Fresh off a four-game series sweep of the Seattle Mariners, which culminated in Thursday’s 10-inning walk-off, wild-pitch victory, the 38-35 Tigers already seem as if they’ve got the Indians squarely in their sights. And for good reason.
The Indians have won all six games between the division rivals this season, and the last time they met, the Tigers suffered an embarrassing sweep that had them looking ahead six weeks on the calendar.
On Friday, the Tigers get their first chance to exact revenge, and they seem confident.
“We’re hot right now and we’re going to stay hot,” said reliever Kyle Ryan, who had a fantastic series against Seattle.
The 24-year-old lefty almost saw that body of work trivialized with a key throwing error in the 10th inning of Thursday’s 5-4 win, but he recovered to escape the frame unscathed. It was a sign of the growing resilience of Detroit’s bullpen, which has recovered nicely from some rough moments last week.
“Obviously I haven’t been here, but I’ve been watching, and these guys have been lights-out,” said starter Daniel Norris, who gave up three home runs on six hits in five innings in his 2016 debut on Sunday. “You know if you can just get as deep as possible, the game is pretty much shut down.”
That’s not the only way the Tigers have changed since the last time the clubs clashed. Detroit has center fielder Cameron Maybin in the lineup; the spark plug’s return has been an enormous help, especially on offense. Catcher James McCann is healthy. And the rotation looks quite a bit different, with the infusion of young arms Michael Fulmer and Norris.
The Tigers will throw out their top two pitchers against Cleveland -- Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander on Friday and Sunday -- with Anibal Sanchez sandwiched in the middle on Saturday in his first start since being demoted to the bullpen.
They’ll square off against a formidable trio on the mound for Cleveland -- Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin -- but they will do so with a renewed sense of confidence and the sort of moxie that may have been lacking in the first two meetings of the season.
“It’s just a different swag, if that makes sense,” McCann said. “I don’t really know the right word other than the way guys walk around. There’s just a different swag about our team.”
And, according to manager Brad Ausmus, it won’t be just swagger that the Tigers bring into the matchup. There will be some lingering feelings that have carried over from what transpired in the previous two series and a desire to atone against the American League Central leaders.
“They’ve kind of whooped us, quite frankly,” Ausmus said. “And they’re throwing three guys out that have pitched pretty well against us, too. But we’re throwing a couple of our horses at them as well.
“We’ve got to find a way to win. I hope that the guys in this clubhouse are a little ticked that we haven’t beaten them yet, and they have an extra fire in their belly when we play them this weekend.”