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.
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.
Excited for the 2nd half. We have a good team and are going to play like it! #startstoday
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.