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Game 134 Preview: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

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Kyle Lobstein has his work cut out for him in his return, with ace Corey Kluber taking the mound for Cleveland.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians (64-68) at Detroit Tigers (61-72)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Corey Kluber (8-13, 3.41 ERA) vs. LHP Kyle Lobstein (3-5, 4.34 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Kluber 28 200.1 9.84 1.71 0.85 1.03 2.88 2.94 5.2
Lobstein 8 47.2 3.78 3.02 0.57 1.45 4.13 4.84 0.5

Corey Kluber's win-loss record indicates that he has suffered a massive drop-off from his 2014 Cy Young-winning campaign, but that is not the case. Sure, he's not quite the same as the monster that devoured the American League in the second half last year, but he still ranks among the top five pitchers in the AL in innings pitched, strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, FIP, xFIP, and WAR. He is still turning in dominant outings on the regular -- back-to-back complete games against the Minnesota Twins in August come to mind -- and has once again solidified his position as a true ace.

There are cracks, though. Kluber has been prone to blow-up outings this year, something he rarely did (if at all) in 2014. Kluber has allowed five runs or more in three of his past eight starts, and has nearly doubled his total of such outings compared to 2014. Lefties are having more success against him in 2015, batting .262/.319/.427. He struggles against the Tigers too, allowing a 4.72 ERA and .837 OPS in 12 career starts. He has been better against Detroit this season, allowing four runs in 11 1/3 innings, but Cleveland has lost both of those games.

It says something about the state of the pitching staff when Kyle Lobstein, he of the 4.34 ERA, 10 percent strikeout rate, and 89 mile-per-hour fastball, is a sorely missed commodity in the rotation. Yet, here we are. Lobstein has missed over three months of major league action with left shoulder soreness, and the Tigers' rotation has been in flux ever since. He was having a relatively mundane season before hitting the disabled list, with four quality starts in eight outings and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of just 1.25.

Hitter to fear: Carlos Santana (.444/.545/.778 in 11 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.182/.250/.182 in 12 plate appearances)

Lobstein has held the Indians in check throughout his career, with a pair of wins in four starts. His underlying numbers don't look great -- the Indians are batting .281/.340/.393 against him -- but by limiting them to mostly singles, he has been able to dance his way out of trouble. Only six of the 25 hits Lobstein has ever allowed to Cleveland have gone for extra bases, and just two have cleared the fence. Carlos Santana has had the most success of any Tribe hitter against Lobstein, but his overall numbers against lefties pale in comparison to those from the other side of the plate.

#FalseHope2015

Until they ran into the Toronto Death Machine earlier this week, the Indians were quietly making a run towards wild card contention. They were 16-12 in August -- which is more than you can say for several other contenders -- and finished the month by winning nine of their last 11 games. They pulled to within four games of the Texas Rangers for the second wild card spot earlier this week, and still have a slim chance at making the postseason if everything breaks right. The Tigers continuing to pitch like they have recently would be one of those breaks, to say the least.

Outlook

Lobstein can't do this forever, can he? A 16.5 percent strikeout rate and 1.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014 was one thing for the 26-year-old lefthander, but this season, those figures have dropped to 9.8 percent and 1.25, respectively. Lobstein doesn't have the elite command and minuscule walk rate that many other soft-tossers get by on, so above average WHIPs are going to be the norm going forward. While the Indians struggle against lefties -- they're hitting just .244/.306/.370 against lefty starters this year -- we shouldn't expect a revelation in Lobstein's first game back from injury either.

Prediction

The Tigers score a couple early runs off Kluber, but Cleveland wins easily.

★★★

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is running a $1,000,000 fantasy football league for week 1. It's $5 to enter and first place wins $100,000. Click here to join.