Tigers' truth: Team is fun, but Indians are far superior

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Cleveland Indians' Greg Allen, middle, celebrates a victory over the Detroit Tigers with his teammates at Comerica Park earlier this season.

Cleveland — It would have been fun if the Tigers had won both games in Cincinnati, had blown into Cleveland on the winds of a seven-game winning streak and still been within three games of the Indians.

But they didn’t. They lost them both. And now the Indians are surging, winning four straight. They are six games up on the Tigers in the loss column.

Let’s be honest, though. The Tigers are a good story. This is a fun, fiercely-competitive team that plays the game with verve, with an endearing got-nothing-to-lose chip on their shoulder. But in no real world are they at the level of the Indians.

The Indians are one of four elite teams in the American League, along with the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. You can put the Mariners in that group, if you want. Jury is still out.

The point is, whether the Tigers came into Cleveland this weekend on a seven-game win streak or six losses back — this is still a rebuilding team vs. a contender. Save yourself some heartbreak later and accept those terms.

If you do, then however competitive the Tigers are this weekend will be an enjoyable bonus.

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20 in 20

What this weekend represents more than anything else is the start of another hellacious stretch of scheduling.

The schedule-makers saw fit to bracket a two-game series in Cincinnati and a three-gamer in Cleveland, with off-days — two off-days in the span of four days. And now the Tigers embark on 20 games in 20 days, in five cities — counting two four-game series at Comerica Park in Detroit.

At Cleveland for three, then back at Comerica Park for four against Oakland; travel to Toronto for four and then to Chicago to play the Cubs twice; home for four against Texas and then back on the road for three in Tampa Bay.

After an off-day, the Tigers finish the first half of the season at Houston.

That schedule, as much as anything else, led manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio to fiddle with a six-man rotation. Blaine Hardy will continue to make starts, even with the expected return of Francisco Liriano on Saturday.

Gardenhire hasn’t divulged exactly how that will play out, but, the plan is written down. All six starters will get extra days between starts.

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Tazawa in the wings

Inevitably, there will also be some shuffling of the bullpen pieces.

Left-hander Daniel Stumpf will make at least one more rehab start before returning — if he is right, he will be a much-needed addition. Except for a brief relief outing by Hardy on Wednesday, the Tigers haven’t had a lefty in the bullpen since May 29.

Other fresh arms will be needed, you’d think. And one to keep an eye on is veteran right-hander Junichi Tazawa. He very quietly was added to the roster at Triple-A Toledo Wednesday and pitched a clean inning in relief.

You might remember Tazawa helping the Red Sox beat the Tigers in the 2013 ALCS. He just turned 32 but he hasn’t pitched effectively the last two seasons. He was released by the Marlins after he was tagged for 20 runs, 28 hits, six home runs and 13 walks in 20 innings. In his two seasons in Miami, he had a 6.57 ERA and a 1.566 WHIP.

After the Tigers signed him to a minor-league deal two weeks ago, they sent him to extended spring training in Lakeland. Pitching coordinator A.J. Sager and others worked with him. Even though they would have to create a place on the 40-man roster to do so, it probably won’t be long before the Tigers purchase his contract.

They would love for him to provide the same boost as another veteran castoff has – Louis Coleman.