The Indians have been hanging on to first place by their fingernails for the past couple of days, losing when Detroit lost and winning last night when the Tigers also won. But on Tuesday night the battle is joined with the Tigers themselves as the Tribe, with a lead of only percentage points, begins a three-game set in Motown -- the winner of which will have sole possession of the AL Central come the weekend.
To add even more pressure to trying to hang on, Cleveland faces the ace of the Detroit staff on Tuesday when Justin Masterson goes for the Tribe against Justin Verlander.
Verlander (7-3, 2.89 ERA) has won each of his last three starts, and the Tigers have not lost a game Verlander has started since May 19. In his last effort, Verlander went eight innings and gave up only a run to the Seattle Mariners last Thursday.
Verlander has been a thorn in Cleveland's side for a while, but over the course of his career it has been pretty much been a wash against the Tribe. Verlander, in 24 career starts, is 10-11 vs. the Indians with a 5.11 ERA in 148 innings.
Verlander did not appear in the three-game Indians' sweep of Detroit at Progressive Field earlier this season.
Justin Masterson will try for the ninth time to win his sixth game of the season. After beginning the season 5-0, Masterson has gone 0-4 in his subsequent eight starts, and has seen his ERA climb from 2.18 on April 26 to its present 3.18.
Masterson appeared vs. the Tigers on May 1 but did not get a decision in a 5-4 Cleveland win. In that game, Masterson allowed two earned runs in seven innings, walking two and fanning seven.
Detroit comes in hitting .262 as a team, which ties for fifth in the Majors. Among full-time players, the Tigers are led by old friend Victor Martinez. Victor is hitting .318. while right behind at .314 is the Tigers' leader in homers, Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera has gone deep 13 times, and also leads Detroit with 45 RBI, not to mention having walked 51 times already in 2011.
Detroit is 12th in the Majors with 62 homers, which is actually an impressive number for a team which plays half their games in spacious Comerica Park.
The Indians come into action on Tuesday down to a tie for 17th in hitting at .252. Asdrubal Cabrera leads in the Triple Crown numbers for the Tribe, among players eligible for action in this series. Asdrubal is hitting .301 with 12 homers and 43 RBI.
This series will continue with a 7:05 game on Wednesday night, and will conclude with a 1:05 match-up on Thursday afternoon, before the Indians dive into the meaty portion of their interleague schedule.