Game 43 Preview: Tigers at Indians

Leon Halip

Max Scherzer will look to repeat the results of his last matchup against Corey Kluber, a 10-4 Tigers win on May 10th at Comerica Park.

Detroit Tigers (23-19) at Cleveland Indians (26-17)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field

SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (5-0, 3.98 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (3-2, 5.40 ERA)

Kluber bounced back from his rough outing in Detroit by beating the Philadelphia Phillies in his last start. He allowed three runs in six innings while striking out five hitters. More importantly, he did not allow a walk after a combined six base on balls in his two previous outings. The Indians offense gave him plenty of breathing room, scoring seven runs in the first six innings en route to a 10-4 victory. Kluber's FIP and xFIP are roughly two runs lower than his ERA and his BABIP is a robust .360, suggesting that he may be a bit unlucky so far. Fangraphs illustrated this point earlier this morning, then included two GIFs of him making Delmon Young look foolish. Apparently they think that this is a rare occurrence or something.

While Kluber may be getting a bit unlucky in terms of preventing runs, he's probably not going to maintain a walk rate under two batters per nine innings all season long. He allowed 3.6 walks per nine innings in his seven minor league seasons and never had a full season under 3.0 walks per nine, so his newly harnessed command is a bit surprising. His 26.1% line drive rate also indicates that the high BABIP mentioned above may not be a fluke. He is continuing to miss bats at a pretty high rate, but opposing hitters aren't swinging at anything he throws outside of the strike zone.

Like Kluber, Scherzer's FIP and xFIP are well below his ERA. Not only is Max striking out over 11 batters per nine innings again in 2013, he has cut down his walk rate by a full batter per nine innings. Also like Kluber, I don't know if this new command is going to stick around. Unlike Kluber, Scherzer's struggles aren't related to BABIP or line drive rate. Max's strand rate is 62.5%, the fifth lowest rate among qualified pitchers*. Could it be related to him pitching out of the stretch? Opposing players are hitting just .197/.236/.394 off Max with nobody on base, but that jumps to .263/.323/.386 with runners on. However, this is where Max could be running into bad luck. With runners on base, opposing hitters have a BABIP of .389, well above his season rate of .301. This will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, especially if he still struggles to put guys away with runners on base.

*Doug Fister is sitting just below Max in 15th, at 67%. Once they figure out how to keep guys on base, look out.

Progressive Field is officially the new Metrodome

In 2009, the last year that the Minnesota Twins played at the Metrodome, the Tigers were 7-2 at Progressive Field in Cleveland. They are 8-19 in Cleveland since the start of the 2010 season, and have lost five of their first six games there in each of the last three years. Part of this speaks to Cleveland's recent "surge early, collapse late" trend, but one thing is clear: the Tigers do not play well in Ohio. Even in 2011, when the Tigers were 12-6 against the Indians, they were just 4-5 at Progressive Field. If they can come away with a split of this two game series, I will be happy.

Outlook

The Indians are one of the hottest teams in baseball at the moment, but are facing a gauntlet of tough opponents. In the next month, they will travel to Boston, Cincinnati, New York, Detroit, and Texas, and also have home series against the Reds, Rays, and Nationals. The next time they play a team with a losing record is June 17th against the Kansas City Royals. Given what we now know about the Tigers' struggles in Cleveland, I'm not reading too far into the next two games. What the Indians do in the 23 games after that -- and the Tigers, for that matter -- should tell us plenty about how the AL Central race will shape up in 2013.

Prediction

Chris Perez gets the save in a low-scoring game, then proceeds to make disparaging comments about the Tigers after the game. It's that time of year, after all.

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