Interleague play is suddenly upon us again. You can read my thoughts on the entire thing here. Like it or not though, it’s back for one series at least this weekend.

One of the matchups I actually look forward to is the Pirates-Tigers, which is slowly becoming an annual rematch of the classic 1909 World Series! Yes, that was the year that Honus Wagner bested Ty Cobb’s Tigers 4-games-to-3 for the Pirates first championship.

With the Tigers in town, I will be at PNC Park all weekend for the festivities. The Pirates already got a leg up in the series with a 10-1 victory Friday night thanks to Neil Walker’s two-run double and three-run home run to lead the way. Can Walker duplicate his efforts tonight during his bobblehead giveaway?

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The Tigers are the hottest team in baseball right now winning their past 10 of 11 games, and there’s one main reason for it. Detroit’s starting pitching is on a torrid pace  the past two weeks.

In the past 10 wins, Tigers starters are 9-0 with a 1.29 ERA (69.1ip/10er). That total doesn’t hurt when it includes a no-hitter by ace Justin Verlander. But even bigger than JV has been for this team, the streak has been helped by the turnaround by Brad Penny. Penny has been exceptionally strong after struggling in April. He’s 3-0 with a miniscule 0.83 ERA in his last three starts. Not bad for a pitcher who started the season allowing 20 runs in his first four starts with his new team to sport an ERA well over 8.00 for most of April.

Max Scherzer has been another stud for the Tigers this year, including his past two starts (2-0, 1.38). He’s 6-0 on the year for the longest winning streak to start a season in Detroit since Jeremy Bonderman won eight straight in 2007. Scherzer and Trevor Cahill of the A’s are the only two pitchers this season who are 6-0 to this point and both are slated to start Sunday afternoon. Ever since making his debut with the D-Backs in 2008, I thought Scherzer could developed into a legitimate ace…and not just because I have him in a keeper league. I still can’t believe Arizona dealt him and now the Tigers have a great chance for a ridiculous 1-2 combo for years with JV and Max.

Scherzer looks to continue the Tigers winning streak when he starts against the Royals Sunday at Comerica Park. And the way he’s pitched against the Royals over his career (2.52 ERA), the Tigers stellar starting pitching numbers in their last 10 wins could actually improve following his start.

Just four days after Liriano’s no-hitter, Tigers ace Justin Verlander fired the second no-hitter of his career Saturday night in a masterpiece over the Blue Jays in Toronto. Verlander faced the minimum 27 batters with a double play erasing the only walk he allowed of the game. He struck out four batters and finished with an efficient 108 pitches.

It’s been just about four years since Verlander threw his first no-no in interleague play against the Brewers back in June of 2007. Not much has changed since then. Verlander is still the ace of the Tigers staff and he’s still a dominant pitcher that can throw in the high 90s deep into games. Though he has seen the rotation changed around him completely in Detroit since ’07 when Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Chad Durbin, Mike Maroth and Andrew Miller each made 13 or more starts. None of those five pitchers are anywhere near Detroit’s roster today. It doesn’t seem like four years is an incredible amount of time for a franchise, but there sure has been a lot of change around him. Today, Verlander is surrounded with the likes of Max Scherzer, Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke.

Getting back to Verlander and his second no-hitter…he becomes the 24th player since 1919 to throw multiple no-hitters. Nolan Ryan of course leads with seven! Sandy Koufax tossed four of them and Feller recorded three while the rest of the list all put together two. Out of the entire list, six of the players are already in the Hall of Fame (Ryan, Koufax, Feller, Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn and Jim Bunning). Randy Johnson is another on the list, who will be in the Hall the first year he’s eligible. Then you have Roy Halladay, who is pretty much a lock for the Hall once his playing days are over. Halladay and Mark Buehrle are also the only two active players along with Verlander to accomplish this feat.

So eight of the players who have thrown multiple no-hitters will be in the Hall soon enough. Will Verlander join them down the road? It’s entirely too early to wonder about that as JV is just in his sixth full ML season, but his start hasn’t been too shabby to date.

AL CENTRAL STANDINGS (as of May 2nd)

Indians        19-8        —
Royals         15-13     4.0
Tigers          12-15     6.5
White Sox  10-19    9.5
Twins            9-18     9.5

Yes, I know…it’s early. It’s only May 1st, but the Indians winning while the Tigers, White Sox and Twins lose has become a common occurrence in this early season. It’s been so common that the Indians are threatening to run away with a huge division lead. They finished the weekend by sweeping the Tigers right out of Cleveland to move to 19-8.

So do the Indians actually have a legitimate shot at winning the title. YES.

It has just as much to do with this Indians team as it does with the way the rest of the division is playing. Did you know that the Tribe currently leads the American League in offense? Probably not, but they are first with a .272 batting average and first in runs with 141. The lineup had the potential to be solid, but I’m not sure if anyone saw this coming. Young guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley are healthy and producing while Travis Hafner is having a resurgence of a year. Grady Sizemore has also returned and given the Tribe a boost with a .379/.429/.822 slash line.

The surprising part about Cleveland so far this year is its pitching. They are fourth in the AL with a 3.49 ERA. The Tribe’s worst starter to date has been their ace to start the season in Fausto Carmona, who sits with a 5.15 ERA. But they are receiving stellar pitching performances from Josh Tomlin (4-0, 2.45), Mitch Talbot (1-0, 1.46) and Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.18). Masterson was always a high prospect of the Red Sox and showed shades of brilliance last year, but looks like he may be finally putting it all together. The question for this team will be can Tomlin/Talbot put together a full, solid season and can Carmona bounce back from his early struggles.

