Well, here we are. After a surprise win on Monday and a ridiculous comeback on Tuesday, the Tigers are just one game out of first place. They have done so by the skin of their teeth, relying on a ragtag lineup ravaged by injuries and a bullpen that seems more overworked than the statistics let on.
It’s fun, right? We preached caution in actually expecting anything from this Tigers team in 2018, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate what the current roster is doing (especially against Cleveland). The Tigers have shown a surprising amount of fight this year — so much that Brandon Guyer’s grand slam in the first inning on Tuesday didn’t worry me all that much. Whether they’re actually “good” or not, these Tigers are rarely out of a game, even after falling behind early.
That fight is showing up in the numbers, too. They are 9-8 in one-run games this year, and have played five extra-inning games. They are above .500 at home with a +12 run differential.
But that fight also hasn’t shown up in other numbers. The Tigers still only have a four percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, and are huge underdogs on Wednesday. Can they beat the odds once again and sweep the series?
Cleveland Indians (20-21) at Detroit Tigers (19-22)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Trevor Bauer (2-3, 3.00 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-0, 7.36 ERA)
Game 42 Pitching Matchup
Trevor Bauer has quietly turned the Indians rotation into a “Big Three” of sorts. Through modest improvements in contact management, he is enjoying his best season to date. Opponents are making hard contact 32.1 percent of the time against Bauer this year, down from a 38.7 percent clip in 2017. FanGraphs’ batted ball data has his line drive rate a hair below 20 percent, along with a career-best 15.6 percent pop-up rate. Those numbers, combined with his still-excellent 25.9 percent strikeout rate, have led to just a .210 batting average against this season.
As a result, Bauer is putting up numbers that can compete with the league’s best (non-Astros division). His 3.00 ERA ranks ninth in among qualified American League pitchers, while his 3.15 FIP is 10th. Both figures are on par with what staff ace Corey Kluber and firebreather Carlos Carrasco have done this year, and look sustainable — provided Bauer’s command doesn’t fall apart like it has in the past.
Key matchup: Ryan Carpenter vs. big league hitters
We’re only 3 2⁄3 innings into Ryan Carpenter’s major league career, but early returns aren’t great. Carpenter looked okay in his first start this year, but gave up two home runs and five hits in three innings against a surprisingly potent Pirates offense. He was able to get a couple of outs in a relief appearance against the Mariners last week, but also walked and hit a batter before being lifted for righthander Buck Farmer.
Now, Carpenter is being tasked with shutting down an Indians lineup that is mashing against lefties this year. The Tribe have a 111 wRC+ against southpaws this year, the fifth-best rate in the major leagues. As noted in Tuesday’s preview, they are hitting more fly balls against lefties than almost any other team. As we saw on Tuesday evening, a few of those fly balls will leave the park if not located well. Carpenter has had a bit of trouble with the long ball in the past — or anyone he doesn’t strike out, really — and could be in for a short outing if he can’t step his game up on Wednesday.
Bauer shuts down the Tigers lineup to avoid the sweep.