Series Preview #12: Cleveland Indians (18-14) at Detroit Tigers (19-13)
Bob Toth | On 10, May 2013
Eyes will be on the Motor City this weekend for a key American League Central matchup between the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland. The series will pair up the number one and two run differential teams in the AL.
The Indians (18-14) have quietly become baseball’s hottest team. After ending their six-game winning streak on Sunday, they immediately ripped off a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics, by no means an easy task. Respect is starting to slowly pour in nationally, as Cleveland jumped ten spots in Sports Illustrated’s MLB Power Rankings to third, the largest move of the week for any of the 30 teams in the league. Leading all of baseball in slugging percentage (.475) and home runs (49) certainly has not hurt their cause.
After winning five straight and nine of ten, the Tigers (19-13) lost a pair of close games to the Washington Nationals after weather claimed the opener of the series. They enter play against the Indians this weekend with the league’s best team batting average and on-base percentage and have two of the league’s top six hitters in Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter. They have the best team ERA amongst starting pitchers in the AL at 3.17.
Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (2-1, 3.06) will start Friday night’s 7:08 PM ET start from Comerica Park against Max Scherzer (4-0, 3.43). Kluber has been a pleasant surprise on the pitching staff while filling in for the injured Brett Myers. He lost his first game of the season his last time out when he surrendered three earned runs, four walks, and five hits in five and two-thirds innings. Scherzer looks to remain undefeated in his seventh start of the year. He allowed one run and struck out eight in eight innings in a win against Houston last Saturday.
Saturday night, Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2, 6.37) will be opposed by Justin Verlander (4-2, 1.55). The game is scheduled for a 7:08 PM ET first pitch. Jimenez is coming off of a pair of good starts, earning him consecutive wins for the first time since May of last season. Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his last start against Houston. He is just 14-13 with a 4.55 ERA in his career against the Indians.
Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.63) hopes to send the Indians home a winner in the 1:08 PM ET finale Sunday. Rick Porcello (1-2, 7.52) will look to prevent that from happening. McAllister has allowed three earned runs or less in all six of his starts this year and is averaging more than six innings per appearance. Porcello is coming off of his best outing of the season, a no-decision against Houston on May 2nd. He gave up three earned runs and struck out seven.
The Indians pulled within one game of the top spot in the division after sweeping the Oakland A’s, baseball’s leader in runs scored. Cleveland proved to be the superior offensive team in the series, outscoring Oakland 21-8 in the four games.
Cleveland moved back over the .500 mark with a 7-3 win over Oakland on Monday. Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera hit back-to-back home runs in the first. After being plunked shortly after by A’s starter Jarrod Parker, Mark Reynolds launched a decisive 460-foot home run into the upper portion of the left field bleachers for his tenth shot of the season. Jimenez (2-2) won his second straight decision, striking out eight and allowing two earned runs in five and two-thirds innings on the night.
McAllister (3-3) continued an overlooked, undervalued start to the season with seven and two-thirds scoreless innings on the way to a 1-0 shutout of Oakland on Tuesday. He struck out four and allowed just five hits and a walk on the night. Backup catcher Yan Gomes drove in the only run of the game in the bottom of the fifth with a sacrifice fly to straightaway center field.
With a little help from the boys in blue, the Indians snuck away with a 4-3 win in the third game of the series. Justin Masterson (5-2) got the win with a quality start – he gave up three runs on four hits and struck out seven on the night. Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana got the Indians back into the game with solo homers after the team trailed, 3-0. Chris Perez gave up what was the tying home run with two outs in the ninth, but the ruling of a double on the field was upheld by the umpires due to inconclusive evidence, despite many replay angles looking the contrary. He earned his fifth save of the season.
Cleveland’s reliance on the long ball continued Thursday afternoon, as the team earned the series sweep 9-2 behind three home runs and another fantastic outing from Scott Kazmir (2-1). Kipnis, Reynolds, and Swisher each hit their second home runs of the series. Kazmir dominated the A’s over six innings – he allowed five hits and just one earned run, a Josh Donaldson home run in the sixth, while striking out an Indians’ season-high ten batters.
With his eleventh home run on Thursday, Reynolds is now the AL leader in home runs. He has also improved to third in the AL in slugging (.645), fourth in on-base plus slugging (1.013), and fifth in RBI (29). He had three hits in 12 at bats against Oakland, all for extra bases. He has not done well against two starters he will see in this series – he is batting .167 with seven strikeouts in 12 at bats against Verlander and is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts against Scherzer.
Kipnis has been seeing the ball much better of late. Over his last ten games, he is batting .279 and has eleven of his 14 RBI on the season. All four of his home runs and both of his triples this year have come in that span. His batting average has jumped 41 points.
