With just six games remaining in the season, the Tigers have the opportunity to play their ace twice. Though Game 162 has the potential to be a must-win, Tuesday’s matchup is not far behind in terms of importance. Justin Verlander is the type of pitcher who lives for these games, and the Tigers need him to bring it against the Indians.
Verlander’s 2016 season has been well documented: he sits eighth in the American League in ERA and 10th in FIP. He has been even better in the second half of the season, owning a 2.16 ERA, which is the best in the AL. He has not given up more than three runs in a start during his last 16 outings and is averaging over 6 2/3 innings per start during this frame. This comes with a 30 percent strikeout rate and a WHIP over just 1.00.
However, Verlander has had three awful starts in 2016, and two of them came against the Indians. A seven-run, five-inning affair in early May was followed by eight runs in 4 2/3 innings in late June, highlighting the Tigers’ struggles against Cleveland. Verlander did pitch seven scoreless innings against the Tribe 10 days ago, but that game ended in a no-decision.
Can the Tigers ace will his team to victory in crunch time?
Cleveland Indians (91-65) at Detroit Tigers (83-73)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Blog: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.65 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.21 ERA)
Cleveland sends rookie Mike Clevinger to the hill for his 10th career start. The righthander has made a few appearances out of the bullpen as well, and has pitched just over 50 major league innings this season. Tuesday will be his fifth start in September; he owns a 3.07 ERA and 5.18 FIP this month, averaging less than four innings per start.
Clevinger was drafted by the Angels in 2011 and was sent to Cleveland two years ago in the Vinnie Pestano trade. He has split time between the majors and Triple-A Columbus this season and has been with the Indians since August. He did face the Tigers once in the first week of July, pitching two scoreless innings during -- shocking -- a blowout Indians victory.
Clevinger has managed 8.40 strikeouts per nine innings this season but has accompanied that with 4.83 walks per nine. He has upped his strikeout rate in September to 24.6 percent, but has kept up the walks while surrendering 1.84 home runs per nine innings. However, he has maintained a 94.2 percent left on base (LOB) rate and has limited opponents to a .204 batting average. It is safe to say he has been a little lucky recently and could be due for an implosion. Unfortunately, the Tigers do not always take advantage in these situations.
Hitter to fear: Francisco Lindor (.412/.474/.765 in 19 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.120/.233/.140 in 60 plate appearance)
Verlander has handled the majority of the Indians throughout his career, but again, this season has been tough for all Tigers pitchers against Cleveland. Hopefully he will be able to take the momentum of his last start against them into this game.
The Tigers need every win, and losing a matchup between their ace and a rookie making his 10th career start is not really acceptable at this stage. The Indians have been the Tigers’ kryptonite for much of the year, but Detroit must find a way to win a game that looks like a landslide on paper. A matchup like this is a gift during the most important week of the season; the Tigers cannot let that go to waste.
Verlander dazzles, Clevinger pitches better than expected, and the Tigers scrape by — no thanks to the offense.