With Sweep, Tigers Square Up A.L. Central

Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers reacts to a home run by Delmon Young while playing the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Tigers and White Sox are now tied atop the AL Central; both teams have 29 games remaining. Does either team have an advantage down the stretch?

The third-most likely outcome of the week-end's big series in the American Central happened.

That might not sound real unlikely and it wasn't. Still, the Tigers had, roughly speaking, just a 15-percent chance of taking three straight from the first-place White Sox in Detroit. But of course that's exactly what they did, and now those clubs are tied atop the A.L. Central standings with twin 72-61 records.

Friday night, the Tigers jumped on Jake Peavy for four early runs, but the White Sox were doing some damage of their own, and after six innings the game was deadlocked at four runs apiece. Then, the bottom of the seventh. With Peavy still in the game, Andy Dirks drew a leadoff walk and Miguel Cabrera singled, sending Peavy to the showers. Lefty Matt Thornton came on to face Prince Fielder ... and plunked him, loading the bases. That brought up right-handed-hitting Delmon Young, and he cleared the bases with a double over the center fielder's head. From there, Detroit's bullpen took over: Joaquín Benoit struck out the side in the eighth, and José Valverde pitched a scoreless ninth to save the Tigers' 7-4 victory.

Saturday was all about Max Scherzer and Francisco Liriano. The latter lasted only four innings, thanks largely to seven walks. The former pitched eight shutout innings, striking out nine ChiSox and walking just one. Valverde, pitching in a non-save situation, gave up a run in the ninth, but that wasn't nearly enough for the Sox as the Tigers took Game 2, 5-1.

That set up the series finale, Sunday night on ESPN, with first place on the line. The game began in shocking fashion, with rookie Alejandro de Aza leading off with a home run against Justin Verlander.

After which, Verlander was nearly untouchable. He would go eight innings, giving up that single run while striking out 11 White Sox. But the score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when Brennan Boesch hit a long home run against Sox ace Chris Sale; it was just the second home run that Sale had allowed to a left-handed hitter all season.

One inning later, the gopher ball hit Sale harder. Omar Infante led off the seventh with a single, and Miguel Cabrera walked on four pitches. Sale dispatched the lefty-hitting Fielder with a strikeout, but wouldn't escape the righty-hitting Delmon Young so easily. Sale did get ahead in the count, but Young drove a 1-and-2 pitch into the left-field stands for a three-run homer and a 4-1 lead for the Tigers.

Sale settled down, but considering what Verlander was doing, it didn't matter. Valverde did give Tigers manager Jim Leyland a scare in the ninth -- he gave up a run, and the tying runner was on first base with two outs -- but finally nailed down his 28th save when Orlando Hudson lined out to center field.

What does it all mean? Well, you can sort of hit the reset button on the A.L. Central ... but not exactly. Yes, they're tied. But it's not exactly Opening Day, with both teams playing (essentially) the same schedule the rest of the way. As we noted last week, the White Sox do have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way. But that's balanced by the Tigers' starting pitching. They're going with four members of their early-season rotation, with Anibal Sánchez the only interloper (in place of rookie Drew Smyly). Meanwhile, the White Sox have made wholesale changes, with only Peavy and Sale remaining from the Opening Day rotation. Francisco Liriano's been fair, and rookie José Quintana's been a little better than fair. Oh, and Monday night against the Twins, rookie reliever Hector Santiago will make his first major-league start.

The Tigers seem to have the momentum, which doesn't really mean anything. The White Sox do have the better run differential, which means just a little at this point. What matters most are schedules and players; the Sox have the slightly easier schedule, the Tigers the slightly better players.

If there's a compelling reason to favor one team over the other for the division title, please let us know.

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