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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: The battle for 1st place begins

A weekend series win has the Tigers within striking distance of the disappointing Indians.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the fun part out of the way; if the Tigers sweep the Indians this week, they will be tied for first place* in the AL Central. This seems unlikely — the Tigers have lost 11 straight against the Tribe dating back to last season — but hear me out. Cleveland has been a disappointment so far this year, hovering around .500 for most of the season. They are only slightly better according to Baseball Prospectus’ third-order win percentage, and just two wins better than the Tigers by that metric. They are just 7-10 on the road this season. Their +20 run differential is the best in the AL Central by 30 runs, but pales in comparison to the heavyweights found in other American League divisions.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Cleveland will find their groove at some point. The Tribe started fairly slow last season before roaring to life in the second half, when they ultimately won the Central by 17 games. Some of their depth pieces, like righhander Danny Salazar and outfielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin, are currently recovering from injuries — and Andrew Miller just returned from a DL stint of his own.

But it’s still okay to get excited before Cleveland kicks it into high gear. The Tigers have been exciting to watch so far, and are even above .500 at home (with a +8 run differential)! Their starting pitching has kept them in most games so far, and they proved last weekend that they can steal a series from a good team. This might not be enough to push them into first place or the playoff hunt, but it should keep many fans satiated as we anxiously await prospect reinforcements to arrive.

*This hypothetical also depends on what the Minnesota Twins do but nobody really cares about them so let’s just ignore their existence.

Cleveland Indians (20-19) at Detroit Tigers (17-22)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Carlos Carrasco (5-1, 3.61 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (3-2, 4.73 ERA)

Game 40 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Carrasco 52.1 25.9 5.4 3.30 1.2
Fiers 32.1 15.2 3.6 5.22 0.1

Tigers fans are plenty familiar with Carrasco by now. The 31-year-old righthander used to struggle against Detroit (and everyone, really), but a bullpen experiment in 2014 has turned him into one of the most underrated starters in the game. He has a 3.27 ERA in over 700 innings since the start of 2014, and ranks 13th among all MLB pitchers with 17.2 fWAR during that span (his 3.05 FIP is ninth). His four-seamer is still humming along at 94.3 miles per hour this season, and he is using his mid-80s slider more than ever. The result is his fifth straight season with a K-BB% above 19 percent, a figure few players in the game can match.

Carrasco has reserved a special brand of dominance for the Tigers, though. He made six starts against them last year and finished with a 4-1 record and 1.82 ERA. He struck out 45 hitters in 39 23 innings, and only allowed one home run. The current roster has a career .607 OPS against him, and this includes some stellar early numbers from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez before Carrasco found his command in 2014. Following last April’s loss against Detroit, Carrasco has won five consecutive decisions against the Tigers, most in decisive fashion.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. a good right-handed pitcher

The Tigers have been surprisingly decent at the plate this season. They are averaging 4.42 runs per game, just a hair under the MLB average. Their 97 wRC+ is tied for 15th (with the Indians) among all teams, and their .320 on-base percentage is in that same range. But as last weekend’s games indicate, they are sporting some serious platoon splits. The Tigers have hit an impressive .277/.348/.440 against left-handed pitching this year, but have a paltry 92 wRC+ against righties. Only two American League teams have been worse against right-handed pitching this season. While Detroit won’t face Corey Kluber this week, the likes of Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer should be more than enough to slow down Detroit’s righty-heavy attack.


Carrasco gets his sixth straight win against the Tigers.

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