Each Monday, good or bad, we’ll look back at the biggest theme of the week that was for the Detroit Tigers.
Though the Detroit Tigers dropped two closely contested games to the Washington Nationals over the week, the biggest story was plucky play of a Central Division rival over the weekend, who made an early season statement by winning two of three games in the Motor City.
Following Friday night’s convincing 10-4 romp over the Cleveland Indians, conditions looked ripe for a Tigers’ sweep. Justin Verlander was on the hill the next day, lending to the belief that Detroit could get off to a good start over their suddenly surging divisional foes.
But the Indians battled back from their embarrassment in the first game, stunning Verlander in the first inning Saturday with two runs and blasting out to a 3-0 lead before the third inning. Ubaldo Jimenez, as erratic as he’s been, confidently navigated Detroit’s offense most of the night, and a late rally fell just short against closer Chris Perez, who had his issues against the Tigers last year.
Sunday, the Tigers built a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning and looked prime to emerge with a series win behind solid pitching from the inconsistent Rick Porcello. Jose Valverde, finally comfortable with being himself again, ended those hopes in the bottom of the ninth, surrendering walks and hits allowing the game to be tied. Cleveland took the lead in the tenth inning and snuck out of town with a series win.
Though we’ve seen plenty of May starts gone bad in Cleveland recently, the mindset in the Indians’ dugout seems to have changed with Terry Francona at the helm. This weekend’s series proved Cleveland is a changed team mentally, which is the biggest hurdle towards making it through a long baseball season. Facing down the intimidating Verlander and winning, then pulling out an unexpected late inning victory over the reigning American League champions could be huge for their confidence.
Last season’s Indians would have more than likely blown Saturday night’s game in the last inning, then went down on Sunday without much of a late fight, despite Valverde’s return to incompetence. With just a bit of mental fortitude, Cleveland turned those two disasterous situations into two huge team building victories.
The Tigers cannot afford to be complacent with this year’s version of the Indians. Though their pitching depth may not get them into the playoffs or help them maintain consistency, they’ve got enough horses in key spots to push some of the better teams in the league. As I predicted before the season, this Cleveland team looks hungry and motivated under their new skipper, capable of being a thorn in Detroit’s side all summer long if focus becomes an issue for the Tigers during series and games.
The longer Cleveland hangs around through the summer and the more clutch wins they score against Detroit in the process, the more confident they will become. That will only become bad news for everyone who predicted the Tigers to win the Central Division in a runaway, which seemed like a shaky proposition anyway.
Despite the fact that Ryan Raburn didn’t play much and was 0-2 with a strikeout this weekend, that didn’t stop a member of our Facebook family from a self loathing prediction about what could happen with him in the lineup against Detroit. Our feedback of the week presents a comical look at what one particular Tiger fan assumed would happen when Raburn made his return to Detroit.
Brad Morgan: Oh, I’m sure he’ll go about 8-12 in the series with 3 home runs and 7 RBI’s. Never fails when a guy like him leaves, as in someone who obviously has talent but never harnessed it while he was here on any kind of consistent basis. As soon as he leaves, BOOM, suddenly he’s Babe Ruth.
Thankfully he wasn’t Babe Ruth this weekend, Brad. The Indians didn’t play him much, protecting Tiger fans from that nightmare scenario. Match ups with the Pittsburgh Pirates (packing Brandon Inge) do loom in the coming weeks, though, so there’s always a chance for the real Babe to walk through that door….
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax