Cleveland Indians (18-14) at Detroit Tigers (19-13)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Corey Kluber (2-1, 3.06 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (4-0, 3.43 ERA)
Kluber notched his first career win against the Tigers last September when he allowed two runs in six innings (yes, Anibal Sanchez was pitching). He finished the 2012 campaign with a 2-5 record and 5.14 ERA. He has made four appearances (two starts) in 2013 after starting the year in the minor leagues, and has allowed six runs in 17 2/3 innings so far. While not much of a strikeout artist in the minors, he has punched out 16 hitters on the young season. Other than an inning in relief against the Boston Red Sox, Kluber hasn't faced an offense anywhere near as good as what he will see tonight. The Astros, Twins, and Royals all rank near the bottom of the American League in runs scored, slugging percentage, and wOBA.
Kluber primarily works with a mix of three different fastballs: a four-seamer that sits around 93 miles per hour, a two-seamer at the same velocity, and a cutter that averages close to 90 miles per hour. He has used one of these fastballs over 80% of the time in 2013, with the two-seamer being his primary weapon to start an at-bat. He throws a changeup nearly 25% of the time to left-handed hitters and saves his slider almost exclusively for two-strike situations. His slider was nearly three runs above average last year, and has continued to be his best pitch in 2013. He doesn't elicit many swings-and-misses outside the strike zone, but still has a fairly high swinging strike percentage overall.
Scherzer has continued to rack up strikeouts by the bunches in 2013, but the most impressive part of his season thus far has been the walks, or lack thereof. Scherzer has walked just nine batters in 39 1/3 innings so far, bringing his strikeout-to-walk ratio to an even 6.0. He will need to maintain this command tonight against an Indians offense that has one of the lowest O-swing percentages -- percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone -- in the American League. His ability to miss bats will be crucial, however. The Indians have hit the most home runs in the AL and have the highest slugging percentage in the league. Add Scherzer's velocity to that power and you could see some tape measure shots if they make contact. Given Scherzer's gaudy 13.2% whiff rate to start the season, however, that's a big "if."
No more kid gloves
The Indians come into this series having won 10 of their last 11 games and are one game behind the Tigers for the division lead. That said, it's a bit premature to call them legitimate contenders in the AL Central. Their starting pitching has been mediocre, ranking 23rd in all of baseball in ERA and 25th in FIP. They have already used eight different starters this year. Kluber and Justin Masterson are the only Indians starters with an FIP under 3.80 -- and as we saw above, Kluber's opposition has been quite underwhelming. Meanwhile, Scott Kazmir won't strike out 11 batters per nine innings all season long. They were able to shut down the A's, who have scored the most runs in baseball, but have otherwise struggled against some pretty mediocre offenses. If the Indians are going to be serious contenders in the Central, their pitching needs to improve.
Last September, Kluber and the Indians came into Comerica Park on a 6-29 skid and beat the Tigers 3-2. For good measure, the Indians also won the next game to take two out of three in the series. What does this mean? Nothing, but it sounded motivational. The Tigers are 10-4 at Comerica Park this year and are scoring 6.2 runs per game, slightly above the five or so they have averaged for the last three seasons. With Scherzer and Verlander on the mound the next couple days, the Indians starting pitchers will have to find a way to slow down the Tigers' offense to keep pace, or we could be talking about a sweep on Sunday.
Scherzer allows one run in seven innings and the Tigers win easily.