The Detroit Tigers have dominated the AL Central over the past four season, beating up on their divisional opponents on their way to four consecutive division titles. No team has taken the brunt of their punishment like the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers were 46-28 against the Tribe from 2011 to 2014 and outscored them 412 to 294. This included a 15-4 record against the Tribe in 2013, Cleveland finished the season a game behind the Tigers in the final standings.
Neither the Tigers nor the Tribe are particularly close to the top of the division this year, but Detroit's dominance has continued. The Tigers are 7-2 against Cleveland already this season and have outscored the Indians 54-41. The Tigers swept an early season series at Progressive Field, and have taken two out of three games in both series at Comerica Park.
The Tigers aren't the only team that has had success in Cleveland this year. The Indians are just 14-21 at home this season and have been outscored 184 to 141. Their lauded pitching staff has struggled, allowing more than 5.2 runs per game at the normally hitter-neutral Progressive Field (though the Chicago Cubs' recent 17-0 drubbing had something to do with that). Corey Kluber has been his usual self, but Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco -- two of the starters the Tigers will face this week -- have ERAs over 5.00 at home this season.
The bullpen has been even worse, with relievers Cody Allen, Mark Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone, and Scott Atchison all sporting ERAs of 4.61 or higher. Only Bryan Shaw and his 1.46 ERA has been above average at home this season.
The problem is one that we have heard plenty about as Tigers fans this season: an elevated home run rate. The Indians' pitching staff is allowing the highest home run rate at home of any American League team this season. Their pitching staff's 4.59 home ERA is the highest in the league, but their xFIP, which controls for home run rate, is just 3.58, the fourth-lowest in the league. Can the Tigers carry over yesterday's homer-happy swings from New York, or will the Indians' dinger-prone pitching staff finally start to regress to the mean?
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Game One: Monday, 7:10 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: LHP Kyle Ryan (1-1, 3.26 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (6-3, 3.22 ERA)
The Tigers were originally scheduled to face Trevor Bauer on April 25, but an illness sidelined him at the last minute. That incident was very fortunate for the Tigers, because Bauer has been quite good in 2015. He has three scoreless outings of six innings or more under his belt, already matching his total from last season. He has held opponents to two runs or fewer in nine of his 13 starts, and has three starts with double-digit strikeouts. There has been the occasional hiccup -- he was tagged for six runs in 3 2/3 innings by the Seattle Mariners on June 10 -- but Bauer's second full season in the rotation is going as well as the Indians could have hoped.
Then, there are the walks. Bauer leads the American League with 37 walks issued, and his 11 percent walk rate is the third-highest in baseball among qualified pitchers. Bauer will issue them in bunches, too; he has four outings with four walks or more this season, and has walked 15 batters in his last 24 1/3 innings. He is the only Indians starter with a FIP higher than his ERA, and his 4.16 xFIP is almost identical to the 4.14 xFIP he had in 2014. The Indians better hope his .263 BABIP or 7.2 percent home-run-per-fly-ball rate don't regress.
Game Two: Tuesday, 7:10 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (6-2, 2.50 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (6-2, 3.56 ERA)
Danny Salazar was outdueled by David Price on June 12, though we have seen this story before. Salazar was cruising, holding the Tigers scoreless for five innings, before Miguel Cabrera launched a home run into the camera well in center field. The outing was reminiscent of Salazar's second career start, when Cabrera launched a home run into the seats at Progressive Field to tie the game, eventually resulting in a 6-5 Tigers win. Cabrera is batting .368/.400/.737 with two home runs in 20 plate appearances against Salazar, but the 25-year-old flamethrower has struck him out nine times.
The strikeouts are nothing new for Salazar. He is one of six MLB starters with a strikeout rate of 30 percent or higher and one of two that is striking out 11 batters per nine innings. Salazar hasn't had the walk issues that Bauer has, but he has struggled with the home run ball at times. He has given up at least one homer in 10 of his 12 starts this season, including each of his last three. Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and Nick Castellanos have also homered off of him in the past.
Game Three: Wednesday, 12:10 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (0-1, 6.17 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (8-6, 4.35 ERA)
Carlos Carrasco has struggled in a number of outings this season, but no team has hit him quite as hard as the Tigers have throughout his career. Carrasco has a 6.93 ERA in 50 2/3 career innings against the Tigers and has allowed a gaudy .417 on-base percentage. Not much has changed this season, either. Carrasco was tagged for five runs on nine hits at Comerica Park on April 26, an 8-6 Tigers win. He actually beat the Tigers in his last outing against them, but not before allowing three runs on seven hits in just 5 2/3 innings of work. The Tigers are batting .364/.420/.523 against him this season.
Carrasco has been better against other teams in 2015, but he still has yet to find the dominant form he showed down the stretch last season. He has a 3.94 ERA in 12 starts against non-Tigers teams, and has given up at least four runs on four separate occasions. While some may point to the Indians' subpar defense as why Carrasco has struggled -- he has a 2.91 FIP and .347 BABIP -- he shares plenty of the blame. Carrasco has allowed hard contact on 33.5 percent of balls in play this season, the third-highest rate in the league according to Fangraphs. His ground ball rate has dipped from last season and his home run rate has regressed to a league average rate. Was last season a mirage? Not necessarily, but like J.D. Martinez, this watered-down version of Carrasco is probably closer to his true talent level.
Hitter to fear: Jason Kipnis (.345/.422/.511 in 308 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Yan Gomes (.204/.214/.301 in 98 plate appearances)
It was never meant to be the strength of the team, but Cleveland's offense has disappeared. They have scored just 47 runs in 18 games in June, or 2.61 runs per game. Jason Kipnis has continued to hit well, with a .401 wOBA and 164 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances. Brandon Moss has followed suit, with enough power and walks to offset a .230 batting average in 70 plate appearances of his own. David Murphy has chipped in his share in part-time duty, but everyone else is scuffling. Michael Bourn's .222 June wOBA got him demoted to the bottom of the lineup (and the bench, at times), while catcher Yan Gomes hasn't been much better at .262. Francisco Lindor is hitting .261 since his call-up, but with no walks or extra base hits yet.
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