Indians set up man Vinnie Pestano said after yesterday's win over Baltimore, "By the way biggest series of the year starts tomorrow. Want this place shakin the next three days." He is close to write as the next 12 games is going to make or break this Indians season. I hate to put an ultimatum forward this early in the season, but I can at least say this much. If the Indians don't at least split the two series against Detroit and between the next 12 games gain at least one game on the Tigers, their chances of winning the Central Division will be greatly diminished.
That run starts today as the Tigers are coming into town to face the Tribe after the Indians barely staved off a sweep from the Baltimore Orioles. The Tigers themselves are on a hot streak (8-2 in their last ten) and the Indians will need to step up, especially offensively in order to beat them. While some players are getting back on track (Shin-Soo Choo and Johnny Damon) others have fallen off (Travis Hafner and Jason Kipnis). The Indians will need every player in the top of the lineup hitting at their best to score off the Tigers hard throwing starters and efficient bullpen. They will also need to keep up with the run scoring machine that is Detroit's offense.
Roster Update: Rafael Perez, LHP, is due back in Cleveland at some point during this series and the Indians definitely need him. Look for recent call-up Cody Allen or Jeremy Accardo to be sent back to Columbus to complete the move. Another option would be to finally end the Aaron Cunningham experiment as he has been completely useless during his time with the Tribe.
July 24th, 7:05 PM EDT: Doug Fister, RHP, 4-6, 4.04 ERA vs Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 8-9, 5.24 ERA
Fister is coming off two fantastic starts that have lowered his ERA .70 points. Of course these came after three terrible starts that pushed it up there in the first place as he had an ERA of 2.72 just a month ago. His lone start against the Tribe this year came in a Tigers loss. Fister allowed two runs and the bullpen allowed two more as that was all the Indians needed to secure victory. Remember that two series the Indians have played against Detroit, a sweep in late May and a series win in early June, came when the Tigers were a terrible third place team, not like now when they are a juggernaut first place team that has the exact same players (for the most part) that they have had for the entire season.
Drew Pomeranz got roughed up his last two times out, but before that had only given up 7 earned runs in his last 6 starts. Oops, wrong alternate future. Ubaldo Jimenez has given up 13 runs in his past two starts, covering just 8 innings pitched. As you can expect, he lost both games and continues on his trend of getting a decision in every start, good or bad (he only has two this year without either a win or loss). At least with him you know the outcome of the game as soon as he leaves. The Indians bullpen in wins (Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez) is so strong that there is no doubt of victory if he can leave the game with a lead, but more often than not, he has left the game with a deficit, usually at some point between the 5th and 6th innings.
July 25th, 7:05 PM EDT: Max Scherzer, RHP, 9-5, 4.61 ERA vs Derek Lowe, RHP, 8-8, 5.04 ERA
Scherzer is a hard thrower and although he has been inconsistent at times, looks to be on the right track this year. His last truly bad game came against the Indians on June 6th and he has been stellar since then, pitching at least through the fifth in every game and never allowing more than four runs in a game. Most of Scherzer's issues occurred early in the season when he went 1-3 over his first five games with a 7.77 ERA. Since then he has went 8-2 and is pitching like the pitcher Detroit thought they were getting when they traded Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson for him and Austin Jackson.
Derek Lowe continues his push towards forced retirement as he struggled yet again in his last start. He has went from being the Indians best pitcher, from the start of the season until May 26th, to being their absolute worst. His last start set a new low for him (it was hard, but he was up to the challenge) as he threw into the fourth and allowed 9 earned runs. Whenever the Indians decide to make a move for a new pitcher, whether it be via trade, from AAA (most likely Corey Kluber, Chris Seddon or Jeanmar Gomez) or Fausto Carmona returning as Roberto Hernandez, Lowe needs to be the one to go.
July 26th, 7:05 PM EDT: Justin Verlander, RHP, 11-5, 2.42 ERA vs Zach McAllister, RHP, RHP, 4-2, 3.21 ERA
Verlander is currently in a tight race for his second consecutive AL Cy Young award, competing with the likes of Jered Weaver, David Price and Chris Sale. He is within the top four in all the triple crown stats(wins, strike outs and ERA) and could very well compete for that rarity again this season. Verlander has pitched 28 games against the Indians, the most against any team, and if you took those 28 games as one season he would be laughed at as a Cy Young candidate. Since his debut, Verlander has gone 13-12 with a 4.70 ERA against the Tribe. He has also hit 16 Indians and thrown 15 wild pitches against Cleveland when he doesn't even have double digits against any other team in either stat. Indians hitters have also walked ten more times than any other team, showing a relaxation of control when Verlander faces the Indians. This season they have played one game against each other, which was won by Cleveland although they only scored two runs off Justin. This game is nowhere near unwinnable and is essential to the Tribe's postseason hopes.
McAllister will do his job on the mound when Verlander is sitting and he has been the epitome of consistency this year. Zach is yet to have a bad start and he continued his streak of excellence his last time out, even though he lost the game. He has faced the Tigers twice in his career, giving up a total of 2 earned runs in 11.1 innings. He has only walked one batter in those games and struck out seven. The Indians know they can depend on McAllister even while every other member of the starting rotation struggles.