Indians at a Loss When it Comes to Answers For The Tigers

Over the last few years, as it relates to opponents for the Cleveland Indians, there have been the Detroit Tigers and there has been everybody else.

Against everybody else, the Tribe really is not and has not been all that bad. The last two seasons, for instance, the Indians have been pretty darn good if you remove that nasty record versus the four-time defending American League Central champions.

In 2013, Cleveland ended a six-year postseason drought in going 92-70 and earning one of the American League Wild Card slots. The Indians were the home team against Tampa, meaning they had the league’s best record among the non-division winners. They finished just one game behind division winner Detroit. All of that success occurred despite a miserable 4-15 showing that year against the Motor City Kitties. The Tribe was 88-56 against. Without the Tigers, Cleveland may well have competed for the game’s best record two seasons ago.

Last year, Cleveland took a bit of step back in going 85-77, missing the postseason. Still, the Indians entered the final weekend in Wild Card contention. They may well have had a spot locked up before that with some sort of better showing against their nemesis. Despite improvement over 2013, the Tribe was still 11-14 against the Tigers a season ago. It was likely the difference between another shot playoff glory and going home. Consider, too, last year felt like the Tigers were constantly stopping Cleveland winning streaks and momentum, especially just when it appeared the Indians, in September, may get rolling.

This year has been a lot more of the same. The Indians currently sit below .500 at 33-38. They are a miserable 15-23 at home. Those numbers would look a little better and more hopeful if not for another round of taking loss after loss against Detroit. Despite an impressive 8-2 vicotry over Detroit on Wednesday afternoon the Indians are now 3-9 against the Tigers, including a 1-5 home record in this season’s series to this point. Otherwise, the Tribe may be in position to strike as the season enters the midway point. Take away games against Detroit and Cleveland is a much more respectable 30-29.

The sad reality is the Indians have not been good against the Tigers since 2008. It should come as no coincidence that that is the last season Cleveland finished ahead of Detroit in the standings.

In 2007, as the Indians were marching to their most recent division crown and eventual spot in the American League Championship Series, the Wahoo Warriors were a commanding 12-6 against the Tigers. In ’08, an 81-81 year for Cleveland and last place campaign for the Tigers, the Indians had an 11-7 edge in their matchups.

Since then, it has been nearly all Tigers. Detroit clobbered Cleveland to a tune of 14 wins to the Tribe’s 4 victories in 2009. In 2010, Cleveland manage a split of the 18 games. In ’11, it was back to a 6-12 showing and we have  already rehashed ’13 and ’14. A 10-8 record for the Indians against Detroit in 2012 seem like a complete aberration at this point. Much of that came when the Indians were red hot in the season’s first half before a post-All-Star-break fizzle.

Those numbers are the sad reality for the Indians. The far sadder reality is the Tribe will get nowhere until it can turn around its fortunes against their division rival. Even in what has been a down season, by their standards, to this point for the Tigers, Detroit has sullied a campaign once filled with great hopes for Cleveland.

As of then as the clubs play each other, the Indians will never be able to really garner or build upon any positive momentum until they can take a few contests from the Tigers. Just when the Tribe gets on a roll, there will almost assuredly be a showdown with Detroit looming close on the schedule. The normal sweep or one win in three or four games will take Cleveland from cloud nine back to Earth and, as has been the case, lead to a few extra down games as Cleveland tries to pick up the pieces.

Over the years, in all sports, teams have had their rivals and nemesis to get by to get to the next level. Michael Jordan and the Bulls had to figure out how to beat the Pistons before being crowned NBA Champions. Likewise, LeBron James had to solve the Celtics before truly hitting he elite level and winning a couple rings. The Red Sox breakthrough in the 2000s happened when they finally knocked off the Yankees.

For the Indians, their team to get over is Detroit. Sadly, it may never happen. The Kings of the early 2000s never did solve the Lakers and never won a title. The Bills of the early 90s could never solve the NFC to win a Super Bowl in four tries. Closer to home, the Browns of the 80s never could figure out how to get by John Elway in the AFC Championship Game and land themselves in the Super Bowl.

However, this is an Indians team loaded with talent, especially when it comes to pitching. There is far too much talent for this team to not be contending for the postseason in September. However, if Cleveland can not get by Detroit, it may all be for naught. Cleveland will never truly get rolling until it solves its personal mystery that is the Tigers. To play in October, the Indians do certainly need to start hitting better everywhere and pitching better at home. Nearly as importantly, to play meaningful games in September and hopefully October, the Tribe has to learn how to make the season series much more competitive against the Tigers. Otherwise, Cleveland may be in for another season of “what ifs?”.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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