Tigers, Indians Set for AL Central Showdown

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland probably won’t admit it, given that these two clubs will face off a dozen more times this season, but this week’s three game set with the Cleveland Indians is about as big a series as the Tigers have played this year.

Leyland’s actions, however, have said more than his words will. By opting to skip right hander Brad Penny on Thursday and giving that start to Justin Verlander, Leyland is setting up his ace to face the Indians in each of the next two series that the clubs play against each other. Had Verlander not been slotted into this series, it would have been virtually impossible to work him into the next one.

Joining Verlander (who will face Fausto Carmona) on the hill for Detroit this week will be newcomer Doug Fister and right hander Rick Porcello. Fister will match-up with Justin Masterson in Tuesday’s series opener and Porcello gets Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday. These match-ups are exactly what you hope to see from two clubs battling for a division crown. No fifth starters, no rookies, only the best each club can provide; complete with a trade deadline acquisition for each.

The Indians raced out to a 30-15 start and made a statement early on by sweeping the visiting Tigers on the final weekend of April. At the conclusion of that series, The Tribe’s lead in the division was 4.5 games over Kansas City and 7.5 games over Detroit. The Tigers took two of three from Cleveland in Detroit in mid-June.

Fister will make his second start with the Tigers, but it will be the third time he’s faced the Tribe this year. In two previous outings (both while with Seattle), Fister has held the Indians to three earned runs over 14 innings, allowing 10 hits and striking out nine. He’s 0-1 with a sparkling 1.93 against the Tribe this year, including an eight inning, four-hit, two earned run performance at Progressive Field on May 13. While he has never beaten the Indians, Fister has a 3.16 ERA in four career starts against Cleveland and 2.51 ERA in two starts at Progressive Field.

The Tigers have been successful in reaching base versus Masterson this year, collecting 14 hits and seven walks in only 13.1 innings. But the sinkerballer has largely kept the Tigers off the scoreboard, allowing only four earned runs (2.25 ERA) during that time. Detroit will have to take better advantage of opportunities tomorrow night if they intend to put Cleveland in a deeper hole.

Despite a pair of former 19-game winners facing off in Carmona and Verlander on Thursday, the marquee match-up is the middle game when Porcello takes on another former 19-game winner in Jimenez. Porcello is 5-0 in his last six starts, posting a 3.26 ERA over his last 38.2 innings. He has never lost to the Tribe, posting a 4-0 record and 2.32 ERA over eight career starts. Five of those outings have come in Cleveland, where Porcello’s been even better with an ERA of just 1.64.

Jimenez got a win against Detroit while with the Rockies this June, but allowed three runs and 10 baserunners in just five innings of work. That effort came at Coors Field, however, and Jimenez has been much better this season when not pitching at altitude. He’s made three career starts against the Tigers, but hasn’t been very good. In only 16 innings, Detroit has knocked him around to the tune of 23 hits, six walks, and ten earned runs (5.32 ERA). Two of those games came in Detroit, where Jimenez had to face a full American League lineup, and the results were 15 hits and seven runs in 11 innings of work. Not only will this game mark his home debut for the Indians, but also the first time he’s ever taken the hill at Progressive Field at all.

If the match-ups in the first two games of the series seem slanted in favor of Detroit, the finale has a chance to be the best of the bunch. No, really. For all his struggles over the past few years, Carmona has remained a consistent performer when facing the Tigers. In his career, he’s posted an 8-4 record versus Detroit (15 starts) with an ERA of 3.48. Dating back to 2009, Carmona has an overall ERA of 4.85, but in his six starts against the Tigers in that span, he’s been at a much more palatable 3.32 over 38 innings pitched. Earlier this year, Carmona beat the Tigers by allowing two runs on seven hits over five innings of work.

Verlander’s most recent start against Cleveland came close to making history. On June 14, Verlander took a no-hit bid into the eighth before a single by Orlando Cabrera broke it up. The Tigers went on to win behind a two-hit, 12 strikeout shutout from Verlander in a game that moved the Tigers into first place. Early in his career, Verlander often struggled against the Tribe, but over his last 11 starts against them (dating back to 2009), he’s 7-1 with a 2.54 ERA. If Verlander is as dominating as he can be, there isn’t a pitcher in his class. But if he’s off just a bit, as he was in his last start versus Kansas City, Carmona has shown an ability to keep his club in the game, especially when facing the Tigers.

With a full four game lead, Detroit is obviously in a great position as these two clubs meet. Even if they wind up getting swept, they’ll still hold a one-game edge in the race. On the flip side, a sweep by the Tigers would all but bury the Indians at seven games back. Anything short of a Tigers’ sweep will mean only that this race won’t be decided for quite a while yet.

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Next Tigers Game View full schedule »
Tuesday, Sep 22 Sep7:05at Cleveland IndiansBuy Tickets

Tags: Cleveland Indians Detroit Tigers Doug Fister Fausto Carmona Justin Masterson Justin Verlander Rick Porcello Ubaldo Jimenez

  • http://seedlingstostars.com/ thebaseballfish

    I would respectfully disagree with the overall point. The Indians are far from Detroit’s primary competition for the AL Central crown this season. Since May 1st they are 38-48. The dream has been over for a while and it’s not going to turn around, but for some reason people are slow to come to grips with it. Trading for Jimenez was a act of desperation and it’s not going to help over come their significant flaws and holes.

