Detroit Tigers (5-0) at Cleveland Indians (2-3)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: LHP Kyle Lobstein (1-2, 4.35 ERA in 2014) vs. LHP T.J. House (5-3, 3.35 ERA in 2014)
T.J. House made 18 starts for the Indians in an excellent rookie season last year, but none of them came against the Tigers. The 25-year-old lefthander was a 16th round draft pick by the Tribe in 2008, and made a slow, steady ascent through the minor leagues. He split time between Triple-A Columbus and the majors last year, making 30 total appearances (including a July start in the New York-Penn League). House's solid major league debut included a 3.35 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 102 innings, and it put him in a favorable position to earn a spot in the Indians' rotation this spring. He gave up 16 runs (15 earned) in 23 2/3 innings in the Cactus League, but struck out 19 batters to five walks.
House also had an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014, fanning 3.64 batters for every base on balls he issued. He only walked 5.1 percent of the batters he faced, a rate much lower than the 8.1 percent walk rate he had in two seasons at Triple-A. Despite the low walk totals, he still gave up a 1.32 WHIP. Baserunners were common for House because of a strikeout rate that ranked just below league average. This is how House operates, though. He pounded the bottom of the strike zone and induced a 60.9 percent ground ball rate, the second-highest rate in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. House allowed a .332 BABIP, but the Indians defense was still able to turn 16 double plays behind him.
House delivers the ball from a sidearm angle, similar to the lanky delivery that Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale employs. House's raw stuff is nowhere near as impressive, though. His fastball averaged 91.6 miles per hour last season, but the heavy sink resulted in a whopping 66 percent ground ball rate when opposing batters put it in play. House also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup. The Tigers' righty-heavy lineup should see plenty of changeups today. House threw that pitch 34 percent of the time to righties when ahead in the count. While it induced a healthy whiff rate, it didn't stop righties from hitting .297/.353/.455 against him.
There is a decent case to be made that Kyle Lobstein is actually a better pitcher for the Tigers to start today than Justin Verlander. While the 32-year-old righthander is still the superior pitcher overall -- his rough 2014 season resulted in an ERA just 0.19 above Lobstein's -- his career results and recent trends against the Indians (especially in Cleveland) are not encouraging. Meanwhile, Lobstein pitched fairly well in two starts against the Indians last September, allowing six runs in 10 1/3 innings. His first start against the Tribe was particularly impressive, as he struck out 10 hitters in 5 1/3 innings of work. The Tigers won both of Lobstein's starts against the Indians, though he received two no-decisions.
Hitter to fear: Michael Brantley (.400/.500/1.000 in 6 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jose Ramirez (.000/.000/.000 in 3 plate appearances)
While Lobstein pitched well enough to beat the Indians twice last year, he allowed an awful lot of baserunners. The Indians collected 11 hits in 40 at-bats, including home runs from Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. Brantley has been a subpar hitter against lefties in his career, but was able to put together a spectacular .826 OPS against southpaws in 2014. Lobstein was able to strike out Santana twice after allowing the homer. Michael Bourn struck out three times against Lobstein, while Jose Ramirez was the only Indians batter to face Lobstein without recording a hit.
At the start of this series, this is the game I thought the Tigers had the best shot of winning. Their previous performances in Ohio gave me doubts in Friday's preview, but the Tigers have been able to pull out a couple wins that have not bounced their way in previous Aprils. The Tigers had the best offense against left-handed pitching in the American League last year, and their order only got stronger with Yoenis Cespedes and James McCann now in the fold. The Tigers should field nine right-handed batters today, while the Indians -- who had the second-lowest OPS against lefties in the AL in 2014 -- will still have plenty of lefties. That could be the difference today.
The Tigers continue their hot hitting and make it six in a row to start the year.
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- James McCann, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Michael Bourn, CF
- Mike Aviles, SS
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Carlos Santana, 1B
- Jerry Sands, LF
- Brandon Moss, RF
- Ryan Raburn, DH
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
- Roberto Perez, C
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $125,000 one-day fantasy baseball league today. It's $2 to join and first place wins $10,000. Enter now!