If they keep coming up big in the clutch, the Detroit Tigers will continue to be overwhelming favorites to win a second consecutive AL Central crown.
The Tampa Bay Rays have to like their chances in the AL East if they keep jumping out to early leads.
Detroit goes for its first 4-0 home start in 19 years Tuesday while the Rays try to open with four wins for the first time in franchise history.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have opened the Tigers as $1.30 home favorites.
After winning their first division title in 24 seasons in 2011, the Tigers (3-0) are expected to finish on top again with reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander anchoring the rotation and newcomer Prince Fielder adding plenty of pop to an already potent lineup.
So far, the Tigers (3-0) have given no indication that those predictions were unfounded, sweeping Boston in a series that saw Detroit win twice in its final at-bat. After Austin Jackson’s game-winning single helped the Tigers overcome a rare Jose Valverde blown save in Thursday’s 3-2 season-opening win, Detroit made two late comebacks in Sunday’s 13-12, 11-inning victory.
Miguel Cabrera hit a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth and Alex Avila’s two-out, two-run shot in the 11th gave the Tigers their first 3-0 start since 2006 – the team’s last World Series appearance.
“All of them swing the bats great,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia told the Tigers’ official website. “It’s hard to get those last outs.”
Detroit hit .345 in the series and scored 26 runs, with Cabrera and Fielder going a combined 10 for 23 with five homers and 11 RBIs.
“We’ve got to get this straight – it’s not about Prince and me,” Cabrera said following his five-RBI effort Sunday. “We’ve got 25 guys, it’s about the Detroit Tigers.”
Avila, who hit a team-high four homers against Tampa Bay last season, had an outstanding opening series with five hits – including two homers – but Gerald Laird could be behind the plate Tuesday when Rick Porcello tries to lead Detroit to its first 4-0 home start since the 1993 team opened 5-0 at Tiger Stadium.
The 23-year-old right-hander begins his fourth major league season after finishing 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA in 2011, matching a career high in wins and setting personal bests in innings (182) and strikeouts (104).
Porcello went 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA in four postseason appearances in 2011, including two starts.
He didn’t face the Rays when the Tigers won six of seven 2011 meetings, including a sweep at Comerica Park.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, though, was more impressed with his team taking three of four at Tropicana Field from Aug. 22-25.
“I thought that won the Central Division for us,” Leyland told the Tigers’ official website. “… That can be a hornets’ nest.”
The Rays, 3-0 for the first time in a decade, would like their strong play to continue as they begin a season high-tying 10-game trip. They swept the New York Yankees over the weekend, outscoring the defending division champs 7-0 in the first inning.
“It’s looking good,” said first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit a first-inning grand slam in his first at-bat of the season and is 6 for 12 with two homers and seven RBIs.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon hopes Tuesday starter Matt Moore looks as good as he did last season. Called up Sept. 12, the young left-hander made just three regular-season appearances – one start – before throwing seven innings of two-hit ball in the Rays’ lone postseason victory of 2011, 9-0 at Texas in Game 1 of the AL division series.
Moore will face the Tigers for the first time.
“He’s not going to back down from anybody,” Maddon told the Rays’ official website. “His stuff pitches against the best, regardless. It’ll be an interesting first start.”
Cabrera was 5 for 19 with a homer last season versus Tampa Bay, while Fielder had four hits in nine at-bats against Rays pitching in 2011 with Milwaukee.