Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/26/12

Did anybody notice that the Detroit Tigers just went 5-1 this past week? Amidst a still seemingly frustrated fan base, they did it by scoring just 22 runs in those 6 games. The difference maker was that Detroit’s starting rotation was, as Fox Sports Detroit analyst Rod Allen would say, “off the chain”.

The Tigers as a staff allowed just 14 runs over that 6-game stretch and have been lights out lately. Detroit is basically in lock step with where they were at this same time last year, with one exception, the Chicago White Sox just keep on winning. As hot as the Tigers got during their pennant run in 2011, the rest of the division did them a favor by laying September eggs. Don’t expect similar treatment this time around.

Robin Ventura’s crew hasn’t let the Tigers get a handle on first place since a brief rise to the top several weeks ago. The Sox have been able to counter the Tigers’ lethal 1-2 of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer with some great pitching of their own from Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.

Austin Jackson will be vital down the stretch

The White Sox have scored 16 more runs on the season than the Tigers and have surrendered 26 less while on defense. The bottom line is that it’s tight but the Sox have been just a little bit better.

On the marquee this weekend at Comerica Park will be a 3-game series against these very same White Sox, capped off with a Sunday Night Baseball appearance on ESPN2. The Tigers will apparently be fortunate enough to have Doug Fister back for Friday night’s start opposite of Gavin Floyd. The vital importance of the health of Fister cannot be understated for the Tigers down the stretch.

The Tigers are currently 69-58. At this same point in 2011, guess what, they were 69-58. What has changed for the most part have been expectations. Detroit was considered a clear favorite to win the moderate AL Central at the onset of the season.

Squeaking in as a 1-game wild card team or missing the playoffs altogether wasn’t in the cards. Yet it remains a distinct possibility. If you watch the Tigers on a daily basis one thing is clearly evident, they are not in panic mode. Some may claim that they’re lackadaisical while others dub it as quiet confidence.

Pessimists will earmark the sudden downturn in the Tigers’ offense over the past 2 weeks. The more astute fan will quickly point to the fact that Austin Jackson is slumping. For the first time all year the Tigers’ triggerman is in a funk. If you know what’s good for the Tigers’ offense, then you know it’s Jackson.

Austin is fresh off of a 0-13 series against the Angels and is hitting just .258 in August. His lowest month long average otherwise was a .284 mark in April. As Jackson goes, so go the Tigers. Take great comfort in knowing that the Tigers’ pitching staff is good enough to carry the team to victories even when the offense sags.

In Major League Baseball, the first job is to just make the playoffs. Detroit has that within reach. Close strong and it’s a near certainty. Of the remaining 11 series’ left on Detroit’s schedule 9 of them are against fellow AL Central foes, starting with Kansas City on Tuesday and Chicago on Friday.

The Tigers get the ChiSox, Twins, and Indians for 2 more series’ each as well as KC 3 more times. Outside of the Central, Jim Leyland’s squad will square off against the Angels and A’s one last time. That’s it.

[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe or subscribe to our Detroit Tigers Feed]

Detroit is 26-17 against other teams from the Central this season including a 7-1 mark against the Royals, the team they play 2 of their last 3 series’ of the season against. No other team within this grouping sports a better intra-division mark.

If I were two pick 2 keys to ensure the Tigers cruise into the ALDS without the torture of a white-knuckle one-game entry event, I’d pick these:

  1. Austin Jackson finishes strong from an offensive standpoint.
  2. Doug Fister stays on the field and pitches some of his best baseball of the season.

One week from now the Tigers might be in first place once again and riding downhill toward the finish line. But the way the White Sox are going it’s more likely to be a scene from Rocky where the top two punch it out until the season’s final bell.

Hang in there. This is about to get really fun.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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