Max Scherzer is learning what it means to be a veteran horse of a top-notch Major League pitching staff. Corey Kluber would love to someday wear that mantle.
On Tuesday night, a key American League Central series kicks off between Scherzer's Tigers, led by Miguel Cabrera, who hit three homers in Sunday night's loss in Texas and leads the Majors with 47 RBIs, and Kluber's Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Both pitchers will try to put up another rung in the ladder to what they hope will end up being a division title. The Indians come in having won five straight and 18 of 22 to take a 2 1/2-game lead over the Tigers, who have dropped eight of their past 12. That includes losing two out of three to the Indians earlier this month in Detroit.
For Scherzer, his last outing wasn't spectacular, but the right-hander pitched through it. The Tigers ended up losing that game to the Houston Astros, but Scherzer did the best he could on a day he didn't quite have his best stuff, going seven innings while giving up five runs and striking out seven in a no-decision that put a delay in what was a four-game winning streak.
"From my stuff standpoint, I'm actually getting better throughout this year," Scherzer said. "I like where my curveball is at. It's getting better and better and it's going to allow me to be a good pitcher."
His manager, Jim Leyland, seems to agree.
"He's been around the plate," Leyland said. "He had a freak game the other day, he was a couple inches from being absolutely perfect. He left a couple pitches over the plate. He's pitched extremely well."
Meanwhile, Kluber had a solid outing in his last start, beating the Phillies in an Interleague matchup in Philadelphia with six innings of three-run ball that included five strikeouts.
"He was more aggressive," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "His angle on his fastball was more downhill, which made his cutter, slider more crisp. I felt he attacked a lot better."
When Francona said "better," he was comparing Kluber's outing to his previous start, in which he took a loss against this Tigers club in Detroit after struggling with eight earned runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. So Kluber has a challenge ahead of him facing the same team again, but his improvement in Philadelphia could give him some confidence moving forward.
"Obviously, I threw more strikes," Kluber said after the victory. "I was more aggressive in the strike zone and I didn't fall behind too many guys. I didn't carry the last game into this one at all. It makes your job a lot easier when you get ahead of hitters."
Tigers: Miggy mania
Cabrera put on a show on Sunday night in Texas, even for the reigning AL Triple Crown winner. He hit three home runs and went 4-for-4 with five RBIs and now leads the Major Leagues with 67 hits this season. He also exited Sunday's game with a .387 batting average. It was his second career three-homer game.
• The Tigers finished Sunday's game with eight extra-base hits and the club has recorded at least one extra-base hit in 36 consecutive games. The 36-game streak is the second-longest such streak this season, trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates' current 39-game streak.
• Torii Hunter is two home runs shy of 300 in his Major League career. Hunter would become the 17th active player with 300 or more home runs.
Indians: Series superstars
Cleveland has gone 8-3-4 in 15 series played thus far this season (5-2-1 at home; 3-1-3 on the road). The Indians have played 10 consecutive series without a series loss (6-0-4). Yet Francona wants his club focusing on that day's game only, not looking at series or even "segments of a series."
"And if you play the way you're supposed to, I think sometimes those things start adding up, in a positive way," Francona said. "What happened two weeks ago, let alone yesterday ... I want these guys to always come in feeling like we're going to win regardless of what happened yesterday."
• Second baseman Jason Kipnis has hit safely in 13 of his last 16 games dating back to May 3, batting .333 (22-for-66) with 13 extra-base hits (five doubles, two triples and six home runs) and 20 RBIs in that span.
• Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta went 2-for-5 with two doubles on Sunday night and has hit safely in 28 of his last 33 games. He is batting .344 (43-for-125) with 20 runs scored, nine doubles, four home runs and 17 RBIs during the 33 games.
• Indians veteran Jason Giambi is third among active players in home runs (431) and RBIs (1,416) behind Albert Pujols of the Angels and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.