Tigers return from break focused on Central

After .500 record in 1st half, Detroit looks to heat up in 2nd

Tigers return from break focused on Central

DETROIT -- The Tigers may have entered the second half of the season at .500 and just 3 1/2 games back of a Wild Card berth, but their goal remains unchanged.

"The reality is that we're nine games out," said designated hitter Victor Martinez, referring to the American League Central standings. "There is no secret. We have to start playing better."

In fact, Detroit entered Friday night's game against the Orioles 9 1/2 games back of the Royals following Kansas City's win in afternoon opener of a doubleheader. It marked the Tigers' biggest deficit of the season -- and their largest since 2010, when they finished third in the AL Central. They've won the division every year since.

"We don't look at it like we're .500 or whatever we are," Martinez said. "Everybody knows the reality: Nine games behind. It doesn't matter if we are playing 20 games over .500, but we're still nine games out. It wouldn't change anything. The reality is that we're nine games out."

In order for Detroit to challenge for its fifth straight AL Central title, the club will have to improve its pitching. The club's 4.48 starter ERA ranked 25th in baseball entering Friday, while its bullpen ERA was last in the division.

Price fans eight for ninth win

Alex Avila said he has seen enough from starters David Price, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez to predict success from them in the second half, but the catcher added the Tigers need the back of the rotation to improve as well.

"[Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene] being able to be consistent and give us quality innings will be big," Avila said.

As the Tigers fight to make up ground on Kansas City and the Twins, right fielder J.D. Martinez said he's drawing inspiration from the Royals' big second half last season, which culminated in a World Series appearance. Kansas City entered the 2014 All-Star break at 6 1/2 games back and dropped to eight behind Detroit before clawing back for a Wild Card berth.

"Anything can happen in this game," J.D. Martinez said.

Detroit begins the second half of the season with a seven-game homestand, then has road series against Boston, Tampa Bay and Baltimore to enter August. General Manager Dave Dombrowski has said the Tigers plan to contend this year, though the club's performance before the July 31 Trade Deadline could impact possible roster moves.

But the players themselves don't need any extra incentive to succeed immediately.

"We're in third place," Avila said. "There isn't any more motivation than that right there. There isn't any more motivation to be needed than where we're at, or where we put ourselves."

Alejandro Zúñiga is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.