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Game 99 Preview: Tigers at Indians

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July 20, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) waves to the crowd after the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
July 20, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) waves to the crowd after the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Detroit Tigers (53-45) at Cleveland Indians (49-49)

Time/Place: 7:00 p.m., Progressive Field

SB Nation Blog: Let's Go Tribe

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (11-5, 2.42 ERA) vs. RHP Zach McAllister (4-2, 3.21 ERA)

McAllister pitched well in his first start against the Tigers this year, giving up 2 runs in 6 1/3 innings en route to a 4-2 Indians victory on May 23rd. Oddly enough, he was sent to AAA Columbus after that start for over a month. Since being recalled on June 28th, he is 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 5 starts. During that time frame, he has struck out 30 hitters and walked 8 in 31 innings pitched. This is partially due to facing the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles -- the top two teams in the American League in strikeouts -- in four of those 5 starts. Overall, McAllister's 8.36 strikeouts per 9 innings are well above the 6-7 range that he has displayed in the minors.

Speaking of strikeouts, Verlander is slipping. After last night, Verlander is now in 3rd place in the AL, 8 behind Max Scherzer and 5 behind Felix Hernandez. Of course, this is the biggest gripe that we can possibly come up with about JV's recent production. He has pitched 25 of a possible 27 innings in his three July starts and has an ERA of 1.08 in that span. Of course, his BABIP is .153 during this stretch, so clearly he is just getting lucky; at least, that's what national pundits would have told you before this season. Verlander looks to be hitting his mid-summer groove even earlier than last season, when he started July with a 1-2 record and an astronomical 2.11 ERA.

Outlook

Admittedly, I'm slightly cautious about today's game. Well, as cautious as I can be with the MVP on the mound. As we all remember, Verlander's last start in Cleveland was the crushing 2-1 loss in which Verlander threw a complete game and basically went HULK SMASH on the Indians lineup in the later innings, possibly out of frustration with the Tigers (lack of) offense that day. I don't think we will see early inning gas from Verlander, but I wouldn't be shocked if he started picking up the heat a bit earlier than normal today if the offense doesn't spot him a few early runs.

The counter-argument to this idea? The team's recent performance. Coming off of a 6-1 homestand, losing a series on the road isn't the end of the world and Verlander shouldn't feel as if he needs to carry the team like he did during that series in May (especially considering Fister was on the DL at that point). If Verlander can keep his cool and continue his momentum, this Indians lineup has no chance. Meanwhile, I question whether McAllister, recent results be damned, can go toe-to-toe with Verlander for 9 innings.

Prediction

Verlander picks up his 4th win in a row with another amazing performance. Also, someone in the Tigers bullpen is spotted by cameras with his finger in his nose out of boredom.

Gameday Reading:

Game 98: Tigers 5, Indians 3 - Let's Go Tribe
"Max Scherzer only allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in 7 innings, though it seemed that he [was] fighting himself all night."

Tigers Beat Indians, Quintin Berry Gets Clutch Hits, Scherzer Hits 99 Again - Walkoff Woodward, Cameron Scott
"Max Scherzer may give up a ton of home runs, but he’s been outstanding this year, despite his high ERA and BABIP."

Brent Lillibridge in, Aaron Cunningham squeezed out: Indians Insider - The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Paul Hoynes
"The Indians have 10 days to trade, release or put Cunningham on waivers...If Cunningham clears waivers, Acta said he'd like to keep him in the organization."