Tribe Opens Long Road Trip with Three in Motown
Bob Toth | On 09, Apr 2019
Two teams riding modest winning streaks will battle in Motown this week as the Detroit Tigers host the Cleveland Indians in three unusual midweek afternoon start times from Comerica Park.
The Tigers (7-3) have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start, given the season projections. They have won five straight games, sweeping the Kansas City Royals over the weekend and taking the last two games of their three-game series with the New York Yankees early last week. They began the year by splitting a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Tigers have showed up in the win column, their offense has not been showing up much on the field. They rank last in the American League in runs scored (27), homers (3), and batting average (.181) and are in the bottom third of nearly every offensive category. The two things that they have done well at is drawing walks and hitting doubles. The pitching staff has carried the club, posting the second-best ERA (2.30) and WHIP (0.93) and best batting average against (.188) in the AL.
The Indians (6-3) have had a nearly identical experience to the Tigers this season, which is certainly not what most prognosticators would have predicted coming into the year. The Indians offense has improved, but still ranks among the worst in baseball and the AL in most categories. The pitching has been lights out, ranking in the top third in the league behind some dynamite starting pitching efforts from the rotation. The Indians have a team ERA of 2.85 with a 1.06 WHIP and a .195 batting average against with 104 strikeouts in 79 innings over nine games (a league-best 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings).
PITCHING PROBABLES AND NOTES:
Kluber will look to get into the win column for the first time in 2019 in his third start. After opening the year with a quality start against Minnesota, he was hit hard by the Chicago White Sox, allowing four runs on eight hits with an uncharacteristic three walks in three and one-third innings. He is 11-7 in his career in 25 games against Detroit with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Zimmermann has allowed just one run on seven hits with a walk in 13 2/3 innings of work in starts against Toronto and New York this season. The 32-year-old struck out six Yankees his last time out after allowing just one hit in seven innings against the Blue Jays in his Opening Day start. Zimmermann is 0-5 in his career against Cleveland in seven starts with an 11.08 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP.
Bauer was literally unhittable on April 4 against Toronto. He threw seven no-hit shutout innings, but walked an impressive six batters while striking out eight. Combined with his season opening gem against Minnesota on March 30, Bauer has worked 14 innings while allowing just one run and one hit with seven walks and 17 strikeouts. He is 8-5 in his career against Detroit (including a perfect 4-0 mark in 2018 with a 1.23 ERA), but is 4-1 at Comerica Park. The 28-year-old Boyd has been a strikeout machine for the Tigers thus far, striking out 23 over 11 1/3 innings of work. He tallied 13 of those against the Yankees in his last start on April 3, doing so in six and one-third innings in a no-decision. Boyd is 1-3 in his career against Cleveland with a 3.09 ERA in eight games (seven starts).
The 23-year-old right-hander Bieber made one mistake in his first start of the season on April 5 against Toronto, as Freddy Galvis went yard for a two-run shot. Bieber gave a quality effort, allowing two runs on two hits with two walks and nine strikeouts in six full innings after debuting in relief two Sundays ago in Minnesota. Turnbull, a second-year 26-year-old right-hander, struck out a career-high ten Yankees his last time out. He is winless in six career games. The Tigers’ second round pick in 2014 out of Alabama made his Major League debut last season with a perfect inning of relief against the Indians.
TV: Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all); Fox Sport Detroit (all); MLB.tv (all)
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 97.1 The Ticket (DET)
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES:
Michael Fulmer (SP) – 60-day injured list (3/23) – recovery from Tommy John surgery
JaCoby Jones (OF) – 10-day injured list (3/25) – sprained right shoulder; on rehab assignment
Matt Moore (SP) – 10-day injured list (4/7) – right knee strain
Drew VerHagen (P) – activated from 10-day injured list (4/7)
Jason Kipnis (2B) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right calf strain (starting rehab assignment 4/5)
Francisco Lindor (SS) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right calf strain, sprained left ankle
Danny Salazar (P) – 60-day injured list (3/24); right shoulder rehab
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – 10-day injured list (3/28); right shoulder rehab
REBUILDING TIGERS STILL HAVE SOME BITE
TIGERS’ KEY SUBTRACTIONS: OF Jim Adduci, IF Jose Iglesias, P Artie Lewicki, P Francisco Liriano, IF Dixon Machado, DH Victor Martinez (retired), C James McCann, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Warwick Saupold, C Josh Thole, P Jacob Turner, RP Alex Wilson
The Tigers spent much of last season unloading veteran players and giving young candidates playing time to assess their value moving forward. The team is taking a similar approach this season, but did bring in some veterans to plug some holes on the roster.
The middle infield was the source of the biggest upgrades, as Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer both came over as free agents from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The new keystone combination in Detroit, who are hitting .114 and .167 respectively, is flanked by Miguel Cabrera at first base and Jeimer Candelario at third.
Cabrera is hitting .235 with a .381 on-base percentage with eight hits and seven walks. Candelario is hitting .211 with three doubles and two runs batted in. Niko Goodrum has also provided a solid punch for Ron Gardenhire’s lineup and has been a utility extraordinaire, logging innings at first base, second base, left field, center field, and designated hitter. He is hitting .258 with a team-high seven walks and six doubles after hitting .321 in the spring.
The outfield picture is a bit less settled for the Tigers, especially beyond this season. Jones has been out hurt, but is nearing a return to the club. Christin Stewart and Mikie Mahtook have been handling the duties in left and center. Stewart has two of Detroit’s three homers on the year and has driven in a team-high ten runs. Mahtook is in an 0-for-19 slump to open the campaign.
Nick Castellanos is once again working in right field and is hitting .289 with a .386 OBP. He is in the final year of his contract and could be an attractive trade piece by the end of the July if Detroit is indeed out of the playoff picture as many have projected. Moving him would save the Tigers money, open up playing time for more of the younger players, and bring in more prospects to look at for the future.
TRIBE BATS SLOWLY WAKING UP
An improved effort at the plate from Tyler Naquin has shot him up the team’s leaderboard in hitting statistics. He had three hits in the series finale against Toronto on Sunday and is now hitting .304 on the year. He has cut down on his strikeout rate, but has yet to draw a walk on the year, one of just two Indians who can make that claim (Max Moroff is the other). Naquin is hitting .462 over his last four games with six hits, including two doubles.
Carlos Santana has carried the offense all season. He has reached base safely in all nine contests and has hits in each of his last eight games. He leads the Indians with a .419/.486/.581 slash with two doubles, one homer, and a team-high eight RBI while serving as the team’s cleanup man. He won Friday night’s contest with his first homer of the year, perfectly timed in the bottom of the ninth for his fifth career walk-off blast.
Hanley Ramirez has two of the Tribe’s four home runs this season and is second on the club with four RBI. He got some time off over the weekend as strikeouts have snuck into his approach at the plate, as he has been cut down on Ks ten times in 26 plate appearances.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The Indians will head to Missouri for a weekend set with the Kansas City Royals upon the completion of their three games in Detroit. They will follow that stop with a senseless trip to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Mariners for three games beginning next Monday on Jackie Robinson Day.
Detroit’s six-game homestand will come to a close on Thursday afternoon, but only briefly. The Tigers will head to Target Field for three with Minnesota over the weekend and take Monday off before starting a six-game road trip with the Pittsburgh Pirates (two games) and Chicago White Sox (four games) next Tuesday.
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images