August 18, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With the All-Star Game fast approaching next week, it's natural for teams to evaluate their progress at the unofficial halfway point of the season. That Detroit won its third straight against host Tampa Bay on Saturday marked what the Tigers hoped to be a turning point in a thus-far mediocre season.

Detroit has pounded out 23 runs on so far this series, which concludes on Sunday. Second baseman Ian Kinsler made note of the good feeling the team shares lately, but added the pitching staff has just as much to do with the team's success as its bats.

"Our bullpen is shaping up nicely, our rotation is shaping up, too," Kinsler said. "(Francisco Rodriguez) has done an unbelievable job. Justin Wilson and Shane Greene have done an unbelievable job, and then we obviously have guys who can be steady down there in Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan, guys that can provide you innings.

"As long as we can stay healthy, like we have been saying since spring training, we should be OK."

Verlander took home honors Saturday after collecting eight strikeouts in seven innings. On Sunday, Mike Pelfrey will get the ball as the Tigers attempt to secure a road series sweep versus Tampa Bay.

Pelfrey won his last start, against Miami, despite allowing 12 hits over 5 1/3 innings. He seeks his first win since June 4, but is 0-5 on the road this season with a 4.19 ERA.

Saturday marked the exact midpoint in the Tigers season. Detroit has posted a 43-38 record so far, a number that's encouraging considering the team endured 11 losses in 12 games to kick off May.

But manager Brad Ausmus would still like improvement in the second half.

"Overall, the first half hasn't been bad, but we'd like it to be better," he said. "Pitching is the key in baseball, period."

Saturday's loss for the Rays marked the 15th in their last 17 games as Tampa Bay still seeks to round the corner before it's too late.

Perhaps one of the Rays' biggest problems so far is a rash of untimely injuries that have decimated their roster, especially in the outfield. Entering Sunday's series finale with Detroit, Tampa Bay has 28 roster moves in 32 days. Nine players have been put on the DL in the past 50 days including four outfielders -- Kevin Kiermaier, Mikie Mahtook, Brandon Guyer and Steven Souza Jr.

With all of the walking wounded and a sometimes cobbled-together roster, it's no wonder the Rays are still just short of jelling as a team.

"Any mistake or something that works against us seems to turn into a run against us right now," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. "I think the best way we overcome that is come out and do what we did against Boston and kind of create the runs ourselves. Gives the guys some breathing room."

The Rays (33-47) reach the midpoint of their season on Sunday.

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