Weakest division on display

The race for the top spot in baseball’s weakest division might become a bit clearer this week when the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers travel to Cleveland to play the second-place Indians during a three-game set. The first game is Tuesday night at Progressive Field, where the Tigers have lost 11 straight games dating to last season.

The Tigers enter the series with a four-game lead over the Indians and a 5 ½-game advantage over the third-place Chicago White Sox.

But the men from Motown are just eight games above .500, and their .535 winning percentage is the poorest among division leaders. Additionally, the Tigers have allowed more runs (514) than they have scored (508).

Detroit began this nine-game road excursion by taking two of three at Kansas City, with all three games ending in identical 4-3 scores. All three games dipped ‘under’ the closing total, leaving the ‘under’ 6-1-1 in Detroit’s last eight outings.

Sunday’s loss also lowered Detroit’s road record to 26-26. The club also fell to 16-12 in one-run contests.

Victor Martinez, Detroit’s full-time designated hitter, missed Sunday’s game with a sprained knee and is “questionable” for Tuesday’s opener. The Tigers are now 6-14 when Martinez is out of the lineup.

Martinez not only provides protection for cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera, but is hitting .556 with runners in scoring position since July 17. The 32-year-old former Cleveland star is batting .342 in his last 64 games.

The Indians fell to 56-56 after dropping two of three against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers over the weekend. The Tribe enjoyed a lead after the seventh inning in all three contests, but could only manage one win.

This will be the start of a six-game homestand for the Indians, as they will host the Minnesota Twins during a three-game weekend set. Cleveland is 29-24 in its first 53 home dates, but has been outscored 483-478 overall.

These two Central Division rivals have met six times this season, with the Indians coming out on top four times. That includes winning all three meetings at Progressive Field during a series at the end of April when the ‘over’ cashed twice. Overall, the ‘over/under’ is 3-3 in the season series.

Jim Leyland’s Tigers will send newly acquired Doug Fister (4-12, 3.29) to the mound in Tuesday’s opener against Cleveland’s Justin Masterson (9-7, 2.63 ERA). Most offshore sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product opened the Indians as $1.25 home favorites, with the total set at 8 ½ runs.

The 6-foot-8 Fister, who was 3-12 with Seattle before being shipped to the Tigers, captured his Detroit debut last Wednesday by defeating the Texas Rangers as a $1.05 home underdog, 5-4.

Fister allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits in seven innings. He did not register a walk or strike out during the 99-pitch effort. The ‘under’ is 13-6 in Fister’s first 19 starting assignments this season.

Fister was 0-1 in two starts against Cleveland this season when he was toiling for the Mariners. The lanky right-hander yielded two runs on six hits in six innings of a 2-1 loss on April 9 as a $1.10 home favorite. He was not involved in the decision on May 13 after allowing two runs on four hits through eight innings of a 5-4 loss.

Masterson is coming off last Thursday’s 7-3 victory at Boston as a $1.50 road underdog. Though the 6-foot-6 right-hander limited the Red Sox to three runs on five hits through six innings, he needed to toss 118 pitches to accomplish the feat. The ‘under’ is 14-9 in Masterson’s first 23 starting assignments.

Masterson is 0-1 in two starts against the Tigers this season. The 26-year-old was not involved in the decision during Cleveland 5-4 victory on May 1 as a $1.40 home favorite after allowing three runs on seven hits in seven innings. He walked two and fanned seven spanning a season-high 120 pitches.

Masterson did not receive any run support during the June 14 matchup at Detroit, as the Tigers registered a 4-0 victory as a $1.75 home favorite. Masterson was tagged for four runs (two earned) on seven hits through 6 1/3 innings. He walked five and fanned six Tigers.

Matt LaPorta’s name was missing from the Indians’ lineup on Sunday, marking the second game in a row that the first baseman was omitted.

Indians manager Manny Acta indicated that LaPorta was suffering from a sore left foot after being hit by a pitch from Rangers lefty Derek Holland in the first inning on Friday night. LaPorta, hitting .241 with 10 homers and 40 RBI, is listed as “questionable.”

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