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Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

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An incredibly (albeit unexpected) home stand gives the Tribe some momentum on their next road trip, which starts in Detroit.

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting the Indians to sweep the Blue Jays. In fact, I wasn’t actually expecting them to win the series. I was hoping for a split at best and expecting a series loss. But the team defied odds and won four games in a row at home. They did it on the strength of some incredible pitching and some timely offense, often by Carlos Santana. And now, they head on the road after a very successful 5-1 home stand to see if they can keep the train rolling. Their first stop is in Michigan to face off against the equally successful (and somehow more surprising) Detroit Tigers.

How are the Tigers atop the AL Central? Let’s take a look.

Team in a box

2019 Detroit Tigers

Record 7-3
Record 7-3
Runs Scored 27
Runs Allowed 26
Run Differential +1
Streak W5
AVG .181
OBP .285
SLG .284
OPS .569
wRC+ 64
K/9 9.90
BB/9 2.40

The Tigers are in virtually the same boat as the Indians: their offense has been downright offensive and the pitching has been outstanding. The Detroit pitching staff has been worth 2.4 fWAR already in this young season, which is good for second in all of baseball. The starting pitchers have done the lion’s share of the work; their rotation, led by Jordan Zummermann, has pitched 58.0 innings and allowed just 13 earned runs (2.02 ERA). This is good news for the Tigers since the offense has been very, very bad. But even still, it seemed like the Tigers were firing on all cylinders against the Royals in their last series, earning a 3-game sweep following a series win against the Yankees.

Pythagoras says they should be 5-5, but the Tigers don’t care about math. They’re 7-3 and in the driver’s seat in the division.

Projected starters

Tuesday, April 9 1:10 p.m. ET: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (v. Corey Kluber)

I said that the Tigers would not be good in my AL Central preview, and I specifically highlighted Jordan Zimmermann as someone who would be looked at as a leader on the team and would not perform up to expectations. It’s early, but so far I was damn wrong. In 13.2 innings, Zimmermann has allowed just 1 earned run on 7 hits while walking 1 and striking out 10. His season debut on March 28 saw him take a perfect game into the seventh inning before losing it. And he hasn’t even been the best pitcher on the Tigers (we’ll get to him tomorrow). He’s got a slider (86 mph) that moves like a curveball, a curveball (80 mph) that doesn’t move as much as a 12-6 curve typically does, and a fastball (91 mph) that just...exists. He’s yet to give up a home run so far this season, so it would be nice to see Carlos Santana (or anyone) put the first one up against Zimmermann, but it won’t be surprising if they can’t. His most recent start came on April 2 against the New York Yankees; in that game, he went 6.2 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 6 hits while walking 1 and striking out 6.

Wednesday, April 10 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP Matthew Boyd (v. Trevor Bauer)

Matthew Boyd, despite giving up more runs than Zimmermann, has been more dominant at times. Across 11.1 innings, Boyd has allowed 4 earned runs while walking 4 and striking out 23. His K/9 is an insane 18.26, while his BB/9 is a more pedestrian 3.18. He, like Zimmermann, has yet to give up a home run this year. He succeeds with an effective fastball (91 mph) that generates a lot of whiffs, a slider (79 mph) that generates a lot of whiffs, and a curveball (71 mph) that generates a lot of whiffs. Basically, he can make hitters swing and miss in multiple different ways. He really stepped up in his most recent start on April 3 against the New York Yankees; in that game, Boyd went 6.1 innings and allowed just 1 earned run on 5 hits while walking 3 and striking out 13. He has double digit strikeouts in both of his starts this season. I’m sure that bodes well for the Indians who have struck out...97 times to start the season...oh.

