This has to feel like an awfully familiar spot for the Tigers and a painfully familiar hole for the Red Sox.
Three weeks ago, Anibal Sanchez took the mound at Fenway Park for a nationally televised Sunday night game, tossed five innings of five-hit ball with one earned run allowed, and let his offense take care of the rest in a 6-2 win that finished off a series sweep for the Tigers and continued what eventually was a 10-game losing streak for the Red Sox.
The Tigers were soaring heading out of Fenway Park that night until their plane broke down. Their winning ways did the same, leading to 13 losses in their next 17 games -- until the Red Sox came to Detroit. Making things worse for the Red Sox, Sanchez is now on a roll.
Sanchez hasn't had the wins to show for it, but his 22 1/3 innings and three runs allowed over his last three starts have kept the Tigers in ballgames. He has walked only one batter in that stretch while striking out 19 others, and has shown some of the best pure pitching by a Tiger this season.
"Sanchie might have more weapons than any other pitcher on the staff, really," manager Brad Ausmus said Saturday. "His stuff is outstanding. He's got three well above-average pitches and one good pitch. There's just a lot of different ways he can go after a hitter."
Ausmus doesn't necessarily mean the number of different pitches Sanchez throws.
"I guess it's the action on his pitches," he continued. "The arm speed and the action on his pitches make it very difficult on hitters."
On Sunday, Sanchez's recent roll will intersect with the comeback story of John Lackey, who's 4-2 with a 2.43 ERA over his last eight starts. Seven of those starts have been quality outings, but the one exception was his May 17 start at Fenway against the Tigers, who hit him around for five earned runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings.
Six of the nine hits that night went for extra bases, including a Miguel Cabrera opposite-field homer. His fastball command wasn't as good as usual that night, and he paid for fastballs inside to Detroit's dangerous right-handed hitters.
Since that game, though, he has rolled off three straight solid outings, allowing three runs over 21 innings with three walks and 15 strikeouts.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have veered back and forth from winning streak to losing skid. After the Tigers left Boston in mid-May, the Red Sox went another week before their next victory. Then they won seven in a row before starting on this road trip. A loss Sunday would be their sixth straight.
They've been an example of what Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter has talked about with his own team, that streaks go back and forth during a long season. It's how teams react to struggles that determine their success over the course of a full season.
"That's baseball. It's crazy," Hunter said. "It's hard to explain, but when you say that, it's like an excuse to people. I mean, this is failing game. This is a tough game. You're going to fail and you're going to lose.
"The team that bounces back, or the player that bounces back, from the failure and makes the adjustments, those are the strong ones. The ones that sit there and stand in the storm, they won't make any progress. It's going to rain on them every day."
The Tigers have rained on the Red Sox every meeting this season, albeit a small measure of revenge for the American League Championship Series last October. Detroit's five-game winning streak against Boston is its longest in the rivalry since winning seven straight meetings in 1973.
Tigers: Avila could return from mild concussion
• Alex Avila is expected to be available for Sunday's game after missing Saturday's win with what team officials called a mild concussion. Avila was actually cleared to play Saturday, but Ausmus wanted to give him a day to rest after taking a David Ortiz backswing to his head Friday night.
Even after Avila returns, though, the Tigers are going to watch him for symptoms. His history shows why.
When Avila took a foul tip that knocked him out of a game last August in Cleveland, he cleared a doctor's examination, passed concussion tests, flew to the next stop on the road trip and returned to action for a full game before the worst of the symptoms emerged the next day, three days after the actual injury. That forced him onto the concussion DL for just over two weeks.
"He had what's called delayed onset symptoms," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "Obviously we have to keep an eye on that."
Avila is 1-for-11 with three walks and four strikeouts off Lackey.
Red Sox: Napoli expected back from the disabled list
• First baseman Mike Napoli is coming off the 15-day disabled list Sunday, and manager John Farrell will be throwing him right in at the No. 5 spot in the lineup. Napoli is 3-for-7 with a home run, a double and two walks off Sanchez.
Napoli went on the DL on May 25 with a sprained finger. He's hitting .260 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 43 games this season, and Farrell is looking forward to getting his bat back.
"You're talking about a guy that's mid-20s home runs and nearly 100 RBIs a year ago," Farrell said. "That type of production has been missed. … I think any time you can lengthen the lineup with another quality hitter, it's going to be advantageous for us. We're certainly looking forward to Mike being in that spot."
• Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz's simulated game was moved from Saturday to Sunday after a mixup on the availability of Comerica Park's field. A FOX Sports report suggested that Tigers righty Max Scherzer, who started Saturday night, didn't want the mound to be used before the game, but Scherzer indicated he wasn't aware of that.
• Nick Castellanos had a streak of three consecutive three-hit games, the first Tigers rookie to do that since Rick Peters in 1980.
• Though Detroit closer Joe Nathan struggled through the ninth inning Saturday night, Ausmus indicated he'd be available to pitch Sunday night.
"We need Joe Nathan to be our closer," Ausmus said. "He'll work through this. "