DETROIT — If the Tigers do not end up making the playoffs, they’ll probably have to blame the Cleveland Indians — or rather blame their inability to beat the Indians.
To recap, coming into this series the Indians were 6-29 in their last 35 games overall and 1-18 in their last 19 road games.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were coming off a dramatic sweep of the Chicago White Sox that pulled them into a first-place tie in the division.
So naturally the Indians produced two straight 3-2 victories over the Tigers, including Justin Masterson’s six-inning domination in which the Tigers’ only offense was Miguel Cabrera’s two-run home run in the sixth.
“We’ve seen two different kinds of Mastersons this year,” said Alex Avila, who was 1-for-2 against him with a double. “The guy we saw last start when they were here last time and we were able to get a hold of. And, a guy with No. 1 no-hit stuff today.”
That means the Tigers are now 5-9 against the 58-78 Indians. In those nine losses, the Indians have outscored them 38-23.
Even worse, after Wednesday night’s game, they still have another three games to play against them in Cleveland (Sept. 14-16).
“You tip your hat to them,” manager Jim Leyland said. “They’ve been a little mystery for us this year. They’ve pitched very well against us. We got a guy pitching (Wednesday, Ubaldo Jimenez) against us that’s been tough on us as well. It’s normally a combination of the other team pitching pretty good and maybe you didn’t swing the bats that good.
“But up here at this level, you’ve still gotta beat good pitchers and we will. We didn’t do it (Tuesday). But that’s the way it goes. We had a bunch of left-handers in there against him and we didn’t really get many opportunities.”
It’s not just Cleveland’s starters who have caused problems for the Tigers. Setup man Vinnie Pestano has been nearly unhittable against them. After his scoreless inning Tuesday, his career ERA against the Tigers fell to a minuscule 0.89.
The Tigers did get to closer Chris Perez in one memorable game this season but in his career he has 14 saves, more than he has against any other team. After his scoreless ninth, his career ERA against the Tigers is 3.89.
Rick Porcello (9-11), who has lost his last five starts despite allowing a total of 14 runs in those games, admitted to some frustration with the Indians.
“This is a team that we definitely should beat,” Porcello said. “We obviously came up short both days. At this time of year, you need to win games, and at least win series against division opponents. We know we’re better than them. We’ve just got to go out there and beat them.”
The only saving grace was that the Minnesota Twins pummeled the White Sox 18-9 so the Tigers remained just one game back in the Central Division.
Quintin Berry, who grounded out as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning against Joe Smith, knows that the scuffling Indians would like nothing better than to knock out the Tigers. As would the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.
It’s up to the Tigers to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We got a lot of series coming up against these guys so we’re going to be playing them a lot and we’ve got to find a way to win because that’s the only way we’re going to get to the postseason,” Berry said.