Two weeks ago, the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers kicked off what seemed like a pivotal early series in the race for the AL Central crown. It ended in a Tribe sweep of the boys from Motown, and spirits couldn’t have been higher in Cleveland.
Following that series the Indians took a tour through the allegedly weaker rest of the division, and it’s hard to imagine it going worse than it did. A sweep at the hands of the White Sox in Chicago, dropping two of three to the Royals and Twins—both series at home—and suddenly the Indians are looking up at Chicago in first and Detroit is breathing down their necks. Of course, this time last year Cleveland was in first, watching their lead slowly ebb away as Detroit overtook them, so maybe being in the middle of the pack will fire the team up, or something.
So going 2-7 since the sweep is pretty terrible but the Tigers are 5-5 in the same stretch, and more spinning their wheels than anything. It’s still a club that can club the heck out of the ball, though. Prince Fielder has found a real groove lately, hitting .373/.439/.608 over the last two weeks. Miguel Cabrera is Miguel Cabrera, nothing more need be said. The injury bug has struck in Detroit though, with Austin Jackson brought down by an abdominal strain in the midst of a wonderful breakout season, and Andy Dirks (143 OPS+) just hit the DL with an achilles injury.
This means young guns will get some real playing time. Guys like Quintin Berry, who is filling in in center for Jackson and doing it well—three doubles, two triples and six stolen bases in his 12 games in the bigs. The injuries up and down the lineup mean they’ll lean harder on the two monsters in the middle, and considering Manny Acta generally just walks Cabrera every time he’s up it’s going to be a series where Prince does the damage.
On the Indians’ side of things, the re-arrivals of Lonnie Chisenhall and Matt LaPorta remind us we have something to look forward to. Chisenhall is making his presence known on the diamond not only by sporting one of the worst moustaches in history, but also by tearing the cover off the ball. The young third baseman has two homers (neither of them were cheap in the least) in his six games this season to go along with two stolen bases. He’s also struck out three times as sliders and curveballs from lefties have made him look the fool.
LaPorta we’ve seen for only one game, and he reached base twice and scored a run. It’s hard to get too excited for the gaudy numbers he posted in the minors (1.007 OPS with 14 homers in 46 games) simply because that’s not that far off his career numbers in the lower leagues, and we’ve seen him be disappointing at the major league level. He didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his first game back with all those grounders to third, but maybe if he realizes pulling the ball is more difficult when it’s on the outside part of the plate, he can adjust. Or not, in which case we’ll get more of what we’ve seen the last two years.
Following a rehab DH start at Single-A Lake County, Carlos Santana will return to the lineup from the concussion DL, and that really helps to stretch the lineup. With Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Kipnis up top, having Santana behind Asdrubal Cabrera means Michael Brantley isn’t batting sixth, and Jose Lopez doesn’t have to carry quite so much of the load. If Michael Brantley can continue this hitting streak of his (12 games so far) and Shelley Duncan can get out of the funk he’s been in, the Tribe’s lineup could start to look formidable again. Now wouldn’t that be something.