Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers

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Pitching Match-ups: 

Justin Masterson takes the mound tonight for the first time since his masterful complete game shutout against the White Sox on Sunday. Overall, June was a rough month for the Indians ace. In 6 starts, Masterson posted a 2-3 record with a 4.29 ERA. Twice he allowed six runs or more and both times it was thanks to one disastrous inning in which his command completely fell apart. Sunday’s performance was a positive step back in the right direction which is good news heading into a crucial four game series against the Tigers. Watch for the movement on Masterson’s slider and sinker. If he is on, they’ll be moving like crazy. If he’s too amped up, both pitches will flatten out and lead to a glorified batting practice for the Tigers.

Meanwhile, the Tigers will counter with Rick Porcello. After making positive strides in both 2011 and 2012, Porcello has taken a bit of a down turn in 2013. He has the arm and the arsenal pitches necessary to be a big time major league starter, but he just can’t seem to put it all together. Over his last three starts, Porcello has been miserable. He is 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA against the Orioles, Angels, and Rays. Needles to say, Porcello has struggled mightily so this should be an opportunity for the Indians offense to put some crooked numbers on the board.

Carlos Carrasco has made it a hobby to toy with our emotions with his ever continuing yo-yo act. He looks like an ace… He looks like Garbage. He nearly throws a shutout… he gets lit up. He has pinpoint control… he loses his mind and throws at someone’s head. It’s been very frustrating to watch, but these are the types of growing pains you can expect with a young pitcher struggling to find himself at the big league level. Saturday night he’ll get another opportunity to audition for a permanent spot in the rotation against a very good Tigers team that has made it a habit of beating up on him, 1-3 with a 9.50 ERA and .424/.479/.612 slash line against him so far in his career.

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Anibal Sanchez was the big midseason acquisition for the Tigers in 2012 and helped guide them to a World Series appearance. In 2013, he has been solid once again. In 13 starts so far, Sanchez has allowed 2 or fewer earned runs a remarkable ten times. He has been fabulous. However, Saturday will be his first start since June 15 thanks to a strained shoulder that landed him in the DL. Hopefully for the Indians Sanchez will be battling rust. In his only rehab start Sanchez was force to leave early after being hit in the calf by a liner drive.

Kluber mania has taken a bit of a hit over his past couple of starts. After being a revelation on the mound since about mid-May, Kluber came back down to Earth in his previous two starts. However, he has had significantly more good starts this season than bad so there is little reason to think Kluber can’t rebound. Per Merritt Rohlfing on the latest edition of Wahoo’s on the Mic, Kluber fell victim to nibbling the strike zone his last time out rather than going right after hitters and pounding the zone. Look for him to make an adjustment in his approach and hopefully a positive result will follow.

Doug Fister will hit the mound for the Tigers on Sunday. Like Sanchez in 2012, Fister was the Tigers key mid-season acquisition back in 2011. Since coming to the Tigers he has shown a tremendous amount of ability and has become a solid piece to the Tigers’ rotation. He’s shown that same level of consistency once again in 2013 and has posted solid numbers for the Tigers yet again. Sunday will be the first time the Tribe has seen Fister this season.

Any debate over Kazmir going to the bullpen can officially be laid to rest. Thanks largely to his performance over his last three starts, Kazmir has solidified his place as a contributing member of the rotation. Over his past three starts, Kazmir is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.89 and has averaged 6.1 innings per start. His numbers would be even better had Bryan Shaw not allowed two inherited runners to score this past Wednesday. This is a big spot for Kazmir as he is the anchor for this series and taking on the Tigers’ best pitcher this season.

Speaking of that “best pitcher this season,” surprisingly it’s not Justin Verlander. The Indians get lucky in that they do not have to face Verlander, but they will have to square off against Max Scherzer. Not only has he been the best pitcher for the Tigers this season, but he is also in line to start the all-star game and would win the Cy Young award if It were handed out today. Can the Indians be the team that finally puts an “L” on the board for Scherzer? We’ll have to wait and see.

Final Thought:

This is a huge series for the Indians. They did a heck of a job battling their way back within striking distance after that eight game losing streak knocked them back a few pegs. Fans seems to recognize the importance, as prices for Indians Tickets to the series average $100.83 on the secondary market, compared to $75.22 for the rest of July.   The last thing they can afford to do if be swept or lose three out of the next four games. While this series certainly won’t determine the AL Central race, it will go a long way in helping us figure out where the Indians stand in regards to their top competition for the crown. At 2-6 on the year so far versus Detroit, a good series could have a positive effect on the morale and build confidence as they head into the all-star break.

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