NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
The Cleveland Indians are closing in on the AL Central title for one big reason.
When they’ve faced the Detroit Tigers head to head this year, it’s been no contest.
Cleveland has won 13 of 15 against the second-place Tigers this season, and although Detroit prevailed Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep in the teams’ most recent series, the Indians lead the division by seven games. Cleveland’s head-to-head supremacy accounts for that entire margin and then some.
This race is the reverse of what happened in 2013, when the Tigers went 15-4 against Cleveland and edged the Indians by one game atop the AL Central. In fact, during Detroit’s four-year run of division titles from 2011-14, the Tigers took advantage of their head-to-head opportunities against whichever team finished second.
Detroit went 12-6 against Cleveland in 2011, 12-6 against the Chicago White Sox in 2012 and 13-6 against Kansas City in 2014. Throw in the dominant mark against Cleveland in 2013, and that’s a winning percentage of .703 (52-22) for the Tigers over four years against the second-place finishers those seasons.
It’s come full circle this year. Detroit hasn’t been able to solve Cleveland, which is why the Tigers are essentially playing for a wild card.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
ODD TEAM OUT?
Forget all that talk about even-year magic. Right now, San Francisco has to worry about making the playoffs at all. The Giants are 22-37 since July 12 and are struggling to hold on to a wild card. They’ll send Madison Bumgarner to the mound against Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers on Monday night.
San Francisco leads St. Louis by one game for the second wild card.
The Cubs could be joined by a couple more division champions soon. The Texas Rangers’ magic numbers are five to eliminate Seattle and four to eliminate Houston from the AL West title chase.
Washington’s magic number is six to take back the NL East crown from the New York Mets. Cleveland’s is seven to put away Detroit in the AL Central.
HOME RUN RACE
On the morning of June 19, Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo led the American League in home runs with 20. Minnesota’s Brian Dozier had seven and hadn’t hit any in nearly two weeks.
Trumbo has kept on slugging and now leads the league with 43 homers, but Dozier has 41 thanks to an extended tear. The home run race is coming down to the wire — Oakland’s Khris Davis and Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion have 40 each.
If you’re looking to play matchups down the stretch with starting pitchers, the teams ranked lowest in OPS since the All-Star break are the Phillies, Padres, Royals and Marlins. Atlanta, which is all but assured of a last-place finish in the NL East, has actually hit decently in the second half and has scored 5.5 runs per game this month.
LINE OF THE WEEK
From the where-did-THAT-come-from file: Colorado’s Jon Gray struck out a franchise-record 16 in a four-hit shutout of San Diego on Saturday night. The Rockies won 8-0.
Gray hadn’t pitched more than 7 1/3 innings in a game all season.
Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister
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