Michael Brantley is a lifetime .333 hitter combined against the three Detroit starters in the series, with 23 hits (six doubles, two triples, two home runs), six walks, and 12 RBI in 69 at bats.
Santana saw his bat cool slightly during the series with the A’s. He had just one hit (a solo home run) in eight at bats and was given the afternoon off on Thursday after appearing in each of the previous 12 games. He remains the AL leader in slugging percentage (.674) and is the major league leader in on-base percentage plus slugging (1.129). He is second in the AL in on-base percentage (.455) and is fourth in batting average (.358).
He has been productive against Porcello in his career (.375 batting average, three home runs), but has struggled against Scherzer (.100 average with just two singles).
Cleveland’s bullpen is 4-0 on the season with a major league-best 2.61 ERA.
The Indians have made just one error in their last twelve games, starting with the first game of their doubleheader against Kansas City. They have committed the sixth-fewest errors in the AL on the season. They are 13-6 when committing no errors in a ball game; 5-6 when making one error; and 0-2 when making two errors.
Detroit lost some ground in the AL Central after they dropped a pair in Washington, D.C., during the week.
The day following Tuesday’s rainout, Washington rode the arm of Jordan Zimmerman (6-1) to a 3-1 victory. Zimmerman, who struck out seven in seven innings, outdueled Anibal Sanchez (3-3). Bryce Harper hit his tenth home run of the year and drove in a pair of runs. Detroit’s Cabrera drove in the Tigers’ lone run with his major league leading 37th RBI on the season.
The Nationals captured the weather-shortened sweep of Detroit with a 5-4 win on Thursday. Doug Fister (4-1) allowed five runs (four earned) and lasted just three innings in earning his first loss of the season. Dan Haren (4-3) allowed four earned runs of his own through six innings, but got the win. Fister aided his own cause with a two-out RBI single in his first and only at bat this season. Tigers’ rookie Matt Tuiasosopo added a three-run home run, his second of the year.
Miguel Cabrera is the AL’s leading hitter and trails Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee by just .004 of a point in batting average. Cabrera maintains a .002 point lead over Carlos Santana in on-base percentage. He hurt his back during the game on Wednesday, but played in the game on Thursday with no restrictions.
Cabrera is a .335 lifetime hitter against Cleveland with 26 home runs. He slugged eight home runs and drove in 23 runs against the Indians last year, the second time in his career he has had that exact same production. It was the most home runs he hit against any one team last year.
Center fielder Austin Jackson has four hits in six at bats against McAllister (all singles) and is 7-for-18 (all singles) with seven strikeouts against Jimenez.
Prince Fielder has hit in ten of his last eleven games, batting .302 during that stretch. He has reached base safely in 18 straight games since striking out four times on April 16th and five more times the next day, both against Seattle.
Verlander was 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts, including one complete game, last season against the Indians. His strikeout rate against Cleveland was the lowest mark of any team he played more than once during last season. In his career, he has struck out Swisher 20 times in 55 at bats and Cabrera 19 times in 44 at bats.
He will be the seventh former Cy Young award winner to face the Indians this season and seeks to buck a bizarre trend. Former winners R.A. Dickey, David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Bartolo Colon have combined to go 0-5 with a 10.58 ERA and a 2.11 WHIP in five games against the Indians. They have allowed 29 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings. Jake Peavy (one earned run in seven innings, eleven strikeouts) is the only former winner to defeat the Indians this season.
On the injury front, Michael Bourn was removed from the Cleveland disabled list following Thursday’s game. He had played in just ten games prior to his injury, batting .333 with seven extra base hits scattered amongst his 15 on the season. Reliever Scott Barnes was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus.
Detroit reliever Phil Coke was sent on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo on Monday. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 1st, retroactive to April 26th.
Octavio Dotel, another Detroit reliever, is expected to start a rehab assignment in the near future. He has been on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation and is already eligible to return.
The Indians won the series with the Tigers last season, ten games to eight. Detroit holds the all-time advantage with 1,071 wins and 1,038 losses, dating back to May 3rd, 1901 (a 6-3 Tigers win over the Cleveland Blues). Each team is the other’s most often played opponent in their histories.
All three games of this series will air on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio. Friday’s game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit-Plus, with the final two games being shown on Fox Sports Detroit. MLB Network will also televise Saturday’s matchup.
Radio broadcasts can be heard on the Cleveland Indians radio network or any of the Detroit Tigers radio affiliates.
After the weekend, Cleveland will return home Monday for an afternoon doubleheader with the New York Yankees before flying to Philadelphia. Detroit will host Houston for three games. The Tigers will come to Cleveland for a brief two-game series beginning May 21st.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images