Tigers ready to face division rivals

Tigers ready to face division rivals

DETROIT -- The Tigers' season ended on a rainy Monday afternoon in Chicago last September, a makeup game that felt more like a post-mortem. While team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about the club's offseason plans, players were setting their travel plans for home.

The Tigers were only there because the game had playoff implications for Chicago. A White Sox win put them in a one-game playoff with the Twins for the American League Central title. All the previous Chicago victories, of course, played a huge role in putting the Tigers in the Central cellar. Starting Monday, they'll meet again for three games that could set the tone for this year's race.

Take away the Tigers' 27-45 record in the division, and they were four games over .500 against everybody else. Of course, in an unbalanced schedule, division records mean everything. The results turned a team that was supposed to be a titan into one of baseball's biggest disappointments.

"Last year, we finished last," manager Jim Leyland said over the winter, "and the media was buzzing about we won the World Series [with their 2007-08 offseason moves]. That didn't work out too good."

If the Tigers are to turn that around this season, the schedule has to turn on divisional play, where opponents were able to tame what was supposed to be the division's most formidable team.

"I feel like the other teams pitched so well against us," Brandon Inge said.

It was a major issue over the offseason, when Leyland talked about studying up on the division's top hitters so that Detroit's pitchers could be prepared. It was a point in some of the team's moves, shoring up the defense and diversifying the offense with complementary players to counter the fundamental advantage the Twins and White Sox had.

"We have to do better within the division, there's no question about it," Leyland said.

Through the season's first week, the Tigers find themselves on top of the division, but mainly by virtue of schedule. Because the Tigers played seven games and not six, their 4-3 record tops Chicago and Kansas City by a half-game. Minnesota sits only a game back at 3-4.

It's only a week, of course, but it's a symbol of the kind of parity many expect from the Central. The defending division champion White Sox are an example, having lost two of three to the Royals in Chicago before coming back to take their last two against the Twins to win that three-game set.

The White Sox set the tone in the division last year early with a hot opening month, winning five of their first six games and seven of 10. Five of those wins came against the Tigers with a three-game sweep at Comerica Park on the season's first weekend and back-to-back shutouts in Chicago. It sure didn't seal the Central for the White Sox, thanks to the Twins' charge, but it helped put Detroit in a hole that proved too deep to dig out of.

This series starts Detroit's 2009 comeback effort. It'll be a brief division spurt before the Tigers head to the West Coast for six games, but it's their chance to erase a longstanding concern.

Pitching matchup
DET: RHP Zach Miner (1-0, 1.59 ERA)
Opening the season in a Major League rotation for the first time in his career, Miner recovered from four straight baserunners to open his season debut Wednesday at Toronto and tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, collecting Detroit's first win of the year in the process. Now he returns home to Comerica Park, where his career 5.28 ERA is more than two full runs higher than his 3.14 mark on the road. Opponents have batted .301 against him at home compared with .234 everywhere else.

CWS: RHP Gavin Floyd (0-1, 2.57 ERA)
The right-hander looked every bit as dominant during his first start of 2009 as his stellar Spring Training projected him to be. Floyd worked seven innings, fanning nine and walking two, while giving up two runs on six hits. Those two runs were two too many against the Royals, as Zack Greinke was just a little bit better. Floyd has made a living out of manhandling the Tigers, posting a 3-0 record with a 3.68 ERA against the Tigers in a 2008 to boost his career mark to 4-0. He holds a 2-0 record with a 2.63 ERA at Comerica Park.

Carlos Guillen is day-to-day after leaving Sunday's win over the Rangers with soreness in his Achilles' heel. He could be the designated hitter on Monday to ease the strain. ... Monday is Miguel Cabrera bobblehead night, the first of the Tigers' bobblehead promotions this season. The first 10,000 fans will receive a Cabrera bobblehead complete with a crown on his head, celebrating his title as last year's AL home run leader. ... Detroit relievers have retired the last 21 hitters they've faced. ... Inge went 3-for-7 against Floyd last season with all three hits for extra bases -- two RBI doubles and a two-run homer. ... Marcus Thames went 5-for-34 (.147) against the White Sox last season, but three of those hits were home runs.

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On the Internet
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•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

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On radio
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Up next
• Tuesday: Tigers (Rick Porcello, 0-1, 7.20) vs. White Sox (John Danks, 0-0, 0.00), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 1-0, 1.29) vs. White Sox (Jose Contreras, 0-1, 7.20), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Off-day

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.