Instead, the two disappointing clubs will be jockeying for third place in a three-game set that begins Monday night, even though the Indians carry a seven-game winning streak into Detroit’s Comerica Park.
With Cleveland coming off a division title and the Tigers (64-66) adding Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria in the offseason, it seemed the focus of the Central would be around Lake Erie in 2008. But due to unexpected struggles and injuries, both teams sit at least 10 games behind both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota.
The Indians (62-67) have finally found a groove recently, winning 13 of their last 16, including a season-high seven straight. Their offense, missing scuffling sluggers Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner for much of the season, has averaged six runs in the last 16 contests.
Franklin Gutierrez, who’s 9-for-24 (.375) with eight RBIs during the winning streak, drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning during the Indians’ 4-3 win at Texas on Sunday. After sweeping the Rangers, Cleveland has also won six in a row on the road.
“They’re playing good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told his team’s official Web site. “They’re playing their tails off. They’ll be right back in the thick of things next year.”
Cleveland’s offense will face the pitcher who has been Detroit’s best this year on Monday, as rookie Armando Galarraga will look to win his fourth consecutive start.
The Tigers’ 4.53 ERA ranks 21st in the majors, but their problems opened up an opportunity for Galarraga, and the right-hander has responded with a rookie of the year-caliber season.
Galarraga (12-4, 3.17 ERA) leads the Tigers in wins and ERA and ranks third in baseball in opponent batting average (.219). He’s been especially sharp lately, going 5-0 with a 2.54 ERA in his last six starts. He beat Texas, the team that traded him before the season, on Tuesday, allowing three runs in six innings of an 11-3 win.
“I’m not trying to change anything,” Galarraga said. “I’m not trying to think too much. I didn’t have any pressure. It’s the same old thing.”
He has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his last six starts, including a victory over Cleveland on July 29. Galarraga is 3-0 with a 3.57 ERA in three starts this season against the Indians.
He’ll be opposed by Zach Jackson, a left-hander acquired as part of the CC Sabathia trade last month. Jackson (0-0, 5.17) has made two starts for the Indians, the latest a seven-inning, five-run outing against Kansas City on Wednesday. He hit Royals outfielder Mitch Maier in the face during that game.
He’s never faced the Tigers. As a team, the Indians are 5-7 against Detroit this year, with two wins in six games at Comerica Park.
The Tigers, 10 1/2 games back of Chicago in the Central, had won four of five before losing 7-3 to Kansas City on Sunday. If they hope to make a late charge up the standings, it likely must start now, as they begin a 10-game homestand with six against Cleveland and the Royals.
“Obviously, at this point, we’re a huge long shot,” Leyland said. “I think you lose credibility with people if you start saying we’re going to still win this thing. Are we out of it? No.”