Tigers, Yankees both primed for second-half surges

Updated: July 16, 2009

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Magglio Ordonez hit only .260 in the first half, 50 points lower than his career .310 average.

Prince Fielder stole the Home Run Derby show from Albert Pujols, the American League claimed home-field advantage in the World Series (again) … and now we can finally get back to real baseball. It's the second half, when the drama ratchets up as the temperatures eventually head down. And it kicks off with a bang this weekend as the AL Central-leading Tigers travel to face the Yankees.

Fantastic pitching will be on display all around, but New York has its rotation set up slightly better with its top three starters ready to go. A.J. Burnett, arguably the team's best pitcher for the past month, will take the hill Friday, followed by CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain. Both have performed below their potential in recent starts, but Sabathia did have a strong second half last season, remember, and it's hard to imagine Chamberlain won't straighten out some of his issues soon, too.

The Tigers send their ace, Justin Verlander, out Sunday, but will have to rely on youngsters Luke French and Edwin Jackson to get things off on the right foot in the first two games. French, with a 1-0 record and 1.93 ERA in his first two starts, certainly has looked very good, and Jackson's first-half numbers were enough to earn him a spot next to Verlander on the All-Star roster.

These are the Yankees, though, and they've been hitting it better than any other team this year, with a league-leading 496 runs. They're finally playing like the offense we all thought we'd see this year, especially with a healthy Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup. Even though the Angels swept them to close the first half, the Yankees are going to win the wild card -- despite a sure-to-come surge from Tampa Bay.

Featured Series: Tigers at Yankees
FRIDAY
Tigers (Luke French) at Yankees (A.J. Burnett), 7:05 ET
SATURDAY
Tigers (Edwin Jackson) at Yankees (CC Sabathia), 1:05 ET
SUNDAY
Tigers (Justin Verlander) at Yankees (Joba Chamberlain), 2:05 ET

Keep in mind, the Tigers definitely will be throwing some of their best stuff out there, and their bullpen has been slightly better than expected. Ultimately, it comes down to handling the Yankees' lineup.

What will be really interesting to see is where these teams go after this weekend. For now, I'd say the Tigers are going to win the division. With the lead they have now, and the way they rebuilt their pitching and their defense right before our eyes, I think they have the staying power to take that division.

The question is whether Detroit has to go out and get another bat to make sure it wins the Central. And that's exactly what it might do if Magglio Ordonez continues to struggle like he did for the majority of the first half. If Ordonez improves, though, the Tigers should score enough runs to be a formidable team in the second half. Carlos Guillen is expected to return from the disabled list soon, and he'll certainly help, but it's been so long since he played that you just don't know what you're going to get out of him.

This is when all general managers earn their money, though, as they decide whether to make a move at the deadline. Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the best at getting what he needs. Looking at the rest of the division, the White Sox have started playing better baseball recently and the Twins are the Twins, which means they'll be in it until the end. So if the Tigers lose their lead, Dombrowski will have to go out and get somebody.

Yes, we've made the turn and now we're headed home. It's second-half baseball; let the drama unfold.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: July 15 | July 14 | July 13 | July 12 | July 9

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
Y. Escobar, Atl8NYMPerezBot 2: 2-0, 1 Outs. None on.
G. Anderson, Atl6NYMPerezBot 2: 0-1, 1 Outs. None on.
R. Ibanez, Phi23FlaVolstadTop 2: 2-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
P. Fielder, Mil23CinBaileyTop 3: 1-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.
R. Ibanez, Phi24FlaVolstadTop 4: 1-1, 1 Outs. None on.
J. Votto, Cin12MilLooperBot 3: 1-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
D. Lee, ChC18WasLannanTop 6: 3-2, 1 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

Red Sox at Blue Jays

Friday's series opener presents an interesting pitching matchup. Ricky Romero was one of the best rookies in baseball in the first half, going 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA. He hasn't lost since June 11. Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz has been posting strong numbers at Triple-A Pawtucket, waiting for his turn. Well, it's finally here, and Buchholz will make his first start of the season.

Mets at Braves

The series got started Thursday, with the Braves taking the opener. Although most of the NL East talk centers on the Phillies, the Braves remain within striking distance, sitting only six games back of Philadelphia. The Mets send their ace, Johan Santana, to the mound Saturday; the Braves send the NL's second-most prolific strikeout pitcher in the first half, Javier Vazquez, out Sunday night.

Twins at Rangers

Texas held the lead in the AL West much of the first half. Was it a one-half run, or can the Rangers be a factor and stay close to the Angels in the second half? Minnesota rests four games back of Detroit at the start of the second half, and the Twins hope to have a healthy Joe Mauer for an entire half, which was not the case in the season's first half.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
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Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Eric Young, Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter
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BBTN MINUTE: HOWARD FASTEST TO 200 HRs

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Jamie Moyer• If not for a leadoff single from Jorge Cantu in the fifth inning, Jamie Moyer and the Phillies' bullpen would have tossed a no-hitter. Instead, 46-year-old Moyer and a pair of relievers threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win against the Marlins. Moyer permitted one walk along with the one hit, accounting for the only two Florida baserunners to reach base.
WORST
Homer BaileyHomer Bailey closed the first half with three quality outings. That run did not carry over to the start of the second half. Bailey gave up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings in a 9-6 loss against the Brewers. He issued four walks and was undone by two bad innings -- three runs in the third and four of Milwaukee's first five runs in the sixth.

WEB GEMS: TURN IT!

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Ricky Nolasco Florida Marlins righty Ricky Nolasco is a pitcher to keep an eye on in the second half of the 2009 MLB season. Sure, Nolasco just finished the first half with a 6-7 record and a 5.76 ERA, but he's still the same pitcher who finished 2008 with a 15-8 record, 3.52 ERA and 186 strikeouts.

Nolasco is striking out batters at a rate higher than 2008, and his walk rate is only slightly higher than it was last year. He's also missing bats more than he did last season, and getting batters to go out of the strike zone to attack his pitches more than he did last year. Nolasco's biggest problem in 2009 has been the success rate his opponents have had when they've put the ball in play.

Opponents have posted a .347 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season, higher than both the .296 league BABIP and the .273 BABIP opposing batters posted against Nolasco in 2008. Part of that is tied into his elevated fly-ball batting average; it's up almost .100 points from last season to .441. Even if this total doesn't regress to the .352 he posted last season, a regression toward the league average of .403 would put Nolasco in great shape for the second half.

Nolasco makes his first start of the second half Friday against another second-half breakout candidate, Philadelphia's Cole Hamels. Nolasco hasn't faced the Phillies yet this season, but he picked up three wins in four starts against his division rival in 2008, allowing nine earned runs in 27 1/3 innings pitched and posting a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Ricky Nolasco
Past two seasons
2008 2009
K pct. of PA 21.4 22.7
BB pct. of PA 4.8 5.3
Miss pct. 21.6 22.6
Chase pct. 24.6 28.0
Fly ball BA against .352 .441
BABIP .273 .347

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes