Detroit — Halfway through the season, all is well with the Tigers.
They’re in first place.
They’re playing well as a rule, pitching well as a rule and have overcome the quicksand that dragged them down for a while.
Some might say, in fact, all is better than well after Wednesday’s 9-3 sweep-completing victory over the A’s gave the Tigers their best midseason record (47-34) since 2007.
“It was a little bit of a roller-coaster, the first half,” manager Brad Ausmus said of the 27-12 opening, followed by a 9-20 dive, then an 11-2 run.
“I’m hoping we are climbing up again and just kind of plateau there.”
If the Tigers do plateau at a high level, it looks like Justin Verlander will be among those contributing again. After becoming the first half’s biggest mystery, his particular puzzle seems to be solving itself.
With six innings against the A’s, the last five of which were blanks after allowing two solo home runs in the first, Verlander won his first July start after winning none in June.
His chance of being an All-Star a sixth consecutive season vanished during his struggles, but what didn’t disappear was the belief Verlander is capable of turning around any slump, no matter how long, on a dime.
If that reversal happened in this game, it did so after a bumpy first inning with A) Verlander winning for the first time since May 30; and B) allowing fewer than four runs for a third consecutive start after giving up 19 earned runs in three starts before that.
“He’s gotten better,” Ausmus said. “But it’s a process. You don’t straighten out your mechanics overnight.”
Make no mistake, Verlander was a mechanical mess after giving up 14 runs on 20 hits in 112⁄3 innings in consecutive starts against the White Sox and Royals.
It got so bad that June became the first winless month of his career, three years after he went 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA in June.
But if he can go into the All-Star break on the heels of feeling good in his next two starts, it’ll be a welcome few days of rest.
“You always have to be positive,” Verlander said. “I didn’t have a good first-half. I’m not going to the All-Star Game for the first time in a while, I can pretty much guarantee that.
“But I’ve put in a lot of work this first half on mechanical adjustments, and from the wear-and-tear of that, it will be nice to get some time and to rest myself to have a strong second half.”
What the Tigers proved in the meantime was they could right their own rocking ship without his help, because the ongoing rebound from going 9-20 hadn’t yet included a Verlander victory.
But with a win that gives him a 7-7 record, it does now.
What also helped is no sooner had Verlander escaped a jam in the sixth, the Tigers offense exploded for six runs in the bottom of the inning — Rajai Davis knocking in two with a single and Miguel Cabrera another two with double.
So, Verlander wasn’t the only Tigers player with a good game.
Austin Jackson, about whom Ausmus has said “we have to get him going,” got going with three hits — two singles and a double.
Jackson’s fourth-inning, run-scoring single with two outs appeared to feel particularly satisfying because not only did it put the Tigers in front for good 3-2, but it came on a full-count pitch.
To the tune of a .164 average, Jackson has been having trouble with any two-strike count this season, which was probably one of the reasons why he responded to the single by enthusiastically clapping his hands after rounding first.
“Even in his last at-bat (a ground out to first), he hit the ball hard,” Ausmus said. “He’ll be back leading off again (today).”
So maybe the Tigers got Verlander and Jackson rolling in this game. But just the chance they did was yet another reason they deserve to feel good about themselves at the halfway point.