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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: OK, let’s calm down a little bit

The Tigers notched a big win over Cleveland on Monday, sending Detroit’s fanbase into a frenzy.

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Well, that didn’t take long. After the Tigers shocked the world* and beat the Indians 6-3 on Monday, Detroit’s fanbase got a little slaphappy. Our Twitter mentions were a cacophony of optimistic takes about the rest of the season and the rebuild as a whole, with praise abound for manager Ron Gardenhire, general manager Al Avila, and just about anyone else that contributed to the big win.

While it feels great to beat Cleveland and move within a couple games of first place, let’s slow things down a little bit. The Tigers are still four games below .500 with a negative run differential. Their offense still struggles mightily against right-handed pitching, and they have played one of the softer schedules in baseball so far. The pitching staff isn’t striking anyone out, and a few of their starters appear ripe for regression. Even as players return from injury (hopefully), 2018 probably isn’t The Year.

That said, there are reasons to like what you’re seeing. The team is playing hard, and is seemingly never out of a game even as they fall behind. The starters are currently performing well, and batted ball data suggests the regression candidates shouldn’t fall off that much. The lineup is still mashing against lefties, and surprise performers — namely JaCoby Jones — might be for real.

Most of all, these Tigers are fun to watch, which is all we really asked heading into the season. Just don’t expect them to run away with the AL Central anytime soon.

*FiveThirtyEight gave the Tigers a 34 percent chance to win Monday’s game, an astronomically low number for a single baseball game.

Cleveland Indians (20-20) at Detroit Tigers (18-22)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Josh Tomlin (0-4, 8.06 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (3-1, 3.35 ERA)

Game 41 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Tomlin 25.2 11.0 4.7 9.69 -1.0
Liriano 40.1 18.1 12.5 4.31 0.5

When the Tigers faced Josh Tomlin back in April, he was coming off a horrible start against the Los Angeles Angels. He had coughed up four home runs, but that seemed like an aberration — even for a homer-prone pitcher like Tomlin. He held the Tigers scoreless for five innings, and things seemed to be back to normal for the 33-year-old veteran.

Turns out, that start against the Tigers was the aberration. Tomlin has given up an incredible 13 home runs already this season, and has logged just 25 23 innings. The Chicago Cubs also touched him up for four dingers, while the Mariners (2) and Yankees (3) also tacked on. While most of them have been solo shots, Tomlin’s homer-happy ways have hurt Cleveland’s chances at winning — the Tribe are 1-5 in games Tomlin pitches in this year.

Comerica Park might be a nice cure for Tomlin’s dinger-itis, though. He has a 3.88 ERA in 53 13 career innings there, and has held more powerful Tigers offenses to a .247/.288/.465 line. There have still been plenty of homers — he has given up 10 in those 53 13 frames — but Comerica Park’s spacious outfield has helped Cleveland’s fielders run down many a deep fly ball with Tomlin on the mound.

Key matchup: Outfielders vs. lots and lots of fly balls

As noted above, Tomlin will generate plenty of fly balls in tonight’s game. His success will be determined by whether or not they go over the fence. The same could be said about Francisco Liriano, to a certain extent. While he hasn’t had the same homer problems Tomlin has, Liriano is generating a career-high 47.7 percent fly ball rate this season. The Indians, as a club, have the second-highest fly ball rate against left-handed pitching this season. Assuming Liriano continues to keep the ball in the park — not a sure bet against this Cleveland lineup — Tuesday’s game may come down to whether Detroit’s outfielders can capably track down all of those long fly balls. Niko Goodrum’s flub on a deep fly ball in the late innings of Monday’s contest is Exhibit A of what could go wrong, especially if there are more runners on base.


Tomlin shuts down the Tigers again and the Indians take game two.

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