It would surprise virtually everyone around baseball if the Cleveland Indians do not win the American League Central Division. The Detroit Tigers can put a little more pressure on the Indians with a big showing this weekend.
The Tigers trail the Indians by four games heading into their three-game series at Detroit's Comerica Park. The Tigers salvaged the finale of a three-game series in Boston on Thursday with a 7-2 victory.
"Good win. Happy flight," Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Good to get out of here with one after a couple of rough ones. These guys came out with a little bit of fire, scored some runs early and held on."
The Tigers (30-34) have lost five of their first seven matchups with the Indians (32-28). Detroit will go with its struggling ace in the opener Friday night.
Michael Fulmer (2-5, 4.73 ERA) got rocked by the Indians on April 12 in his shortest start of the season. He gave up nine runs (six earned) in three innings.
Fulmer has also lost his last two starts. He pitched five scoreless innings against Toronto on Sunday but then gave up a two-run homer in the sixth and wound up being charged with four runs in six-plus innings. The 2016 American League Rookie of the Year has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his last six starts.
Getting past the fifth inning has been an issue for Fulmer all season. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the Detroit News that it could be related to the ulnar nerve transposition surgery Fulmer underwent in September.
"I think right now we are trying to wrap our hands around the recovery from that surgery," he said. "I am not a doctor. But I know there are some things in there we are trying to figure out, different treatments before the game, literally during the game and in between."
In six career outings against Cleveland, Fulmer is 2-3 with a 7.31 ERA. Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez has homered twice off him in 10 at-bats.
Indians starter Trevor Bauer (4-4, 2.77 ERA) collected half of his wins this season against the Tigers. He held them to two runs with seven strikeouts over seven innings at Cleveland on April 12. He dominated them at Comerica Park on May 16, tossing eight shutout innings while striking out 10.
He's 6-5 with a 6.48 ERA in 14 career outings (13 starts) against Detroit.
Bauer has posted 24 strikeouts over his last two starts but didn't come away with a victory. He gave up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings at Minnesota on Saturday but four were unearned. Tigers leadoff man Leonys Martin has enjoyed unusual success against Bauer, delivering five hits in seven at-bats.
The Indians won their last two games with Cody Allen recording saves both times. Cleveland's shaky bullpen still lacks top setup man Andrew Miller, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.
"Our starting rotation has been our saving grace," Allen told Cleveland.com. "In May, we were the best offensive team in baseball. We've kind of rode their backs. We want to try and ease the burden on our starters and pitch well in these tight ballgames."