The Detroit Tigers enter the weekend carrying a 9-7 record sitting just 1.5 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central Division. This weekend, they host the Cleveland Indians who sit just a half-game behind them with a 10-9 record in a series with significant implications in the AL Central standings.
The Tribe have been perfectly mediocre this season, with impressive wins and embarrassing defeats sprinkled among its 19 games played thus far. Cleveland has a formidable starting rotation — perhaps one of the best in the league — led by Zach Plesac and Shane Bieber, both of whom have already accumulated 0.9 fWAR in 2020. Friday night’s starter Aaron Civale has also contributed 0.7 fWAR and Carlos Carrasco has added 0.2 fWAR of his own.
On the other hand, the Indians’ offense has left quite a bit to be desired, with Jose Ramirez leading the way with a .264/.341/.841 slash line good for a wRC+ of 124, and with his nifty glove, a total of 0.8 fWAR this season. After Ramirez, things get really rough at the plate for Cleveland; however, the team has been solid in the field, which combined with their superlative pitching has kept them competitive.
Detroit Tigers (9-7) vs. Cleveland Indians (10-9)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 5.74 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Civale (1-2, 2.84 ERA)
Game 17 Pitching Matchup
The 25-year-old Civale, a third-round draft pick by the Indians in 2016, is in his second major league season after a successful debut campaign in 2019. He finished last year with a 2.34 ERA compared to a 3.40 FIP, along with a stingy 1.04 WHIP and a solid 46 strikeouts in 57 2⁄3 innings over ten appearances — all starts. Thus far this summer, he has continued to produce solid stats while lowering his FIP more than a full run to 2.35 while elevating his strikeout rate from 7.2 to 10.9 K/9.
Those numbers come from a small sample of three starts in 2020, all of which he allowed at least an earned run and threw no less than six innings. His best outing was his last on August 7 against the Chicago White Sox, in which he tossed seven frames of one-run ball, allowing five hits and a walk along with five strikeouts; he was the hard luck loser that day, however, as his team could not give him any run support against Dylan Cease and the ChiSox bullpen. Oddly, his strikeout numbers were a bit low in comparison to his other two games, in which he sent nine batters down in six innings pitched for both matches.
Key Matchup: Tigers offense vs. Aaron Civale
Detroit has not seen a great number of quality pitchers so far this season, with the exception of a couple of bouts with Cincinnati Reds’ ace Trevor Bauer, but they will face a pair of superb starters this weekend in Civale and Bieber, plus Adam Plutko. With Iván Nova heading to the mound, the good guys can expect to give up a few runs while he is toeing the rubber, so it is incumbent upon the offense to try and figure out Civale early.
Leading the offensive charge is JaCoby Jones, who has been white-hot this season at the plate slashing .304/.373/1.090 with five home runs in 15 games, along with an ISO of .413 and a 189 wRC+. Newcomers Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine and C.J. Cron have provided some value at the plate as well, though the latter is currently out with an injury. Otherwise, this Tigers team is not exactly setting the world on fire with the bat, and if they cannot get something going against Civale, it could be a long night in Detroit.