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Tigers-Athletics Preview

AP - Sports

The top two teams in the American League haven't exactly piqued anticipation for their coming series with the kind of play one might expect of clubs fitting such a description.

Nevertheless, the Detroit Tigers visit the Oakland Athletics Monday to kick off a four-game set with the clubs looking to overcome different types of struggles.

The A's (3-20) are on a season-worst four-game skid, and their bats have been dreadful with 13 runs and a .172 average in their last six after Sunday's 3-1 loss in Toronto. Jed Lowry's struggles continued - he's 1 for 17 over his last six games after going 0 for 4.

"You're not always going to score seven, eight runs a game and right now we're going through a drought," manager Bob Melvin said.

They've had a great deal of success against the AL Central, going 30-9 since May 17, 2013, including 15-4 at home.

The Tigers (28-18) have dropped six of seven after Sunday's 12-4 loss in Texas, and their starting pitching has been abysmal with an 8.77 ERA and .385 opponent average in that stretch.

"It's a rough patch, but this is a great baseball team," losing starter Justin Verlander said. "That hasn't changed."

Even so, the most alarming aspect of the loss might have been Miguel Cabrera leaving in the seventh inning with a right hamstring cramp. He's listed as day to day.

Oakland might be sending the right guy to the mound to help end its skid. Tommy Milone (2-3, 3.99 ERA) struggled through his first five starts but has turned it around in his last three, allowing three runs and 12 hits over his last 19 2-3 innings.

He's 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA and .171 opponent batting average in that span, earning his latest win after holding Tampa Bay to two runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 3-2 victory.

The left-hander has had Derek Norris behind the plate in four straight starts, and he thinks they've figured out a winning routine.

"Really, the last three starts D-No's caught me, I don't think I've shook him off one time," Milone told the team's official website. "It's a really comfortable feeling knowing I can go out there and whatever he throws down, and I can execute it."

Milone is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts versus the Tigers.

He'll be opposed by Drew Smyly, who squeezed in a scoreless relief inning between his last start and the trip to Oakland. Smyly (2-2, 2.97) should be glad he won't face the A's out of the bullpen.

The left-hander's three appearances against Oakland have all come in relief, and he's allowed five runs in 2 1-3 innings.

An abundance of traffic on the base paths was an issue in his last start as he allowed three runs and seven hits with five walks in five innings of a 5-4 loss in Cleveland last Monday without factoring into the decision.

Prior to this season, Smyly had issued 2.46 walks per nine innings as a starter. In six starts this year, he's up to 4.18, which would be among the worst in baseball if he qualified.

Oakland infielder Nick Punto is likely to miss a third straight game due to a left calf strain, though he's expected to avoid the disabled list.

Torii Hunter is 4 for 7 against Milone while Ian Kinsler is batting .400 on an 11-game hitting streak.

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