The Tigers went to Chicago on Monday for a makeup game with the American League Central-leading White Sox, losing 5-4 to drop to three games out of first. Now they return home to Comerica Park for the first time in 13 days and will be greeted by a red-hot A's team coming out of an off-day.
The A's are first in the AL Wild Card standings and three games behind the Rangers in the AL West. Oakland was sitting right around the .500 mark when it split a four-game series against Detroit in mid-May, so the team has come a long way.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Monday that his club normally doesn't use advance scouts but has been sending a couple of people to watch the A's "for a while." Leyland also has made some phone calls to gather information.
"There's not a lot of secrets," the Detroit skipper said. "They're pitching real good. They've got outstanding pitching. And they've been getting timely hits. If you look at their batting averages, it's not like they've got seven guys hitting .310, but they've been very productive. They've done a [great] job. They've got great pitching."
That young A's pitching staff certainly will be tested this week, as it faces the Yankees after the set in Detroit.
It will be A.J. Griffin (6-0, 1.94 ERA), arguably the hottest of the group, on the bump Tuesday night. Despite being a 24-year-old rookie, he's been outstanding for Oakland.
"Seems like every time he pitches, we feel good about our chances, and he gives us a great chance to win when he goes out there," manager Bob Melvin said earlier this month.
Perhaps the bad news for the A's is that the Tigers feel exactly the same about their Tuesday starter, Max Scherzer (16-6, 3.77 ERA). Scherzer is 8-1 since the All-Star break with a 2.61 ERA and is the Major League leader in strikeouts (220).
Scherzer is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA in three career starts against Oakland. He last faced the A's on May 10, allowing two runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Athletics: Impressive road feat in reach
The A's are 40-31 on the road this season, which is the best mark in the AL. They need one more win on the road to clinch a winning road record for the first time since 2006 (44-37).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since earned runs became an official stat (1912 in NL, 1913 in AL), Griffin is just the second pitcher to be undefeated with an ERA under 2.00 after his first 11 Major League appearances, all starts (Jered Weaver, 9-0 with a 1.95 ERA over his first 12 starts in 2006).
Griffin is the first pitcher in Oakland history to start his career 6-0 and is the only Major League pitcher since at least 1918 to allow three runs or fewer and walk two batters or fewer in each of his first 11 career starts.
Coco Crisp (pink eye) missed Sunday's game but is expected to be back Tuesday.
Tigers: Jackson back in the lineup
Austin Jackson started Monday's game in center field and went 1-for-5 a day after he was a late scratch from the lineup with a sore left ankle. Jackson sustained the injury jumping into the center-field wall attempting to save Anibal Sanchez's no-hit bid in the seventh inning on Saturday.
Had Jackson not been able to go on Monday, manager Jim Leyland was ready to start rookie Avisail Garcia in center instead of left.
Catcher Alex Avila didn't start on Monday and is questionable for Tuesday after colliding with first baseman Prince Fielder in pursuit of a foul popup on Sunday. Avila took batting practice before the makeup game against the White Sox but experienced headaches and was ruled out.
A's infielder and former Tiger Brandon Inge will not be returning to Comerica Park. He underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder on Thursday.
Leyland worked with his A's counterpart when Melvin was a player.
"He's a sharp guy," Leyland said. "He's done a [great] job."