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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Detroit aims to avoid sweep against mercurial Trevor Bauer

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Spencer Turnbull will try to pick up a win for the Tigers on Sunday.

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MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers aren’t supposed to win this game. Their odds of pulling out a victory, according to FiveThirtyEight, stand at just 39 percent. Mind you, this low percentage comes while playing at home — they have the second-lowest odds to win of any home team on Sunday — and, if you believe FanGraphs’ WAR calculations, with the better starting pitcher on the mound.

Granted, most of us would pick Trevor Bauer over Spencer Turnbull if given the choice in a winner-take-all situation, but FiveThirtyEight gives Turnbull a 10-point advantage over Bauer in their calculations. Turnbull’s 3.16 ERA and 27 percent strikeout rate at home are points in his favor.

We know why the Indians are so heavily favored, though. Detroit’s offense sits second-to-last in the American League with a 78 wRC+, and they fall to the bottom against right-handed pitchers (75 wRC+). Their bullpen also has the third-highest ERA in the AL, with peripherals to match. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s ‘pen has the best ERA in the AL, and they top all of Major League Baseball in RE24.

So when Spencer Turnbull has another solid outing on Sunday and gets left out to dry yet again? You know why.

Cleveland Indians (36-33) at Detroit Tigers (25-42)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Trevor Bauer (4-6, 3.71 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-5, 2.78 ERA)

Game 69 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Bauer 99.1 26.0 10.7 4.36 1.4
Turnbull 77.2 21.8 8.7 3.71 1.7

Trevor Bauer has not been the same pitcher in 2019 that he was last season, and it came on rather suddenly. He started off hot in April, producing a 1.99 ERA in his first six starts, and a 2.45 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 47 23 innings at the end of the month. He had managed eight strikeouts or more in five of his seven starts, and looked very much like the pitcher that finished fourth in the American League in fWAR last season.

Since May 1, it has come crashing down. Bauer has allowed a 37 runs (28 earned) in his last 51 23 innings, and four runs or more in six of his eight outings. His strikeout touch is still there — he has punched out seven hitters or more in five of those eight starts — but so is his penchant for losing his control. He has walked three batters or more in five of those starts (including eight free passes in his last two starts), and his walk rated has climbed back north of 10 percent for the first time since 2015.

With Bauer, the “why?” portion of this equation is almost impossible to answer. He tinkers frequently with pitch sequencing, grips, and the like, and the only notable change in his pitch usage from 2018 is a dip in how often he throws his curveball (from 26 percent to 19 percent). The curve was decent for him last year, but far from his best offering, and has been a bit better in 2019. He has been less predictable with it in certain situations (against righties, mostly), but more predictable against lefties, who can’t seem to hit it anyway.

Don’t expect Bauer to be all over the place, though. Most of his struggles have come at home — he has a 2.42 ERA and 18.0 percent K-BB% away from Progressive Field — and things seemed to click again (sort of) in his last start, a 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

As mentioned already, the Tigers have the second-worst offense in the American League, per wRC+, and are a whopping 25 percent below league average against right-handed pitching, worst in baseball. They have three regulars who have produced at an above-average level against righties this year — Brandon Dixon, Gordon Beckham, and JaCoby Jones, if you’re counting — while six others have put up an 80 wRC+ or worse in over 100 plate appearances against righties. Add in that Bauer, struggles be damned, was 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four starts against the Tigers last year, and you have a recipe for yet another long day at the ballpark.

Prediction

Bauer comes to life and the Indians sweep the Tigers.