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Detroit vs. Cleveland Preview: Tigers look to sweep season-opening series against the Tribe

The boys in the Olde English D took the first two games and look to continue their winning ways against Cleveland.

Detroit Tigers v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have started their season strong after winning their first two games of 2021 against their bitter American League Central Division rivals, the Cleveland Indians, including a 5-2 victory on Saturday. Thanks to a strong start by newcomer Julio Teheran as well as some grueling at-bats for the Tigers offense, things are looking pretty rosy so far in the Motor City.

On Sunday, the boys in the Olde English D look to finish off what they have started and complete the sweep of the hated Tribe in the comfortable confines of Comerica Park. Both teams send promising young pitchers to the mound in what could be a heck of a duel between a pair of up-and-coming hurlers.

Detroit Tigers (2-0) vs. Cleveland Indians (0-2)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. EDT, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs RHP Aaron Civale (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Game 3 Pitching Matchups (2020 stats)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Skubal 32 27.6 8.2 5.75 0
Civale 74 22.1 5.1 4.03 1.2

Tarik Skubal has risen to the top of Detroit’s pitching prospect list — as well as MLB’s overall list — over the past season armed with an electric fastball averaging 94.5 mph that he used a hair over 60 percent of the time in 2020. He also employs an 83 mph changeup and an 86 mph slider at nearly the same clip (16.4 vs. 15.7 percent, respectively) along with an occasional 77 mph curveball that gets used about eight percent of the time. Together, this arsenal was good for 27.6 percent strikeout and 8.2 percent walk rates, numbers that Steamer mostly expects to be replicated in 2021.

The young lefty fireballer earned his spot in the rotation after a fantastic spring that saw him put up a 1.59 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 17 innings in five appearances with three starts, allowing 11 hits, three earned runs and a dinger while striking out 18 and walking nine of the batters he faced. He also developed a new pitch in the offseason — a split-finger offspeed offering — that fans are simply salivating to see in live action.

Suffice to say, the 24-year-old is not just one of the Tigers’ best prospects, he is one of the team’s best starting pitchers coming into the season. Look for plenty of whiffs from Skubal, with the question being whether he can improve his efficiency or not. The first and only time he faced the Indians in 2020, Skubal lasted just 2 13 innings of one run ball—albeit with five strikeouts—because the Indians fouled off pitches and took him deep in count after count.

Taking the mound for the Indians is another highly-touted young pitcher in Aaron Civale, who is entering his third year in the big leagues. So far, he has been solid as a starter in Cleveland, putting up 1.5 and 1.2 fWAR in limited innings his first two seasons, respectively. For his debut campaign in 2019, the right-hander put up a sparkling 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 3.40 over 57 23 innings pitched, striking out 20.3 percent and walking just seven percent of batters faced.

He regressed a bit during the COVID-battered season of 2020 when he threw 74 innings while recording an elevated 4.74 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 4.04 FIP; his fastball average velocity also lost a tick as it dropped from 92.2 mph to 91.6 mph. Civale had a bit of a rough spring training but it appears that was due in large part to being a bit home run prone, allowing nearly two per nine innings, and along with 17 hits and three walks allowed in 19 innings, his bloated 5.21 ERA (despite a modest 1.16 WHIP) comes as little surprise.

Key Matchup: Detroit’s offense vs Civale early on

The Tigers have had a lot of success in the first two games attacking the Indians’ starting pitching early — scoring two runs in the first frame of both affairs — which has resulted in a 2-0 record heading into the third game of the season. Sure, this is not exactly hard-hitting analytics at work, but so far, Detroit’s approach at the plate in the opening innings has worked well and there is no reason to let off the gas pedal at this point. If they can pressure Civale and dig into the bullpen, it is not unfathomable that this team can be undefeated by the end of Sunday and, dare I say... [bites finger] on the way to a 162-0 season.