Thursday, April 11 1:10 p.m. ET: RHP Spencer Turnbull (v. Shane Bieber)

Spencer Turnbull had a cup of coffee with the Tigers last season and didn’t look good in his 16.1 innings. In 2019, he looks much better. Across 11.0 innings, Turnbull has allowed 5 earned runs while walking 4 and striking out 15. He’s also striking out over a batter an inning (like Boyd), but he has given up a home run (unlike Boyd). He’s got a good fastball (93 mph) that can sink, cause whiffs and flyballs. He’s got a slider (87 mph) that also generates whiffs and flyballs. His sinker (94 mph) is good at getting flyballs and his curve (80 mph) can get either flyballs of whiffs. Basically, Turnbull is going to get you to either strikeout or pop up. His most recent start came on April 4 against the Kansas City Royals; in that game, Turnbull went 6.0 innings and allowed 2 earned runs on 6 hits while walking 2 and striking out 10.

Lineup highlights

  • 2B Niko Goodrum: The young speedster for the Tigers has taken a step up after his first full season in the majors last year. He held his own at the plate in 2018, but now he’s become he’s dangerous at the plate as opposed to just on the bases. So far this season, Goodrum is slashing .258/.395/.452 (wRC+ 147). He’s yet to hit a home run this season after hitting 16 last year, and he’s yet to steal a base after swiping 12 last year. But regardless, he’s still been a consistent presence in the lineup for the Tigers and will look to cause problems for the pitchers both in and out of the batter’s box. Also, he has the ability to play anywhere on the diamond if needed.
  • RF Nick Castellanos: Castellanos was a player that I wished the Indians would have went after in the offseason. He’s got a year left on his contract before he becomes a free agent, and if the Tigers aren’t planning on being competitive this season, it would’ve made sense to trade him to get some type of return in the form of prospects for the future. But alas, he is still in Detroit and he’s still hitting extremely well. Up to this point in 2019, Castellanos is hitting .289/.386/.447 (wRC+ 142). He’s hit 20+ home runs in the last two seasons but has yet to hit one out yet in 2019. He’s still striking out a lot (27.3%), but his walk rate has doubled when compared to his career rate (13.6% compared to 6.6%). If Castellanos has developed a keen eye at the plate in addition to his power, he’s become an even more dangerous hitter.
  • 2B Gordon Beckham: Beckham has had a disappointing career up to this point, but he’s had a hot start to 2019 in his limited playing time. His slash is very lopsided (.125/.300/.500), which has resulted in a wRC+ of 127. Granted, it’s only 10 plate appearances, but he’s made those plate appearances count. Expect Beckham to come off the bench in a pinch hit situation and he can do some damage.

Storylines

Which team will strikeout more?

So far this season, the Tigers have struck out 99 times (tied for #4 in all of baseball) while the Indians have struck out 97 times (tied for #6 in all of baseball). Conversely, Tribe pitchers have struck out 104 hitters (#3 in all of baseball) while the Tigers have struck out 99 hitters (#4 in all of baseball). Those numbers add up to a boatload of strikeouts in this series.

Which team will find out how to score runs?

The Tigers and Indians are very similar in terms of their pitching, but they’re also similar in terms of how bad they’ve been at hitting. The Tigers have a team slash of .181/.285/.284 and a wRC+ of 64, which is 24th in all of baseball. The Tribe, on the other hand, has a slash of .182/.262/.273 and a wRC+ of 46 (gross), which is 28th in all of baseball. Both teams had sparks of offense in their most recent series, but they’ve overall been awful. Something will have to give in this series, so which lineup will figure out the opposing pitching first?

The bullpens may hold the key

The lineups are similar. The rotations are similar. Is there any differentiating factor between the Tigers and the Indians? The answer may be in the relief corps. For the Tigers, their relievers have combined for 32.0 IP while allowing 10 earned runs (2.81 ERA), notching 30 strikeouts and walking 9. On the other hand, the Tribe bullpen has pitched a total of 27.1 IP while allowing 8 earned runs (2.63 ERA) while walking 9 and striking out 31.

Okay never mind, these teams are identical.

Detroit Tigers roster

FanGraphs

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Tigers?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    3
    (9 votes)
  • 65%
    2
    (38 votes)
  • 17%
    1
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    0
    (1 vote)
58 votes total Vote Now