July 31, 2009 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Wojo: Washburn trade gives Tigers the edge

After days of debate, the Seattle Mariners have traded left-handed pitcher Jarrod Washburn to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for left-hander Luke French and minor-league prospect Mauricio Robles. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

They've been in first place for nearly three months. But now, finally now, the Tigers actually feel like a real contender.

Trading for veteran lefty starter Jarrod Washburn was an excellent short-term move, the type of move a contender makes. It doesn't solve any of the Tigers' myriad hitting woes, but hey, if you're going to be good at one thing, you might as well be very good at the most-important thing in baseball -- starting pitching.

I think the Tigers, from owner Mike Ilitch to GM Dave Dombrowski to Jim Leyland, acknowledged what we've seen all season in the shoddy A.L. Central: The White Sox and Twins are vulnerable and the division is there for the taking, and the team with the best pitching has the best chance to take it.

And the best pitching, as of today, sits in Detroit.

With Justin Verlander (3.16 ERA), Edwin Jackson (2.59 ERA) and Washburn (2.64 ERA) in the top three spots, the Tigers have an outstanding rotation, one of the best in baseball. Even before Dombrowski dealt adequate lefty Luke French and promising young starter Mauricio Robles to Seattle for Washburn, the Tigers were second in the league in pitching (behind Seattle, by the way).

While we all shrieked about the hitting problems, I figured the Tigers were sniffing around for pitching, because relying on two rookie starters -- French and Rick Porcello -- was a risky business indeed.

Trading prospects for a veteran is a risky business too, but I doubt French ever will haunt the Tigers. Robles could, but he's 20 and a couple years away from being a major-league factor. The other risks are, Washburn is about to turn 35 and will be a free-agent at season's end, and there's a chance his incredible streak is an illusion.

Before going 8-6 with the A.L.'s third-best ERA this season, Washburn was 23-43 with the Mariners. He's 106-106 in his career. But he has been blistering, and if he blisters for two more months, the Tigers will be favorites in the Central.

Don't get me wrong here. The Tigers are still flawed, and that bullpen could blow up at any time. But with the very-capable Armando Galarraga and Porcello in the fourth and fifth spots, the rotation is strong enough and deep enough to hide deficiencies.

Sure, most games might end up 2-1. But when one of the new Big Three pitches, I like the Tigers' chances.

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