7:15 PM EST, FOX – Money Line: -, Run Line:
Division rivals traveling in very different directions clash tonight at Comerica Park, as the struggling Detroit Tigers host the Cleveland Indians in the second half of a Doubleheader. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team in the American League hotter than the Indians (42-36, 1st in AL Central), who have taken twelve out of their last seventeen outings, ascending to the top of the AL Central in the process. The last time we saw Terry Francona’s charges, they took a four-game set with the Texas Rangers, capturing a 5-1 victory in Thursday’s finale. Ace Righthander Corey Kluber (7-2, 3.02 ERA) shut down one of the more potent lineups in the Majors, permitting one lone run on three hits over eight innings of labor, while striking out a dozen batters, before the Bullpen sealed the deal. It was a night of quite the significance for Kluber, who with his fourth consecutive outing of ten or more strikeouts tied the record set by Indians’ Hall of Famer Bob Feller way back in 1939. Thursday’s performance marked the thirtieth time that the former Cy Young winner had fanned more than ten batters in a single contest. Offensively, the Tribe scattered nine hits over the course of the night, racking up five doubles, courtesy of Michael Brantley (.306 BA, 15 2B, 5 HR, 30 RBI), Jose Ramirez (.321 BA, 25 2B, 12 HR, 36 RBI), Lonnie Chisenhall (.308 BA, 11 2B, 10 HR, 43 RBI), Francisco Lindor (.253 BA, 22 2B, 14 HR, 38 RBI), and Carlos Santana (.225 BA, 18 2B, 9 HR, 41 RBI). Edwin Encarnacion (.263 BA, 9 2B, 17 HR, 42 RBI), who was acquired via Free Agency from Toronto over the Offseason, drove in his forty-second RBI of the campaign, providing Francona with a solid power source in the middle of the Order. Taking the mound tonight for Francona and Co. will be Ryan Merritt (0-0, 4.50 ERA), who will be making just the second start of the campaign, after being called up to the main roster. The 25-year old made the first appearance of his career last year against the Texas Rangers, and now looks to find a place as a regular member of a rotation in need of a proverbial shot in the arm. The Texas Native put in a decent outing in his first stretch of action of 2017, tossing four quality innings in an eventual 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins two weeks ago, yielding a pair of earned runs on seven hits, registering a two strikeouts with no walks. Francona will no doubt be looking for Merritt to last a little longer than he did on that day, but in the end it’s quite alright if he doesn’t, for despite this team’s struggles in the Rotation, they still possess one of the most formidable Bullpens in the Majors. Anytime you can march the likes of Andrew Miller (1.52 ERA, 1 SV) and Cody Allen (2.90 ERA, 15 SV) out to the bump in the Seventh Inning forward you’ve got a chance to hold a victory, which must give their teammates confidence. Miller and Allen have each logged impressive strikeout rates, averaging 13.9 and 12.8 Strikeouts per Nine Innings, while sporting a 6.40 and 4.00 Strikeout/Walk Ratio.
Meanwhile, the Tigers (35-43, 4th in AL Central) are traveling south in a major way of late, dropping nine out of their last twelve outings, dropping eight straight at one point. With that said, Brad Ausmus’ charges did manage to stop the bleeding a bit by taking a short three-game set with the Kansas City Royals, concluding with Thursday’s 7-3 victory at home. As Kluber did for Cleveland, Michael Fulmer (7-6, 3.19 ERA) dominated for Detroit, yielding a pair of earned runs on seven hits over the course of 8.2 innings, striking out seven with no walks before being yanked in favor of the Bullpen. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most popular of decisions, but was in all likelihood the correct one, as the young Righthander had thrown 104 pitches at that point. Either way, Fulmer was staring down his second career shutout in the Ninth Inning, with two outs in the books, but after putting two runners on base due to consecutive Singles, with both base-runners scoring on the strength of a Double, the decision became Ausmus’ to make. The hosts scattered nine hits over the duration of the game, with Justin Upton (.267 BA, 18 2B, 15 HR, 52 RBI), Ian Kinsler (.248 BA, 12 2B, 9 HR, 21 RBI), and Andrew Romine (.235 BA, 8 2B, 3 HR, 17 RBI) all going yard, with Upton driving home three runs. Now if only they could get former MVP Miguel Cabrera (.269 BA, 15 2B, 10 HR, 38 RBI) going and they’d be onto something; at the age of 34, the celebrated First Baseman appears to be breaking down, posing his lowest Batting Average since his rookie campaign in 2003, with his On-Base Percentage (.362) and Slugging Percentage (.455) plummeting from their lofty career levels (.398 and .559). Ausmus will counter on the mound tonight with Jordan Zimmerman (5-5, 5.53 ERA) in an attempt not only to turn around the fortunes of the veteran Righthander, but those of the team as well. The 31-year old hasn’t won a start since June 3rd, while earning three No-Decisions in his last four starts. Despite Detroit rallying to a 7-5 victory this past Monday at San Diego, Zimmerman failed to factor into the decision, allowing five earned runs on six hits, including a pair of home runs, with five strikeouts opposed to three walks before being pulled after just four innings of labor. It was his shortest appearance of the season. Now in his second season in the Motor City, the two-time All-Star has been dreadfully inconsistent, recording the highest ERA of his eight-year career, while averaging nearly as many Home Runs per Nine Innings (2.1) as Walks (2.9), leading to the lowest Strikeout/Walk Ratio of his career (2.14). From 2014 to 2016, Zimmerman has faced the Indians just once, and for lack of a better word, got shellacked; in just 3.2 innings of work, he was tagged for seven earned runs on nine hits, with Cleveland batting .a torrid 474 against him.