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Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers

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The Indians have an opportunity to throw a knockout punch this weekend at Progressive Field...

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Indians haven't played their best baseball in recent days, but are holding onto a six-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central race. If the Tribe can sweep this weekend's series between the two teams at Progressive Field, that race will effectively be over. Even winning two of three would give them with a seven-game lead, something I can't recall any team blowing in the final two weeks of a season. Frankly, even getting swept, while sure to cause a panic among fans, would leave them with a three-game lead with just two weeks left, something most fans would have taken if you'd offered it to them before the season began.

The Indians would probably like catch Texas for the best record in the AL though, and that'll probably require them to avoid losing any of their remaining series. Meanwhile, even if Detroit doesn't win the division, they're currently two games behind both Wild Card teams, so they have a potential path to the postseason even from second place.

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Tigers roster

Position players

The Tigers have a team wRC+ of 102, and have scored 4.55 runs per game this season. Both of them figures have them as something close to average, probably a bit above average. They are a poor defensive team though. Their best players are Miguel Cabrera (.308/.382/.545, 144 wRC+, 33 HR, a history of killing the Indians), Ian Kinsler (.280/.338/.476, 117 wRC+, 26 HR, strong defense at second base), and J.D. Martinez (.317/.381/.552, 148 wRC+, 20 HR, showing that his earlier success wasn't a fluke).

Pitching

The Tigers have gotten much better production than was expected from a couple of their starters, and much worse production from a couple others. Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer are both likely to appear on at least a few Cy Young ballots, and will also receive consideration for Comeback Player and Rookie of the Year, respectfully. On the other end of things, Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez have each really struggled, with Zimmermann suffering a number of injuries, and Sanchez looking nothing like suffering through an even worse season than he had a year ago, rarely looking much like the Cy Young contender he was not long ago.

Series pitching matchups

Friday, 7:10 ET: Corey Kluber vs. Michael Fulmer

Kluber has pitched as well or better than anyone else in the American League this season, and has a shot at winning his second Cy Young with the Indians, something no one has ever done with the team. Fulmer leads the AL in ERA right now, and will likely be listed on a few Cy Young ballots himself, and is likely to win the AL's Rookie of the Year award.

Saturday, 4:10 ET: Carlos Carrasco vs. Justin Verlander

Verlander has bounced back in a big way this season, not quite to the level he was at in his prime, but back to being among the 5-10 best pitchers in the American League. He and Carrasco have incredibly similar rate stats this season, but Verlander has been able to stay healthy, and has thrown 52.3 additional innings.

Sunday, 1:10 ET: Trevor Bauer vs. Daniel Norris

These two are each the third-best starter in their team at this point, but Bauer has a larger sample of success this season than Norris, who's only thrown 52 innings. That said, Norris has been very consistent during the last month, going 5-6.1 innings in each of his last six starts, with two or three runs allowed.

Upcoming schedule

After this series, the Indians get their final off day of the regular season, then continue their home stand with three games against the Royals, who'd better enjoy their last few days as defending World Series champions, because it might be a while before they find themselves in that position again. After that comes the final home series of the season, against the White Sox, who've been stumbling along a bit below .500 for most of the last couple months, after a strong start to the season had something thinking they'd contend.

If this weekend goes well, next week will be about seeing if home-field throughout the postseason is possible or not. If this weekend goes poorly, next week will be about trying to recover before facing the Tigers again in Detroit during the final week of the season.