(Sports Network) – If the Cleveland Indians want to avoid a back-breaking three-game sweep at the hands of the first-place Detroit Tigers, all they have to do is beat baseball’s current wins leader and American League Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander.
That mountainous task is in front of the Tribe this afternoon in the final of a three-game set as losses in the first two games of this series have dropped Cleveland 8 1/2 games behind Detroit in the American League Central. Following a competitive loss in Monday’s opener, the Indians struggled early in a 10-1 defeat last night.
Now they must battle Verlander, who takes aim at a 10th consecutive victory as he looks to solidify not only his bid for the Cy Young, but also the AL MVP.
Verlander has allowed one run or fewer five times over his win streak while going at least eight innings in all but one of them. He picked up an 8-1 victory over the White sox on Friday, hurling 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts. He is 21-8 with a league-leading 2.34 earned run average, becoming the first Tiger pitcher to win at least 21 games in a season since Jack Morris in 1986.
"Another stellar performance," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander. "It was kind of a neat night because Justin picked the guys up and the guys picked Justin up."
The 28-year-old righty is 11-2 on the road this year and his current win streak includes a victory at Cleveland on Aug. 11. Verlander also beat the Indians on June 14 at home with a two-hit shutout that featured 12 strikeouts.
Detroit will look to support its ace with some more clutch hitting after scraping together five two-out runs in the first inning of Tuesday’s win. Miguel Cabrera had three of Detroit’s 15 hits while scoring twice and knocking in a run. Victor Martinez went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI in the blowout.
"Two-out hits are golden and we got a bunch of those early on," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose club also holds a healthy eight-game advantage over the White Sox after sweeping Chicago in three games before this series.
Fausto Carmona had his shortest outing of the season for the Indians, losers in four of six, as he was charged with seven runs on eight hits while recording only four outs.
"This was a series that we needed to win. It puts us in a pretty bad spot right now," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We’re going to need a lot of help."
Cleveland has lost six straight to Detroit and three in a row at home to the club since a 13-game series winning streak at Progressive Field. It will look to avoid the sweep today behind Justin Masterson, who has won three of his last four decisions.
Masterson is coming off a win at the Royals on Friday, yielding four runs on seven hits and a walk over seven innings.
"It was good," the 26-year-old Masterson said of his outing. "We were winning and I still felt fine, but I was a little erratic."
The right-hander improved to 11-8 with a 2.92 ERA on the season but is still in search of his first career win versus the Tigers. He is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA lifetime against them and gave up two runs over two innings during an Aug. 9 meeting before having his outing cut short due to a rain delay.