Look Out Below

With a 5-2 record after the All Star break and fresh off a sweep of the Twins, the Tigers had upped their lead to two and a half games over the Indians, which will continue to be the race to watch for Midwesterners. But before checking out the schedule to see when the top two teams next meet, you might want to keep your eyes glued to the match-ups against the bottom two teams in the AL Central.

The Tigers held a 7-2 record against the Royals, who came into Comerica Park this past weekend, with Gil Meche and Brian Bannister scheduled to pitch, each of whom has an ERA under four. Kansas City has been playing better ball as of late, coming of a 2-1 series win over the stumbling Red Sox. That trend continued in Detroit, where the Royals took two of three from the Tigers.

After their games with the Royals, the Tigers travel to Chicago for a five game set against the underachieving, yet highly talented White Sox, who have a season series split with the Tigs at two games a piece. Although the Sox are currently 15 games back of the Tigers, they are a team with the perfect mix of experience, fire and skill to give the Tigers all they can handle as the two teams meet 11 times the rest of the way, including a three game set at U.S. Cellular Field on the season's final weekend.

While games between the Tigers, Indians and perhaps the Twins will garner the most national attention throughout the regular season, it's games such as the upcoming eight game stretch that will either widen or lessen the gap between the Tigers and Indians.

Before the Tigers started winning in the 2006 playoffs, many national pundits pointed to the Tigers' sub-par record against fellow playoff teams, and winning teams in general, as a reason to pick against them. It was said that they beat up on the lesser teams, yet struggled against teams of equal or greater caliber. That trend has continued into this year, as the Tigers are 22-19 against playoff contenders such as the Red Sox, Indians, Twins, Mariners, Angels and Yankees. That slightly above .500 mark is similar to the Indians' 16-13 record against the same teams.

It is that reason why games against lesser teams, which are the majority throughout a 162 game season, are just as, if not more important than games against other top teams. It's common sense that when two good teams get together there will be more losses for both teams. It's simple: the playoff contenders all have better pitching, better hitting and better coaching than the teams below .500. In the world of sports every team takes a game off at one point or another, but if the Tigers were to take a series or two off against competition such as the Royals or Nationals, that is where their season would be lost.

Media, fans and other teams can point to the Tigers for beating up on the Royals and Devil Rays all they want to, but in the end it won't be the 18 games the Tigers and Indians play each other that decides who takes home the division crown; it'll be decided by which team didn't take games off during a stretch against sub-par competition.

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