There are a few times every season when the heart and soul, and quite possibly the “intestinal fortitude,” of a baseball team is challenged. This is one of those times.
Following a tough series against the Kansas City Royals that saw them lose two out of three games and fall out of first place, the Indians make their way back home to start a four game series against the hated Detroit Tigers. Over the next four days, the Indians will have an opportunity to grab hold of first place in the division or they will watch the Tigers once again put a strangle hold on the top spot in the Central. It won’t be easy, though. While the Indians have dominated the other three members of the division, the Indians record against the Tigers in 2013 is an abysmal 2-6.
Fortunately for the Tribe, the Tigers come into tonight’s game having won three in a row, but are only 4-6 over their past 10 games. They aren’t exactly playing lights out baseball at this current moment. Throw in the fact that Miguel Cabrera is currently dealing with a sore back and the Indians could not be getting the Tigers at a better time.
That’s not to say however that the Tigers can be taken lightly. Odds are Cabrera will play. The severity of his back injury didn’t appear to be too serious and the importance of the series will probably ensure that Jim Leyland put his name on the lineup card in his typical three spot. Considering the fact that Cabrera currently leads the Tigers in virtually every offensive category, they can ill afford to lose him for any amount of time.
However, if Cabrera is forced out of the lineup at any point during this series it’s not as if the Tigers don’t have players that can pick up the slack. Most notably, Prince Fielder is still mashing in the middle of the Tigers lineup. Victor Martinez, while not the player he once was following his knee surgery is still a dangerous hitter. Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, and Austin Jackson are all dangerous hitters in their own unique ways. And then there is the laundry list of players on the roster who, while not spectacular, are solid are all solid contributors that any team would love to have.
As for the Tigers pitching, that’s a topic than can elicit any number of reactions. People either love the Tigers’ pitching staff or they can cite enough problems to at least make you raise a curious eyebrow, especially out in the bullpen.
The Tigers rotation is top-notch. Even with Justin Verlander struggling this season, he is still a top-tier pitcher and arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. joining Verlander has been the surprisingly spectacular Max Scherzer. Everyone always assumed that Scherzer would be a quality big league starter, but his 13-0 start combined with his 3.09 ERA and 139 strikeouts has been a revelation. He’s probably starting in the all-star game and would undoubtedly be the AL Cy Young winner if voting were being held today.
Rounding out the Tigers’ starting rotation is Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and the ever disappointing Rick Porcello, None of the three has been all that spectacular in 2013, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of turning in an outstanding performance. All three are talented beyond what their 2013 stat sheets indicate. We know first hand after the way the past two seasons have unfolded
In the bullpen the Tigers have been in a constant state of flux all season long. After intending to utilize hard throwing prospect Bruce Rondon as closer this year, the Tigers quickly shifted gears midway through spring training. When the bullpen by committee approach failed early, the Tigers once again turned to Jose Valverde. He didn’t fare much better and after weeks of implosions and unimpressive performances, the Tigers DFA’s Valverde. Now the closer’s role belongs to the hard throwing Joaquin Benoit. It looks as if the decision to install Benoit as closer is going to work out, but then again, bullpens are fickle. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.