DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers climbed back to .500 this weekend with a series win over the Chicago White Sox, but now they're hitting the road for nine games that could possibly put a damper on the first month of the season.
Through the first 20 games of the season, the Tigers find themselves just two games out of a playoff spot and ahead of expected contenders such as the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels and defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Detroit has played seven series this season, winning three, losing three and splitting one. This weekend's series victory stopped a three-series losing streak that saw the Tigers go 1-6.
While the Tigers have played relatively well on the road this season -- splitting four games with the Toronto Blue Jays, beating the New York Yankees and dropping a pair of games against the Minnesota Twins -- this upcoming road trip will be the toughest test of the month.
Red Sox series
The Tigers are in Boston Monday through Thursday for four games against the Red Sox. This matchup has been surprisingly favorable for the Tigers recently, despite Boston being one of the most consistent World Series contenders in the American League.
Detroit has won the season series with Boston four of the last six years and has an 11-9 record over the last three seasons.
The Red Sox struggled out of the gates, dropping 13 of their first 19 games. They got back on track this weekend, though, sweeping the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays on the road.
Now, the Red Sox are back home for 10 games, and it feels like the Tigers could be running into them at a bad time.
A starting rotation that includes Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez sure sounds a lot better than one led by Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Tyson Ross, but so far, that hasn't been the case.
Sale, Rodriguez and Porcello have been dreadful this month, and while Price has been the best pitcher on the staff, he's the one starter who won't face the Tigers. Boston has yet to name a starter to fill in for the injured Nathan Eovaldi for Tuesday's game.
The Tigers, meanwhile, will start the series with three pitchers off to very solid starts. Boyd has been lights out, striking out 36 batters in 24.1 innings. Turnbull has 24 strikeouts in 21 innings to go with a 3.43 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Ross hasn't been as electric in terms of strikeouts, but his 3.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP are solid marks.
In the fourth game, Zimmermann will try to break a three-start streak of giving up five runs in losses. His strikeouts have plummeted and he's allowed five home runs over that span, making Fenway Park a difficult venue for Zimmermann.
White Sox series
The weekend will once again pit the Tigers against the White Sox after a very back-and-forth series last weekend. The Tigers won two of three games despite being outscored 17-16.
White Sox pitching was exactly what the dormant Tigers bats needed. What had been by far the worst offense in baseball racked up 30 hits in three games after scoring more than five runs just once in the first 17 games.
The defense was dreadful in the first game, Zimmermann gave up five runs in the second and Blaine Hardy allowed three runs in the rubber match.
Daniel Norris, Boyd and Turnbull will pitch in the White Sox series. Chicago hasn't named a Sunday starter, but Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez will pitch the first two games.
After an off day Monday, the Tigers will polish off the road trip in Philadelphia.
The revamped Phillies sit atop the National League East behind new faces Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura.
The projected starters could certainly change between now and then, but Ross and Zimmermann are scheduled to match up with Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. In another home run-friendly ballpark, those pitching matchups could be tough for the Tigers.
What to expect
The Tigers weren't expected to be 10-10 at this point in the season, and 11 of those games have come against teams with winning records.
Nine of the team's wins have come against losing teams and a Yankees roster decimated by injury, though, so the Tigers have lost to the best teams on their schedule.
The Phillies are a strong team, and the Red Sox should bounce back. The Tigers will have to change their fortune against quality competition to avoid a losing road trip.
April has been a mostly encouraging month for the Tigers. To finish on the same note, they'll have to play their best baseball of the season.
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