As the calendar pushes toward September, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in a spot not many figured they would be before the season began. The Tigers sit alone at the top of the American League Central, a spot they have occupied for the last 127 days.
There are a few reasons for the success the Tigers are enjoying to this point, the biggest is the way the club has played in Comerica Park.
Entering play tonight, Detroit has a home record of 40-20, one of the top marks in baseball. They need it, too. The Tigers are a dismal 27-39 on the road. But fresh off a 3-3 west coast trip, Detroit heads back home to welcome the Tampa Bay Rays. This series will start a stretch where Detroit will play 14 of the next 20 games at home. The Rays have also struggled away from their home park, posting a 27-36 record. This will be the first meeting of these two clubs in 2009.
Matt Garza (7-8, 3.78) will start tonight’s opener for the Rays against rookie Rick Porcello. Garza has never beaten the Tigers, going 0-3 in five career starts. He has started twice at the CoPa, going 0-1 with an ERA north of six. Porcello (10-8, 4.39) has never faced the Rays, but is 5-3 in 11 home starts this season.
Garza and the rest of the Rays will face the task of slowing down the leagues hottest hitter. Miguel Cabrera has put his name in the middle of the MVP race during his current 11 game hitting streak. Cabrera is hitting .522 during the streak with four homers and 15 RBI during his streak. He is a .390 hitter at home this season.
The Tigers will get their first look at Rays left hander David Price in Saturday afternoon’s contest. Price took the country by storm last October, as the phenom helped propel the Rays to the AL pennant. Price has been inconsistent this season, but has tremendous stuff. The Tigers will counter with a lefty of their own. Nate Robertson will make his first start of the season, following 21 relief outings earlier this year. Robertson had surgery to remove tissue masses in his left elbow in June and posted a sub-two ERA in five rehab starts.
Jeff Niemann will face Justin Verlander on Sunday, and Monday’s finale will see James Shields versus Jarrod Washburn. These two teams will meet again in Tampa next weekend.
While the Tigers will battle the Rays and Indians over the next seven games, the White Sox will continue their difficult road trip. Chicago sits four games behind the Tigers, and is coming off a tough four game set in Boston, where they lost three. The White Sox get the Yankees and Twins, both on the road, followed by a make-up game at the Cubs. This is dangerous territory for the White Sox, a poor record on this trip would be difficult to overcome with just over a month to go.
The Twins are just 4.5 games back after reeling off five wins in their last six. Minnesota starts a home series against the Rangers tonight. The two teams split four games in Minnesota last week. The White Sox come to the dome for three games starting on Monday.