran thought he could play on a championship-contending team just as he did in recent years with the Yankees and Red Sox. But if the Tigers fall short of making the playoffs, he said the franchise’s future is bright with rookies such as Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, Danny Worth, Alex Avila and Robbie Weinhardt.
“A bunch of these guys are maturing in front of our eyes,” Damon said. “This team is going to be good for a while even though some of us older guys won’t be around years down the road.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)