As the Tigers and Indians begin their regular-season series Tuesday in Detroit, Cleveland will rely on its most consistent starting pitcher, right-hander Zach McAllister.
McAllister has held his opponent to three runs or fewer in each of his last five starts, a streak that dates back to Sept. 15. Most recently, he pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball in his only decision of the season, a 2-0 victory over San Diego.
Detroit's Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 3.00 ERA) will try to silence the Indians' bats, which have come to life lately, scoring 21 runs in the final three games of the series with the White Sox. But Cleveland took just one game in Chicago as John Axford blew a save Sunday, surrendering a walk-off home run to Alexei Ramirez.
During the Tigers' recent West Coast swing, Sanchez pitched against the Dodgers and lasted five innings in a no-decision. He surrendered three runs on six hits, but only one of the runs was earned.
If the Indians are going to keep pace with Detroit in the American League Central, they will need to use these divisional games as a springboard.
"I don't think they're do-or-die games, but certainly division games have an added importance," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday. "I even think the opening series, besides the fact that it was Opening Day, playing Kansas City [was important]. Within the division, whether it's April or it's September, and I realize in September the pressure cooker could be a little bit hotter, but I think division games are always important."
Now that Interleague Play is temporarily behind the Tigers, who went 2-3 against the Dodgers and Padres, slugger Miguel Cabrera will transition back to the three-hole.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler should be at the top of the order, followed by right fielder Torii Hunter. Ausmus will likely place left fielder Rajai Davis at the bottom of the order as something of an additional leadoff hitter.
"I think he takes his at-bats pretty much the same regardless of where he's hitting," Ausmus said of Davis. "I know during the regular season he's hit ninth and first. But he seems to have the same approach regardless, which is good. That's what he should do. Even when he's hitting ninth, we're kind of looking at him as a second leadoff hitter."
The Red Sox's pitching staff will have to deal with a red-hot David Murphy, who is 9-for-23 (.391) with five runs, three doubles, a triple, two homers and 10 RBIs in his last seven games.
"Yeah. I don't know if I can put my finger on it," Murphy said of his renewed confidence at the plate. "The Lord has definitely provided. I'm seeing the ball well."
Indians: Heavily-used bullpen is OK
Cleveland's bullpen finally got a breather in Sunday's series finale game against the White Sox after eating up 12 innings over the first three games of the series.
Tribe starter Corey Kluber went 7 1/3 innings. Even if he hadn't gone deep into the game, Indians manager Terry Francona is confident his eight-man bullpen, which entered Sunday's game leading the American League with 43 relief innings, would have been fine.
"We actually are OK, we've got a day off tomorrow," Francona said before Sunday's game. "We talked after Friday night's game and we thought we were OK and we'd play it by ear. The guys we brought in, like [Saturday], nobody stumbled so we didn't have to go to anybody we didn't want to."
Tigers: V-Mart an option at catcher during AL play
The Tigers bid farewell to their early bout of Interleague Play by putting Victor Martinez behind the plate for the second time this week on Sunday. However, the return of the designated-hitter slot might not mean the end of Martinez's catching days.
"It definitely would be an option," Ausmus said, "probably a little bit more [than it was before]."
It would not be a regular option. As a 35-year-old with a history of knee problems on a team with a vested interest in keeping his bat in the lineup, Martinez isn't going to be any more than an occasional catcher.
• The Tigers dominated the regular-season series against the Indians last season, winning 15 of 19 meetings, including two streaks of seven straight.
• Ace Justin Verlander will start Thursday on four days' rest against the Indians in the series finale. The move was intended to get Verlander back in the habit of pitching on four days' rest, which he prefers, though Ausmus said it was also done to split up Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. Porcello's turn will be pushed back to Friday against the Angels.
• McAllister is 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in six career starts against Detroit.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.