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updated: 7/19/2012 10:32 PM

Tigers ready to sink teeth into reeling White Sox

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  • Justin Verlander takes the mound for Detroit tonight.

      Justin Verlander takes the mound for Detroit tonight.
    Associated Press

  • Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning ofa baseball game in Baltimore, Sunday, July 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

      Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning ofa baseball game in Baltimore, Sunday, July 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Detroit's Jose Valverde, left, and Prince Fielder celebrate their 5-2 win over the Angels on Thursday. The Tigers have won 10 of their last 12 and are just 1 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central.

      Detroit's Jose Valverde, left, and Prince Fielder celebrate their 5-2 win over the Angels on Thursday. The Tigers have won 10 of their last 12 and are just 1 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central.
    Associated Press

 
By Scott Gregor

The White Sox and Cleveland Indians have been taking turns holding down first place in the AL Central over the first four months of the season.

But the real division threat -- the Detroit Tigers -- are finally putting it together, so the Sox are going to have to quickly rebound from Thursday night's stunning 3-1 loss to the Red Sox in Boston.

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"No offense to the Cleveland Indians, they have played really good baseball," White Sox starter Jake Peavy said of the Tigers right before the all-star break. "But you have the Detroit Tigers, and that is a talented ballclub."

The Tigers won the division by 15 games last year. After signing power-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder over the winter, many thought they'd win the Central by 30 this season.

Detroit wasn't scaring anybody in the first half, and it looked the Tigers were never going to put it together.

But Thursday's 5-1 decision over the Angels was the Tigers' 10th win in 12 games. Don't look now, but Detroit has moved past the Indians and sits second in the Central, just 1 games behind the White Sox.

The division's top two teams open a three-game series at Comerica Park tonight. A pair of all-stars -- Peavy and Justin Verlander -- start the opener.

"We understand this is going to be a dogfight," Peavy said. "Win, lose or draw, we understand that if we go about things the right way, we'll have nothing to hang our heads about if it doesn't happen. But we expect it to happen."

So do the Tigers, now that they are finally getting some decent pitching and defense to support one of the league's most potent offenses.

Give veteran manager Jim Leyland a big share of credit for staying cool when it looked like Detroit was in hot water.

"When you have a good team, at some point they're going to play good," Leyland said. "We're playing pretty good right now. This is really not a surprise to me. You just have to weather the storms we did in the first half and we survived that pretty well."

The White Sox are still running first, but they seemingly add rookie pitchers to the 25-man roster on a daily basis.

Rookie closer Addison Reed couldn't hold a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning Thursday night. On Wednesday, starting pitcher Pedro Hernandez was shelled by the Red Sox in his major-league debut.

Hernandez was shipped back to Class AAA Charlotte right after the game, but yet another rookie -- reliever Donnie Veal -- came up from Charlotte to take his spot.

With so much inexperienced pitching, you have to wonder how much longer the Sox can hold off the Tigers.

If they can bounce back at Detroit this weekend, the White Sox should be able to regroup and reap the benefits of getting starter Gavin Floyd (elbow tendinitis) and reliever Jesse Crain (shoulder strain) back from the disabled list.

But the White Sox are reeling after losing three of four at Boston, and the red-hot Tigers are waiting for them in their home ballpark.

"It's going to be interesting," Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera said of the upcoming series. "If you want to win your division, you have to beat your division, so we're in a good position right here. We have a team to compete."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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