Barely more than two weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers appeared to be cruising to their first division title in 22 years. Losing nine of 13 has certainly changed that, but facing the slumping Cleveland Indians might help.
Detroit (79-70) seemed to have a comfortable cushion atop the AL Central, leading Minnesota by seven games after a 5-3 win at Tampa Bay on Sept. 6, but has dropped nine of 13 since.
The Tigers nearly saw their lead reduced to a single game Sunday, but avoided a sweep to the Twins by winning 6-2 at the Metrodome and pulled three games ahead of Minnesota.
“I don’t want to sound like a prophet, but I said a long time ago, at the start of the season, that there was a good chance this thing would go to the last week, to the last few games, and it’s going to,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Jackson (12-7, 3.37 ERA) earned the win Sept. 6, but has since struggled along with his team, going 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA and serving up four homers over his last two starts.
The right-hander surrendered five runs in five innings of a 9-2 loss to Kansas City on Thursday, prompting Leyland to note Jackson was struggling with his slider.
“He doesn’t have a good feel for it right now, for whatever reason, so he probably doesn’t have the confidence,” Leyland told the Tigers’ official Web site.
Jackson is 4-0 with a 3.14 ERA in his last five starts against the Indians (61-88), with three of those victories coming this season.
The Tigers have won 11 of 15 matchups with Cleveland in the season series, including four of six at Progressive Field.
The first baseman collected four hits in the last two games against Minnesota, and continues to rank third in the AL with a .332 average while leading the Tigers with 30 homers and 92 RBIs.
The Indians, on pace for their most losses since setting a franchise record with 105 in 1991, are trying to avoid dropping nine in a row for the first time since a 10-game slide June 28-July 9, 2008.
Cleveland fell 11-4 at Oakland on Sunday to conclude a winless eight-game road trip.
“The way we played on this road trip, we didn’t put ourselves in a position to win,” manager Eric Wedge told the Indians’ official Web site. “These guys need to regroup. The energy level is good, their attitude is good, but we need to work hard to come out and get a win on Tuesday.”
A better performance from scheduled starter Aaron Laffey(notes) (7-6, 4.09) would help. The left-hander lost his last three outings and struggled badly in the last two, posting an 11.57 ERA. He gave up seven runs in 3 1-3 innings of a 7-3 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday.
He has gone 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts against Detroit this season, although both outings came on the road. Laffey turned in a decent performance in the most recent matchup, throwing 6 1-3 innings and allowing four runs - two earned - in a 4-2 defeat Sept. 2.
Laffey, 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA at Progressive Field this season, has started against the Tigers three times in his career and posted an 0-1 record and 4.96 ERA.