After turning in one of the ugliest outings of his career two weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer has been at his best over his last two.
He's made things tough on the Tampa Bay Rays of late, too.Scherzer tries to win a fourth consecutive start against the Rays, who look to extend their season-best winning streak to six in Thursday night's series opener in Detroit.It's hardly been all smooth sailing for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, who surrendered a career high-tying 10 runs over four-plus innings in an 11-4 defeat to Kansas City on June 17. It was the fifth time in six starts he allowed at least four runs, something he had done just four times in his previous 33 games.If his last two outings are any indication, however, Scherzer (9-3, 3.64 ERA) appears to be on track.The right-hander beat Cleveland 10-4 on June 22 behind six innings of one-run ball, then struck out a season-high 13 over seven innings of two-run ball in Saturday's 4-3 victory at Houston. He allowed two extra-base hits over those two games."That's what we were hoping to see from Max Scherzer on a fairly regular basis," manager Brad Ausmus said.Scherzer has a 2.70 ERA during his three-start winning streak versus Tampa Bay (38-49), striking out 25 and walking five over 20 innings while allowing just 12 hits. Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist are both 2 for 15 against him, and Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings are a combined 3 for 24.Scherzer will try to slow down a Rays team that's won seven of eight, including five straight following a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium. Sean Rodriguez went 2 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs in Wednesday's 6-3 victory."We're getting a different bus driver on a daily basis, that's kind of neat," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's who we have to be. We're not necessarily built around one guy. We're built as group. Everybody's got to do their job."Erik Bedard (4-5, 4.21) takes the mound for Tampa Bay looking to build on his longest performance of the year. The veteran left-hander allowed three runs and struck out seven over seven-plus innings Saturday, earning the win in a 5-4 victory at Baltimore.The Rays are 4-1 in Bedard's last five outings, a stretch during which he's struck out 30 and walked five over 26 1/3 innings.This marks his first start against the Tigers since 2011. He made one relief appearance against them with Houston last year, yielding one run over 3 1/3 innings.The AL Central-leading Tigers (47-34) have won three in a row and 11 of 13 after sweeping Oakland with Wednesday's 9-3 victory. Torii Hunter went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and Miguel Cabrera drove in two runs."We've had a little bit of a roller coaster in the first half," said Ausmus, whose team struggled through a 9-20 funk in late May and June. "Extreme up, extreme down. I'm hoping we're climbing up again."Detroit could get even stronger with Victor Martinez likely to return after missing the last three games with soreness in his left side. He leads the team with 20 homers and ranks among the AL leaders with a .323 average. Martinez is a career .364 hitter against Tampa Bay, his highest mark against any AL club.The Tigers have allowed 26 runs in taking eight of 10 from the Rays at home. Cabrera has hit .514 with four homers in his last 10 in the series overall.
Max Scherzer is allowing a .196 batting average against his fastball when he throws it up in the strike zone this season, which is 28 points below the league average among qualified starters. Matt Joyce has a batting average of .158 on fastballs thrown in the upper part of the strike zone this season, which is 80 points below the league average among qualified hitters.