Indians vs. Tigers: Previewing the Central Division showdown
Tribe set to take on rival Detroit for the first time this season
All offseason long, Tribe fans heard about that "team up north."
Last year the Detroit Tigers were not only the reigning American League Central Division Champions, but won the AL Pennant for the second time in the last seven years. Although they were swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, Detroit has continued to be one of the best teams in the league, averaging 92 wins over the last two seasons.
Things looked very different 90 miles south across Lake Erie last September for the Indians. The team was coming off yet another dismal season, losing 90+ games for the third time in the last four years, leaving fans still pondering the question, what if?
Cleveland was also left at season’s end without a first baseman, left fielder, designated hitter and most importantly, a manager.
Then, a sign of hope came to the Indians and the newly crowned Tribe Town on Oct. 6, 2013. With the hire of former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, a new feeling of optimism swirled at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Mix in a surprising offseason that saw ownership spend a franchise high $117 million on players like Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in free agency, and you have yourself already many reasons to believe 2013 will finish different.
As bad of a season as it was last year, the 2012 Indians tangled with the Tigers to go 10-8 against them. The 2013 Indians were constructed to not only tangle, but takedown the powerhouse Motor City Kitties for the division title this time around.
Both teams will clash for the first time tonight with the first of a three-game series at Comerica Park, in what hopes to be the makings of a crucial Central Division showdown all season long.
Just 32 games into the 2013 season, things are already pretty tight in the race for first place. Entering play tonight, only one game separates both the Tribe (18-14) and Tigers (19-13) in the AL Central. Both on a map and on paper, Cleveland and Detroit aren’t that far apart as many may think, especially in terms of offense.
Here are the total offensive numbers of both teams so far in 2013:
Tigers (32 games)
.283 AVG 1185 AB 169 R 336 H 55 2B 7 3B 32 HR 166 RBI 119 BB 220 SO .350 OBP
Indians (32 games)
.271 AVG 1108 AB 163 R 300 H 65 2B 7 3B 49 HR 157 RBI 101 BB 258 SO .334 OBP
For a team that finished 20 games in back of the Tigers one season ago, the Tribe has certainly made up some ground offensively. Both clubs surprisingly matchup very similar heading into this weekend’s series, and yet the Indians offensive stats don’t include much of Bourn who has been on the DL since April 15.
While the Tigers lead all of Major League Baseball with a team average of .283, the Tribe currently lead all of baseball in home runs with 49. Cleveland leads Detroit in the extra base category having slugged 10 more doubles and 14 more long balls than their division rivals.
Below are the offensive numbers of two hitters currently at the top of the American League in terms of hitting.
Which player would you want on the Tribe?
32 G .300 AVG 120 AB 18 R 36 H 7 2B 8 HR 32 RBI 25 BB 29 SO .423 OBP .558 SLG
31 G .291 AVG 110 AB 22 R 32 H 6 2B 11 HR 29 RBI 14 BB 32 SO .367 OBP .645 SLG
Would it help if I said Player A is making $23 million this season while Player B is making just $6 million?
Player A is in fact Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder while Player B is the Tribe’s Mark Reynolds.
Signed this offseason on a one-year deal, Reynolds has given something the team has never had since the likes of Manny Ramirez: A right-handed hitting power hitter.
While Cabrera and Fielder remain as two of the most feared hitters in all of baseball, Reynolds and Indians catcher Carlos Santana have arguably fared better in the Cleveland lineup, out slugging the two All-Stars from Detroit in home runs 18 to 14.
Next comes pitching, the category the Indians were criticized the most this offseason.
Like the Tribe offense, starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise of late for the Wahoo’s. Over their last 11 games, Indians starters are 9-1 with a 2.56 ERA.
Here are the total pitching numbers of both Cleveland and Detroit entering play today:
Tigers (32 games)
19-13 3.36 ERA 297.2 IP 260 H 120 R 111 ER 17 HR 94 BB 329 SO 1.19 WHIP
Indians (32 games)
18-14 3.83 ERA 284.0 IP 240 H 130 R 121 ER 38 HR 119 BB 268 SO 1.26 WHIP
Like both teams offensive numbers, the stats don’t favor one over the other so much in terms of pitching as well. Detroit does hold the upper hand in terms of a lower ERA and more strikeouts, but just 10 earned runs separate both clubs through 32 games. Though there is a very glaring difference in the amount of home runs given up.
So what does this all mean?
Granted we are just 32 games into the 2013 season, but judging what happens this weekend in Detroit, I think it’s finally time for the Tribe to gain some respect throughout Major League Baseball.
Sure, winning comes with the territory and the Tigers have done just that over the last two years. But there have been too many times Cleveland has been written off for a potential playoff spot before the season even began.
Yes, the Tribe has started hot and faded off the last two years, but with a new manager, new players, and new team chemistry, there’s reason to think that the only way to go in 2013 is up. We’ve seen it before in baseball where a team can go worst to first, how about the 2006 Indians?
Cleveland finished 2006 with a record of 78-84 and 18 games out of first place. Did anyone think the Indians just one season later would tie the Red Sox for the best record in the major leagues at 96-66 in 2007? I sure didn’t.
And who were the reigning American League champs coming into 2007? The Tigers.
Maybe, just maybe, history will have a chance to repeat itself by the end of the 2013 season.
Friday: Corey Kluber (2-1, 3.06 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (4-0, 3.43 ERA) at 7:08 pm.
Saturday: Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2, 6.37 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (4-2, 1.55 ERA) at 7:08 pm.
Sunday: Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.63 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (1-2, 7.52 ERA) at 1:08 pm.
Cleveland comes into Detroit as the hottest team in all of baseball. Winners of 10 of their last 11, the Tribe is coming off a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. They have outscored the opposition 76-26 over the same stretch and are hitting .319 with 24 home runs.
The Indians will also have their starting centerfielder in Detroit, as the team officially activated Bourn from the 15-Day DL and optioned left-hander Scott Barnes to Triple-A Columbus.
Despite their winning ways of late, the Indians are just 8-28 in Comerica Park since 2009.
Detroit comes into the three-game series having just been swept in a two-game series by the Washington Nationals. Winners of 10 of their last 14, the Tigers lead the MLB in team ERA and strikeouts.
Verlander went just 1-2 against Cleveland in three starts last season with a 2.45 ERA. The former AL Cy YoungAward winner owns a career 14-13 record against the Tribe with a 4.55 ERA.
Two years ago, the Indians not only faced Detroit, but two familiar players in catcher Victor Martinez and shortstopJhonny Peralta. Key members of the Tribe’s magical postseason run in 2007, Martinez and Peralta will face their former club together for the second time in the last three years.
This season though, Detroit will have to face a familiar friend in Indians outfielder Ryan Raburn. The right fielder will look to burn his former club who gave up on the outfielder after a slow start in 2012. Recently named as the American League Player of the Week, Raburn is hitting .329 with four homers and 11 RBI in 22 games with the Tribe.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at email@example.com.
I would go with.....
Kipnis 2B (so happy hes starting to find his way)
Reynolds DH (This puts great on base guys in front of power)
Chiz 3B (Imagine if he could start to live up to his potential)
Stubbs RF (We need this game, hes played alot though so tomorrow Raburn should get the start or Giambi)
Kluber has actually pitched pretty well so far this season.
With Masterson-McCalister-Carrasco-Bauer-Kluber-Salazar we actually have a decent core group of young arms going forward. Would be so sweet if we could draft Mark Appeal as well this season.