Byrd will try to become Cleveland’s third 16-game winner this season as the Indians meet Kenny Rogers and the Detroit Tigers on Monday night at Jacobs Field to begin the final regular-season series between the top two teams in the AL Central.
The Indians have split six home games with the Tigers this year, and lead the season series 9-6.
With a 4 1/2-game division lead, Cleveland (87-62) has a magic number of nine over reigning AL champion Detroit (83-67) heading into this contest. A three-game sweep by the Indians would reduce that number to clinch down to three, almost assuring them of their first division crown since 2001.
After this series, the Indians’ schedule to close out the regular season is favorable - three at home with Oakland, four at Seattle and three at Kansas City.
But the Tigers could find themselves back in the postseason. They won their fifth in a row by beating Minnesota 6-4 on Sunday to cap a three-game road sweep. Detroit has scored at least four runs in 10 straight games, going 8-2 in that stretch to trail the New York Yankees by 2 1/2 games for the wild card.
Detroit’s final three series after visiting Cleveland are against the bottom three teams in the Central—Minnesota, Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox.
Byrd (15-6, 4.34 ERA), enjoying the finest season of his 12-year career, trails Sabathia and Carmona by two wins for the team lead yet has the fewest losses among the three. The right-hander defeated the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday for his fifth victory in six starts, allowing three runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-3 triumph.
“After last year I wasn’t excited about the way I helped this team,” said Byrd, a 10-game winner with the Indians in 2006. “I felt like I had a lot more to offer. The season’s not over but this year so far I’ve thrown the ball a lot better than last year.”
Byrd is 2-0 in three starts against the Tigers this year despite a lofty 5.30 ERA, and will be facing Detroit at Jacobs Field for the first time in 2007.
Last season, Byrd made one forgettable home start versus Detroit. On July 25, 2006, Cleveland gave him a 7-0 first-inning lead, but he was unable to hold it as he gave up seven runs and 10 hits in only three-plus innings. The Indians rallied for a 12-7 win.
Rogers (3-2, 4.50), who pitched opposite Byrd in that contest, faced only 10 batters and recorded just two outs before being lifted from the second-shortest start of his 19-year career.
The 42-year-old left-hander won his first three starts after missing the first 2 1/2 months of the season following surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder. That streak was capped by a victory over Cleveland on July 4, when he allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings en route to a 6-4 win, but he then lost two of three starts coming out of the All-Star break before going back on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.
Rogers has failed to record a decision in two starts since being activated on Sept. 5. Against Toronto last Monday, he gave up two runs and nine hits over 6 1-3 innings, but Detroit needed a four-run ninth inning to pull out a 5-4 win.
Rogers has alternated wins and losses in his last six starts in Cleveland, and is 6-8 with a 6.51 ERA in 18 career starts there.
The Indians will try to avoid losing consecutive games for just the second time since Aug. 25. Victor Martinez matched a career high with his 23rd homer and Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Blake also drove in runs in a 4-3 loss to the Royals on Sunday.
Martinez is on an 11-game hitting streak, but is batting just .271 (16-for-59) in 15 games against the Tigers with seven homers and 18 RBIs this year. He’s hitting .307 for the year.
Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez, considered a leading contender for the AL MVP, was 3-for-10 with no homers or RBIs in the series against the Twins. Facing Cleveland this season, though, Ordonez is batting .404 (23-for-57) with four homers, 14 RBIs and 16 runs.
He also needs two hits to reach 200 for the first time in his 11-year career.