Set points: Tigers beat Indians again
At some point next month, the Tigers will hit the 40-game mark in the season. And at that point, the old Sparky Anderson adage will come into play, that you can’t do an evaluation of a team until 40 games in. A hot start can be a mirage based on matchups or a hot hitter. A cold spell can come from injuries, cold weather, or a tough early schedule.
This year’s Tigers ruled themselves out of the famed 35-5 start of Sparky’s 1984 team this week. In fact, their perception swung one direction and the other over the course of the homestand.
They arrived at Comerica Park as the hottest team in baseball, having won eight of their first nine. Then they built on that by taking two of three from the White Sox.
They went into this weekend as a vulnerable team, having lost three of four to a Yankees squad that had looked decidedly average over the first couple weeks of the season.
They then regained some of that momentum, not to mention the best record in the American League, by taking two out of three from the Indians, whom they had swept in Cleveland a couple weeks back.
They went 5-5 on the homestand, but went through some swings along the way.
“You can slice up streaks any way you want,” Brad Ausmus said. “It’s a little overblown. We weren’t going to go 9-1 every 10 games for the season. …
“I’m not overly concerned with those things right now. We have another game against the Minnesota Twins tomorrow. That’s where I’m focused on. What’s our record now? So we’ve won 13 out of our last 19. That’s how I look at it.”
They’ve played two series against the Indians, and two weeks from now they’ll have done the same against every other team in the division, including seven games against the Royals. That’ll be a measuring point in the eyes of Miguel Cabrera, who was looking at the upcoming road trip as a major test.
“It’s a good chance to see your division up close,” he said as he readied to hit the road Sunday. “We’re going to play Minnesota, Kansas City and Chicago. We already played Minnesota and Chicago. Let’s see how we play Kansas City. After we play all our division, we’ll see how we’re going to go in the season. We’ve got to play good in each of the three and try to make something happen like we did against Cleveland.”
The six games against the Indians were a collective statement about the reigning division champions and the team many have predicted as a viable competition to win the division this year, if not the entire league. Aside from Shane Greene’s start and Danny Salazar’s dominance Friday night, Detroit’s starting pitching outperformed a talented young Indians rotation, punctuated by Sunday’s win by Kyle Lobstein over Carlos Carrasco, who seems to pitch well against everybody but Detroit.
What went right: Aside from Shane Greene on Friday, Detroit’s back-end starting pitching dictated the course of the weekend, from Alfredo Simon holding Cleveland’s offense down to Kyle Lobstein delivering seven quality innings in just 86 pitches. Rajai Davis provided a spark for a struggling lineup, scoring three runs each Saturday and Sunday while running wild on Cleveland’s defense. Miguel Cabrera heated up again after a week or so of steady performance. And Tom Gorzelanny showed he can be a left-handed reliever to call on for left-handed hitters, getting a huge double play out of Brandon Moss on Saturday.
What went wrong:
Much in the same way that Cleveland and its left-handed hitters provided a regular reminder for Rick Porcello that he couldn’t make a living off of sinkers and fastballs, the Indians weren’t fazed by Shane Greene’s mix. He has the secondary pitches, but they weren’t good enough Friday. It was his first lesson on life as a sinkerballer in the American League Central. Nick Castellanos, meanwhile, fell into a miserable stretch after his opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the series, and had some of his worst at-bats so far this season. Aside from Gorzelanny and closer Joakim Soria, the bullpen had a rough weekend, especially Al Alburquerque, who said Sunday he’s been dealing with a sinus infection that has affected him on the mound.
Takeaway: The coming days will tell how Rajai Davis is affected by his groin injury, but the past two days were a statement that Davis still has a major role to play on this team. When he’s on, the matchups don’t matter. When he’s on and he’s looking to run, the energy seeps down the lineup; even Cabrera was talking about the benefit of having guys who can run in front of them, because it means he can drive in runners just as easily with a single as a homer. Anthony Gose is the long-term center fielder, but Davis is an igniter.
Snapshot moment: After watching Miguel Cabrera haunt the Indians so many times this month, Carlos Carrasco seemingly had solved the conundrum of maneuvering through the middle of the Tigers order by striking out Cabrera with runners in scoring position. That allowed Carrasco to walk Victor Martinez and face a slumping J.D. Martinez, who promptly lined a two-run single into left field.
Turning point: Trevor Bauer got the food poisoning, but his resulting scratch left Terry Francona feeling queasy. With T.J. House being forced into a short-notice spot start against a Tigers lineup that had handled him two weeks earlier (and had Rajai Davis in it already), Saturday went from a favorable matchup for Cleveland into an opportunity for Detroit. The Tigers didn’t rock House, if only because he could go just three innings. They did enough to change the series.
Pitching performance of the series: While Alfredo Simon’s 6 2/3 innings Saturday constituted the stronger start, Kyle Lobstein needed an outing like Sunday, not so much for the three runs allowed as the seven innings over just 86 pitches. He avoided the early trouble that had bothered him his previous couple outings, including in Cleveland, and he saved a bullpen that had covered enough innings for the week.
Hitting performance of the series: Rajai Davis went 5-for-8 with six runs scored and three stolen bases, and showed that taking a base with Miguel Cabrera up isn’t always a disaster. “Him and Anthony [Gose] are huge for our offense,” Ian Kinsler said. “If they can get on base, and get going, it opens up a lot of other things, puts a lot of pressure on the other team. So hopefully Raj can get healthy soon.”
Bookmark the box score: Sunday’s game might be the day that Kyle Lobstein needed as a Major League pitcher. His next start will be another big test Friday at Kansas City, followed by a meeting with the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. If he can pitch well there, the Tigers can feel like Justin Verlander’s lingering triceps issue isn’t as massive of an obstacle for them.