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Are The Detroit Tigers Still Favorites?
The White Sox Remain Under The Radar
by Balk Eight,
August 24, 2012

After the Detroit Tigers paid a ludicrous amount of money for the services of Prince Fielder, they were almost unanimously crowned as champions of the AL Central Division even though they had yet to win a single game.  As one of the few dissenters, Keith picked the Cleveland Indians to take the division, a prognostication that appeared less ridiculous at the All-Star break, when Cleveland was four games over .500 and three games out of first place.  While his optimism surrounding Cleveland was ultimately misplaced, his skepticism surrounding the Tigers was not.

The Chicago White Sox have been in sole possession of first place in the AL Central since May 29th other than a five-game stretch in June (once again...Cleveland).  For two full months now (June 24-August 24) they have reigned in first place uninterrupted.  Yet look into the world of sports betting and more Tigers bias can be found, with odds either even or slightly favoring Detroit.

The numbers simply do not back this stance up.  Both teams are strutting after three-game sweeps, but Chicago's was slightly more impressive, having come against a team that had been tied for the best record in the AL going into their series in the New York Yankees.  Meanwhile, the Tigers swept a reeling Blue Jays team that is now 12 games under .500 due in large part to unrelenting injuries.  While the Sox only stand 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers, they are 4.5 games ahead in Expected Standings based on their +72 run differential as compared to Detroit's meager +28.  Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report had the Sox win the Central more than twice as often than the Tigers in their simulations. has the Sox wining the division in two-thirds of their one million simulations of the remainder of the season.

Both teams enjoy easy schedules the rest of the way, getting to beat up on the three also-rans in the AL Central.  The Sox only have 11 games left against teams with winning records outside of their seven remaining games against Detroit (four of which will be played at US Cellular Field).  The Tigers only have nine, six of which come against an Angels team that is plummeting in the standings for reasons beyond my comprehension.

Going deeper, the Sox seem to have improved their team more over the course of the season.  Francisco Liriano and Jose Quintana replacing John Danks and Phil Humber (each of whom had an ERA in the 5.70s) makes a night-and-day difference in the team's starting rotation.  The Tigers ostensibly made a bigger splash in landing Anibal Sanchez, but he has struggled to adjust to the junior circuit and the club didn't have as dead of weight as the Sox to replace in their rotation to begin with.  Offensively, Kevin Youkilis over the Brent Morel/Orlando Hudson/Eduardo Escobar catastrophe they had going at the hot corner is about as big of a midseason upgrade as you can get without surrendering a top prospect.  Detroit's additions of Omar Infante and Jeff Baker somehow fail to generate the same enthusiasm, although Infante's glove does help shore up the team's woeful defense.

I am by no means handing the division to the White Sox, just pointing out that the perception of the Tigers having an edge is the opposite of reality.  Bear in mind, too, that the Tigers have four players in Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, and Justin Verlander who carrying the ballclub.  If any one of them suffers an injury or even falls into a slump, it's all over for Detroit.  The White Sox have five players in their everyday lineup with an OPS+ of 120 or above and three members of their starting rotation with an ERA+ of 140 or higher.  That's twice as much depth in terms of star power.

Perhaps that explains why all of these simulations have the Sox beating out the Tigers twice as often as the reverse.

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