Detroit Tigers (64-45) at Cleveland Indians (62-49)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (9-7, 2.59 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (7-5, 3.77 ERA)
Kluber dominated the Tigers the last time these two teams faced off, striking out 10 batters in 6 1/3 innings before all hell broke loose when the bullpens took over. He tossed consecutive scoreless outings against the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins after that, but has been a bit shaky in his last two starts. He gave up four runs in each outing, most of which came in the later innings.
This highlights an issue that has plagued Kluber all season long. While he gets through the lineup once or twice fairly easily, opposing batters are hitting .313/.347/.530 off him the third time through the order. In the fifth and sixth innings, Kluber is allowing an OPS of .813 and 1.052, respectively. There are some fairly high BABIPs to go along with these splits, but the contact opposing batters are making -- 14 of the 37 extra base hits he has allowed this year have come in those two innings alone -- indicate that bad luck has little to do with it.
The most surprising thing about Kluber's unimpressive showings in his last two starts is that they came at Progressive Field. Kluber is 3-2 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.17 WHIP at home this season compared to a 4.55 ERA on the road this year.
Anibal Sanchez's home/road splits were nearly as extreme as Kluber's earlier this season, but a trio of road starts against divisional foes in July brought his road ERA down to 3.13. One of those starts was against these same Indians at Progressive Field, where Sanchez allowed one run on three hits in five innings in his first start off the disabled list. He only threw 73 pitches and probably could have gone a couple more innings had the Tigers not been carefully monitoring his pitch count.
Motto of the series: "Don't get swept"
The Tigers have been to the Indians as the Los Angeles Angels have been to the Tigers this year, winning nine of the first 12 games between the two squads. They have outscored the Indians 78-48 in those 12 games, including 26-15 in the four game series in Cleveland in early July.
The Indians didn't make an impact at the trade deadline, instead choosing to stand pat with their current roster. They picked up lefty reliever Mark Rzepcynski from the St. Louis Cardinals, but didn't make a move to shore up their suspect starting pitching. Given the high prices other teams were paying for starters -- Matt Garza's price tag comes to mind -- I can't blame them for standing pat. Still, it makes catching the Tigers that much taller of a task down the stretch.
Like Rick Porcello against the White Sox yesterday, Sanchez has owned the Indians during the past two seasons. Since donning a Tigers uniform, he is 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in five starts against the Tribe. He has been pretty good at Progressive Field too, winning two of his three starts with a 2.41 ERA.
If Sanchez continues this success, Kluber will need to limit the Tigers' opportunities the second and third times through the batting order in order to give the Cleveland offense a fighting chance. The Indians have only scored 4.38 runs per game since the All-Star Break, instead building their impressive 11-5 second half record behind a pitching staff that has only allowed 37 runs. But have they really been that good, or are they just fattening up against poor offensive teams? This week's series will go a long way toward answering that question.
Kluber limits the late inning damage and the Indians move a game closer to first place.