    Detroit is squarely in the driver’s seat (49-38 since May 1st) but if any team can catch them it’s not the Indians but rather the Chicago White Sox (45-40 since May 1st) who have a better lineup, rotation and I’d also put more faith in their bullpen in the last 2 months of the season.

    As a Twins and Royals fan I’m pulling for your boys to bring it home, and I think they will, but Ozzie’s boys will make it interesting.

  • Matt Snyder

    @thebaseballfish I think the reason that many of us think the Indians are the primary competition is becauase the relative number of games remaining. Tigers only play the Sox 6 more times, but they have the Indians 12 more times. There’s a little bit more of an “anything can happen” factor there.

    The best way to make up games is in the head to head matchups. CWS is 5 GB, so they probably need to go 5-1 or 6-0 vs. the Tigers to make things really interesting. (excepting a Twinsian type run or Tigers collapse, either of which would be impossible to expect).

  • Matt Snyder

    @thebaseballfish Of course, I’d agree that the Sox are a better team, but that doesn’t mean they’re currently the biggest competition right now. Would have probably agreed three or four weeks ago.

  • http://seedlingstostars.com/ thebaseballfish

    @Matt Snyder So you’re saying playing 12 games against a bad team is more relevant than 6 against a better team? Put the overall W-L records aside and look at the way the teams are trending.

    Not that Detroit is anything special either – they looked VERY ordinary in KC this past weekend …

  • Matt Snyder

    @thebaseballfish KC is 4-3 vs. Boston and New York.

    In terms of who has a better shot at catching the Tigers, yes, 12 games head-to-head is more relevant. In terms of who’ll finish 2nd? No.

    Most likely team to finish 2nd is CWS.

    Most likely team to pass DET is CLE.

    Chicago needs to do well vs. Detroit plus get help. Cleveland can win it just by beating Detroit.

  • http://seedlingstostars.com/ thebaseballfish

    @Matt Snyder Completely disagree – teams have about 45-48 games left so getting worked up on H2H matchups at this point is a little premature.

    I would also disagree that Cleveland is more likely to pass Detroit just because they are fewer games back (CWS is 1 game behind CLE now BTW) and have more H2H games. To make that assertion you’d have to evaluate the strengths of both teams opponents the rest of the way and factor in home/road splits as well. Even more importantly you have to factor in the actual quality of the rosters.

    Cleveland is NOT a good team, hasn’t been since April, and won’t be a factor in the division whether the have 1, 5, or 100 games remaining against the Tigers.

    The Royals are also 0-3 against the Padres … not sure what your point was there.

  • Matt Snyder

    @thebaseballfish My point was that I wasn’t sure about your point about the Tigers being “VERY ordinary in KC”. A few games don’t tell us much in isolation.

    48 games is not all that many when you’re trying to overcome 5 games like the Sox are. Tigers have a very easy schedule, and if DET goes .500, Sox need to go 29-19 to tie.

  • ZacSnyder

    @thebaseballfish@Matt Snyder I think the point is that Cleveland has a bigger say in what the Tigers do down the stretch than the White Sox (by a 2 to 1 margin). The White Sox have to catch the Tigers much more independently.

    Think of it this way, the White Sox and Indians both need to win and have the Tigers lose. The Indians have 12 chances to accomplish the Win-Tigers loss combo in one game while the ChiSox have six. That is six more times the ChiSox can only scoreboard watch than the Indians.

  • http://seedlingstostars.com/ thebaseballfish

    @ZacSnyder I get all that, but that logic ignores the fact that Chicago is a better team than Cleveland so:

    1) Detroit will have an easier time against the Indians in their 12 games than they will against the Sox in 6. Playing an inferior team more often than the superior one is in the Tigers favor.

    2) Cleveland is not a good team so while they theoretically may be able to put a dent in Detroit’s playoff hopes by stealing wins, those victories will be offset by the fact that they are going to lose more of their other 33 or so games then they are going to win.

    3) Chicago is far more equipped to overcome a 5 game deficit independently than Cleveland is a 4 game one regardless of the circumstances of schedule.

    4) 48 games is plenty of time for a team to overcome a 5 game deficit. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I know it’s far from a rarity in baseball.

    My overall and initial point here is that playing the Indians given the current circumstances and rosters is far from a “showdown.”

  • ZacSnyder

    @thebaseballfish ChiSox are the better team, Indians have the better opportunity. Both have limitations and advantages in their ability to catch the Tigers. Debating the differences between the two is probably as much folly as calling a Tigers-Indians series a “showdown”

  • http://seedlingstostars.com/ thebaseballfish

    @ZacSnyder You’re right about it being folly but I still disagree that the Indians have a better opportunity. A win counts the same regardless of opponent and the quality of your particular team is FAR more important than who you are playing.