After a disappointing start to their four-game series against the Tigers, the Indians find themselves with a chance to salvage a split Thursday night at Progressive Field.
Cleveland bounced back from two straight losses by taking the third game Wednesday night, 7-0. That makes Thursday crucial if the Tribe is to stay alive in the American League Central race, in addition to the Wild Card hunt. The Indians trail second-place Detroit by four games for the second AL Wild Card slot and the Royals by 5 1/2 games in the AL Central, while Detroit is 1 1/2 games back of first-place Kansas City.
Not only will they be facing Max Scherzer when he doesn't appear to be at the top of his game, the Indians have also proven that they can hit the right-hander even when he isn't going through a bit of a rough patch. Cleveland is batting .308 off Scherzer in three meetings this season.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus doesn't expect any massive overhaul from Scherzer on Thursday.
"I don't think there is any theme going forward," Ausmus said Wednesday. "The last couple times, he's pitched pretty well. It's just been one inning, like I always say, that can get you in baseball. I'm sure we'll see the same Max tomorrow that we've seen a lot since he's been here."
Still, it's hard not to be at least a little concerned about Scherzer, given his recent starts. His ERA in his last three outings is 5.79.
His counterpart, Trevor Bauer, meanwhile, is in the middle of perhaps the best stretch of his young career. The 23-year-old has held his opponent scoreless in each of his last two starts, a streak that spans 16 1/3 innings, counting a portion of his third-to-last outing.
It will be important for Bauer to avoid early trouble. He needed to pull a Houdini to escape the first inning of his last start with no damage against first-place Kansas City.
"The way the rest of the game went, turned out to be a really big inning to get out of that with giving up none," Bauer said. "Usually in a situation like that, you try to give up just one or two, just don't let it be a big inning."
Tigers: Avila might be back behind plate Thursday
After taking a foul ball off his mask Tuesday night, Detroit catcher Alex Avila was out of the lineup Wednesday. It's possible he'll be back in it Thursday for the series finale in Cleveland.
Avila passed the concussion tests he was given, but Ausmus opted to keep him on the bench to prevent another similar incident in such a short timespan.
The Tigers also have rookie catcher James McCann, who debuted Monday, on the bench as insurance.
Indians: Tomlin added to crowded 'pen situation
The Tribe activated reliever Josh Tomlin from baseball's paternity list Wednesday, bringing the number of bodies in the bullpen to 11.
In 22 games this season, 16 of them starts, the 29-year-old right-hander is 6-8 with a 4.40 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 12 walks in 102 1/3 innings. Following a three-month stay in the rotation, Tomlin moved to the bullpen in early August. Since the move, he has a 1.59 ERA in six appearances, including a spot start.
• The Indians are in danger of dropping their first series of at least three games since July 29-31 against Seattle.
• Detroit's Victor Martinez -- the AL's Player of the Month for August -- has reached safely in 22 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the AL. Teammate Nick Castellanos has reached safely in 14 straight.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.