The Detroit Tigers aren't downplaying the significance of a lengthy road trip that begins with key series against two contenders.
There's also no minimizing the advantage they should have by starting Max Scherzer - and missing Jered Weaver.
Scherzer looks to win his sixth straight start Friday night when the Tigers open a three-game series against the streaking Los Angeles Angels.
Detroit enters this set a game out of first place in the AL Central after losing two of three to Cleveland this week.
The Tigers (73-63) avoided the sweep by winning 7-1 Wednesday. Doug Fister went seven innings while Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder homered.
Although Detroit would have liked to have some more momentum before a 10-game trip, it will try to build off Wednesday's victory.
After three in Anaheim, the Tigers head to first-place Chicago for four before closing the trip in Cleveland. They are 30-35 away from home.
"When everybody else knows the importance of it, obviously the players, the manager and the coaches know the importance of it," manager Jim Leyland said. "The fans know. Yeah, I don't think you can downplay it."
The Tigers would seem to have an advantage in the opener, pitting Scherzer (15-6, 3.93 ERA) against Ervin Santana (8-11, 5.32) after the Angels ruled out Weaver, a 16-game winner, due to tendinitis in his biceps.
Los Angeles said Weaver's injury wasn't related to him taking a line drive off his right shoulder in his last start, but that it wants to be cautious.
"He's extremely important to what happens to us today, tomorrow, next year and the year after," general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Angels' official website.
Weaver had been struggling prior to the injury, going 1-3 with a 6.14 ERA in his last five starts, but Scherzer couldn't have been much better in his past five.
Scherzer lowered his ERA to 1.03 in that stretch after pitching eight scoreless innings against the White Sox on Saturday, striking out nine in the 5-1 victory. He's second in the majors in strikeouts (204) - five behind teammate Justin Verlander.
"This is the best I've seen him, the way he's pitched lately," catcher Alex Avila said of Scherzer. "You can tell he's kind of taking it to the next level."
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against the Angels this season, both in Detroit. He gave up one run and four hits in seven innings of a 5-2 win opposite Santana on Aug. 26.
While the Tigers took two of three from Los Angeles (74-63) in that series, the Angels swept Oakland earlier this week to pull within 2 1/2 of the A's for the AL's second wild-card spot.
"We want it," Torii Hunter said following Wednesday's 7-1 victory. "We know we have a pretty good ballclub, a really good ballclub, and we want to show it. We're doing it right now."
The Angels have averaged 6.0 runs in their last 15 games, winning 12 of those. Albert Pujols, who missed the last series against the Tigers, is hitting .362 during a 14-game hitting streak.
Another reason for the Angels' recent consistency is Santana, who is 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts. Santana surrendered two runs and four hits over seven innings of a 5-2 win at Seattle on Saturday.
"I'm doing the same thing I've been doing all year," he said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work. It worked today."
The right-hander is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in a pair of starts against the Tigers this season.
Fielder, who is batting .410 (16 for 39) over his last 11 games, is 4 for 7 with two homers against Santana.
The Associated Press News Service
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