After posting a 5-24 record in August, the Indians dropped way out of playoff contention. And while their hopes for the 2012 season are dashed, Detroit remains one behind the division-leading White Sox in the American League Central as they enter Sunday's matchup.
The Tribe sends Ubaldo Jimenez (9-16, 5.52 ERA) to the mound. Jimenez has made five starts against the Tigers this season, his most against any team, and has had mixed results. He is 2-2 with a 4.02 ERA with his starts ranging from excellent to poor.
The 28-year-old last faced the Tigers on Sept. 5 and he held them to two runs for his first seven innings. However, he was derailed in the eighth inning being pegged for two more runs and didn't earn a quality start.
"The stuff has been more consistent this year, velocity-wise," manager Manny Acta said. "We have to understand that we're not going to have the guy in Colorado [throwing] 97-99."
The Tigers counter with 23-year-old sinkerballer Rick Porcello (9-12, 4.59 ERA). Porcello might be young, but his age isn't indicative of his experience as he's been pitching for the Tigers in pennant races since 2009.
For the most part, the right-hander has done what one could ask for in a No. 4 starter. He's held teams to three earned runs or fewer in five of his last six starts. However, the Tigers' offense has scored a combined 10 runs in his last six games, resulting in a six-game losing streak.
"He was pitching really, really well," said manager Jim Leyland after Porcello's latest loss to the White Sox on Monday. "We just didn't play a very good game."
Tigers: Leyland mum on contract
Leyland was asked prior to Saturday's game about his contract, but the Tigers skipper, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason and decided he is comfortable going year-to-year, elected not to talk about it.
"There's no sense in asking," he said. "I don't want to talk about it. We're in a pennant race. I don't want to be a distraction."
Many managers don't like going to their setup guy and closer with a four-run lead. But Leyland said that he will have no reservations doing so with closer Jose Valverde and eighth-inning specialist Joaquin Benoit in those situations, especially with the division race being so close.
"You can't fool around this time of year," Leyland said. "Stuff happens fast."
Austin Jackson has been red hot and hopes to continue it against Jimenez, against whom he is 7-for-18 (.389) in his career. Miguel Cabrera is 10-for-32 (.313) with one home run and six RBIs against him. And Prince Fielder is 9-for-30 (.300).
Indians: Cabrera, Brantley returns could boost offense
The Tribe hopes to be boosted by the returns of Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley. Cabrera was back in the lineup on Saturday after missing six straight games with a right wrist sprain and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. Brantley, however, missed his third consecutive tilt with a strained left pectoral muscle.
Acta said Friday he thought Brantley might be good to go for Sunday.
If both do indeed play it could spell trouble for Porcello. Cabrera is 12-for-32 (.375) vs. Porcello in his career with two doubles and two RBIs. Brantley is 6-for-21 (.286) with two doubles, four home runs and four RBIs.
Jason Donald, who was struck in the forearm by a Justin Verlander fastball and removed from Friday's game, is doing well. X-rays were negative for a fracture and it was diagnosed as a bone bruise.
"I got one from Verlander," Donald said. "And I survived."
Each of the Tribe's last 16 games will be against American League Central opponents. Following Sunday's finale against the Tigers, they'll play five more series, one against the Twins and two apiece against the White Sox and Royals.
The Tigers have 18 games left, 15 of which are against AL Central opponents. Thirteen of those games are against the Twins and Royals.
Detroit's Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Saturday before Carlos Santana broke it up with a triple with two outs.