Two-and-a-half weeks ago, they were the 2-10 cautionary tale of baseball, a collection of injured position players, ineffective starters, and rehabbing relievers. It hasn't all been a masterpiece since, especially on the injury front, and they haven't won more than four games in a row. Yet, by winning seven of their last nine, and 11 of their last 16, they're close enough to erase the memory of their opening homestand.
As the Tigers left the Big Apple for a three-game series at Minnesota, they were part of a three-team logjam in second place in the American League Central, a game-and-a-half back of the White Sox. The difference between first and last in the division is a mere three games.
It hasn't been the fearsome, star-studded performances that have carried this club. Though Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, and Miguel Cabrera have hit for their roles and provided fuel for the order, it has been a case of balance and equal contribution.
"That's what brings a team together," manager Jim Leyland said.
If the Tigers' roll is going to continue, they'll need another such contribution from Armando Galarraga.
The man who was publicly overlooked among Tigers hurlers in Spring Training has helped the Tigers to wins in all three of his starts in place of injured Dontrelle Willis. While Willis makes the first of at least two rehab outings at Triple-A Toledo, Galarraga will try to keep his momentum going against a Twins club that has been outscored by 20 runs, yet sits a game shy of .500 themselves.
Galarraga has succeeded by challenging hitters in the strike zone with movement and inducing ground balls. After taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning last Saturday against the Angels, he has become another famous name in Venezuela, alongside the many others the Tigers already have.
The approach can work, because it's some of the same aggressiveness that Livan Hernandez has used to early-season success. A decade after Hernandez helped Leyland's Florida Marlins to a World Series championship, he led the Twins to victories in each of his first five starts before the Rangers roughed him up in his last outing.
"This guy's as tough as nails," Leyland said. "This guy's an athlete. He's smart like a fox. I really liked him. His stuff isn't as good as it was in '97, but he knows how to throw with his stuff. He knows how to pitch. He's not going to give in. He's good. He'll be tough to beat. He'll want to beat his old manager, that's for sure."
DET: RHP Armando Galarraga (2-0, 1.50 ERA)
Galarraga had another strong outing in his third start after being recalled from Triple-A two weeks ago, this time against an impressive Angels offense. He no-hit them through five and two-thirds innings before Vladimir Guerrero wrecked it with a triple. Galarraga could not get out of the seventh, finishing with three runs allowed—one earned—on three hits and two walks. In his three Major League starts this season, he has allowed three earned runs on seven hits in 18 innings.
MIN: RHP Livan Hernandez (3-1, 5.05 ERA)
The leader of the Twins' starting staff couldn't help the team save its taxed bullpen in his last start. Hernandez gave up seven earned runs over two and two-thirds innings to the Rangers, picking up his first loss of the season.
It was also the first time Hernandez had been unable to pitch at least six innings in a start for the Twins. Another sign of concern is the fact that the right-hander has already shown a penchant for giving up the long ball, allowing a total of six in his last three starts. Next up for Hernandez will be his first start of the year against the Tigers at the Metrodome.
Look for Brandon Inge to start at catcher at some point this weekend, giving Ivan Rodriguez another day off. Leyland said he would like to work Inge into some more starts behind the plate to keep him fresh. Leyland also praised Inge for his game-calling work Thursday night.
Detroit is 14-2 when scoring five runs or more this year.