DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have been playing winning baseball for three months now, but did they just miss their best chance to get back to .500?
Once again, the Tigers are coming off a series loss to the Cleveland Indians -- a team that, quite frankly, is not better than them. They managed just one base runner against Triston McKenzie on Sunday and allowed 11 runs in the first three innings. That was all with the series on the line in Detroit’s home ballpark.
With a win, the Tigers would have overtaken the Indians for second place in the AL Central Division and also clawed their way within two games of .500.
Instead, the Tigers are four games below .500, and the schedule is much more difficult the rest of the season.
Starting Tuesday is a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, a team that’s one game better than the Tigers, at 59-61. The Angels are without Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, but they will have Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval -- their two best pitchers -- starting two of the three games at Comerica Park.
Then, the Tigers play five straight games on the road against teams fighting for playoff spots: three games in Toronto and two in St. Louis. That’s followed by a three-game set with the Blue Jays in Detroit, a make-up game vs. the Minnesota Twins, a series against current wildcard holder Oakland and a trip to Cincinnati to face a hot Reds team.
In all, once the Angels series is over, the Tigers will play 14 of their next 15 games against teams with winning records. Then, one series in Pittsburgh separates them from 12 straight games against first-place teams (the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox).
Even if the Tigers sweep the Angels, which is a difficult task on its own, they would have to do some damage on the road this weekend to reach .500.
Detroit is hoping to get Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill and Matt Boyd back soon, but until then, there are some holes in the lineup and starting rotation. A.J. Hinch has done a phenomenal job patching those holes the last few months, but now he’ll have to do so against legitimate playoff competition.
The Tigers have spent the entire season proving people wrong, and maybe they’ll do so again. But the inability to take advantage of a battered Cleveland roster the last two weekends has made reaching .500 much more difficult.