"They were a good team last year," said manager Jim Leyland, whose team compiled a 38-16 record down the stretch, as the Indians floundered with a 27-30 record. "They just probably, last year, weren't quite ready yet to take that next step, but who knows now."
Despite all of the expectations surrounding the Tigers in 2012, especially after signing Prince Fielder in the offseason, the Indians sit atop the Central with a 2 1/2 game lead over the White Sox and three games over the third-place Tigers.
When the two meet for the first time, it won't exactly be the same situation, but one very similar to their first meeting in 2011. Cleveland entered that series -- on April 29 through May 1 -- 5 1/2 games up on the Tigers and finished with a sweep to move ahead by eight games.
It prompted a then, 12-17 Detroit team to call a team meeting in the visiting locker room at Progressive Field that had a hand in turning their season around. They won 10 of their next 12 games to get above .500 and move within 3 1/2 games of the Indians.
"That was the key. That's what the team needed at the time," relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit said. "But this year is another year. We're in a different situation. We're really close to them."
Rick Porcello gets the ball for the Tigers, as he looks to rebound after a pair of rough starts against Oakland and Minnesota. Porcello faced Cleveland the most of any team last season, and went 1-1 with a 6.41 ERA in five starts. However, the 23-year-old is 5-1 in 12 career starts facing the Tribe.
For the Indians, Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill. Jimenez is also trying to find some consistency as he's 4-3 with a 5.09 ERA this year. Despite being traded to the Indians from the Rockies at midseason, he saw the Tigers lineup five times as well. He was 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA.
Tigers: Scherzer's spectacular start Max Scherzer struck out a career-high and Comerica Park-high 15 batters Sunday against the Pirates in seven innings. It was one shy of the Tigers all-time record set by Mickey Lolich, who tallied 16 twice in 1969.
Miguel Cabrera is 7-for-19 (.368) with one double and three RBIs in his career against Jimenez. Prince Fielder is 5-for-16 (.313) with two doubles and three RBIs as well.
The Tigers haven't won back-to-back games since defeating the Royals on April 17-18.
Indians: Perez looks to focus on success
Chris Perez expressed his frustration concerning the fan turnout at Progressive Field. He wishes the team had higher attendance.
"We're in first place. Enjoy it. We could be in last place. We could be the Royals or the Pirates and haven't won anything in 20 years. We're not. Enjoy it. I don't understand the negativity."
Carlos Santana is 6-for-16 (.375) with a double, three home runs and four RBIs in his career against Rick Porcello.
In 2011, Detroit won the season series 12-6 and outscored Cleveland 106-69.
The Tigers last loss to the Indians was last August 10 before defeating the Tribe in 10 consecutive games and three straight series sweeps to finish the year.