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Series Preview: Indians at Tigers

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Just hit the ball ... please

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians need to get it gear — and soon — if they want to prevent the seven seals from opening and fire raining from the sky when the 2020 Detroit Tigers take the field in October as a playoff team.

Shudder.

That grim reality may happen if things continue the way they are. They probably won’t, because even a pandemic-shortened season in the strangest year to date has limits, but currently the Tigers are second in the American League Central and they hold a 0.5 game lead over the Indians.

The Tigers are off to a 9-7 start despite a pitching staff with a combined ERA of 5.23 on the season and an offense with a combined .318 wOBA. They have done so thanks to big contributions from JaCoby Jones, who is entering his age-28 season and finally looks like a semi-legitimate outfielder — if only temporarily.

Detroit also seemingly hit the offseason lottery early on. Their three biggest additions — Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, and C.J. Cron — have all been big contributors.

It’ll still be a few years before the Tigers are true contenders, but they may be starting to turn a very small corner.

Team in a box

2020 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record 18-39
Record 18-39
Runs Scored 202
Runs Allowed 286
Run Differential -84
Last 10 4-6
AVG .218
OBP .282
SLG .349
OPS .631
wRC+ 71
ERA 4.71
SIERA 4.48
K-BB% 13.2%

Projected starters

Friday, August 14, 7:10 p.m. ET: RHP Ivan Nova vs. Aaron Civale
Unlike the bats they acquired in the offseason, the Tigers’ pitching staff additions haven’t been great. Namely Ivan Nova, who has just eight strikeouts in his three starts, along with 10 earned runs and seven walks. Bad offenses have gotten to him all year long, so maybe the Indians have a chance.

Saturday, August 15, 6:10 p.m. ET: RHP Spencer Turnbull vs. Shane Bieber
Spencer Turnbull is the shining light in the Tigers’ rotation so far. A 27-year-old righty with a wide array of pitches at his disposal, Turnbull was slated to the be the Tigers’ Opening Day starter in the Before Times. Right now he appears to be benefiting from the same luck that carried him through a hot start to 2019 — a .244 BABIP against and 79% strand rate. His similar luck did hold last year and it probably won’t in 2020, either.

Sunday, August 16, 1:10 p.m. ET: RHP Michael Fulmer vs. Adam Plutko
Not trading Michael Fulmer is going to be one of those things that haunts the Tigers for a long, long time. There was a time he could have garnered a big return for a rebuilding team, but now he’s recovering from back-to-back devastating injuries — a bum knee shortened his 2018 campaign to 24 starts and he missed all off 2019 following Tommy John surgery. The Tigers have taken it slow getting him back into action, holding him to no more than 3.0 innings pitched in his first two starts.

Lineup highlights

CF, JaCoby Jones - JoCoby Jones strikes out an alarming rate (31.8% for his career), and he has yet to be deployed as a full-time outfielder for a full season. But finally, in 2020, he is off to a hot start with five home runs, and a .304/.373/.717 slash in 51 plate appearances. Will it hold forever? Projection systems don’t think so, and everything from ZiPS to Steamer and everything in-between has his bonkers 189 wRC+ dropping 100 points by the end of the season. Sounds about right.

1B, C.J. Cron - All C.J. Cron does is whack dingers, yet he entered this season on his fourth team in four years. Seeing that he signed a one-year deal with the Tigers, he’ll probably be on his fifth in five by the time 2021 rolls around. With how much he gets bounced around, you might think he’s a terrible player, but he’s always brought an above-average bat and a lot of power. He seems to suffer from Ryan Raburn good-every-other-year syndrome, but he’s never unplayable. He’s already drawn nine walks in his 52 plate appearances, 28 shy of his single-season total he set back in 2018 with the Rays, and he has four homers on the year.

Tigers roster

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Tigers?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    3
    (33 votes)
  • 38%
    2
    (38 votes)
  • 21%
    1
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    0
    (8 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now