DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have been quietly flirting with a .500 record for weeks, but if they actually want to reach that mark, this is the week they have to make a move.
It’s a testament to this team’s improvement that we can even have this conversation in August. The Tigers were as many as 15 games below .500 in early May, and climbed to within four games right after the All-Star break.
Detroit has owned a sub-.500 record since way back on April 14, when a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros made it 6-6. The Tigers went on to lose 18 of their next 21 in one of the ugliest streaks of the rebuild.
But since then, A.J. Hinch and his team have made a slow, steady climb up the standings. The Tigers won nine of 11 games to stop the bleeding in mid-May and hovered between 8-13 games under .500 for the rest of the first half.
A seven-game winning streak out of the break brought their record to 47-51, and since then, the Tigers are 7-9.
At six games below their goal, the Tigers need to make a move right now.
Starting Tuesday, the Tigers will play a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles -- the worst team in the American League. Since the Tigers settled for a disappointing 2-2 split against them in Detroit last week, the Orioles have gone 1-5, including losses in each of their last five games.
Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are lined up to start the first two games of the series. As the team’s best starting pitchers, they need to take care of business and get the Tigers back to just four games under .500 before Matt Manning takes the mound against John Means in the series finale.
After leaving Baltimore, the Tigers will return home for three games against the Cleveland Indians. They just blew a very winnable series in Cleveland, but the Tigers have to take advantage of an Indians roster that’s been depleted by injuries and deadline trades.
Cleveland was 10 games above .500 on June 24. Since then, the Indians have lost 24 of 38 games.
These six games -- three in Baltimore and three at home against Cleveland -- give the Tigers a chance to make a strong push toward .500. Players have openly stated they want to reach that benchmark, and this is their opportunity.
Following the next two series, the Tigers will play 17 of 18 games against quality opponents. Twelve of those games will come against playoff contenders in the Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds, and five will come against the Los Angeles Angels (56-56) and St. Louis Cardinals (55-56).
That 18-game stretch is followed by a three-game series in Pittsburgh. But then, the Tigers play 12 straight games against first-place teams.
Even though the Tigers have fared well against some of the best teams in the league this season -- including the Astros, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees -- they need to make up some ground before this stretch of difficult games.
Think of this part of the schedule as one 33-game stretch: 18 games (17 against quality teams, one against the Minnesota Twins), plus three games against the Pirates, plus 12 games against first-place teams.
If the Tigers win just three of six this week, they’ll enter that 33-game stretch needing to go 20-13 to break .500. That’s a lot to ask, which is why it’s so important to take advantage of this week’s matchups.
The Tigers missed a golden opportunity to close the gap with Cleveland for second place this weekend, but they have to put that series in the rearview mirror and make sure they don’t squander this chance, as well.