With all due respect to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who currently lead the NL Central with a 7-2 record, the Tigers have had a relatively easy go of things so far in 2018. Their three opponents all finished below .500 last season, and are all projected to finish well below .500 again this year.
That changes this week. Following their sweep in Chicago, the Tigers will travel to Cleveland for a four-game set against the Indians, followed by a three-game home series against the New York Yankees. The two teams have gotten off to relatively slow starts given their preseason expectations, but are still hovering around .500. The Indians have already endured a west coast trip, but find themselves just a game out of first place after a weekend series win over the Kansas City Royals.
While the Tigers aren’t expecting to compete this year, last weekend’s sweep seems to have provided an inkling of hope from the fanbase that this team won’t be as bad as originally hoped. We’re still months from even thinking about a potential postseason berth, and even a strong week against two of the American League’s best teams shouldn’t change that.
For now, let’s see where the Tigers match up with the cream of the crop.
Detroit Tigers (4-4) at Cleveland Indians (4-5)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (1-0) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (0-1, 2.40 ERA)
Game 9 Pitching Matchup
There’s nothing like easing into the work week, right? The Tigers will face the stiffest test the American League has to offer on Monday in reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. The Klubot was operating on all cylinders last year, shaking off his customary slow start to finish with a 1.62 ERA and 224 strikeouts in his final 166 1⁄3 innings. He led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 7.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and also topped the charts with 8.2 rWAR.
Surprisingly, Kluber’s numbers were a bit worse against the last place Tigers. He still held them to a 3.73 ERA with three wins in five starts, but struggled in two early season meetings before going on the disabled list immediately after his May 2 loss at Comerica Park. The Tigers have historically handled Kluber well, but most of Detroit’s current roster has struggled in limited matchups against Cleveland’s ace.
Key matchup: Corey Kluber vs. Miguel Cabrera
Fox Sports Detroit’s announcers will likely mention this a thousand times during Monday’s broadcast, but Miguel Cabrera has had Kluber’s number for his entire career. In 61 plate appearances, Cabrera is hitting .404/.443/.772 with six home runs. Off a two-time Cy Young winner! Kluber (mostly) had the last laugh in 2017, though, holding Cabrera to a .200 average and .273 on-base percentage in 11 plate appearances. Like most pitchers, Kluber pounded Cabrera inside with the fastball to great success (though Cabrera still homered once).
Cabrera will see a lot more of the same in 2018. His early batted ball numbers are incredible — he’s making hard contact over 40 percent of the time — but this is based on a small number of plate appearances. Cabrera also put up elite batted ball numbers in 2017, but finished the year with a 91 wRC+, the worst of his career.
We should probably talk about Francisco Liriano a bit, huh?
Liriano made quick work of the hapless Royals in his first start of the year, but faces a stiffer test on Monday in an Indians offense that is better against lefties than their fanbase believes. Their 110 wRC+ against southpaws last season was third in all of baseball, and have been slightly better against lefties than righties in the first week of 2018. Their current roster has hit very well against Francisco Liriano in his career, though only Rajai Davis and his 1.007 OPS in 36 plate appearances has seen enough of Liriano for this sample to matter too much.
For Liriano, it comes down to strike one. He got ahead of 56 percent of the batters he faced last week, and will need to do better against a patient Tribe lineup on Monday.
Not in the face, Kluber.