Tigers on deck as Sox end skid

SportsBaseballChicago White SoxAmerican LeagueDetroit TigersKenny RogersFreddy Garcia

The Detroit Tigers' quick start presents a familiar look to White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.

"The worst thing you can do is call them a fluke," Konerko said Sunday before the Sox headed to Comerica Park to start a three-game series against the 5-1 Tigers. "That's what people were calling us a year ago. They have the talent to win."

The Sox snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday as Mark Buehrle pitched eight scoreless innings, Jim Thome hit his third home run and third baseman Joe Crede provided solid defense to beat the Royals 3-1.

The Sox aren't taking the Tigers lightly despite winning 14 of 19 games against them last year, including a 4-2 victory on Sept. 29 that gave the Sox their first American League Central title in five seasons.

"I'm not ready to hand over the division trophy, but at the same time, they will be there all year," Konerko said.

The Sox won seven of those games by two runs or fewer and recognize the Tigers are better than last year's 71-91 fourth-place finish indicates.

The Tigers also have made an early statement that can't be discounted.

"It's never bad for a team's confidence to get off to a good start," Konerko said. "Look at the Yankees. They are [2-4] at this point, but I doubt they are shaking in their boots. They know they are a good team, just like we know we are a good team. If you keep going about your business right, it will change.

"But if you are a team that hasn't won and you get off to a good start, that snowball starts going down the hill. I've been a part of that twice—last year and in 2000. You can carry that momentum all year if you get going the right way. Hopefully, we get there and put a halt to it. But they will be good."

The Tigers' early surge has been a culmination of numerous factors.

"They can hit, and I think [one of the] two big keys was bringing in Jim Leyland," Konerko said. "That's big. He's a guy who has been a great manager, gone deep in the playoffs. He's well respected and he knows what it takes to run a team right."

Konerko also praised new hitting coach Don Slaught for the Tigers' offense that produced a .308 batting average and 17 home runs in their first six games.

Konerko said Slaught, who played for Leyland in Pittsburgh, once ran a hitting facility in California and talked to him about hitting philosophies.

"He's very knowledgeable," Konerko said. "Put that together with all the talent they have."

A more distinct comparison between last year's Sox and the 2006 Tigers is the maturation of Detroit's pitching staff.

Each of the Tigers' five starters won his first start, and the Sox will face hard-throwing Jeremy Bonderman in Monday's series opener, with Freddy Garcia starting for the Sox.

The Tigers have shown faith in a pitching staff that includes a pair of 23-year-olds in Bonderman and Justin Verlander, their first-round pick in the 2004 draft, and a 41-year-old—newcomer Kenny Rogers.

The Sox, who received timely contributions throughout their lineup last year, are aware the Tigers have received similar production.

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen singled out Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton, who is hitting .583 with five home runs and a ridiculous 1.458 slugging percentage.

"Nobody talks about [Shelton]," Guillen said. "To me, he's the best and most dangerous hitter they have. … All of a sudden you look at TV and see the guys making the most noise, and you don't know their names."

mgonzales@tribune.com

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