St. Louis (16-22) at Detroit (24-16)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Detroit, MI
Temp: 75° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Fri May 18, 2007
  • TV: FSMW, FSD
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Despite some recent struggles, the Detroit Tigers appear to have re-discovered the kind of play that could provide an opportunity to reach the World Series for the second straight year. The St. Louis Cardinals, though, are still looking for that same consistency to gain a chance to defend that title.

The 2006 World Series participants enter Comerica Park for a three-game interleague series respectively trying to further an identity and perhaps find one.

After being baseball’s darlings in 2006 en route to their first American League title since winning the 1984 World Series, the Tigers (24-16) muddled through April before winning 10 of 15 games this month to move into position in the AL Central race. Detroit had very little turnover from a 95-win team that nearly won a division title before taking the pennant as the wild card.

“It’s a big factor,” Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson told the team’s official Web site. “The clubhouse feels the same. We’re loose. We’re enjoying each other. The chemistry’s great, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The Cardinals (16-22) were equally surprising in some respects after capturing the World Series in five games over the Tigers following an NL Central title that required only 83 victories, but there has been a dramatic turnover in their pitching rotation this year. Starters Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Jason Marquis all left in the offseason via free agency, and only recently has St. Louis begun to emerge from the pall that followed the April 29 death of pitcher Josh Hancock in an automobile accident.

Additionally, an offense that finished fourth in batting (.269) and fifth in home runs (184) in 2006 has yet to find any sort of consistency in the first six-plus weeks of 2007. First baseman Albert Pujols had 19 homers by May 18 of last year, but the Cardinals as a team have just 18 through their first 38 games.

“Plain and simple, we need to hit,” catcher Gary Bennett told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “As a group, we need to string together good at-bats, and we’re not doing it.”

Braden Looper (5-2, 2.29 ERA), who has been stellar as one of the new members in the rotation, tries for his second three-start winning streak as he takes the mound for the Cardinals. The converted reliever has conceded just one run and nine hits over 13 innings in his previous two outings and limited the San Diego Padres to three hits in seven innings of a 5-0 win Saturday.

“I’m becoming a pitcher, not a thrower,” Looper said. “It’s a process of being confident. Right now, obviously, I’m feeling better. I’m getting better at it.”

Looper, who made three appearances as a set-up man in the World Series, is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in six lifetime relief outings versus the Tigers.

St. Louis is 2-4 on its current nine-game road trip following consecutive losses against the Los Angeles Dodgers, including a 5-4 defeat Wednesday.

With scheduled starter Jeremy Bonderman on the disabled list due to a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, Tigers left-hander Andrew Miller will make his season debut and first major league start.

Miller, who turns 22 on Monday, was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He started the season at Class A Lakeland, where he went 1-4 with a 3.48 ERA in seven starts before being promoted to Double-A Erie.

With the Seawolves, Miller helped his cause for promotion last week by allowing an unearned run and six hits in eight innings while striking out seven.

“I think he’s got the best stuff of any of the choices,” Leyland told the Tigers’ official Web site on Wednesday. “I don’t know if he’s the best pitcher of any of the choices, but he has the best stuff of any of the choices, in my opinion.”

Miller was 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA in eight appearances for the Tigers last year, walking 10 in 10 1-3 innings. He managed to limit right-handed hitters to a .167 average (5-for-30) during his late-season stint.

Leyland, though, isn’t carrying high expectations as his team is trying to regroup from a doubleheader sweep Thursday at the hands of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.

“I’m not going to get overexcited for Friday, because it’s probably a little unfair to the kid,” he admitted. “I can’t say whether he’s ready. What we’re hoping, really, is that it’s a one-shot deal where we can get him … right back down there to Double-A to fall into his next turn.”

The Tigers had the third-best interleague record last year at 15-3, while the Cardinals were tied for the fifth-worst at 5-10. St. Louis, though, has the third-best record among NL teams since its inception in 1997 with a 78-67 (.538) mark.

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Starting Pitchers

B. Looper ChC vs. A. Miller Bal
12-12 Record 5-5
4.94 ERA 5.63
87 K 56
51 BB 39
1.34 WHIP 1.75

Scoreboard

Friday, May 18