First-place Tigers hoping for even better 2nd half

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DETROIT (AP) - All year long, Jim Leyland has kept an even keel.

The Detroit manager admitted in January he was under pressure _ with his contract expiring at the end of this season _ but with his team now in a fight for the AL Central title, there’s been little talk of anything beyond the next few games.

“We’re in the race. We’ve got to fix a few things, but everybody has to fix a few things,” Leyland said recently. “There’s no perfect team in our division. We’ve got a shot, you know, and that’s what you want. It’s going to be a good race.”

It’s already been an interesting season in Detroit’s division. The Tigers struggled a bit at the start, but they return from the All-Star break with a half-game lead over second-place Cleveland. The Tigers host the Chicago White Sox _ themselves only five games back _ in a three-game series starting Friday night.

The Minnesota Twins are lurking 6 1/2 games behind Detroit.

Leyland has been hesitant to talk about the standings, especially since _ after an early surge by Cleveland _ no team has really taken control of the race.

“This is going to be up for grabs,” Leyland said. “The Twins and White Sox are right there. Cleveland’s right there.”

The Tigers haven’t had a winning record after the All-Star break since 2000. Even in 2006, when they went to the World Series, they went 36-38 in the final half of the season and made it as a wild card.

Last year, Detroit went 33-43 after the break and finished 81-81.

The Tigers made some significant moves in the offseason, adding Victor Martinez, Brad Penny and Joaquin Benoit. Martinez leads the team with a .316 batting average, joining Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch to help give Detroit a productive middle of the order.

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta and catcher Alex Avila joined Cabrera, ace Justin Verlander and closer Jose Valverde on the All-Star roster.

Cabrera left the All-Star game after hurting an oblique muscle in his side while swinging, but he said he didn’t think it would keep him out when regular season play resumes.

Verlander’s performance has been particularly sparkling. He’s 12-4 with a 2.15 ERA, including an ERA of 0.64 since June 9. Verlander is the biggest reason the Tigers hold a division lead, however slim.

“Hopefully, we’ll come out of the break rejuvenated and ready to go and put some separation between them and ourselves,” he said.

Although a handful of players are having big seasons, the Tigers aren’t without problems. Brandon Inge is hitting .184 and Ryan Raburn is at .213. Aside from Verlander, none of the starters has an ERA under 4.00.

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