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Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers series preview

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The results of these games do not matter.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The actual scores in these next three games are entirely meaningless. Sure, it’s always nice to see the Cleveland Indians put the hurtin’ on other teams, especially ones that are in our dumpster fire of a division, but the Indians could get swept with a run differential of -47 and it doesn’t change the fact that they will probably “officially” clinch the division before next week. So, instead of looking at meaningless pitching match-ups and players to watch on the Tigers, let’s take a look at what the Indians can do in this series to prepare for the ALDS.

Starting pitchers

Friday, September 14: Josh Tomlin. Goal: Give the other pitchers some rest

If all is right in the world come playoff time, Josh Tomlin will not be on the Cleveland roster. This is in no way a knock on what he’s done for Cleveland in previous postseason appearances or a slight on him personally. It’s more the fact that in 55.2 innings of work this season, Tomlin has given up 41 earned runs and 22 home runs. The running meme was that Josh Tomlin consistently gives up at least one solo home run per game, but that meme was pushed to the extreme this season when one home run turned into multiple home runs and the solo shots started turning into multi-run affairs. Tito has said that Tomlin is in place of Corey Kluber this weekend in order to set up Kluber for the postseason and give him some extra rest. So Tomlin really isn’t here to prepare anything for himself, but rather be a brief respite for Kluber in the long-term and the bullpen in the short-term. Every out that Tomlin gets is an out that the bullpen does not have to get, so hopefully he can go deep against the Toledo Mud Hens Detroit Tigers.

Saturday, September 15: Mike Clevinger Goal: Work on the walks (I guess? Mainly keep doing whatever it is you’ve been doing)

Seriously, I can’t find a flaw in what Clevinger has been doing recently. Since the month of August, he’s pitched in 48.2 innings and he’s allowed 13 earned runs while walking 14 and striking out 58. His K/9 in that time period is 10.7, while his BB/9 is 2.6 and his HR/9 is 1.5. He could do with walking fewer hitters, but even that number is merely “average” and it doesn’t seem to be hurting Clevinger overall. Hell, even his velocity has started to rise a bit after being a tad down earlier in the summer (Brooks Baseball says his average fastball velocity was as low as 94.19 mph in June and now it’s back up to 95.28 mph). Routine and consistency is key for starting pitchers, so Clevinger needs to keep doing whatever it is he’s been doing for the past month and a half because it’s working. With Bauer’s health in question for the ALDS, Clevinger lines up to start either Game 2 or 3 of the ALDS, so here’s to him continuing to dominate opposing lineups.

Sunday, September 16: Shane Bieber Goal: Minimize extra bases

Since the beginning of August, across 46.2 innings of work, Bieber has allowed 47 hits. Of those 47 hits, 27 of them (or 57.4%) have gone for extra bases. He’s getting absolutely killed in the doubles department, as 22/27 of those XBHs have been two-baggers. He’s only given up 4 home runs in that time span, so he’s not letting the ball leave the yard too often, but he’s still getting hit hard. Hitters are slugging .456 against Bieber since the beginning of August, which seems bad until you look at his numbers on the season and realize that they have been slugging .469 against him all season. The Tigers don’t have a ton of teeth in their lineup currently, so Bieber doesn’t have to worry too much this weekend, but as the Tribe rolls into October, Bieber will be potentially facing the Astros, Red Sox, and/or Yankees, all of whom have much more potent lineups. Bieber is also in an interesting situation because his role is entirely contingent on whether or not Bauer is healthy enough to start. If he is, then Bieber most likely becomes a bullpen long-man, which means he will almost certainly be pitching in the highest of high leverage situations. If he can continue to keep the ball on the ground, he will be okay. But the hits have to stop going for extra bases, especially in rapid succession.

Position players

Jose Ramirez Goal: Hit the ball harder (and find some luck)

We’ve talked a lot about Jose Ramirez on this site, and lately the talk has revolved around the absence of Jose Ramirez’s normally lethal bat. Since August 1, Ramirez is slashing .228/.352/.412 for a wRC+ of 101. Even during his “slump”, he’s still got an OPS of .763, which is not terrible but it’s a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the Angry Hamster. In looking at his numbers a bit further, it’s no surprise that Jose has been struggling. He’s not hitting the ball hard anymore.

