No one from the White Sox or Detroit Tigers will say this week’s four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field will decide who wins the American League Central.
“But I think it’s very important for us to win some of these games,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Monday.
“It’s not an end-all series because we still have 19 games left after it. But the last two series we won against the Sox, we lost the next two series, so it’s important we win some of these games,” he said.
The Tigers swept the Sox in Detroit July 20-22 then lost series to Cleveland, Toronto and Boston. They swept the Sox two weeks ago, then lost series to Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels, who completed a three-game sweep on Sunday.
Both managers understand what is at stake for the team that is in first place four days from now. But the season doesn’t end for another three weeks.
“Everybody gets it,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You just guard against thinking it’s the end of the season. There’s nothing further from the truth. We realize they’re important [games], but there have been teams that thing the big series is jut the one with them and they forget to play. There are still going to be close to 20 games left after that, and that could slip pretty quickly if you let your guard down.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the series demands “a sense of urgency” but not “a sense of panic.”
But he showed how urgent last weekend when he chose to pull staff ace Justin Verlander from Saturday’s game against the Angels in the sixth inning as the Tigers trailed.
Verlander had thrown at least 100 pitches in 80 straight starts dating to 2010, but the streak ended Saturday at 97 pitches.
“He wanted to pitch another inning, but he wasn’t going to pitch another inning,” Leyland said. “We’ll put that in reserve for the White Sox.”
Verlander faces Chris Sale on Thursday in the series finale and final regular season game between the contenders.
“However we do it, we’ve got to score some runs,’ Leyland said, his team scoring only five in their three games against the Angels. “To be honest, I think we’ve got a couple guys trying too hard.
“Against [the Sox], I think it’s pretty simple,” Leyland added. “You’ve got to keep them in the ballpark. They hit it out of the ballpark. Their depth with home run power has been a little bit more than ours.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” he added of the series. “This is baseball. It’s all about excitement.”
The Tigers entered the series Monday holding a 10-4 season lead on the Sox, but were only 2-3 at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Tigers’ edge would have seemed expected before the season when Detroit was considered the division favorite. But they have struggled against the likes of the Indians and, like the Sox, against the Kansas City Royals.
“We haven’t won as many games as we hoped [73-66 before Monday], but we have a chance to make it a very good season or a disappointing season,” Dombrowski said. “You can’t say one way or another until the season is over.”
But Chicago native Dombrowski hasn’t been as surprised at the Sox success this season as others.
“I thought their pitching was better than people expected. Chris Sale is a great young pitcher, and if Jake Peavy was healthy you know that would be a plus. The way Adam Dunn has bounced back–although I think Dunn was more of a surprise last year and is having more of a typical season this year. Alex Rios bouncing back with a career year for him…
“But we have guys having good years, too,” he said. “Our problems have been we haven’t had the bottom of the order consistently perform [offensively]. Omar Infante has helped in the eighth spot [Infante acquired July 23 from the Miami Marlins] but the bottom of the order just hasn’t driven in runs [consistently].
“We’ve lost so many one-run games, and yet we have a good bullpen,” he added. “We haven’t always responded well with big hits with men on base, but we’re second in the league in hitting with runners in scoring position [.282].”
The Sox are first in the league with a .284 average with runners in scoring position, yet the Tigers are eighth in the league in runs scored and the Sox are fifth.
“It’s another example of how baseball statistics don’t always tell the whole story,” Dombrowski said.
But the series will tell something by the time it’s over.
“Here we are, head to head,” Leyland said. “First place against second place for four games. Both teams are playing for something, and right now they’ve got a little edge on us.”