Detroit's Max Scherzer is pitching with a lot of confidence, and with good reason considering his recent strikeout numbers.
Scherzer takes the mound Sunday when the Tigers conclude their series against the Los Angeles Angels, who are likely to be without Albert Pujols in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game.
These teams have split the first two games of this weekend's set, with Detroit (68-58) prevailing 5-3 on Saturday. The bottom four hitters in the order drove in four of the Tigers' runs, with one of the biggest blows Jhonny Peralta's two-run double just inside the foul line to spark a three-run eighth-inning rally.
"Sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn't," said outfielder Andy Dirks, who had two hits and an RBI to help Detroit remain within 2 1/2 games of first-place Chicago in the AL Central. "(Saturday) it bounced our way when we needed it to. That's part of playing baseball."
The Tigers have won eight of the last 10 games started by Scherzer (13-6, 4.27 ERA).
The right-hander allowed one run and five hits over seven innings of a 5-3 win over Toronto on Tuesday. He had eight strikeouts, marking the seventh straight outing in which he's recorded at least that many. His ERA is 2.98 in that span.
"I know that when I go out there, I know I can be really good,'' Scherzer said. ''I know I can pitch consistently and I know I can get hitters out. I don't fear a single hitter in this whole league. When I bring my 'A' game and I bring my game, I can pitch well against any team - doesn't matter who it is."
Scherzer limited the Angels to one run and three hits while striking out nine over seven innings of a 5-1 home victory July 19.
Los Angeles (66-61) can't be thrilled to see Scherzer again, especially after scoring only five runs through the first two games of this series and with Pujols unlikely to start Sunday. He's missed the last three games with a calf injury, and is expected to be evaluated in the coming days.
Rookie phenom Mike Trout is having a tough series as well, going 0 for 9 through the first two games after entering the weekend riding a 10-game hitting streak.
As the Angels try to get back into the playoff picture, they may need continued improvement from Ervin Santana (7-10, 5.46), who will aim to win his third straight start and fourth consecutive decision on Sunday.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 3.52 ERA over his last five starts. He gave up five hits, allowing both runs on a two-run homer in the sixth, over 6 1-3 innings of a 5-3 win over Boston on Tuesday.
"He was on just a tough roll where he really just didn't have a lot," manager Mike Scioscia told the Angels' official website. "But Ervin has done it before. We've seen him bounce back after some tough starts ... We have a lot of confidence in him."
Santana is 6-2 with a 3.51 ERA in nine career starts against Detroit. He allowed four runs - two earned - in six innings of an 8-6 loss July 16, but didn't get the decision.