Cleveland Indians slugger Ryan Raburn (L) and Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer.
DETROIT — As the mighty Tigers return home this weekend, their fans will get a look at the biggest, baddest, break-em-up team in baseball.
Detroit isn’t so bad, either.
The Indians and Tigers open a suddenly circle-the-date series today at Comerica Park as the game’s most blistering teams the last two weeks.
Cleveland’s 9-2 licking of the Athletics on Thursday marked its 10th win in 11 games while Detroit, despite a 5-4 loss to Washington, has won 9 of 12. The first-place Tigers lead the Tribe by one game in the American League Central.
Now comes the $73 million question: Are the Indians, fortified by a big-ticket offseason and new manager Terry Francona, for real or flirting with another early-season tease?
The rivals meet for the first time this season as the known versus the unknown.
The Tigers, whose $144 million payroll still nearly doubles Cleveland’s no-longer-clearance price tag, will be satisfied with nothing short of a World Series championship.
They began Thursday with the best-hitting lineup in baseball (.283 average), a pitching staff on pace to strike out more hitters this season than any team in history, and an unforeseen stability in the bullpen.
A lot could go wrong this summer, and Detroit should still sleepwalk to a third straight division title.
Cleveland, meanwhile, began the year as anybody’s guess. The Tribe forged a high-strikeout but high-reward lineup, committing $110 million to free-agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn while taking a one-year, $6 million flyer on all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds. If the Indians could run into any pitching — they ranked 29th of 30 MLB teams with a 4.78 ERA last season — the thinking was this lineup could win a lot of games.
Lately, they’ve done just that. Cleveland is mashing and pitching, its plus-50 differential over the last 11 games the franchise’s largest margin in such a span since May, 2001.
Indians starters are 9-1 with a 2.56 ERA over the last 10 games while the Tribe leads the league with 46 homers.
If a tree falls in Cleveland — the Indians are worst in the majors in attendance — blasts like Reynolds’ 460-foot homer Monday are proving it does make a sound.
How good do the Indians have it? Forget the umpires who smiled upon them Wednesday. Run down their motley roster.
Reigning AL player of the week Ryan Raburn has heard the boos that drowned out his final year in Detroit give way to chants of his name. Fifth starter Scott Kazmir has gone from the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters last year to winning his second straight game on Thursday. Reynolds, who hit 44 homers and struck out an MLB-record 223 times with Arizona in 2009, leads the AL with 11 long balls.
Now, the Indians say they’re ready for the big mid-term.
"We know it's a true test of where we stand," second baseman Jason Kipnis told reporters of facing the Tigers. "We're excited to finally see them this year. ... We know they’re the team to beat. We're playing well right now, so we have a bunch of confidence and momentum going in our favor."
They know they’ll need it.
The Tigers remain the standard, the team with the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) and hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in baseball, the lineup filled out by the return of Victor Martinez and the signing of Torii Hunter, and a newly stabilized bullpen. Closer Jose Valverde is perfect in three save opportunities and has yet to allow a hit in five innings since rejoining the Tigers last month.
This weekend, behind unbeaten Max Scherzer today and Verlander on Saturday, Detroit hopes to assert its alpha status. The Indians hope to begin showing this year is different.
Contact David Briggs at:
419-724-6084, or on
Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.
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