Now that's how to begin a homestand. Though the Chicago White Sox were struggling as they visited Detroit for the weekend, having lost seven of their last eight games, Ozzie Guillen's team always seems to have a way of righting themselves against the Tigers.
But maybe those days are in the past. The Tigers extended the White Sox's slump, pushing them even farther down the AL Central standings with a three-game sweep. Would you believe the Tigers have actually won nine straight games against the White Sox, dating back to last season?
It was a good weekend for almost everyone wearing the Old English D. But here are five players who truly shined, playing a big role in perhaps the Tigers' best performance of the season.
1. Max Scherzer: With the way the White Sox have handled the Tigers in recent years, would you have believed any pitcher not named Verlander could shut them out for eight innings? (Okay, Brad Penny also had a scoreless outing. More on him later.)
But since a rough first outing versus the Yankees to begin his season, Scherzer is pitching like an ace. He's given up two or fewer runs in his past four starts. Actually, Scherzer's only allowed five total runs in his last 20 innings, with 24 strikeouts and 11 walks. A strong top two of the rotation is a reason many people picked the Tigers to contend for an AL Central title, and so far, Scherzer's holding up his end extremely well.
2. Ryan Raburn: Moving Raburn between second base and left field didn't seem to hurt his offense. During the three-game series, Raburn hit 5-for-12 with seven RBIs. That kind of production shows why Jim Leyland feels he can't take Raburn's bat out of the lineup and basically created a position opening for him.
Raburn was also successful batting in both the No. 2 and No. 6 spots in the batting order. In the No. 2 spot, he can provide the extra-base pop that Leyland (and buddy Tony La Russa) sometimes like at the top of the order. (Though Raburn doesn't make contact or get on base as much as a No. 2 hitter ideally does.) Further down the lineup in the No. 6 hole, Raburn adds depth by protecting Brennan Boesch.
3. Brad Penny: For most of his first month with the Tigers, Penny looked like a bad signing. Brought in to bring some veteran, innings-eating stability to the starting rotation, Penny was getting knocked around badly. Coming into his start on Saturday, he'd allowed 20 runs in 21 1/3 innings.
But Penny obviously had it working against the White Sox, keeping the ball down in the strike zone and featuring good movement on his pitches. We'll never know if Penny could've pitched two more innings to complete a no-hitter. (I happen to disagree with my SB Nation Detroit colleague Brian Packey about Brett Morel's sixth-inning chopper down the third-base line being an error because of Brandon Inge's errant throw. Most other third basemen wouldn't have been able to get to that ball and make a play.) Regardless, both Penny and the Tigers needed that kind of performance to gain some confidence.
4. Alex Avila: Avila was another offensive star over the weekend, batting 6-for-11 with four RBIs. He'd turned himself around offensively before Victor Martinez got hurt, so it's not like Avila started swinging with confidence because he knew he wouldn't be taken out of the lineup. This is what the Tigers hoped for from Avila ever since they rushed him to the majors in 2009.
Some people also like to give the catcher credit when the pitching staff does well. If that's the case, allowing only three runs during the White Sox series (including two consecutive shutouts and 20 straight scoreless innings) reflects favorably on Avila.
5. Austin Jackson: Did anybody need this series more than the struggling Jackson? His season-long slump went into a full-out tailspin on the Tigers' west coast trip, during which he hit 2-for-25 with 10 strikeouts. That plummeted his batting average from .200 to .157, prompting some people to ponder moving Jackson down in the lineup or sending him to the minors. But with a 5-for-13 series, maybe the Tigers' center fielder has turned a corner.
Virtually everything that could have gone right for the Tigers did go right over the weekend. They outscored the White Sox 21-3 in those three games. Those runs weren't scored against the bottom of the White Sox rotation, but against Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and John Danks. As previously mentioned, Detroit's pitching staff went 20 innings without allowing a run to a lineup that includes Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Quentin.
The Tigers now find themselves tied for second place in the division now, 1 1/2 games behind the surprise that is the Cleveland Indians. Both the Tribe and Kansas City Royals have lost three in a row, while Detroit's sweep over the White Sox gave them five wins in their last six games.
Up next are the Seattle Mariners, who visit Comerica Park for a three-game tilt. Then it's off to Cleveland for three games, and maybe we find out just how real the Tribe is. Are the Tigers making their run?