The Detroit Tigers could be known as the streakiest team in baseball this season. Prone to as many prolonged losing streaks as winning streaks, the Tigers are once again tail spinning, losers of four in a row.
As a result, the Cleveland Indians have drawn a bit closer in the standings , pulling to within 4.5 games of Detroit. The Tigers' hot and cold ways have frustrated in 2014, and they're looking to head out of town on a positive note.
Here's five variables to watch as the Tigers attempt to avoid a frustrating Central setback early in the second half.
1. Runs At A Premium. Many will point to issues within the bullpen as a reason for the Tigers latest struggles. Quietly, though, there's scoring problems at play. Combined, in two games of the double header, Detroit scored four runs and had a total of 12 hits. All told, the Tigers only have seven runs to their credit in this series. Most of the time, that's not going to get it done in baseball, regardless of how inconsistent the pitching is. To shake another streak, Detroit has to bust out with the bats.
2. Left-Handed Letdowns. As good as the Indians have been at crushing right handed pitching, they're just as bad at hitting hurlers from the other side of the mound, meaning Sunday starter Drew Smyly could be at an automatic advantage before he even throws a pitch. Clevland only hits left handed starters to a .247 average with a total of 74 extra base hits. To sweep, the Indians will need to overcome these sizeable demons in a big way.
3. Inconsistent Hitters. Over the course of two games in a double header, things typically unseen in baseball happen given the stress of a shortened turnaround, but Detroit's sluggers haven't been slugging. Miguel Cabrera collected only one hit in the first game, then connected for three in the second. Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez had no hits in either contest, and Victor Martinez also struggled. Detroit now needs the big boppers to shake off the rust, and lead the offensive charge for the team.
4. Any 'Mo' Is Good 'Mo:' Ironically, the last time the Tigers were on the brink of losing a four game series, it was June 19 and another Central Division foe, the Kansas City Royals were in town riding high after taking over the division lead. This time, the stakes aren't nearly as high for the Tigers, but they would like to stop the bleeding on getaway day and extend the division lead before getting on the road. When Detroit eeked out a 2-1 win over the Royals, they proceeded to win the next six games in a row and retake the division. Sunday, they'll be searching for the same outcome.
5. Where To Go Next, Joe? Saturday night's finale didn't end the best for Joe Nathan, who was knocked around again after walking two batters, allowing a bases loaded double to Carlos Santana that proved fatal to the Tigers' chances of winning the game. In the past, Brad Ausmus has tried to get his closer back on the mound immediately after disasters. If the lead is tenuous on Sunday, will he do the same? How will Nathan perform? What Nathan does over the next week could help tell the story about what the Tigers do at the trade deadline.
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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