- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

DETROIT (AP) - If the Detroit Tigers want to be taken seriously as contenders in the AL Central, these next two series against Cleveland could be vital.

First, though, the weather has to cooperate.

The Tigers and Indians were rained out Friday night, and the game won’t be made up until Sept. 1 as part of a split doubleheader. Detroit and Cleveland were supposed to play a four-game set at Comerica Park this week, then three games at Cleveland right before the All-Star break. Now the Tigers have one fewer opportunity to gain immediate ground on the division-leading Indians.

These next few weeks are crucial for Detroit as the Tigers try to play well enough to avoid a deadline sell-off. They are 35-43, seven games behind Cleveland.

“We’re playing within the division and they’re above us in the standings,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “In that sense, it’s a chance to make up for lost ground.”

The Tigers ended up having to wait for that chance. The game was called shortly before the scheduled start time of 7:10 p.m.

Detroit and Cleveland now have to add another doubleheader to the schedule, in September. They’re also set to play two games Saturday after they had a game postponed May 4.

The Tigers may be running out of time to turn their season around. General manager Al Avila was already talking last offseason about cutting costs, and if Detroit doesn’t show signs of improvement in the next month or so, players like J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and perhaps Ian Kinsler could become prime trade candidates.

Ausmus is hopeful the offense will pick up the pace soon.

“We lead baseball in hard-hit outs,” Ausmus said. “If you keep hitting the ball that hard, the numbers should correct themselves.”

The Indians have won 11 of their last 16 games, and although they have been unable to pull away in the division, Corey Kluber looks outstanding again. He’s 7-2 with a 3.02 ERA, and on Thursday, he tied a franchise record held by Bob Feller when he reached double-digit strikeouts for a fourth straight game.

“His level of consistency, the bar has been so high,” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s in great shape, he’s a hard worker, he’s strong. So he’s throwing the same pitches in the eighth as he was in the first.”

Rookie outfielder Bradley Zimmer is hitting .289 through his first 40 games and has seven stolen bases.

“The guy can kind of change the game with his legs, which is always welcome,” Francona said. “And he’s been running everything down in the outfield.”

FEELING BETTER

Francona left Monday’s game against Texas after he felt lightheaded and his heart rate increased. He returned Wednesday , and during a media session in his office Friday, he said he was feeling fine.

“Kind of back to being the normal me,” Francona said. “Which, as these guys know, is like one step above comatose.”

UP NEXT

Indians: RHP Josh Tomlin (4-9) starts the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. He was Cleveland’s scheduled starter Friday and is being pushed back because of the rainout. RHP Carlos Carrasco (8-3) takes the mound in the nightcap.

Tigers: RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-0) is being pushed back from Friday to the first game Saturday. Detroit will start RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-5) in the second game. LHP Matthew Boyd had been scheduled to start one of the games in the doubleheader, but that’s no longer necessary.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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