We've kind of been waiting for this all season from the Detroit Tigers: The run.
After beating the Indians for the second night in a row, they've increased their winning streak to 10 and increased their lead over the Indians to 5 games. Monday's ninth-inning defeat was a devastating blow for Cleveland but Tuesday's 5-1 loss was tough as well, with Justin Masterson, their best pitcher, facing Justin Verlander, who entered the game with a 4.61 ERA over his previous nine starts, including a bad 37/28 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It looked like a good matchup for the Indians.
Masterson had one bad inning -- the Tigers scored five in the fifth, a rally started when Ramon Santiago was hit by a pitch and finished off when Masterson nemesis Don Kelly hit a three-run homer. But Verlander was the story of the night, with perhaps his best game since April, allowing four hits in eight innings with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Verlander and pitching coach Jeff Jones have apparently spent a lot of time studying video in search of some sort of mechanical flaw that might explain Verlander's struggles. Verlander said he altered his motion to the plate a bit. "The adjustment that I made obviously made not just a little impact but a pretty big impact," he said. "Everything I've been searching for I was able to find it today. That's a huge stride in the right direction."
"That's the Justin Verlander we know," said Jim Leyland.
Maybe the biggest positive was that Verlander's fastball averaged 96.1 mph, his highest per-game average this season and well above his season average of 92.3. His command had obviously been a big issue -- five walks his last start -- but he threw 75 of 112 pitches for strikes.
The Tigers have allowed just 13 runs during this 10-game winning streak, the first team, according to ESPN Stats & Info, to allow fewer than 15 runs in a 10-game win streak since Billy Martin's 1981 A's. In fact, in winning 14 of 15, Tigers starters are 12-1 with a 1.71 ERA. What's interesting is that during that stretch they've been striking out fewer batters, ranking just 21st among major league rotations in strikeout percentage since July 21.
As for the Indians, they've now lost 11 of 14 against Detroit. They still have two more games in this series -- Doug Fister versus Danny Salazar today, Max Scherzer versus Zach McAllister tomorrow -- and need to win both to get back within breathing distance of the division lead. But I get the feeling this is the series where we'll look back and say the Tigers wrapped up the division title. Whether this leads to a tough stretch for Cleveland, we'll see; at least 12 of their next 15 games after this series are against the Angels and Twins.