Major League Baseball
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American League Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, May 24th (All times Eastern)

Detroit Tigers (20-23) at Cleveland Indians (25-18), 12:05 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Detroit - Justin Verlander (5-1, 2.14) Cleveland - Justin Masterson (1-3, 5.04)

(Sports Network) - The Indians learned last year that quick starts mean nothing if you can't finish strong. Still, a May sweep of the Tigers would certainly be a statement.

Cleveland figures it has to earn that three-game sweep today as it takes on Detroit ace Justin Verlander, who is flashing his MVP form on the mound once again.

At this time last year, the Indians held a seven-game lead over the Tigers for first place in the American League Central and had already swept the club once at home earlier in the month. Cleveland, in fact, won six of the first eight meetings between the rivals in 2011, but Detroit rebounded to win the final 10 encounters and captured the division by 15 games over the Tribe.

The Indians come into this finale five games ahead of the third-place Tigers in the division and 3 1/2 games up on the second-place White Sox after taking the first two contests. Cleveland used a rally and some clutch pitching to take Wednesday's matchup 4-2.

Travis Hafner hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to erase a two-run deficit and Jason Kipnis scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a throwing error by Prince Fielder. Cleveland added an insurance run in the frame on Carlos Santana's sacrifice fly.

"There was a quick runner at third ... Unfortunately I didn't get it to [catcher Alex Avila] in his chest," recalled Fielder.

Detroit, meanwhile, went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Miguel Cabrera grounded out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and Detroit also put its first three batters on base to begin the eighth. However, Cleveland reliever Vinnie Pestano rebounded to record three straight outs and help the Tribe secure a seventh victory in nine games.

"When [Pestano] got out of [the jam], the crowd erupted. It might have given the offense a lift," said Indians closer Chris Perez, who logged his 15th save of the season.

Detroit, which lost for the fifth time in seven games, is three games under .500 (20-23) for the first time since May 4 of last year.

The Tigers stand a good chance of getting a game back with Verlander set to make his 10th start of the season.

Last year's American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Verlander is 5-1 with a 2.14 earned run average, having not lost since April 11. He won his third straight start on Friday versus the Pirates and nearly threw his third career no-hitter.

The right-hander fell two outs shy of the milestone, but still ended with the one-hit shutout, walking two and striking out a season-high 12. It was the sixth shutout and 16th complete game of his career.

"There's a lot of guys that came close ... but I did what I needed to do tonight," said Verlander. "We lost a couple. We needed to win this one get off on the right foot."

Verlander now takes his show on the road, where he is 3-0 in four starts this year with a 3.21 ERA to stretch his overall winning streak away from Detroit to 13 straight decisions. He has a 2.71 ERA in 14 road starts since his last loss as the guest on July 10.

The 29-year-old is 9-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 110 strikeouts in his last 12 starts against the Indians.

That's quite an intimidating foe for Tribe starter Justin Masterson, who is 1-3 with a 5.04 ERA on the year and makes his 10th start tonight.

Masterson allowed six runs over six innings in a loss to Boston, but rebounded to pitch well in a no-decision five days later versus the Marlins on Friday. The 27-year-old righty allowed two runs over seven innings, leaving with the game tied at 2-2.

Masterson also worked at least six innings for the fifth straight start after doing so just once in his first four outings. He has also compiled a 2.62 ERA in five home starts this year, but is just 0-1.

The former second-round pick has never beaten the Tigers, going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in seven starts against them.

05/24 10:39:45 ET