Indians Sweep Tigers, Open Up Big Lead. Déjà Vu?

Lou Marson of the Cleveland Indians tags out Brennan Boesch of the Detroit Tigers at the plate during their game at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Hey, look! The Cleveland Indians are in first place and opening up a big lead. Is this 2011 all over again?

The Cleveland Indians just swept a three-game series from the Detroit Tigers and opened up a 4½ game lead in the American League Central.

That didn't happen Thursday afternoon. It's a story lede from May 1, 2011, when the Indians did exactly that. (Not precisely, though: the Tribe has merely a four-game lead at this writing, pending the result of Thursday night's White Sox/Twins game in Chicago; it could be 4½ at the end of today's action.)

How'd that work out in 2011? The Tigers weren't the team 4½ back on May 1, 2011; that was the Royals, who finished with 91 losses. Detroit was 12-16 after that Cleveland sweep last year, games behind the Tribe; subsequently, the Tigers played 83-51 ball and ran away with the AL Central.

So perhaps Cleveland fans shouldn't get too excited about a sweep of the Tigers, even though they defeated Justin Verlander Thursday afternoon. It's not as if Verlander threw a bad game -- he actually pitched a complete game, his third of the season, issuing no walks and striking out seven. His ERA inched up from 2.14 to 2.15 in allowing just two runs.

It's not normal for Verlander to get outpitched, but he was Thursday by Justin Masterson, who threw seven strong innings. It was Masterson's second consecutive solid outing after a rough start to 2012. Chris Perez, who the other day called out Indians fans for not showing up at games, posted his league-leading 16th save.

And Clevelanders apparently took Perez's call to heart. This happened Wednesday night:

And Thursday, on a gorgeous, sunny, 81-degree day in the city by Lake Erie, the Tribe did better than that, drawing 23,622.

The Indians, truth be told, are probably playing a bit over their heads. With the 2-1 win Thursday, they've scored 190 runs (seventh in the AL) and allowed 189 (also seventh). They're about as league-average a team as you can imagine. Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez have pitched extremely well, and once the Indians get a lead, they keep it -- they're now 10-2 in one-run games.

This is far different from the way the Tribe ran out to their big lead in 2011 -- by the end of May, they were 10-8 in one-run games, but 9-5 in games won by at least five runs.

That was an illusion, obviously. This year could be as well; the Tigers still have a fine pitching staff and plenty of firepower in their lineup, though it hasn't been much in evidence to date. Detroit has scored fewer runs than Cleveland (186 after Thursday's loss), something they surely didn't expect when they added Prince Fielder to a lineup that finished fourth in the AL in 2011 with 787 runs. With the weather warming up, more run-scoring seems destined to follow.

So, Indians fans, enjoy this while you can. The Tigers are well-positioned to make the same kind of run they had in 2011.

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