Detroit at Cleveland Preview: Two Teams With Plenty to Prove

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The Detroit Tigers head to Cleveland on Tuesday night for a three-game series. Though the season is still young, and though the Tigers will return to Cleveland twice more, this series is a big one.

Right now, Tiger nation is in panic mode as the once projected 2012 AL Central champs currently sit three games back in third place. Meanwhile, Clevelanders have been at each others’ throats over Chris Perez’s comments and the lack (or to some, acceptable) attendance.

In other words, both teams have something to prove. The first-place Indians are looking to show fans that they’re worth a $10 ticket and the Tigers are fighting to regain first place, where the entire nation assumed they’d be when they acquired Prince Fielder during the offseason. This series may be an early one, but it’ll be an important one as these two teams attempt to rebound from recent tribulations. Here’s what to look forward to, broken down game-by-game:

Tuesday: The probable pitchers for this one are Ubaldo Jimenez v. Rick Porcello. Jimenez is coming off a solid start (Tribe manager Manny Acta said it was one of the best he’s seen from Jimenez), despite surrendering three runs and five hits. I was at this game though, and it looked like Jimenez’s mechanics were slower and more compact, which may be something he’s been working on since his struggles. After the game, Jimenez also told the media that he felt a lot more confident out on the mound, so this seems to be another step in the right direction for him. Meanwhile, Porcello has struggled in his last two outings and his outings are lacking much depth, though historically, he’s been good against Cleveland.

Essentially, this means we may be seeing a fairly balanced pitching match-up. Porcello and Jimenez have both shined at times, and they’ve also been awful enough to make you vomit uncontrollably at times. In other words, get the bucket ready, but don’t heave too hard.

Wednesday: Wednesday’s match-up consists of Doug Fister v. Zach McAllister. In other words, I’ll be avoiding Twitter in order to evade all of the cliché, overused Fister name jokes. Anyway, McAllister didn’t have too good of a start in his last outing, as he was a bit wild and surrendered five walks in 5.2 innings. Fister definitely has the edge in this one as he has typically pitched well against the Tribe.

Thursday: Justin Verlander v. Justin Masterson. I legitimately considered cutting my vacation short in order to witness this match-up. Of course as fate would have it, it’s a day game, meaning attendance will be down. At the risk of offending the city of Cleveland and its fans, I’m just going to say that if you can wiggle your way out of work for this one, do so.

I know Masterson has been struggling as of late. And I know Verlander came within two outs of throwing another no-hitter in his last start. But I still believe Masterson and the Tribe have what it takes to win this one. Remember last season when Shelley Duncan hit two two-run jacks off of Verlander? Don’t tell me you had that predicted. And if you did, take me to the casino with you.

In all seriousness, Masterson’s instigated a lot of doubt and if there’s any game where he needs to prove the doubters wrong, this is the one. He doesn’t have good history against Detroit (he’s 0-4), but he looked better in his last outing against Miami. If we can get seven solid innings out of him, we may see him post a win.

Other notes: Of course Miggy Cabrera and Prince Fielder are hitting above .300 and of course, they’re both hitting home runs. Cabrera has always hit well off of Masterson, though Fielder has never faced him. I’m going to throw out a random prediction and say Cabrera’s bat will be hot this series and Fielder’s will be cold.

Also keep an eye on Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan and Travis Hafner, who have all hit well against Verlander.

Austin Jackson is currently day-to-day with an abdominal strain, but if he’s ready to get in the Tigers’ line-up, he will. Before his injury, he was swinging one of the hottest bats in the league as he posted a .331 average. And don’t forget about good ol’ Jhonny Peralta who managed to disappoint in Cleveland before heading to Detroit, where he’s become a better ballplayer. Peralta’s been hitting well lately and he’ll certainly want to lay the hurt on his old team.

Shin-Soo Choo has been heating up as of late, hitting .400 through his last six games with a home run and 1.123 OPS. Then there’s Jose Lopez, who has made a case for himself as the Tribe left fielder since he was demoted and then recalled last week. Through his last six, Lopez has hit .381 and hit the game-tying three-run home run against the Mariners last week.

Overall: Both of these teams are looking to prove why they’re the best team in the AL Central. Detroit will show everyone why they’re more than just Verlander and Fielder, and Cleveland will show us why Chris Perez was so pissed off. Detroit is the team with the most to prove though, as they were the ones expected to run away with first place, whereas everyone still expects Cleveland to fizzle and fade away by the All-Star break. I’m hoping this series will be a good one – meaning good pitching on both sides and some good bullpen relief. It’s tough to say who will be the difference-maker in this series, but I personally am looking to Masterson to give a good outing. And I’m also looking for a plane ticket back to Cleveland so I can see this live and in-person.

You can follow Stephanie on Twitter @SKMetzger to hear her whine about the Indians and muse about life. Also, become a fan of MTAF on Facebook.

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