(Sports Network) - Max Scherzer goes after his fifth straight winning decision this evening when the Detroit Tigers start the second half of their season in the first test of a four-game set against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
Scherzer won his final two starts before the break and is 4-0 in his last five outings. Over his last four starts spanning 27 2/3 innings, Scherzer has allowed just three runs. He was magnificent against the Baltimore Orioles on July 7, holding the O's to a run and six hits in seven innings to even his record at 6-6, while lowering his earned run average to 4.61.
The 25-year-old right-hander lost to Cleveland back on May 9 in his only other start against the Tribe, yielding five runs and nine hits in five innings of a 7-4 setback.
Detroit had its five-game winning streak stopped on the final day before the break, and with that fell a half-game back of the Chicago White Sox for the top spot in the American League Central. The deficit jumped to a full game after the White Sox's victory on Thursday.
Of course, the Tigers held a 3 1/2-game edge on the White Sox at last year's break, but stumbled in the second half before ultimately falling to Minnesota in a one-game playoff to decide the Central.
If the Tigers are in fact going to win their first division title in 23 years they will have to be better in the second half on the road, where they were just 16-25 before the break.
"It's pretty simple really," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We are going to have to do better in our division and better on the road in the second half if we are going to stay in it."
Detroit gets a chance to improve upon that mark tonight in a place where they have had a lot of success in recent years. The Tigers split a two-game set in Cleveland in May, but they are 8-3 there since the start of last season, while going 20-6 overall in the last 26 meetings.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera may have been the American League's best player in the first half, as the All-Star entered the break tied for the league lead in average at .342 and had the most RBI with 77. His 22 home runs were also two off the pace of Toronto's Jose Bautista for the league lead.
Hoping to slow down Cabrera tonight will be righty Jake Westbrook, who is 5-5 on the year with a 4.75 ERA. Westbrook lost his final start before the break on July 8 to Tampa Bay, giving up five runs and eight hits in six innings.
Westbrook, though, defeated the Tigers the last time he faced them, allowing just a run in 7 2/3 innings back on June 1. He is 5-8 lifetime against them with a 5.69 ERA in 22 games (19 starts).
Nobody could have used the All-Star break more than the Indians, who had played 20 straight games to finish the first half. Cleveland, of course, is in the midst of a rebuilding year and currently sits 34-54, 16 games back of the White Sox.
Cleveland, which lost five of six before the break, has endured a ton of injuries with the likes Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera all sidelined. While Sizemore is done for the year, Choo and Cabrera are nearing a return.
However, those injuries have paved the way for players like Carlos Santana to come to the forefront. Santana hit .284 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 29 games since being recalled.
TIGERS LINEUP: via the Detroit Free Press:
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Johnny Damon, DH
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Brennan Boesch, LF
6. Carlos Guillen, 2B
7. Brandon Inge, 3B
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Ramon Santiago, SS
P: Max Scherzer