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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Cleveland could clinch another division title on Friday

The Tribe will most likely capture their third consecutive AL Central crown this weekend.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

If you are sick of seeing the Cleveland Indians celebrate division titles and other champagne-worthy events... this series might not be for you. The Tribe’s Magic Number is down to two, meaning they could clinch their third straight AL Central championship as early as Friday evening. They would need a little bit of help — Minnesota would have to lose in Kansas City — but regardless, the champagne will be on ice at Progressive Field this evening.

And if it doesn’t happen on Friday, it will almost surely occur with the Tigers in town over the weekend. FiveThirtyEight gives Detroit just a 41 percent chance of winning on Friday, and those are by far their best odds of grabbing a ‘W’ in this series. Even with Michael Fulmer on the mound on Saturday, the Tigers have a 33 percent chance at winning, and Francisco Liriano’s chances on Sunday are down at just 32 percent.

Not great Bob, as the kids say.

The funny/sad part of this situation is that the Indians will almost surely be the first team to clinch their division despite having one of the worst records among MLB division leaders right now. Their 82-64 mark is good, but is better than only the Colorado Rockies (81-65) in the NL West (Atlanta is tied with Cleveland at 82-64). Only one other team, the 100-win Boston Red Sox, has a Magic Number below 10.

Enough thinking about that, though. Can Matthew Boyd delay Cleveland’s celebration for at least one more night?

Detroit Tigers (59-87) at Cleveland Indians (82-64)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.11 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (1-5, 6.63 ERA)

Game 147 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 160.0 22.6 7.2 3.98 2.7
Tomlin 55.2 13.7 3.9 7.74 -1.3

Since they have such a gigantic lead in the division, the Indians are already thinking about October. They pushed ace Corey Kluber’s upcoming start back to next week (thank God) to set him up for their inevitable date with the Houston Astros in the ALDS. This means Josh Tomlin, he of the 6.63 ERA in 2018, will start on Friday evening. While Tomlin has made 28 appearances for the Indians this season, all but six of them have been out of the bullpen. Tomlin hasn’t started for Cleveland since May 15, when the Tigers scored four runs in 5 13 innings in a 9-8 Detroit victory.

His ERA went down after that outing, in case you were wondering how his season was going at the time.

Things have gotten a little better for Tomlin in the meantime, but only just. He has posted a 5.11 ERA in 21 relief appearances since then, with seven home runs allowed in just 24 23 innings. To add injury to insult, he has also been dealing with a balky hamstring in the meantime; he was on the disabled list from early July to late August, and has only made five appearances since coming off the DL. There’s nothing we can really glean from that small sample, but he has only allowed one home run in those 6 23 innings.

Key matchup: Homer-prone pitcher vs. homer-averse offense

If you couldn’t gather from the above paragraphs, Tomlin’s biggest problem this season has been the home run ball. He has always allowed a fair number of dingers, but his home run rate has spiraled out of control this year, with 22 allowed in just 55 23 innings of work. Fortunately for him, no team in the American League has hit fewer home runs than these Tigers. They have also hit the fewest home runs of any MLB team on the road this year, and their 82 wRC+ is fifth-worst among MLB clubs. If there were a game for Tomlin to right the ship, this is it.

Prediction

Cleveland’s offense shows up big and the Tribe clinch the Central.

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