So there’s the breakdown of why the Indians are winning, but another reason they have a real shot at the AL Central title is because the rest of the division is floundering at the moment. The Tigers are looking like just an ordinary .500 team with not enough offense, starting pitching and a sketchy bullpen. The Twins seem to have run out of some of their magic and the White Sox are in the process of burying themselves early again. When a team is struggling early, you just can’t allow yourself to get buried in April and May, but the White Sox and Twins are already nine games below .500.

Last year, the White Sox started off 24-33 (nine games down as well), they did rebound to end up with 88 wins and a battle for the pennant, but they also went on a ridiculous run where they went 26-5 in a stretch of 30-plus games in June and July. Can you rely on something like that again? I’m not so sure. I think they will eventually turn it around, but I don’t know if they can get back and compete for the division.

That leaves the Royals, who like the Indians are a surprise team so far this season. Along with the Indians, they are the only other team above .500 in the Central though they haven’t been quite as exciting as the Tribe. The Royals have a lot of young talent that will hopefully help turn the corner of baseball in Kansas City, but I just don’t see this team hanging in a division hunt down the stretch.

Coupled with this talented Indians team and how the rest of the division is playing, I think the Tribe have a great shot at challenging the division. Pundits will still go with the “it’s still early” line and think the Twins and White Sox will still battle for this division. They is definitely possible, but at some point you can’t continue to use the early line and need to start stringing together some wins and actually look like a Major League team in the process, which the Twins and White Sox have not looked like so this year.

Just a few days after attending the Indians-Red Sox game, I made the drive to Comerica Park in Detroit to see a rematch of the 1909 World Series between the Pirates and Tigers.

Old school jerseys for Tigers and Bucs

I went to two games (June 12 and June 13) and both were pretty much the same result. The Pirates blew late leads in both games and lost by one run in each game on their way to a three-game sweep at the hands of the Motor City boys. The June 12th game featured throwback jerseys as the teams honored their hometown teams from the Negro League. For some reason, I didn’t take pictures of this trip so I do not own the picture above. Anyway, Carlos Guillen ended the game Saturday night in the 10th inning with a walkoff home run.

On the final game of the series on Sunday afternoon, I still can’t believe Dotel pitched to Miguel Cabrera in the 8th inning of a 2-1 game with two outs. Cabrera predictably took Dotel deep for a three-run home run and that was that. Despite how much Pirates baseball I’ve seen in the past 17 years, sometimes I still can’t believe some of the decisions that are made. Unreal. I also witnessed a rare occurrence in that game as well that you can read here.

This was not the headline the Tigers were hoping would kick off spring training 2011. Miguel Cabrera, one of the top five best young hitters in the game, is starting to become a distraction for the Tigers off the field. Cabrera was arrested early Thursday morning in Florida and charged with a DUI.

The situation was ugly according to police reports that not only was he found intoxication behind the wheel of a smoking vehicle, but also resisting arrest and even at one point, grabbing a bottle of scotch and taking a drink right in front of the police officer. Yikes. Not to mention his bizarre mug shot where he’s smiling while being booked at the police station.

This isn’t the first problem Cabrera has had with alcohol considering he showed up to games drunk after an apparent domestic fight with his wife in 2009 while the Tigers were attempting to clinch a division title from the Twins. That prompted an apology to the Tigers organization and his word that he would never drink again. Obviously, that turns out to not be true. A further look into what transpired early Thursday morning shows this is becoming a serious problem for Cabrera.

He was found alone in his car while the engine was smoking on the side on the road. Where were his teammates? Where were his friends that he went out with Wednesday night? Did he go drinking by himself? He’s making $20 million a year, why doesn’t he hire a driver or just take a cab if he wants to go out and have fun. One thing is for certain—someone in his life (a teammate, family member or friend) needs to step in before this gets out of control and derails his career just like a Darryl Strawberry or Josh Hamilton. Hamilton has since turned his career around, but he lost valuable years due to drugs and alcohol and almost never got back on the right track.

So far this hasn’t cost Cabrera or his team his dominant play on the field as he’s been one of the premier power hitters in today’s game over the past seven years, but we’ve seen personal problems eventually consume a player’s career in the past. It would be sad to see this happen here, but he needs to get help or accept the help that is being offered by the Tigers, family and friends.

With one week remaining in the 2010 regular season, the majority of fans are geared up to see who earns a playoff berth with five playoff spots still up for grabs. I’m obviously interested in that, but I’m also looking forward to those second place finishers that do not qualify for the playoffs. And why is that exactly? Because MLB awards teams for not making the playoffs as well! According to MLB’s postseason bylaws, it states that the four 2nd place teams (the non-wild card clubs) who do not make the postseason still receive 1% of the playoff shares.

I honestly didn’t even know this myself until a friend emailed me about it the other day. So even with some teams being out of the pennant race, they can still battle it out for a decent bonus paycheck at the conclusion of the regular season.

Take a look at 2008, where the Minnesota Twins received $511,593 for finishing in second place, which each player that received a share pulled in $11,078.97. Not a shabby bonus for finishing as the runner-up in the division.

So with the final week upon us, people will be excited to see who pulls the AL East out. Please. I’ll be watching the Tigers-White Sox in the AL Central to see who gets the 1 percent shares. Or how about the AL West where the A’s lead the Angels by two games. Suddenly that battle for second place doesn’t seem as pointless. Hey, there’s money on the line. Hang on Oakland!