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Game 76 Preview: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

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Justin Verlander tries to snap the Tigers' losing streak as he and Josh Tomlin face off for the third time this season.

Harry How/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians' recent dominance of the Tigers is both puzzling and frustrating. There has been an ebb and flow to this rivalry over the years, but the swift transition from owning the Tribe to watching them pummel the Tigers into submission has not been fun to watch.

There are numerous reasons as to why the Indians are 8-0 against the Tigers this season, but one of the most bizarre is the respective performances of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The Tigers' two sluggers have destroyed Cleveland pitching over the years; Cabrera is hitting .345/.420/.602 against the Tribe in his career, while Victor is batting a cool .326/.391/.523 since they traded him away in 2009.

This season, the tables have turned. Martinez is hitting .194 without a walk or home run, while Cabrera is just 4-for-26 (.154) with zero extra-base hits. It's not as if the Tribe are relying on a new cast of pitchers either. Both Cabrera and Martinez have done plenty of damage against the Indians' current rotation, including Cabrera's 1.111 OPS against Sunday starter Josh Tomlin.

The Tigers have several other issues to solve if they are going to hunt down the Indians in the AL Central race, but fixing whatever ails their two best hitters against Cleveland's pitching staff would go a long way in snapping their eight-game losing streak.

Cleveland Indians (43-30) at Detroit Tigers (38-37)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Josh Tomlin (8-1, 3.32 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (7-5, 3.78 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Tomlin 81.1 16.0 2.1 4.56 0.7
Verlander 100.0 25.4 6.5 3.5 2.2

You would think Josh Tomlin would get absolutely blown up by a major league offense more often than he has in 2016. The 31-year-old righthander coughed up eight runs (four earned) on nine hits against the Texas Rangers on May 30, but has limited the opposition to four runs or fewer in 11 of his 13 starts this season. His success is made all the more puzzling by the number of home runs he gives up, now 15 in just 81 1/3 innings. Of the other pitchers who have coughed up 15 or more home runs, only two have an ERA below 4.19: Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Tomlin's recent breakout is that he isn't all that deceptive on the mound. His "here it is, hit it" style has resulted in a 3.32 ERA through 13 starts this season, and a 3.18 ERA and 0.97 WHIP since the start of 2015. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is excellent thanks to a minuscule walk rate, but advanced metrics still aren't believers; ZiPS projects him for a 4.71 ERA over the remainder of the season, while Steamer is slightly more optimistic at 3.94.

Worst of all, Tomlin's batted ball profile suggests that his ERA should be a full run (or two) higher. He is giving up line drives at a league average clip, but is allowing hard contact at a 36.1 percent rate, the 10th highest in baseball among qualified pitchers. His fly ball rate isn't as extreme as it was in 2015 either, and he's not getting lucky on home run balls. Oh, and opponents are hitting .296 while slugging .478 on his cutter, a pitch he has thrown 40 percent of the time this season.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Tigers hitter to fear: Ian Kinsler (.400/.429/.650 in 21 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.158/.261/.368 in 23 plate appearances)

Tomlin has stymied the Tigers' offense this season, limiting them to three runs on 13 hits in 12 2/3 innings. He also threw a complete game against Detroit last September, but struggled something fierce against the Tigers prior to 2015. He coughed up more than three runs on three separate occasions in 2014, and allowed a staggering 1.038 OPS to Tigers hitters that season. Only a few Tigers have had sustained success against him, though. Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all have an OPS over 1.000, while everyone else is at .629 or below.

Outlook

The Indians have not faced off against Verlander since he snapped out of an early season funk, so Sunday's game should be a nice litmus test for the 33-year-old righthander. Verlander has struggled against the Tribe of late, and has allowed an .838 OPS to their lineup this season. Both he and Tomlin have been homer-prone this season, so priority number one is keeping the ball in the yard this afternoon.

Prediction

Tomlin improves to 3-0 against Verlander this season.

★★★

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