For most of the season, the Detroit Tigers’ road to the playoffs has gone through Cleveland. Even now, as they face a nigh-insurmountable seven-game deficit with just 15 games remaining, the Tigers can’t avoid the Tribe. With six of their last 15 games coming against the Indians, the Tigers need to conquer their demons — and do so immediately — if they are going to erase a Wild Card gap that has grown to three games.
If they are to do so, it starts, fittingly, with Justin Verlander. The Tigers’ ace has had a remarkable season, one that even national pundits cannot ignore. However, Verlander has not pitched well against the Indians. Two of his worst starts of the season came against Cleveland, and their offense is responsible for 17 of the 74 earned runs he has allowed this season in just three meetings.
These struggles run deeper than 2016, unfortunately. Verlander is 18-21 with a 4.70 ERA against the Tribe in his career, with many of those losses coming within the past few years. Things get even worse at Progressive Field, where Verlander’s career ERA is a whopping 5.61 and the Indians are hitting .259/.330/.428 off him.
Can Verlander step up and shut the Tribe down on Saturday?
Detroit Tigers (78-69) at Cleveland Indians (85-62)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.33 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA)
Things are already trending in the wrong direction for the Tigers, and that only continues with Carlos Carrasco on the mound. While Carrasco’s career numbers against Detroit aren’t all that pretty, he has dominated them (and the rest of baseball, to be fair) since his breakout season in 2014. He has already beaten the Tigers twice this season, allowing just one run in 17 2⁄3 innings. Over the past three seasons, his ERA against Detroit is just 2.85 in 12 matchups (eight starts), and he has tallied 58 strikeouts to 14 walks in 53 2⁄3 frames.
If there is a silver lining here, it’s that Carrasco hasn’t been pitching so well of late. Since August 1, he owns a 4.77 ERA with eight home runs allowed in his last 54 2⁄3 innings (1.32 HR/9). This is partially inflated by allowing eight runs in a start against the Twins on August 2, but Carrasco has allowed four earned runs or more on three other occasions in the past six weeks. He has also mixed in a pair of gems, but those have come against the lowly Oakland A’s and a floundering Miami Marlins club.
Of course, those numbers are ripe for some serious regression. Carrasco’s BABIP is .365 during this stretch, and he has struck out 64 hitters (to just eight walks!) in 54 2⁄3 innings. Opponents are hitting the ball much harder when they do make contact, but every other number in the book — a 3.20 FIP, 2.83 xFIP, and 3.04 SIERA — thinks he will be just fine.
Hitter to fear: Carlos Santana (.213/.300/.590 in 70 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.106/.228/.128 in 57 plate appearances)
If Verlander can get through Saturday’s game without giving up a home run to Carlos Santana, a.k.a. baseball’s slowest leadoff hitter, then the Tigers might be in good shape. Santana has seven career homers off Verlander, including four in the last three seasons. Of course, then there are the other Tribe hitters to deal with. Mike Napoli and Francisco Lindor both have an OPS north of 1.000 against Verlander, while upstart utility man Jose Ramirez is hitting a cool .353/.389/.529 in 18 plate appearances.
Normally, Justin Verlander starts are a cause for celebration among Tigers fans. However, given Verlander’s abysmal numbers against the Indians and their ridiculous performance at Progressive Field — they are hitting .294/.363/.481 as a team at home this season — this may be a game to forget. Add in Carlos Carrasco’s dominance and the Tigers’ recent offensive struggles, and just about everything looks to be in the Indians’ favor on Saturday.
The Tribe make it 13 of 14 against the Tigers this season.
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