When the Cubs faced the Tigers in Detroit two months ago, the Tigers (30-28) appeared to still be a contending team, just four games out of first place in the A.L. Central. The Cubs were 30-25, seven games behind the Cardinals and half a game behind the Pirates in the N.L. Central.
Since then, the Tigers are 26-33 and have fallen out of contention. The Cubs are 37-24 in that span, though as you can see they have actually lost a bit of ground to the two teams ahead of them.
With that in mind I asked Rob Rogacki, managing editor of SB Nation's Tigers site Bless You Boys, to write some thoughts about his team.
When the Tigers finally decided to sell at the trade deadline (48 hours prior to it, I might add), I called the move "a relief." Not many fanbases would feel this way. Cubs fans have had to deal with a long and frustrating rebuild, and are only now starting to see the end product. Things are fresh, fun, and exciting. Your team is winning, and while there are growing pains to be had, there is potential for even more winning both now and in the coming years. Imagine the exact opposite of that, and you have the 2015 Detroit Tigers. For the last few years, every national pundit in existence has compared the Tigers to the Philadelphia Phillies. With an old, aging core, and an older owner hell-bent on winning a title before he dies, the Tigers were in a tight spot in late July. Were they going to buy at the deadline, further mortgaging their future for a shot at the AL wild card? Or were they going to punt on 2015 in hopes of extending their "window" for as long as possible? In the end, the Tigers made the smart move, selling their top three expiring contracts for a haul of pitching prospects. Then, three days later, they fired their president and general manager. Dave Dombrowski will be fine; after all, he just won a game of chicken with the rest of baseball, waiting until the last possible minute to sell off his stars and still getting top dollar in return. I don't know if I can say the same for the Tigers, though. New general manager Al Avila has promised an increased focus on analytics, and promoted a 20-something statistical analyst to become the club's new director of baseball operations (a move that was met with chants of "ONE OF US" from the BYB commentariat). However, with questions as to what exactly is going on above him, from Mike Ilitch's health status to whether Ilitch is actually running the team to whether the franchise will even stay in the family when the patriarch finally passes, it's a very weird time to be a Tigers fan. Oh, and the team can't pitch to save their lives, so enjoy the free runs this week.
Tuesday: Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.10 ERA, 1.042 WHIP, 3.41 FIP) vs. Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.95 ERA, 1.274 WHIP, 4.65 FIP)
Wednesday: Jon Lester (8-8, 3.21 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 2.87 FIP) vs. Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.438 WHIP, 4.67 FIP)
The Cubs, as you know, are 16-3 since the sweep at the hands of the Phillies in late July. Over that same timeframe the Tigers are 8-11 and have lost five of their last seven, and have been outscored 34-20 in those seven games. Given that, this brief two-game series profiles as one the Cubs could sweep, but I promised I wouldn't predict sweeps anymore.
Jon Lester got absolutely pounded by Tigers hitters June 9 in Detroit, but that might be more a function of a poor lifetime mark in Comerica Park (6.35 career ERA there in five starts) than pitching against the Tigers. Besides, Lester's been very good since then (2.20 ERA in 11 starts). Daniel Norris was acquired by Detroit from the Blue Jays in the David Price deal and though he hasn't done well in the big leagues this year, he is just 22 and considered a Top-20 prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com.
So, while I would like (hint, hint) to predict a sweep, my promise forces me to say the Cubs will split these games, and hope I'm wrong.
The Atlanta Braves -- with ex-Cub Edwin Jackson on the pitching staff! -- visit Wrigley Field for a four-game series beginning Thursday evening.