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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Michael Fulmer looks to get on track at home

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The Tigers return home to open a three-game weekend home stand against cross-lake division rivals, face tough task in game one.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After a very brief road trip to Boston, the Tigers return home to Detroit tonight to open a six-game home stand against division rivals. With #RallyGoose in tow and flying high after avoiding a sweep in Boston Thursday night, the team will need to summon its extraordinary ornithologically based powers to take on its Lake Erie rivals.

This will be the third series these two teams have played against each other in 2018, and the first two series have had very different outcomes. In April, the Tigers got swept out of Cleveland in four games by a combined run total of 18 to 5. When the teams met in Detroit a few weeks ago, it was the Tigers who took two of the three games, including a dramatic eighth-inning, five-run rally against Andrew Miller. However, the Tribe still outscored the Tigers 17 to 15 in that series. The home team has won all but one game in the seven games played so far.

Unfortunately, the Tigers face a difficult matchup in the first game as they will have to deal with Trevor Bauer, who has cemented himself behind Corey Kluber as the staff’s #2. The Tigers will send Michael Fulmer to the hill to counter, but Fulmer is in a bit of a funk right now, having failed to last more than six innings in his three previous outings.

All is not quite lost, though. While the Indians hold the division lead, they are just four games over .500 with the Tigers sitting four games back. Furthermore, while Cleveland has pulled themselves above .500 now (they were under this point as recent as 12 games ago) it has been on the back of a strong home stand. The Tribe are an impressive 20-11 at home but they are just 12-17 on the road. The Tiger,s meanwhile, are 20-14 at home. Furthermore, the Tribe are 20-21 against right-handed starters, and just lost three of four on the road to the Twins. And as good as the Cleveand rotation has been, their bullpen is still struggling to hold leads in the late innings. This could be a difficult series for the Tribe.

Cleveland Indians (32-28) at Detroit Tigers (30-34)

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 Trevor Bauer (4-4, 2.77 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer ( 2-5, 4.73 ERA)

Game 65 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Trevor Bauer 78 29.60% 8.50% 2.69 2.4
Michael Fulmer 66.2 19.40% 9.50% 4.62 0.5

Bauer has been on some kind of roll this year. Among 88 qualified starting pitchers his fWAR and FIP rank 7th overall, putting him in the company of some of the elite arms in the game. He has dominated the Tigers both times he faced them so far, the first time going seven innings and allowing two runs in Cleveland, the last time pitching eight shutout frames in Detroit. If the Tigers can get to Bauer at all, it likely won’t be for much.

Worse still for the Tigers is their incumbent staff ace has been very much not himself so far in 2018. The same list that Bauer ranks 7th on has Fulmer 69th in FIP, and tied for 66th in fWAR. Fulmer only faced the Indians once this season and it was his worst start of the year. He was shelled for nine runs (six earned) on eight hits over three short innings. Fulmer is 1-3 with three no decisions in his last seven starts, recording a quality start in just two of those starts.

Key Matchups: Cabrera, Iglesias, and Martin vs. Bauer; Tigers vs. Jose Ramirez

The only hitters in the Tigers lineup that have any kind of sucess against Bauer will likely be hitting first, third, and eighth. Martin is 5-for-7 in 10 appearances against Bauer, while Cabrera and Iglesias both sport an OPS over 1.000 against Bauer. After that, it’s a sharp dropoff to Castellanos with a .719 OPS and Martinez with a career .762 OPS (though he has been nowhere near the career hitter he once was). Everyone else has had merely a handful of at-bats against Bauer with little in the way of good results.

On the other side, the Tigers will need to deal, yet again, with Tiger-killer Jose Ramirez. Ramirez has a career OPS versus Fulmer of 1.630, and an OPS versus the Tigers of 1.625 in 2017 and 1.340 in 2018. Tigers’ pitchers will need to tread carefully around him (or just walk him intentionally) if they expect to keep the game close.

Prediction

Tigers make it interesting late but cannot complete the comeback and drop game one.

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