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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Second place in the AL Central on the line

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The Tigers and Tribe do battle in the rubber match on Sunday to claim the second spot in the division.

Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers struck back on Saturday, scoring a big 6-4 win over the Cleveland Indians to even the weekend series as well as pull into a tie for second place in the American League Central Division. Today, the two teams meet once again in a rubber match to decide who plays second fiddle to the division-leading Chicago White Sox.

The pitching matchup today is an interesting one, as the Tribe sends a struggling youngster to the bump while the Tigers called up an aging veteran for another shot in the majors. With history on the line in the form of Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run, today’s tangle should be an interesting one at the very least. Here is a look at Sunday afternoon’s starters.

Detroit Tigers (58-61) vs. Cleveland Indians (56-59)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
itching Matchup: RHP Drew Hutchison (AAA 8-3, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP Triston McKenzie (1-5, 5.66 ERA)

Game 120 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% fWAR
Hutchison (AAA) 84.1 4.05 23.8 11.1 -
McKenzie 76.1 5.49 27.0 14.1 0.1

Drew Hutchinson will toe the rubber for the Tigers in his first major league game since 2018 when he was with the Texas Rangers. That season, he was actually shipped midseason from the Philadelphia Phillies out to the Lone Star State, where he completely bottomed out with an 8.86 ERA over 21 13 innings to finish off the campaign. It is no surprise he ended up in the minors after that performance, and it has taken him the better part of three seasons to climb back into the big leagues. A strong showing in Toledo this year earned him a return trip to the bright lights of the show.

The 30-year-old looked solid at the Triple-A level, putting up respectable traditional numbers over the course of 84 13 innings thrown, serving exclusively as a starter. Over that stretch, he allowed 74 hits and 40 walks while striking out 86 to notch a K/9 average of just over one per inning. His fastball sits in the low-mid 90s while also featuring a slider, changeup and curveball that he mixes together well. In regards to his repertoire, it appears that the curve is a newer pitch as it is not included on Baseball Savant’s overview back in 2018; it also seems that he has abandoned the sinker, as I did not see him throw one in his outing on Aug. 11 against the Columbus Clippers.

For the Guardians, Tristan McKenzie will take the mound to try and tame the Tigers. The former first-round pick (No. 42 overall) of the 2015 MLB draft is now in his second season in the big leagues, and unfortunately for him, he has been bitten by the sophomore slump big time. After a solid rookie year in which he posted a 3.24 ERA and 0.90 WHIP good for 0.7 bWAR over 33 13 innings, his traditional stats have inflated to a 5.66 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in more than double the innings thrown, and has only managed 0.5 bWAR so far this season. The 24-year-old only has a small smattering of decent starts in 2021, including a gem against the Tigers back on May 26 in which he threw five scoreless innings of one-hit ball, allowing three walks while striking out five en route to a 1-0 loss.

The young right-hander possesses a traditional four-pitch arsenal led off by a 92 mph four-seam fastball he uses a whopping 63 percent of the time, followed by a 79 mph curveball (18 percent), an 87 mph slider (17 percent) and an 86 mph changeup (2 percent). In comparison to last year, McKenzie is relying on the fastball more, the changeup less, and the two breaking balls have drawn near even. Put this all together and Cleveland’s young hurler ranks pretty well among his peers in a few categories. Here is a look at where he stands.

Baseball Savant

Key Matchup: Miguel Cabrera vs. Home Run No. 500

This really has little to do with the actual matchup between the two teams but it is no secret that the fanbase is riled up over the former MVP’s impending milestone. In fact, Saturday’s attendance was the largest the franchise has seen in two years and boy was Comerica Park rocking. Also consider that McKenzie has surrendered 16 dingers in 76 13 innings, which suggests he could be the one that serves up the spicy meatball. Nothing would tie the weekend together better than Miggy finally reaching the historic number, a series win over the Tigers’ biggest rivals and sole possession of the AL Central Division.