Detroit – Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner stared into the Zoom lens for a couple of beats, processing what he’d just heard.
“In your entire athletic life, you’ve probably never lost 17 straight times to the same team,” was how the conversation started. “The Indians beat you guys 17 straight times last year.”
Greiner said, “I had no idea about that until you just said that. I don’t know how many guys in the clubhouse know of that stat.”
Well, in a normal year, we could’ve conducted a flash poll. But with COVID-19 restrictions blocking media access to the clubhouse and field, the poll sample had to be considerably smaller.
JaCoby Jones didn’t know about it, either.
“I didn’t know it was 17,” he said. “Wow, that’s crazy. But it is what it is. We just have to go out and do what we do. But yeah, I hope we kick their butts.”
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That’s the thing about streaks and, quite honestly, history – baseball players are conditioned to have short memories. And whatever trends are established, they like to contain them within each individual season.
“We try to win every game, no matter what happened in the past,” Greiner said. “It doesn’t really matter moving forward. We haven’t played them yet this year. We’ve got a whole new team, they’ve got a whole new team.
“We’re just trying to go out every day and win ballgames and position ourselves to have a good season.”
Nevertheless, the Cleveland Indians will come into Comerica Park this weekend still owning a piece of the Tigers’ collective soul. No Tigers team in history had lost 17 straight to the same team. While a couple games were close, the aggregate score was not – 109-32.
No team in the division era, going back to 1969, had lost 18 times to the same team in a season, as the Tigers did, and it only happened twice before that (in 1929 and 1931).
“I don’t really worry about what happened last year,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We got beat by a lot of people last year.”
Fair point. The Tigers did lose 114 games and the Indians won 93 games and just missed getting a wild-card spot. That’s been the way this series has gone recently – when one team is up the other has been down.
Here’s the Tigers’ record vs. the Indians the last seven years, as the Tigers went from four-time division champs to cellar-dwellers.
►2013 – 15-4
►2014 – 11-8
►2015 – 11-7
►2016 – 4-14
►2017 – 6-13
►2018 – 6-13
►2019 – 1-18
“We’ve kind of turned the page and moved forward,” Gardenhire said. “Cleveland is a good baseball team. We were in a lot of games with them last year and we just didn’t get it done.”
The Tigers (9-7) enter the three-game series with a half-game lead on the Indians (10-9) in the Central Division. Both teams have lost their last two games, both to teams from Chicago – the Cubs took two from the Indians and the White Sox took the last two games of a three-game set at Comerica Park.
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And Greiner is correct, both teams are vastly different. Former nemeses like Trevor Bauer (whom the Tigers already faced twice this season with the Reds), Yasiel Puig, Roberto Perez and Jason Kipnis are gone. The Tigers also won’t face two of the Indians best pitchers – Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac, who were suspended for violating the team’s COVID-19 protocols.
That has caused some anxiety in the Indians clubhouse. Pitcher Adam Plutko, who will start Sunday, voiced his and other teammates displeasure over Clevinger and Plesac risking exposure to the virus by going out in Chicago on Saturday.
“They hurt us bad,” Plutko told reporters. “They lied to us. They sat here in front of you guys and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on.”
Manager Terry Francona, who is back after missing eight games with a gastrointestinal issue, is doing his best to put out that fire. Of more immediate concern to the Tigers, though, is the Indians’ core three is still intact – Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana.
“It’s just ball,” Jones said. “We just want to go out and compete and do what we are capable of doing. I think we have a great team. The guys in the clubhouse know we have a good squad. We just want to keep it going.
“Every game is important, no matter what.”
Still, part of the Tigers’ mission this season is to flush any lingering residue from 2019 and establish a culture of winning as the club transitions from rebuilding to contending. Getting the Indians’ monkey off their back would be a good start.
“I don’t know,” Greiner said. “I’ve been here two years and I didn’t know (they’d lost 17 straight times to the Indians). We’ve got a bunch of new guys in here who I’m sure have no idea of that streak. They’re a good team and I think we’re a good team.
“So let’s strap it up and try to win.”
On deck: Indians
Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park
First pitch: Friday – 7:10 p.m.; Saturday – 6:10 p.m.; Sunday – 1:10 p.m.
TV/radio: Friday-Saturday – FSD, 97.1; Sunday – ESPN, FSD, 97.1
Probables: Friday – RHP Aaron Civale (1-2, 2.84) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 5.74); Saturday – RHP Shane Bieber (3-0, 1.63) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-0, 2.00); Sunday – RHP Adam Plutko (1-1, 2.45) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 6.35).
Civale, Indians: He made his big-league debut at Comerica Park June 22, 2019 and shutout the Tigers on two hits over six innings. And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he beat them two more times last year. He has five pitches but his cutter is lethal. Opponents are hitting .156 against it with a whiff rate of 37.5.
Nova, Tigers: He has kept the Tigers in the game in all three of his starts, without establishing any consistency with one of his best weapons. Opponents are hitting .364 against his sinker, a pitch he throws 44 percent of the time. His curve ball, which he throws 29 percent of the time, has been almost unhittable (0.71).