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Tigers face rocky road next five weeks

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

The Tigers might want to hone their hand-to-hand combat drills as they approach the season's second half.

This is going to be nasty, re-establishing a playoff beachhead for a team nine games out of first place and carrying a .500 record into this weekend's series against the Orioles at Comerica Park.

Their schedule is on the hostile side these next five weeks. And bear in mind five weeks coincides with the approximate time kingpin hitter Miguel Cabrera is expected to be gone with a torn calf muscle.

The schedule looks like this ...

■ Baltimore this weekend, followed by four games at home with struggling Seattle, which might be construed as the only real break Detroit is gaining between now and late-August.

■ Next comes a potentially nettlesome trip to Boston, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

■ The Tigers return home Aug. 4 for three games against the first-place Royals, followed by three more against the Red Sox, all before hitting the road for a three-game set against the Royals and another three-gamer against the Astros.

Big-league teams of any stripe are never considered pushovers. And that is particularly true when the Tigers have shown they can beat, and be beaten by, any team on the spectrum.

But with the exception of the Mariners and Red Sox, all of the above are playing at least break-even baseball, and most are closer today to a wild card or division playoff ticket than are the Tigers.

The Tigers have 12 more games against Salvador Perez and the Central Division-leading Royals.

The Tigers must also change some first-half habits if they expect to gain, rather than lose, playoff ground during these final 21/2 months of the regular season.

They are 16-8 against the Indians and White Sox, neither of which the Tigers play the next 33 days. They are 28-36 against all other teams.

As they get ready for a three-game weekend set against the Orioles, the Tigers might also want to do something about another first-half problem.

They have not played well at Comerica Park.

Their downtown Detroit home, which for so many seasons delivered an advantage big-league teams know and expect from home crowds and a familiar park, has not cooperated this season.

The Tigers are 22-23 at Comerica Park. They are 22-21 on the road. It is one more curious anecdote to a season that hasn't always made sense.

They can do something about that this weekend if they handle the Orioles, a team that shares the Tigers' 44-44 record, and a team Detroit last year beat five out of six times.

They can further burnish their home numbers if they jump on the Mariners (41-48) during next week's portion of a seven-game home stand.

But the Tigers will need, in any case, to do a better job against teams outside the American League Central, against which they are 17-27. In yet another glimpse at how, to some extent, this season has been upside down, the Tigers are 27-17 against teams from their division, which was considered at the start of 2015 as perhaps the best collection of teams.

No matter how one might weigh their competition, the next 16 games for the Tigers are against American League clubs outside the Central. Eighteen of their following 24 games are likewise against teams from other divisions, or in the case of a two-game set against the Cubs, another league.

The six games during that stretch from their own neighborhood? They're against the first-place Royals, the only Central club the Tigers have not been able to conquer (3-4).

If they can handle July and August minus Cabrera's bat — and minus any serious pitching breakdowns — the Tigers have a direct shot in September at turning around a division race, presuming they're within range.

They play the Royals and Twins six times each during a Central-heavy schedule that might or might not be relevant, depending upon how these immediate weeks treat a team and its playoff dream.

But that's the obligation of the Tigers: to close ground between themselves and the front-runners and make September a month that, as it has the past four years, has seen a team from Detroit win the Central and head into October's postseason.

Mark it down

A look at the remaining Tigers games:

Games: 74

Home/Away: 36/38

Opponent, record (games vs. Tigers)

Baltimore, 44-44 (7)

Boston, 42-47 (6)

Chicago Cubs, 47-40 (2)

Chicago White Sox, 41-45 (7)

Cincinnati, 39-47 (1)

Cleveland, 42-46 (7)

Houston, 49-42 (3)

Kansas City, 52-34 (12)

L.A. Angels, 48-40 (3)

Minnesota, 49-40 (6)

Seattle, 41-48 (4)

Tampa Bay, 46-45 (6)

Texas, 42-46 (7)

Toronto, 45-46, 3

The winner is …

Odds according to vegasinsider.com:

To win World Series

11/2, Kansas City

7/1, St. Louis, Washington

8/1, L.A. Dodgers

10/1, San Francisco

12/1, L.A. Angels

14/1, Houston

15/1, Chicago Cubs

16/1, N.Y. Yankees, Pittsburgh

18/1, Baltimore

20/1, Detroit

25/1, Toronto

28/1, Tampa Bay

30/1, Texas

45/1, N.Y. Mets, Cleveland

50/1, Boston

To win AL pennant

2/1, Kansas City

6/1, L.A. Angels

8/1, Houston, N.Y. Yankees

9/1, Baltimore, Detroit

11/1, Toronto

13/1, Tampa Bay

18/1, Texas

25/1, Cleveland

30/1, Boston, Seattle

35/1, Minnesota

50/1, Chicago White Sox, Oakland