Combined, the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays enter a holiday weekend series at Comerica Park hot, winners of eight games in a row. In addition to their two wins before, the Rays swept a three game series in New York against the Yankees, and Detroit swept a set against the Oakland Athletics.
Though Tampa Bay is currently buried in the standings, their uptick in play since early June has helped begin a climb from the depth of the American League East. What once was a significant deficit has now turned into a record which leaves them one game back of fourth place. The Rays have made improbable climbs before, so counting them out this early would certainly be a mistake.
The first of two meetings between the teams kicks off in July, before they will meet again in Florida during the middle of August. Here's some stories to watch for as the rare rivals meet.
1. Power Surge. In both of the team's completed series, run scoring power became a theme. Detroit scored 17 runs against the solid pitching Athletics, while the Rays managed to score 12 against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. All told, power has pulled both the Rays and Tigers out of their recent slumps. Five times in the last 10 games, Detroit has scored over six runs, while Tampa has done it twice. Every time, the team powering up has won the game.
2. Big Innings. Wednesday against Oakland, the Tigers struck for a six run sixth inning. It marks the seventh time this season that Detroit has scored at least six runs in one inning. That leads major league baseball. Though sometimes, runs have been hard to come by for the Tigers, when they come they usually come in bunches during one inning.
3. No Walking Papers. The Tigers amassed an astonishing statistic this week against Oakland, when their starting staff did not walk one batter in the entire three game set. That hadn't been done since 2010. As a staff, Detroit has issued 230 walks in 2014, which is the fifth lowest total in baseball. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has issued 271, which is the eleventh highest total.
4. Halfway Home And In Great Shape. Detroit finished out the first half of the season on Wednesday night with a 47-34 record. That's the best record the team has had at a halfway point since an identical 47-34 record in 2007. That team, of course, had plenty of deficiencies and fell apart down the stretch. The 2014 squad will have to find a way to avoid the pitfalls from seven years ago, and that begins with playing well in a series they should win.
5. The Whiff. As many times as the Rays' pitching staff seems to issue free passes, they make up for it with the strikeouts. Tampa Bay's 765 strikeouts through the team's first 87 games is a major league high, and has some familiar company: Detroit in 2013, who collected 807. In 41 games since May 20, Ray pitching has fanned 417 batters in 380.1 innings. Much like the series against Oakland, the Tigers will have to be very patient at the plate.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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