DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are coming off back-to-back winning months for the first time during this rebuild, and after conquering two of their greatest demons last week, July has a chance to be special.
Heading into last week’s series with the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers had been playing solid baseball for the better part of two months. They had just earned a split with the American League-leading Houston Astros to improve to 25-20 in their previous 45 games.
There was a lot to like about the development of the Tigers, but one glaring issue was their inability to compete with the top teams in their own division.
Seven days ago, when the Tigers arrived in Cleveland, they carried a 5-15 combined record against the Indians and Chicago White Sox. Against the rest of MLB, Detroit was 29-29.
Fast forward one week, and the Tigers are coming off series victories against both division rivals. They swept a doubleheader against the Indians on Wednesday night and took two of three from the White Sox.
The Tigers lost the first game of both series, but battled back to win games two and three. Resiliency has come to define this team.
Those wins brought Detroit’s record to 9-17 combined against the Indians and White Sox. That’s still very bad, but the Tigers are a different team than the one that limped through April and parts of June.
Since returning home from a trip to Los Angeles in mid-June, the Tigers have played two series against first-place teams and two series against playoff hopefuls. They went 8-4 in that span, with three series victories and one split.
After surviving that especially difficult part of the schedule, the Tigers have a chance to go on a run.
The rest of July offers an almost unprecedented opportunity for the Tigers. Their next 25 games will come against the four worst teams in the AL: the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles.
Let me put it this way: The American League only has five teams with losing records. One of those is the Tigers, and they obviously can’t play against themselves. Each of the next 25 games will come against the other four losing teams.
Detroit will play Kansas City (2.5 games behind the Tigers) three times, Minnesota (three games behind) 11 times, Texas (five games behind) seven times and Baltimore (11 games behind) four times during this stretch.
The Tigers have proven they can play with any team in the AL. They won the season series with the Astros and Seattle Mariners, swept the New York Yankees at home and just knocked off the Indians and White Sox. All five of those teams have winning records.
This stretch against lesser opponents is the Tigers’ chance to prove they’re closer to belonging among the better teams, not the bottom feeders. Performing consistently well against bad teams is an important step in the Tigers’ development.
Say the Tigers manage to win 15 of their next 25 games. That would give them a third-straight winning month and put them at 53-56 overall heading into a series against the Boston Red Sox. This city hasn’t had a team sniff .500 in August for five years -- it would be so fun to see the buzz it creates at Comerica Park.
That’s far from a given, though. Detroit doesn’t have a roster that offers much room for error, so a slump could escalate quickly.
On the other hand, this team has proved mentally tough time and time again, so it’s fair to look at the rest of the month with loftier expectations.