CLEVELAND – It’s amazing how far the Detroit Tigers have come this season. After being by far the worst team in baseball the first five weeks, they’re suddenly heading to Cleveland with a chance to take over second place in the division.
With an 8-1 drubbing of the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, the Tigers are 4-1-1 in six series since the All-Star break. They’re 44-34 since May 7 and just 1.5 games behind the Indians in the American League Central.
In that same time period -- May 7 to Aug. 6 -- Cleveland has gone 35-40, mostly because the roster has been ravaged by injuries. Manager Terry Francona has also stepped away due to health concerns, and the front office decided to trade away a few pieces at the deadline.
The Tigers, who were once nine games behind the Indians, are suddenly on their doorstep. And wouldn’t you know it -- the teams start a three-game series tonight!
It would be difficult for the Tigers to actually leave Cleveland in second place by Sunday. They would have to win all three games of the series -- and let’s be honest, when’s the last time the Tigers had that much success at Progressive Field?
But if the Tigers can find a way to win two out of three, they would be just a half-game back heading to Baltimore. Meanwhile, the Indians will host the Cincinnati Reds (one game) and Oakland Athletics (three games) -- a much tougher task.
Detroit’s road struggles are worth mentioning. The Tigers got swept by the Kansas City Royals on their last road trip and needed some magic to avoid the same fate in Minnesota. They’ve been excellent at Comerica Park this season, but not so much away from home.
Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal won’t pitch in this series, so the Tigers really have to rely on the back end of their starting rotation. Matt Manning got ambushed for nine runs in his only start against Cleveland, and Tyler Alexander and Wily Peralta have been shaky since the All-Star break.
Maybe facing a lineup that no longer features Cesar Hernandez and Eddie Rosario will help. But it always feels like the Indians heat up against Tigers pitching.
Cleveland will counter with Cal Quantril, Eli Morgan and Zach Plesac -- three hittable pitchers, but again, strange things seem to happen to the Tigers inside that ballpark.
We’re talking about second place in a division with only one winning team, so the stakes shouldn’t be overstated. But still, that would be a massive step in the right direction, considering where the Tigers have been.