August 19, 2011
As the pennant races start to heat up, Big League Stew will be there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
The situation: Detroit holds a 1.5-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central. The Tigers have lost six of their last 10 while the Indians have won seven of their last 10, including two of three from the White Sox this week.
Previously on: The Indians took two of three at Progressive Field last week and lead the season series, 6-3.
What's left: The two teams will meet again in Cleveland from Sept. 5-7 and then close out the season with a three-game series from Sept. 26-28 at Comerica Park.
'Not going anywhere': Cleveland closer Chris Perez(notes) says the Indians aren't going to wilt like everyone expects them to and perhaps he's right. Despite posting a record of 21-32 over the months of June and July, they find themselves in the thick of the race for the AL Central title. They've started August with a 9-6 record and two wins to start this series would put them in first place for the first time since July 20. Can they overcome the midseason lull to win their first division flag since 2007? Sure, but they'll have to make a liar of what the odds currently say. Not only does Baseball Prospectus put the Tigers odds of making the postseason (65 percent) ahead of the Tribe's, but the White Sox's odds (17.5) rank ahead of Cleveland's (17.3) as well.
Tiger sans Ace: With his last start coming against Minnesota on Tuesday, Justin Verlander(notes) could have pitched Sunday's finale on his regular five days' rest. But Detroit manager Jim Leyland is opting to give his workhorse an extra day and not start him until Monday night in Tampa Bay. With Verlander already over 200 innings for the season and running a streak of 45 straight starts with 100 or more pitches, a short breather might be a good idea. He'll work during the last two series against Cleveland anyway.
Despite the logic, Verlander probably isn't the one in most need of a break. Porcello, who is scheduled to start Sunday's game, is 1-2 with a 8.44 ERA over his last three starts.
Whither Ubaldo?: A big key to the series could be which Ubaldo Jimenez shows up for the Indians on Sunday. He's logged three starts for the Tribe since being traded from the Colorado Rockies and has been lit up in two of them. His one win, however, came last Wednesday against the Tigers when he pitched eight innings of three-run ball (none of them earned). If he can replicate that performance in the series finale, the Indians could carry a lot of confidence going forward.
Did you know ...: The Tigers haven't won a division title since 1987? It makes sense if you think about their late-season failures, but it's one of those facts that kind of catches you off guard.