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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Michael Fulmer looks to avoid 4-game sweep in Cleveland

Fulmer will face off against Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer in the series finale.

Detroit Tigers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

For as often as the Tigers and Indians play one another, the Tribe haven’t seen much of Michael Fulmer. They rocked him for five runs on 10 hits in five innings in his second career start back in 2016, but he didn’t start pitching like Michael Fulmer, budding ace until a few weeks later. He beat the Indians in a mid-July start, then saw them twice in quick succession that September. Last season, the Indians somehow missed Fulmer in multiple series. The two sides only matched up once in 2017, another July win for Fulmer and the Tigers.

This is a longwinded way of saying we shouldn’t put much stock into Fulmer’s career 6.14 ERA against the Indians. No Cleveland hitter has even logged 15 plate appearances against Fulmer yet, and the only one to do any real damage is Jose Ramirez (who is 3-for-8 with a homer).

Even though Cleveland righty Trevor Bauer has made more than twice as many starts in his career against the Tigers, we can’t draw many conclusions from his numbers either. He has a 7.82 ERA in 58 23 innings against Detroit, but most of those 285 career meetings against Tigers hitters have departed over the past year. Those that remain have good numbers against Bauer — the current roster is batting .333/.422/.505 in 117 plate appearances — but top performers Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera are off to sluggish starts in 2018.

Given how the starting pitchers and offenses have performed on both sides this season, we should probably expect another low-scoring affair. But like their previous meetings, these small samples don’t mean too much yet.

Detroit Tigers (4-7) at Cleveland Indians (7-5)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 0.68 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (0-1, 2.08 ERA)

Game 12 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 13.1 13.7 9.8 3.35 0.3
Bauer 13.0 26.4 9.4 3.28 0.3

While his ERA hasn’t shown it, Trevor Bauer has been steadily improving over the past couple seasons. He reduced his walk rate from over 10 percent in 2015 to a more respectable 8.6 percent the next year, then improved his strikeout rate from near league average in 2016 to a healthy 26.2 percent last year. According to FanGraphs, his WAR value has improved in each of the past four seasons, from 1.4 in 2014 to 1.8 the next year, then 2.7 in 2016 to 3.2 fWAR last season.

But for some reason, Bauer hasn’t been able to figure out the ERA part. He saw his home run rate jump slightly last season, but it still ended up right around league average. He gave up over a hit per inning, the highest rate of his career. While his .337 BABIP was a bit elevated, opposing hitters also made more hard contact than usual. Only a handful of pitchers allowed a higher average exit velocity than Bauer, and nearly 39 percent of the balls in play he allowed were traveling more than 95 miles per hour. So far in 2018, Bauer has found a fix for this. Whether it’s simply a bit of positive regression to the mean or a deliberate change in approach — he’s throwing his slider a lot more often this year — remains to be seen.

Key matchup: Jose Iglesias vs. an ice cold start

If there’s one pitcher-batter matchup to watch in this game, it’s Bauer against Jose Iglesias. The Tigers’ shortstop has five hits in nine at-bats against Bauer, including a double. However, Iglesias has been awful at the plate to start 2018. Through nine games, Iglesias is hitting just .063/.167/.094. He has looked lost in the batter’s box at times, and is currently sporting a wRC+ of -23 (yes, that’s a negative). While we aren’t expecting huge things from Iglesias at the dish, he will need to find some consistency with the bat to keep his starting job — even in a rebuilding year.


Fulmer pitches well but the offense scuffles again in another loss.

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