(Sports Network) - If the Detroit Tigers are going to hold off the Cleveland Indians, among others, to win the American League Central, they are going to have to find a way to win at Progressive Field.
Detroit comes into this set with a four-game lead over second-place Cleveland and is five ahead of Chicago, but it could see that advantage shrink in a hurry if recent problems in Ohio continue. The Tigers haven't won at Progressive Field since May 8 of last year and were swept in their first trip there this season back on April 29-May 1.
They did manage to take two of three at home over the Indians in mid-June and the clubs will still meet nine more times after this set. That includes a season-ending three-game battle in Detroit and though there is still plenty of games left, the Tigers would still love to leave Cleveland having extended their advantage atop the division.
"I don't think it's that early," Detroit's Alex Avila told his team's website. "There's two months left. You just want to take advantage and win every game you can."
While the Indians made a big splash before the trade deadline in dealing for Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez, who lost his Cleveland debut on Friday and is slated to start tomorrow's game, the Tigers also added to their rotation in the form of former Mariner Doug Fister.
The move has already turned into one victory as the right-hander defeated the Rangers in his first outing with the Tigers on Wednesday. Fister allowed three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits without a walk over seven innings. He won for the first time since May 30 after dropping his final seven decisions with Seattle.
"I really liked his presence on the mound, his demeanor. He did a real fine job for us tonight. I'm really happy for him," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who along with general manager Dave Dombrowski had his contract extended during Monday's off day.
Leyland agreed to a deal through the 2012 season, while Dombrowski worked out a four-year extension through the 2015 campaign.
Fister, who went 3-12 with a 3.33 earned run average in 21 games with the Mariners, will try to help Leyland celebrate tonight by earning his first ever win over the Indians. The 27-year-old is 0-2 with a 3.16 ERA in four career games against them, but does have a 1.93 ERA over two meetings this season.
Detroit failed to sweep a three-game set with the Royals on Sunday, losing a rain-impacted finale by a 4-3 margin. Miguel Cabrera doubled home a run following a 46-minute rain delay in the sixth inning to pull the Tigers within a run, but they failed to plate the equalizer and lost for only the second time in seven games.
Max Scherzer came out after the delay and took the loss after allowing four runs on six hits in five innings.
"It was just one of those outings that kind of got away from me," Scherzer said. "I fell behind on a few counts where I made a mistake and they made me pay for it. There were other times where I located the ball and they were able hit the balls."
Detroit was without Victor Martinez due to a sprained left knee suffered on Saturday, but he could return to action tonight against his former club. Martinez spent his first seven-plus seasons as Cleveland's catcher before getting dealt to Boston during the 2009 season.
One of the players the Indians received in that deal goes tonight as Justin Masterson eyes a second straight victory. The righty won for the first time in four starts on Thursday by beating his old team in Boston.
Masterson allowed three runs on five hits over six innings, striking out nine to improve to 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA in 24 games.
"It was a random mix of everything," Masterson said of his pitch selection. "There's nothing overly consistent about anything."
The 26-year-old moves up a day to pitch this game due to a six-game suspension and subsequent injury to Carlos Carrasco. He is 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA in eight career meetings with the Tigers, including five starts.
The Indians failed to pick up ground on the Tigers Sunday, losing a 5-3 contest to the Rangers to wrap a seven-game road trip 3-4. Michael Brantley tripled in a run and also homered for Cleveland, but Joe Smith (2-3) couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in the eighth after taking over for Josh Tomlin.
"This three-game series was back-and-forth," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "The whole road trip was like that for us."