Tigers hope to keep rolling against reeling Indians

Jason Miller

Cleveland has lost four in a row and six of their last eight games heading into this week's series.

The Cleveland Indians were swept at home by the Oakland Athletics over the weekend in grand fashion, getting outscored 30-6. That kind of drubbing says plenty, but the Indians have gone through all sorts of trouble in the last couple weeks. They have lost six of their last eight games and are in last place in the AL Central despite an 11-9 record against the rest of the division. Thanks to an 8-16 record against everyone else, the Tribe are already a whopping 10 games behind the Tigers, who have the best record in baseball at 27-12.

We all know what kind of roll the Tigers have been on lately, but let's recap. They are 13-3 in the month of May and are currently on an 11 game road winning streak after to last night's game against the Boston Red Sox. They won their first series at Fenway Park since 2006 and finished their season series with the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles with a 5-1 record. They are 12-6 against the AL Central this year, and last season's 15-4 record against the Indians is still lingering in the back of everyone's mind as well.

Who's hot

Outfielder David Murphy is hitting a scalding .395/.435/.605 with five doubles and a home run in the past 11 days. He has three multi-hit games in his last four appearances, including a five-hit performance against the Toronto Blue Jays last week. Overall, Murphy is hitting .291/.360/.440 this year, proving that last season's .656 OPS for the Texas Rangers was just a fluke. Murphy has historically hit well against Tigers pitching, including an .862 OPS against Justin Verlander.

The turn of the calendar was kind to shortstop Asdrubal Cabera, who is hitting .327/.415/.527 in May. He had a putrid .627 OPS in April with two home runs and eight RBI. He has not had much success at Progressive Field this season, hitting just .237/.314/.382 in 22 home games.

Corey Kluber has been dominating hitters all season long, though his modest 3.38 ERA does not entirely reflect that fact. Opposing batters are hitting .268/.308/.377 against him, a slash line that is partially inflated by a .353 BABIP. He is striking out a career high 10.13 batters per nine innings and is only walking two batters per nine innings. He has struck out at least nine batters in four of his last five outings, including a complete game victory against the Kansas City Royals.

Who's not

Zach McAllister was one of the better pitchers in the American League through his first seven starts, holding the opposition to a 3.18 ERA. However, he has gotten lit up in his last two starts, allowing 13 runs in just 5 2/3 innings. Prior to his last start, he had only allowed two runs in three home starts in 2014 until the Oakland Athletics teed off on him for eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings.

John Axford did not last long as the team's closer, losing his job in early May after blowing a pair of saves and allowing a 4.91 ERA in his first 14 2/3 innings of work. He successfully converted 9 of 11 save chances during that span, but also had a dismal 15:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has thrown three scoreless outings in low leverage situations over the past week, but does not appear to be close to getting back to the ninth inning anytime soon.

Nick Swisher had a rough 2013 season, and has been even worse so far in 2014. He is hitting just .196/.295/.313 with three home runs and 16 RBI. Things have gotten even worse in the month of May with a .587 OPS in 68 plate appearances. The last thing the Indians expected out of Swisher when they signed him was for him to flirt with the Mendoza line, but he may be well under that mark by series end.

Jason Kipnis hasn't gotten a hit in the last two weeks... because he has been on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Kipnis, who has startlingly poor numbers against the Tigers, has not seen any action since April 29th, and does not appear likely to return anytime this series. His bat and glove are both sorely missed, as the Indians are ninth in the AL in runs per game and have committed 45 errors in 44 games.

Probable starters

Monday: LHP Drew Smyly (2-2, 2.70 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (4-3, 3.38 ERA)

Tuesday: RHP Justin Verlander (5-2, 3.15 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (0-1, 1.50 ERA)

Wednesday: RHP Max Scherzer (6-1, 1.83 ERA) vs. RHP Zach McAllister (3-4, 5.36 ERA)

Outlook

The Indians have not played well lately, but a lot of their struggles seem to be related to the competition they have faced. They have been swept by the A's and San Francisco Giants, who have the second and third-best win percentages in baseball, respectively. They had a run differential of -5 before last week's series against the A's and have dealt with injuries to key players on their roster, including Kipnis and Michael Bourn. Things should pick up for the Tribe at some point, and early-season home series against the Tigers have gone well for the Indians in recent years.

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