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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Tigers Series Preview

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The Cubs play their first series in an American League park starting tonight.

We hope to see none of this sort of celebrating the next two nights
We hope to see none of this sort of celebrating the next two nights
David Banks/Getty Images

The last time the Cubs played the Tigers, Detroit was coming off an ALCS appearance and the Cubs were in the first year of the current teardown and rebuild. Detroit won two of the three games, played at Wrigley Field. The one game the Cubs did win, June 12, 2012, is the only time the Cubs have defeated the Tigers since 2001, as they were swept in both 2006 and 2009. (Check out the winning and losing pitchers in that boxscore, too.) All-time the Cubs are just 4-13 against the Tigers.

Detroit has been trying to win a World Series for owner Mike Ilitch for several years, as Ilitch is 85 years old and might not be around too much longer. They've made the postseason each of the last four years, but have made only one World Series (2012), and lost that one. Despite the addition of some younger players (Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, James McCann), the Tigers skew older, and perhaps the young Cubs can take advantage of that.

I asked Catherine Slonksnis, co-manager of SB Nation's Tigers site Bless You Boys, to tell us about the Tigers' season so far:

The Tigers have had a rough go of it this season. They started out hot but eventually cooled down and have been playing roughly .500 baseball since their 11-2 start. Recently, Detroit ended an eight-game losing slump, one the team and fans hadn't seen in a decade. By all accounts this 2015 team has been even streakier than in the last couple of seasons, and finding consistency has been elusive.

Before this season, the Tigers' primary weakness had been its defense and bullpen. Its pitching staff and offense had not been. This season it's been the opposite, and outside of the occasional off-day for a reliever or two, the bullpen has been solid. The offense is right-handed heavy, and the loss of catcher Alex Avila to a left knee (loose body) injury, as well as the slowly recovering left knee of switch-hitting DH Victor Martinez, has hurt the team's offense.

Coming into the year, there were questions regarding Nick Castellanos' defense at third base, as well as the long-term health of shortstop Jose Iglesias, but both concerns were alleviated shortly after the start of the season. Acquiring leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes and centerfielder Anthony Gose solidified the outfield's weaknesses, and even J.D. Martinez has been adequate in right.

Despite the loss of Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals via free agency, and Justin Verlander who has been on the disabled list for a right triceps injury since the start of the season, the starting staff have held it together. However, they haven't come without their struggles, particularly with both starters in this series in Detroit.

Anibal Sanchez, who had given up a total of 13 home runs in the last two years combined, has allowed 13 home runs already, and it's only the start of June. His last start was less of a train wreck, but he still allowed a home run, showing his struggles aren't quite over. He did, however, finish strong and there are signs he could be stabilizing, but it's not exactly a sure thing as he's dominated in certain starts before self destructing again.

As for Shane Greene, he's in just his second season at the major league level and is still very much a rookie. His first three starts were dominant to say the least, but he's struggled with just about everything since then -- from command of the strike zone, to keeping it in the park. The Tigers recently said they identified a problem with his delivery and are working to correct it, but when he turns his performance around is still up in the air.

Pitching matchups

Game One: Jon Lester (4-4, 3.86 ERA, 1.360 WHIP) vs. Anibal Sanchez (3-7, 5.69 ERA, 1.305 WHIP)

Game Two: Jake Arrieta (5-4, 3.04 ERA, 1.085 WHIP) vs. Shane Greene (4-5, 5.40 ERA, 1.338 WHIP)

Both of the Cubs' starters in this series played in the American League for much of their careers, so the Tigers hitters could be familiar with them. On the other hand, Lester and Arrieta are also familiar with the Tigers and Comerica Park, although neither has had much success there (four starts, 5.63 ERA for Lester; one start, 4.91 ERA for Arrieta).

Prediction

It would be nice if the Cubs could take advantage of the Tigers' current skid and come out of this set with two wins. But since I have promised to not predict sweeps, I'll say this one winds up in a series split. The teams will meet again at Wrigley Field for another two-game series in August.

Up next

The Cincinnati Reds come to Wrigley Field for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.