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Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Detroit Tigers series preview

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This run through the AL Central concludes with the second place Detroit Tigers.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians got back on track this week with a decisive sweep of the Chicago White Sox. Now, they’ll turn their attention to another AL Central rival in the Detroit Tigers for a weekend series.

Looking ahead

After the Tribe finishes up with the Tigers this weekend, they’ll hop on a place to St. Louis where they’ll face the Cardinals for three games. An off day will then give them the chance to fly out west to meet the Oakland Athletics for three games. The Tigers, on the other hand, will head back to Comerica Park to host the Athletics for four games before flying north of the border to take on the Toronto Blue Jays for four games.

Pitching matchups

Friday, June 22 7:10 p.m. ET: Mike Fiers (RHP) v. Shane Bieber (RHP)

Fiers has been good for the Tigers so far this year. Some would argue that he’s been the Tigers’ second best starter behind Matthew Boyd. So far in 2018, Fiers has pitched in 72.2 inning and has allowed 33 earned runs while walking 15 and striking out 54 (which translates to an ERA+ of 107). He’s already faced the Tribe twice so far this season, and in both games he limited the Indians to just one each time. His most recent start came on June 15 against the Chicago White Sox; in that game, Fiers went 5.1 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 8 hits while walking 1 and striking out 4.

BIEBER!!!!!! The precision pitcher returns to Cleveland tonight to take on a different AL Central this time. Bieber makes his third MLB start of the year, and he’ll look to build off of his successful start against the Twins. In that game on June 17, Bieber went 5.2 innings and allowed 1 run on 10 hits while walking 1 and striking out 7.

Saturday, June 23 6:10 p.m. ET: Francisco Liriano (LHP) v. Trevor Bauer (RHP)

MLB has no idea who the Tigers will throw out on Saturday, but FanGraphs thinks that it will be Francisco Liriano. Liriano is returning from a rehab assignment after a hamstring set him back a tad, and this will be his first start back. He got absolutely rocked in his rehab start, lasting just 4.0 innings and giving up 8 earned runs on 11 hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts. Liriano was doing well for the Tigers pre-injury, however. In 57.2 innings, Liriano has allowed 25 earned runs while walking 29 and striking out 45 (which translates to an ERA+ of 112).

Trevor Bauer has been an absolute ace for the Indians this season, and he probably would be the actual ace of the staff if it weren’t for that Corey Kluber. Across 100.2 innings this season, Bauer has allowed just 28 earned runs while walking 33 and striking out 129 (which translates to an ERA+ of 176). His most recent start came on June 18 against the Chicago White Sox; in that game, Bauer went 7.0 shutout innings and gave up just 3 hits while walking 2 and striking out 8.

Sunday, June 24 1:10 p.m. ET: Matthew Boyd (LHP) v. Adam Plutko (RHP)

As mentioned above, Matt Boyd has been the best starter for the Tigers this season. Many thought it would be Michael Fulmer, but he’s had somewhat of a disappointing year. Boyd, on the other hand, has finally put everything together after being mired in mediocrity for the past three seasons. In 2018, Boyd has pitched in 79.1 innings and has allowed 32 earned runs while walking 31 and striking out 64 (which translates to an ERA+ of 120). His most recent start came on June 19 against the Cincinnati Reds; in that game, Boyd went just 4.0 innings and gave up 5 earned runs on 6 hits while walking 3 and striking out 5.

Adam Plutko will make his first start since coming in in relief in the emergency game after Carlos Carrasco got hit in the arm. He went 2.0 innings in that game and allowed 1 earned run. This made it so he couldn’t make his regularly scheduled start the following day. So instead, Plutko will be starting the final game of this series. He’s looked good this season at the MLB level against teams not named the Chicago White Sox. He’s sort of the anti-Clevinger in that regard. Overall, across 25.0 innings of work, Plutko has allowed 14 earned runs (10 against the White Sox) while walking 8 and striking out 18 (which translates to an ERA+ of 88). Case in point: Plutko’s last start (June 12) came against the White Sox, and he lasted just 4.2 innings and allowed 5 earned runs on 8 hits while walking 3 and striking out 5.

Players to watch

Not much has really changed for the Tigers since the last time Cleveland saw them a couple of weeks ago. The big difference is the lack of Miguel Cabrera. He is now out for the remainder of the season due to a rupture of his left biceps tendon. Without Cabrera to lead the offense, there isn’t a lot to like about the lineup.

  • Still Jeimer Candelario - Candelario is still hitting about as well as Cabrera was, but he has the added bonus of being able to play third base. His .252/.358/.483 slash across 274 plate appearances (wRC+ of 130) is still tops on the team. He’s hit two more home runs since the last time these two teams faced, so don’t be surprised if he hits one out this weekend.
  • Still Nick Castellanos - Castellanos is hitting almost exactly what he did in 2017 except for his batting average, which is about 30 points higher. He’s slashing .302/.344/.488 over 314 plate appearances (wRC+ of 125).
  • Still Joe Jimenez - FanGraphs recently had a post about which relievers could be viable “firemen”, and Joe Jimenez’s name popped up, and for good reason. With Shane Greene in the role of closer, Jimenez has the flexibility to come in at any time and get the Tigers out of jams, and he’s basically done that all season. He’s nearly doubled his innings from last season and shows no signs of stopping. Across 35.1 innings, he’s allowed just 8 earned runs while walking 8 and striking out 40 (ERA+ of 215).
  • Still Shane Greene - Shane Greene has still been serviceable for the Tigers this season, but he hasn’t been the dominant force he was last year. He’s giving up way too many home runs (about 1.5 every nine innings), but his other numbers have been fairly good. Across 35.1 innings, Greene has allowed 14 earned runs while walking 10 and striking out 40 (ERA+ of 123).

Storylines

What does a Miguel Cabrera-less Tigers look like?

Cabrera only had three hits in the last series against Cleveland, but his presence in the lineup was still threatening. Especially since he had turned his numbers around since earlier on in the year, there was always a twinge of anxiety every time he stepped up to the plate. It will be a strange feeling not seeing him in the lineup for this series and the remainder of the year. I’m not a Miguel Cabrera fan, but going out on an injury is an awful way to go. Hopefully he’s back next season for what I would imagine may be his final season depending on how his biceps surgery goes.

Jason Kipnis is probably turning a corner.

Kipnis has struggled all season long, and nothing can change his poor numbers from the first couple of months in 2018. But over his last 20 games (85 plate appearances), he’s slashing .275/.318/.500. 85 plate appearances is a very, very small sample size, but they do represent almost 30% of his total plate appearances all year. I’m not quite ready to pronounce that Kipnis is back, but I’m anxiously waiting to do so in the next couple of weeks if he keeps this up.

The bullpen is not a storyline, and that’s a storyline in itself

When is the last time that the bullpen had an absolute meltdown? It feels like it’s been a while, right? The last game I remember being upset at the bullpen was back on June 9 when Cody Allen gave up the walk-off home run to Jeimer Candelario in the 12th inning. But even then, the rest of the bullpen had gone 4.1 scoreless. Bullpens are like IT departments: when everything is going well, you barely notice them. But when things go south, they’ll be the first ones to hear about it. I hope we continue to barely notice them.

Detroit Tigers roster

FanGraphs

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Tigers?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    3
    (32 votes)
  • 60%
    2
    (65 votes)
  • 7%
    1
    (8 votes)
  • 2%
    0
    (3 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now