After a little sample of interleague play this week against the Miami Marlins, intra-divisional play continues in Cleveland with the Detroit Tigers (20-21) coming to town for the first time this year.
The Indians (23-18) hold first by three games over both the White Sox and Detroit and are playing inspired ball even after dropping two of three to Miami this weekend. The subtext of this series and at least the rest of this homestand will be the words closer Chris Perez had for Cleveland fans this weekend for their negativity that pushes potentially difference-making players like Carlos Beltran away and for their not showing up to the park. A big crowd showed on Sunday (a smidge over 23,000, but that’s a lot better than it’s been) so perhaps the fans around the team feel their pride has been challenged. So a great showing is needed this week against the team that’s supposed to win the division. It’s these games that can make the difference in September.
The Tigers’ offense is what is supposed to really carry their team and they’re playing well of late, averaging 5.2 runs per game the last 10 games. In particular Austin Jackson had really been turning the corner at the plate before an abdominal injury sidelined him last week. In his two seasons before this in the majors he’s struck out 170 and 181 times to only 47 and 56 walks, but this year he’s at 29 K’s to 20 walks. It’s good for a .414 OBP, and Jackson is turning into a real threat at the top of the order. Combine his work at the plate with the damage he does on the basepaths and his sterling work in the outfield, and he could enter the discussion of best center fielders in the league provided this injury doesn’t throw him off his game too much
On the other side of the coin, Miguel Cabrera is not having a typical Cabrerian year. You’d think with a guy like Prince Fielder behind him Miguel would get a ton of pitches to hit and have astronomical numbers. But instead he’s getting on base at a not-great .356 clip (it would be the second lowest of his career) and he’s slugging just .494. He’s posting a 123 wRC+, quite off his career average of 145. Maybe he’s just getting back into the groove of things. After all, he’s powerful as anything and almost hit a ball over the bleachers at US Cellular field last week, so perhaps it’s just his coming into form. He can’t be slept upon, that’s for sure. He has a .982 OPS and 18 homers in 72 games against the Indians, so maybe we’re in for a laser show this week.
In all, the Tigers offense is downright scary. Guys like Andy Dirks (160 OPS+) having great years and—perhaps most nerve-wrackingly—the youngster Brennan Bosch still not hitting yet. They haven’t really started clicking, and once they do hanging a six-spot in one inning could seem like child’s play.
Meanwhile, the Indians continue to work counts, walk their way to men on base and do a decent job of driving them in. Cleveland has seven guys on the roster with an OPS+ over 110, with Asdrubal Cabrera leading the way at 156 and proving last year was no fluke. They’re second in the league in on-base percentage, and while it’s no Murderer’s Row trotting out there every day they are definitely an above-average lineup and they have a chance to win every time out.
Jason Kipnis has cooled off a smidge but is still in posession of a 110 OPS+, and Shin-Soo Choo has settled into the leadoff role: .371/.471/.586 in 34 plate appearances. So maybe after years of searching the Indians have a real leadoff hitter. Choo’s turnaound is as important as anyone’s on the Indians and he has the ability to carry this team for stretches. Real offense has been a rarity for some time in C-Town, but with Choo up top and Kipnis and Cabrera clubbing it behind him, the ingredients are all there. Add to that that Travis Hafner is hitting the ball a mile again, and on a good day they could go toe to toe with their divisional rivals.
With a good showing (read: series win) against Detroit, the Indians could both bolster their lead in the division and get above .500 at home. In one way, the fans not being happy as Perez noted makes some sense—after all, they’ve seen more losing than winning when the team has been in town, 11-12 at The Prog. Though they play in a pitcher’s park (slightly at least, with a Park Factor of 95) being 12th in the league in homers is not going to cut it in the long haul. Those doses of quick runs are needed sometimes, and the visitors from Detroit are not going to make it easy on anyone.