Detroit Tigers (48-38) at Cleveland Indians (45-42)
Time/Place: 1:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (6-5, 3.80 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.33 ERA)
I have been more bearish on Kluber compared to many other writers, but I'm starting to come around. Kluber has maintained his excellent 4.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3.54 FIP. He has been worth 1.2 fWAR despite some iffy run support at times. In five of his 13 starts, the Indians have scored three runs or less. His last two outings haven't been up to par, however. In his last 10 innings, he has allowed 10 runs.
One of Kluber's issues is the quality of contact he gives up when not missing bats. Opposing hitters have a line drive rate of 26.3% against him and he is allowing 1.11 home runs per nine innings. He has been able to buckle down with runners on base this season, stranding runners at a 70.2% rate. For a pitcher that relies on a two-seam fastball as heavily as he does -- he throws it nearly 50% of the time -- his 44.5% ground ball rate is astoundingly low.
Like Kluber, Fister is outpitching his ERA by a considerable amount. His 4.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio is fourth in the American League among qualified pitchers and his 2.95 FIP is sixth (but third on his own team). As I have mentioned in multiple previews now, Fister's problem is the big inning. Opposing teams have been able to string together hits against him more effectively this season -- though, given his dominance in the second halves of the last two seasons, we're working with some lofty standards here.
One reason for this may be a less effective curveball. Last season, Fister was nearly untouchable when spotting his curveball, and the stats back that up. His yellowhammer was 1.77 runs above average per 100 pitches last year, sixth in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. This season, the curve has been 0.18 runs below average per 100 pitches. Opposing batters are hitting .253 off the curveball this season, nearly 100 points higher than the .155 average they posted last season. He seems to be generating the same amount of spin and movement on it, so it's possible that he's tipping his curveball in a way that he didn't in 2012.
After losing the first two game of this series, the Indians now have their backs against the wall. Win the next two and we're right back where we started, with the Tigers ahead by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central. Split the next two and the Indians sit 3 1/2 games back, a fairly manageable deficit. Lose the next two and get swept? I wouldn't say that the Tribe's season is over at that point, but a Terrible Cartoon of Paws digging a Chief Wahoo shaped grave isn't out of the question.
Macabre images aside, Kluber is the guy you want on the mound if you're an Indians fan. He got roughed up by the Tigers at Comerica Park earlier this season, but pitched much better in a home start against the Tigers in late May. Overall, he has been much better at home this season. Meanwhile, Fister has looked vulnerable lately, allowing six runs in two of his last three starts. Will the offense show up today? It's hard to bet against them right now.
Not much scoring early, but the Tigers pull away late against an overworked Indians bullpen.