Game 34 Preview: Indians at Tigers

Jason Miller

After last night's win, the Tigers are 29-8 against Cleveland at home since 2009. Ubaldo Jimenez will look to get the Tribe back on track, while Justin Verlander goes for his fifth win of the season.

Cleveland Indians (18-15) at Detroit Tigers (20-13)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2, 6.37 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (4-2, 1.55 ERA)

Jimenez's start to the 2013 season hasn't gone as well as Indians fans would have hoped, but his last two outings have shown some promise. He threw seven shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals back on April 29th, then allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Oakland A's in his last start. One thing is for sure, however: the walks are still a problem. Jimenez has walked 16 batters in just 29 2/3 innings this season, including five in his last two starts. Last year, Jimenez gave the Tigers fits in his six outings against them. In 37 innings, he had a WHIP of 1.393 (thanks to 17 walks), but allowed only 16 earned runs. As you might imagine with the Tigers, 11 of those 16 runs came at Comerica Park.

Other than that, it seems like the pre-2012 version of Jimenez is back. His strikeout rate and ground ball rate have both returned to where they were when he was a hot commodity with the Colorado Rockies. This is due in large part to him throwing his two-seam fastball more often and getting a little more downward movement on it. He has all but eliminated his curveball and changeup, choosing to use his slider and splitter more often in 2013. He throws his splitter more often against left-handed hitters. Against righties, he has started to throw his four-seam fastball more often with two strikes. Based on the PitchFX from his last few starts, it doesn't look like he is trying to locate the fastball in a certain spot (i.e. above the strike zone) to get the hitter to chase. Instead, it looks as if the fastball is used to lock hitters up that are looking for a breaking ball behind in the count. It will be interesting to see how he uses his pitches today against a team so familiar with him from last year.

Few teams have given Verlander as hard of a time as the Indians have throughout his career. In 192 innings, he is a pedestrian 14-13 with a 4.55 ERA. That said, the brunt of this damage has occurred in Ohio. Verlander is 7-10 with an ugly 5.38 ERA at Jacobs Progressive Field in his career compared to 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA against the Indians at home. Michael Brantley has hit well against him (10-for-23 with a double and three walks) but no one else on their roster has had any sustained success against the Tigers ace. Verlander is coming off his best outing of the season in Houston and should continue to build up his velocity. In his last four starts, he has a 1.29 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Heavy lumber in Cleveland

Going into the 2013 season, we knew the Indians would hit. I don't think anyone expected the offensive fireworks that they have put on so far, however. The Indians are fifth in the American League in runs scored despite playing in fewer games than any team above them not named the Detroit Tigers. They are first in ISO and slugging percentage by a wide margin in no small part thanks to their league leading 49 home runs. They have six different players with at least four home runs, led by Mark Reynolds with 11. The scary part? They aren't really overperforming as a group. Sure, they may fall back from their 5.06 runs per game pace, and Carlos Santana won't hit .354 all year. However, any fall-off from guys like Reynolds and Santana will likely be cancelled out by Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera, both of whom are hitting .222.

Outlook

In 2012, the Tigers scored 10 runs in a game on eight separate occasions. They have already put up a 10-spot five times this year, and don't look to be slowing down any time soon. Jhonny Peralta is swinging a hot bat and Alex Avila looks to be perking up a bit as well, hitting .250/.351/.500 in his last nine games. Meanwhile, it seems as if the 2012 version of Jimenez was just a one-year nightmare. This hasn't shown up in his overall line yet, but it will as the year goes on. The Tigers will get their baserunners tonight. The outcome of tonight's game depends on what happens once they get there.

Prediction

Verlander continues his dominant stretch and the Tigers scrape together a few runs off Jimenez... but leave 14 runners on base in the process.

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