There have been seasons in the past where the Indians seemed like they were a mountain the Tigers were simply unable to summit. With a talented pitching rotation, a formerly unbeatable bullpen, and some extra-exciting bats in the lineup, the Indians certainly seemed to have the Tigers number.
But right now the Tigers are first in the division and the Indians are off to a slow start. Things appear tipped in Detroit’s favor for the first meeting of these two teams, and we wanted to know if Indians fans are feeling any heat right now.
We talked to Matt Lyons, managing editor of the SB Nation Indians blog Let’s Go Tribe, about what’s holding Cleveland back, and if he things they’ll still come out on top this year. Spoiler alert: he’s not sweating it.
BYB: How have you felt about the way this season has started?
ML: Considering it’s the best start through nine games under Terry Francona, and how decimated the lineup is, it’s gone alright. The pitching staff has been incredible to watch, one through five, but the lineup has lacked a certain Francisco Lindor and I hate it. Watching Carlos Santana hit so well in his return to Cleveland is a whole lot fun, at least, and we can always grasp onto the fact that Lindor will return eventually. The hardest part of the season so far has been watching Yandy Diaz in Tampa, to be honest. Those big, beautiful biceps.
Do you think the Indians did enough to put together a winning team over the offseason?
I honestly think it’s too early to judge that. The Indians don’t need to compete a whole lot in the regular season to get into the playoffs with the state of the AL Central, so I’ll be more interested to see what they do at the deadline, and I agree with the strategy if that is indeed what they are doing. There’s no sense in signing or trading for a guy for a full season, when you all you really need is a couple key at-bats or innings pitched in October. If that means waiting until the last possible minute to see what your real needs really are, that seems smart to me. The Indians also seem to be content with spreading out their success over multiple seasons instead of sinking everything into one lottery ticket season, which again, feels like a good approach.
Who was more frustrated in Bauer being pulled early in that no-hitter: fans, or Bauer?
Bauer said he was fine with it, and I have a feeling he’s probably not lying. Maybe deep down he would have liked to stay in for the no-hitter -- and I have no doubt he thinks he can throw 140 pitches every night -- but Trevor recognizes the reality that no team would let him do it. Maybe when he starts signing his one-year deals he can tell a team he’ll only sign with them if they let him pitch and exorbitant amount, but for now he seems okay living under Tito’s rules. Quite a few Indians fans know the arbitrary nature of pitch counts and would have loved to see Bauer go deep.
How do you expect the revamped bullpen to hold up post-Miller/Allen?
It’s essentially the same bullpen as last year, just without those two. It’s sad to say, but Miller looks absolutely spent after his heavy use in Cleveland. So I don’t think he’ll be missed all that much; sames goes for Cody Allen to a lesser extent. The Indians are basically banking on the fact that the bullpen can’t possibly be as bad as it was last year. Brad Hand is a solid closer, and Adam Cimber is at least interesting with his submarine deliver. Neil Ramirez can be good for stretches of time (then ice cold for others) depending on how well he’s locating his high-90s fastball. He almost threw an immaculate inning the other day! They also have a weird fascination with 31-year-old rookie Jon Edwards, who has shown some potential. I think they’ll be fine, but it might be one of the areas they address at the trade deadline.
What’s wrong with Jose Ramirez?
Nothing as far as I can tell. If anything, it was mental at first with him trying to beat the shift with bunts. Sure, he took a few balls of the knee, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering him anymore, and he’s slowly heating up again.
Do you feel the Indians are good enough to win the Division, if so by how many games? Follow up: Do you feel confident in this team making a deep postseason run?
I think they’ll still win the division by a good 7-8 games -- this rotation is just too good. And when Francisco Lindor comes back, they have three potential All-Stars in the lineup (Lindor, Ramirez, Carlos Santana), and maybe a bouncing back Jason Kipnis to round a better-than-expected heart of the order. Jake Bauers is slowly rounding into a contributor as well. And, like I said earlier, they’re probably going to add at the deadline depending on what they need, so I think they’ll be able to retool and make a deep postseason run.
Which Indians player would you consider to be a “below the radar” star that Tigers fans might not be aware of yet?
Jake Bauers for sure. He came over in the Yandy Diaz deal, which still stings, but he’s only 23, more athletic, and is just so patient at the plate. He’s hitting the ball really hard early on, and I could see him being a 110-115 wRC+ player with good range in left field before the seasons over and hitting 20-25 home runs at some point.
Which Tigers player do you think will be the biggest thorn in the Indians side this series?
I had to Google him to make sure he was healthy, but the answer when he is, is always Miguel Cabrera. Man I hate/respect that guy.