This could get really fun really quickly. The Tigers have been on a roll lately — and have been pretty darn good for the majority of the season — and all this without their sure-fire number one starter pitching like an ace. He had been reportedly tinkering with his mechanics for a number of weeks to try to return to his old self, and, for really the first time all season, we saw the Justin Verlander of old on Tuesday night. He’s going to need to be able to repeat this mechanical fix the next time out (and the next time and the next time), but if Verlander is back to being Verlander, look out for the Tigers.
Tuesday’s line — in a big game in a big series matched up with Cleveland’s top pitcher — was the classic dominant Verlander line of old. Eight innings, four hits, no walks, seven strikeouts, and only one run allowed. He cranked the fastball up to 100 mph, he had the off-speed pitches working, and he ate innings and didn’t hand over the ball until the ninth. He was everything he had been the previous two years, and everything he hadn’t been yet this season.
Offensively, the hero of the game was Don Kelly. His three-run home run capped off a five-run fifth inning, and gave the Tigers all the runs they would need to win the ball game. Fans and writers have been on Jim Leyland‘s case for his usage of Don Kelly at times this year (playing him too often or batting him too high in the lineup), but his .745 OPS and steady-as-she-goes defense has been just what the doctor ordered for the Detroit Tigers’ bench. He’ll never be mistaken for a great player or even an average hitter, but, with his versatility, you only need a little bit of bat to see his value in the utility role.
Detroit’s lead is now five games over the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Their current record puts them on pace to win 96 games, or 97 if you take their weak rest-of-season schedule into account. They trail the Boston Red Sox for the best record in the American League by only a single game.
With only five head-to-head games remaining, Cleveland will have to sweep the season series to force a tie in the standings. Otherwise they’ll be hoping for a bit of help from teams such as the Royals, Twins, and White Sox if they hope to steal the division crown away from the Tigers. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played, but the Indians will likely be in full on panic mode if they somehow drop the next two games. They’ll need to take the next two (against Doug Fister and Max Scherzer) to even feel somewhat good about this series.