Since August 1, Jose’s soft/medium/hard hit %s are 23.7%/46.6%/28.0%. Compare these numbers to his season percentages, which are 18.9%/43.6%/37.5%, and it’s immediately clear that Jose has traded hard contact for soft contact. His HR/FB has also been depressed at 11.3% since August 1, down from his season average of 18.4%. So he’s not hitting the ball hard, and when it does go for a fly ball it’s often not going over the outfield fence. Why? Well, pitchers have adjusted, it would seem. In August, 25.41% of the pitches against Jose were “offspeed” (per Brooks Baseball), which is about a ~10% increase from any other month in the rest of the season/career. Only in March of 2017 did he see a similar percentage of offspeed pitches (which I assume is spring training since the Indians didn’t have a regular season game during that month in 2017). Offspeed pitches are the bane of Jose Ramirez when he swings, so he’ll need to continue to be patient against offspeed stuff (as he typically is). Lastly, his BABIP since August 1 is .223, significantly down from the .294 he’s had all season, so some good luck should be coming his way soon.

Jason Kipnis Goal: Adjust to center field

With Austin Jackson’s glove in hand, Kip has transitioned back to center field to prepare for the postseason. There really aren’t any numbers to use on this since defensive stats take a lot of time to become even sort of accurate and Kipnis has played all of 12 games in the outfield across 2017 and 2018. Additionally, the hope is that the stress of fielding a new position won’t disrupt the offensive production that Kipnis has found over the last month and a half. Since the beginning of August, Kip owns a slash line of .248/.348/.430, good for an OPS of .777 and a wRC+ of 111 (quick note: he’s been better at the plate than Jose Ramirez during this time). What has helped has been his ability to minimize strikeouts (K% of 13.5 compared to season mark of 17.9) and he’s taking walks a bit more (BB% of 12.1 compared to season mark of 10.5). He will be tested in the postseason by aggressive base runners, but it’s something that the Indians will have to take their chances with.

Josh Donaldson Goal: Don’t break

Josh Donaldson, please stay as far away from Lonnie Chisenhall as possible. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Chisenhall has a tendency to have calf issues as well. You know who you may want to call? Mike Aviles.

In all seriousness, a healthy Josh Donaldson is an immediate boost to the offense and the defense on the infield. A hobbled Donaldson is just rearranging deck chairs. Please don’t rearrange deck chairs.

Bullpen

Andrew Miller Goal: Also don’t break, but also keep working the slider

Andrew Miller has made two appearances since returning from the DL again, and all reports I’ve seen confirm that he is still intact and not shattered into a million pieces. So that’s a step in the right direction. He’s also thrown 2.0 innings with 4 strikeouts and a single hit, so could this finally be the time that Andrew Miller is really for realsies back this time maybe? I’d like to think so. His average fastball velocity in 2016 was around 95-96 mph, and he’s struggled to hit that this season. But as of now, he’s sitting right around 94 mph, which isn’t drastically different than his average a couple of years ago. The main factor is the effectiveness of his slider. If he’s commanding his slider, hitters have to be more defensive at the plate because they can’t just sit and wait on the fastball. And his slider has been moving, almost a bit too much in that it’s falling out of the zone. When this happens, hitters can ignore the wiffle ball-esque movement of the slider and just sit on a 94 mph fastball to crush. It’s no surprise that Miller is a bit rusty since his season has been riddled with injuries and inconsistent playing time. But now that his injury is (hopefully) behind him, he can use the next two weeks to dial everything in and be ready for October.

Cody Allen and Adam Cimber Goals: Better location of pitches.

I can’t explain it any better than our own Chris Davies did a week ago, so enjoy his piece if you haven’t already.

Conclusion

Oh right, the Indians are playing the Tigers. Um, well, since this is likely the last time the Indians will see Victor Martinez, savor the series as a beloved LGFT member concludes a successful career and earns some well-deserved rest. Other than that, watch for the guys above to work on the things listed.

Oh, and hopefully no one hits any more balls at Cleveland’s pitchers. That would be nice as well.

Poll

Will the Indians clinch the AL Central this weekend?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Yes
    (91 votes)
  • 3%
    No
    (5 votes)
  • 38%
    They "clinched" it in late July, this is just a formality
    (61 votes)
157 votes total Vote Now