(Sports Network) - First place in the American League Central will be on the line this evening when the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers kick off a three-game series at Comerica Park.
These two teams are seemingly headed in opposite directions, as Cleveland has lost 14 of its last 19, while the Tigers have won 11 of 15. Yet this set begins with them in a virtual tie atop the division, although the Indians are technically percentage points ahead.
The Indians managed to salvage the finale of their four-game series with the New York Yankees on Monday, as Carlos Carrasco tossed seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 win.
Carrasco (6-3), who did not allow a run in 8 1/3 innings of a 1-0 win in his last start, gave up five hits and struck out seven in this one, while Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI single was all that he would need.
The victory was just the second in the last 11 games for the Indians, who have been shutout three times in that stretch and had been outscored 24-8 in the first three games against the Yanks.
"We're still in first place, right? At the end of the day, that's what we look at," said outfielder Michael Brantley, who scored on Cabrera's single. "But at the same time, we have to win baseball games to stay in first place -- that's no secret. The slide that we're on is tough, but at the same time it takes mental toughness and a great ability to play this game. That's what we need to do, step it up as a whole team."
If the Indians intend on staying on top in the Central they will need a big start from right-hander Justin Masterson, who is 5-4 on the year, but is winless in his last eight starts. Masterson did not get a decision on Wednesday against Minnesota, but pitched well, allowing two runs and nine hits in eight innings of his team's 3-2 loss.
Masterson did not get a decision against the Tigers back on May 1 and is 0-2 in seven games (four starts) against them with a 5.20 ERA.
Detroit, meanwhile, will counter with its ace Justin Verlander, who has won his last three starts and his last five decisions. Verlander beat the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, as he surrendered just a run and five hits in eight innings to run his record to 7-3, while lowering his earned run average to 2.89.
Cleveland, though, has given Verlander fits over his career, as he is just 10-11 lifetime against the club with a 5.11 ERA.
The Tigers maintained their standing in the AL Central on Monday, as Ramon Santiago ripped an RBI triple to right in the bottom of the 10th inning to send Detroit to a dramatic 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson collected two hits, while Brennan Boesch added a double for Detroit and David Purcey (1-0) threw a scoreless 10th to pick up his first victory with the team.
"It was a great win for us. Any win ... is very important for us. We have to grind every game," Santiago said.
Cleveland swept a three-game set from the Tigers earlier in the season at Progressive Field and has won six straight in the series.