Series Preview #45: Cleveland Indians (71-62) at Detroit Tigers (78-56)

With so much at stake, three separate innings cost the Cleveland Indians an opportunity to gain ground in both the American League Central Division race and in the AL Wild Card picture.

The Indians (71-62) were swept out of Atlanta to begin a tough six-game road stretch against the Braves and the Detroit Tigers. They will need to sweep a Tigers team to come back home even, which is no easy feat, seeing as they have a 3-13 record against their Central Division foe while being outscored 103-59.

The Tigers (78-56) did not take advantage of the Indians’ tough matchup, as they dropped two of three to the Oakland Athletics. They still hold a six and a half game lead in the AL Central and have the third-best record in the American League.

Rick Porcello (10-7, 4.49 ERA) will start the 7:08 PM ET opener from Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday night. Porcello is 2-1 in August with a 4.50 ERA in five starts. Zach McAllister (7-7, 3.51) will counter for the Indians. He has won three straight decisions for the first time in his career and looks to increase it to four in a row.

Anibal Sanchez (11-7, 2.61) will take the ball in Saturday night’s 7:08 PM ET first pitch. Sanchez is coming off of his worst outing in a month after he allowed four earned runs to the A’s. Left-hander Scott Kazmir (7-6, 4.25) will start for Terry Francona’s Tribe. He rebounded his last time out after a pair of rocky starts in which he allowed ten runs in eight innings.

Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.73) and Danny Salazar (1-2, 3.67) will toe the rubber in the final game of the regular season between Detroit and Cleveland at 1:08 PM ET on Sunday. Verlander has not won in four straight decisions, posting an 0-2 record in those starts. His last win came in Cleveland on August 6. Salazar has not won since his first start of his Major League career. He has been on a pitch count, averaging 74.3 pitches per start in his last three outings after throwing 103 against Detroit in his second start of the season.

All three broadcasts will air on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports Detroit. Saturday’s evening matchup will also be shown on the MLB Network. Radio versions of the games can be found on the affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.

The pitching kept the Indians in the series with the Braves during the week. Unfortunately, the lack of offense took Cleveland right out of the three games.

The Indians doubled the hits of the Braves in their series opener, but Atlanta found the scoreboard twice in the second on a two-out, two-run triple by Elliot Johnson, giving them a 2-0 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday. Alex Wood (3-2) allowed five hits and four walks in five and two-thirds innings, but kept the Indians from crossing home plate. The Braves stellar bullpen combined for one hit and one walk in the final three and one-third innings. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis provided the Indians only extra-base hits. Cleveland left ten on base. Salazar allowed the two runs on three hits in four innings, and the bullpen combined for four perfect innings of relief.

Atlanta won in walkoff fashion on Wednesday night, 3-2, one inning after Cleveland tied the game at two. The Indians got yet another solid starting effort from the rotation, as Justin Masterson allowed two runs on five hits and four walks in six innings. The Braves plated a pair in the second on a two-run, two-out single by Jordan Schafer. Mike Aviles homered in the fourth and drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth before the Braves won on the game-winning single to left by Chris Johnson.

A three-run home run by Brian McCann provided all the runs that the Braves would need, as Atlanta and Kris Medlen defeated Cleveland and Ubaldo Jimenez, 3-1. Jimenez (9-9) struck out ten and allowed the big swing of McCann to provide all of the runs. He scattered seven hits over seven innings. Medlen pitched seven scoreless frames, striking out six and allowing six hits. The slumping Lonnie Chisenhall drove in the Indians lone run in the eighth inning with a pinch-hit home run.

The Indians announced Friday afternoon that they have acquired left-handed hitting outfielder Jason Kubel from Arizona for a player to be named later or cash. Kubel batted .220 on the season with the Diamondbacks with five home runs and 32 RBI. His batting average, slugging percentage (.324), and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.612) are all at career-lows. He is expected to see time against right-handed pitching and come off the bench as a designated hitter or outfielder. He had played sparingly this season with Arizona since returning from leg injuries in Spring Training.

Cleveland also announced the signing of former Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach to a minor league contract. He was assigned to Triple-A Columbus, but could be a possibility on the Major League roster when rosters expand on Sunday. Shoppach was granted his release from the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier in the week, after spending a portion of his season on the Major League roster of the Seattle Mariners. He batted .196 in Seattle with three home runs and nine RBI in 35 games. He hit a combined .207 between Seattle’s and Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliates.

The Indians released pitcher Brett Myers on Thursday. The club has also moved minor league infielder Cord Phelps and reliever Scott Barnes to the 60-day disabled list, ending the seasons of both players.

Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn have both found success against Verlander. Brantley has batted .400 in his career in 38 plate appearances, while Bourn has hit .438 in 17 trips to the batter’s box.

Carlos Santana is a career .323 hitter against Porcello with three home runs and four RBI.

The Tigers avoided a sweep in walkoff fashion on Thursday, as the A’s took two of three in Motown.

Oakland earned a rain-soaked victory in the series opener on Tuesday, defeating Verlander and the Tigers by a 6-3 final in six innings. Brandon Moss’s fifth inning two-run home run broke a 3-3 tie and Seth Smith padded the lead with a solo shot in the sixth. Tommy Milone (10-9) allowed three runs, two earned, in five innings for the shortened complete game effort.

The Athletics jumped on Doug Fister (11-7) to the tune of seven earned runs in five innings and an offensive explosion gave Oakland a 14-4 win over Detroit on Wednesday. Moss drove in six runs with a pair of home runs and had four hits in six at bats in the ball game. Jose Alvarez allowed five runs in relief. Dan Straily (7-7) earned the win, allowing one run in six innings.

After Oakland tagged Max Scherzer for six runs in a rare effort from the AL All-Star starter, Detroit chipped away with its largest comeback of the season, capped by a three-run walk-off home run by Torii Hunter in the ninth to give the Tigers a 7-6 victory on Thursday. Scherzer earned a no-decision, allowing six runs (five earned) in five innings of work. The normally reliable closer, Grant Balfour, surrendered four ninth inning runs on two walks and two hits in two-thirds of an inning. The homer by Hunter was his second in as many games.

Miguel Cabrera left Thursday’s game halfway through and was diagnosed with an abdominal strain. He is considered day-to-day.

Ramon Santiago has three hits, including two solo home runs, in six career at bats against Kazmir. Victor Martinez has a career .476 batting average against the lefty, with ten hits in 21 at bats and five runs batted in.

Following the series, the Indians will return home for three games against the Baltimore Orioles, still in the mix with the Indians in the Wild Card hunt. The Tigers will start a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

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