Indians at a Crossroads as Tigers Come to Town
The Cleveland Indians hit a low point on Sunday afternoon. A 13-3 beat down by the Oakland A’s, the conclusion of a three game sweep that saw the Tribe outscored 30-6, dropped them to 19-25 on the season and 10.5 games back in the AL Central. With their season seemingly on the brink of spiraling out of control, things can’t really get much worse. Or can they?
That depends on your point of view. With the Indians playing just about as bad as they have at any point this season, they get the chance to either redeem themselves, or completely bury any hopes of toppling the Tigers in the AL Central. Yes, there are well over 100 games to go, but as the old adage goes, you can’t win a division in April and May, but you can lose it.
With that in mind, the Indians can pull their season out of the toilet bowl over the course of the next three days as they welcome the Detroit Tigers to Progressive Field. Of course, there is also the chance that the Tigers, who are playing exceptionally well right now, they’ve won six in a row and eight of ten, come into Progressive Field and administer the same type of beating on the Tribe as the A’s.
The Indians will certainly have their hands full. This is a Tigers team that looks to be among the best teams in all of baseball once again. Many pundits, myself included, thought that this would be the year when the Tigers finally fell back to the pack. Shows what we know. Even after replacing Jim Leyland with Brad Ausmus in the dugout, trading away both Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, and losing shortstop Jose Iglesias to injury before a single pitch was thrown, the Tigers still sit atop the division.
What everyone failed to realize is that despite those changes, the Tigers didn’t change much in their core. They still have Miguel Cabrera anchoring their lineup. Victor Martinez is finally 100% healthy another year removed from his knee injury and hitting .331/.378/.595 with 10 homers and 25 RBI hitting behind Cabrera. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are still unhittable.
So yeah, not much has changed for the Tigers. The things that have changed though, and there have been changes, have only served to make the Tigers that much better than they have been in the past.
For starters, the most notable change has been Ian Kinsler at the top of the lineup. acquired in the trade for Prince Fielder, Kinsler has been everything the Tigers could have hoped for and more. He has taken over the lead off duties from Austin Jackson, miscast due to his speed but lack of plate discipline, and provided consistent punch at the top of the order. As you could expect, he leads the team in runs scored while also helping solidify a position that had become a bit of a problem over the years.
Not only that, but the Tigers also made substantial improvements to their bullpen. The revolving door at closer has finally been solidified thanks to the signing of Joe Nathan. Even at 39 years of age, Nathan looks like he is on his way to another 40-50 save season. Not only that, but with Joba Chamberlain, Nathan has a reliable setup man to get the ball to him in the eighth inning. That something the Tigers haven’t had, especially last season, and proved to be their biggest issue in the playoffs.
All of these changes, combined with the incumbent starters and young prospects added to the roster has once again made the Tigers one of the most formidable forces in the American League. As things currently stand, it would seem that they are headed for an October date with the aforementioned Oakland A’s, the very team that just beat the Indians faces in. So again, as if things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the Indians go from playing the best team in the American League to the second best team.
If the Indians could pull off the unthinkable, they could get themselves back into the AL Central race. Sweep the tigers and you go from 10.5 games back to 7.5 games back. However, get swept and that drops them to 19-28 and 13.5 games back in the division before the start of June 1. Again, anything can happen with over 100 games left to play, but a 13.5 game deficit is almost next to impossible to come back from.
Trevor Bauer (0-1, 1.50/2.75) vs. Justin Verlander (5-2, 3.15/4.32)
Zach McAllister (3-4, 5.36/3.97) vs. Max Scherzer (6-1, 1.83/2.76)