Detroit Tigers (37-32) at Cleveland Indians (37-36)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (8-4, 4.03 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (6-4, 3.35 ERA)
Thirty two days ago, the Tigers were 27-12 and on top of the baseball world. Then, the whole airplane fiasco happened, delaying their arrival to Cleveland. Waiting for them was Corey Kluber, who struck out eight in seven innings of work in the series opener, a 5-4 Indians victory. He was even more dominant in his next couple starts, including a 12 strikeout performance against the Colorado Rockies. June has been a different story, however. He gave up four runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox, then ran into the buzzsaw known as the Kansas City Royals. The now-division leaders tagged Kluber for six runs (three earned) on six hits in five innings. Kluber rebounded in his last start, but could not get through the sixth inning.
Despite the June struggles, Kluber's overall numbers are only slightly worse than when the Tigers saw him last. He is still striking out over 10 batters per nine innings and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio north of 4.1. His swinging strike rate is 11.3%, which ranks 10th in baseball among qualified starters. His BABIP has started trending downward, but at .336 is still a bit elevated. His 2.69 FIP is tied for eight in baseball with Masahiro Tanaka, and is a big reason why he has nearly matched his WAR total from last season already.
Unfortunately for Rick Porcello, the Indians have remembered how to hit. They are scoring almost five runs per game since the start of the last series between these two teams. This has resulted in an 18-11 stretch, hurtling them back above .500 for the first time since early April. This includes a staggering 11-1 record at Progressive Field. Their loss against the Angels on June 17th was their first at home in nearly a month. They have done plenty of damage against right-handed pitching as well. Their .757 OPS against righties ranks fourth in the American League, buoyed by a league-leading .786 OPS by left-handed hitters against righty pitchers.
Fortunately for Porcello, he was pretty good against the Indians in 2013. Despite their platoon-heavy matchups, Porcello held the Tribe to a .552 OPS and a 1.82 ERA in four starts. His 22 strikeouts to eight walks were also impressive, though slightly below his season-long strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.38. This season, Porcello is keeping lefties in check better than ever before. They are hitting just .257/.316/.415 against him with just three home runs. In fact, their .731 OPS against him is slightly lower than the .744 OPS that he has allowed to righties.
Hitter to fear: David Murphy (.529/.556/.765 in 18 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Lonnie Chisenhall (.214/.214/.429 in 14 plate appearances)
David Murphy absolutely torched Porcello in his Rangers days, tallying nine hits (including a home run) in 17 at-bats. His resurgence has taken a detour lately, however. He has a .632 OPS in his last month of action. Carlos Santana has done similar damage against Porcello, with three homers in 37 plate appearances. Unlike Murphy, he has been on a tear since the Tigers were last in town, hitting .275/.438/.507 in his last 89 plate appearances. Porcello hasn't truly dominated any of the Indians regulars for long stretches, and this year's Lonnie Chisenhall is not the same one we have seen in the past by any stretch. He leads the league with a .367 batting average, but is not on pace to finish with the requisite 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
If you are of the belief that the Tigers were somehow transported into an alternate reality when their plane went haywire last month, tonight is the point where everything gets flipped back to normal. Hopefully. While Progressive Field has been a house of horrors at time for the Tigers -- they have been swept there in April or May three times in the past four years -- things tend to turn around in the summer months. They are 14-6 in Cleveland from June onward in the past three seasons. That said, Kluber has a 2.67 ERA with 32 strikeouts to just six walks in his last four starts against the Tigers, and the Indians have the best home record in baseball.
Kluber literally spits fire after recording his 10th strikeout in seven innings, while Michael Brantley hits five bases-clearing doubles in three plate appearances.