At the end of July, the Detroit Tigers felt they were back on the right track to earning the playoff spot so many had predicted for them prior to the season.
Two weeks later, the Toronto Blue Jays are putting a severe dent in the Tigers’ postseason hopes—while dramatically boosting their own.
Toronto, playing its best baseball of the season over the last month, will go for its first-ever four-game sweep of struggling Detroit on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park.
The Blue Jays (62-59) weren’t expected to compete for a playoff berth in the ultra-competitive AL East, but they’ve gone 20-12 since July 8 to pull within eight games of wild card-leading Boston.
Detroit was a season-high three games over .500 on July 30 before losing 10 of 13 games, including scoring a total of nine runs in dropping the first three games of this series.
“This is dangerous, because we’re doing just enough to lose right now,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s not good. We have to start doing the things that it takes to win.”
A third-inning grand slam by Vernon Wells was the difference on Wednesday, as Detroit scored three in the ninth but lost 4-3.
Wells has been driving the Blue Jays’ offense since returning from the disabled list after missing a month with a strained left hamstring. The center fielder, who has played in only 68 of the team’s 121 games, is 5-for-11 with a homer and seven RBIs so far in the series.
Wells served as the Blue Jays’ designated hitter on Wednesday in an effort to not put too much strain on his hamstring.
“It’s kind of like a day off, but not really,” Wells said. “It just kind of gives the legs a break, trying to get back, instead of overworking them and trying to do too much.”
Toronto’s pitching, though, has carried the team lately just as it has most of the season. The Blue Jays have a 2.60 ERA since August 4, and they’ve won seven of their last 10 games.
On Thursday, however, they’ll be relying on a pitcher who hasn’t started since July 21. Jesse Litsch (8-7, 4.46 ERA) was sent to the minors on July 23, two days after giving up six runs in 4 2-3 innings in an 8-3 loss at Baltimore. The right-hander, who was 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA on May 29, is 1-6 with a 6.12 ERA since.
He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Syracuse, retooling his pitching arsenal to include a four-seam fastball.
“I went down there open-minded,” Litsch told the team’s official Web site. “I didn’t know when I was coming back, but I’m happy that I’m back here now. I’m just ready to get after it again.”
Armando Galarraga (10-4, 3.23) will try to help Detroit salvage the finale. The right-hander, who started the season in Triple-A, has been the Tigers’ best starter in 2008, and he’s won three consecutive decisions.
He gave up two runs over 5 2-3 innings on Saturday against Oakland in a 10-2 win, and has a 2.52 ERA over his last four starts.
Galarraga gave up three hits in 5 1-3 shutout innings to earn a 5-1 win at Toronto on April 21.
The Tigers haven’t been swept in four games at Comerica Park since Minnesota did it from Sept. 10-13, 2004.