The White Sox proved to be a much tougher foe than last season their first time around, but now the Indians will face a real challenge. Last season, the Tigers were the only thing keeping the Tribe away from a Central Division championship on multiple fronts. First, Cleveland finished the season just a game behind Detroit, but more importantly, the Indians went 4-15 against the Motor City Kitties.
This year, most respectable journalists have picked the two teams to battle it out yet again for the Central crown with Detroit coming out on top. This is the first chance the Indians have to prove them wrong. While the Indians didn’t improve much outwardly this off-season, the Tigers actually allowed themselves to get worse. The big bat of Prince Fielder, long time protector of Miguel Cabrera, is gone and has been replaced by Ian Kinsler. Their top hitting prospect, Avasail Garcia was traded last season for short-stop Jose Iglasius and both are now out for the season with injuries. Jhonny Peralta, who was the short stop before Iglasius, also left through free agency. This is not the super squad of the past few seasons anymore. There are definitely a few holes in the Tigers now and the Indians will need to work to make the most of them. And, while the team is not full of super-stars anymore, they still have a few, including three of the best players in baseball in Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Game 1: Tuesday, April 15th, 7:08 PM EDT
Anibal Sanchez, RHP, 0-0, 3.00 ERA vs Zach McAllister, RHP, 1-0, 2.31 ERA
Sanchez has generally been a dependable starter who could pitch late into games throughout his career, but he has had trouble doing so in his first two starts. While he has been effective, allowing just three earned runs in nine innings, Sanchez hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning in four straight starts going back to last season. In his last time out, he allowed just a single earned run, but built up a pitch count of 110 before being removed prior to the sixth. If the Indians can replicate this result it will be a great asset to them as Detroit’s bullpen is their biggest weakness and their “long-man” is starting the second game of this series.
As bad as McAllister looked in his first start, he became the Indians most dependable starter the second time around. Against San Diego he became the first Indians starter to pitch into the eighth inning and the second to leave a game with a shut out going. He still needs to work on his sinker, but his command was much better in the second start. He did earn the win in that game, just the second time this year an Indians’ starter had done so.
Game 2: Wednesday, April 16th, 7:08 PM EDT
Drew Smyly, LHP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA vs Danny Salazar, RHP, 0-1, 6.75 ERA
Smyly will be making his first start of the season after the Tigers shortened their rotation to four men to take advantage of early off-days. Technically, Smyly will be replacing Doug Fister, who was traded to the Nationals during the off-season. Smyly is a top prospect for Detroit and should prove as tough a match-up as Fister ever was. One positive for the Tribe coming out of this move is that Smyly was their best reliever, coming in twice in long relief and giving up just two hits in six innings. The Tigers bullpen is a mess this year with four players holding ERAs above 9.00, including both of their two big additions, Joba Chamberlain and closer Joe Nathan.
It is hard to say whether we should be posting Salazar’s stat-line here or the reliever who is going to take his place in the fourth innings. Salazar certainly brought the heat against the White Sox on Friday, but he also brought quite a few hanging curves. He set a MLB record by striking out 10 in less than four innings, but allowed five runs in the loss. He was much better in his first start and was solid against the Tigers in 2013, including a six inning shut out in September. Salazar’s luck stats were off the charts for his last appearance, so there shouldn’t be a repeat, but he will have to learn how to control his breaking pitches as well as he controls his fastball if he wants to give his fielders a chance to catch the ball.
Game 3: Thursday, April 17th, 1:08 PM EDT
Justin Verlander, RHP, 1-1, 2.57 ERA vs Justin Masterson, RHP, 0-0, 5.87 ERA
After an off year (for him) when Verlander actually allowed one of his teammates to win the Cy Young, the Tigers ace is back on track. In each of his first three games Verlander has allowed exactly two runs and averaged seven innings per start. He should be the hardest foe for the Tribe this series as they will luckily miss Max Scherzer. In his career, Verlander has made more starts against the Tribe than any other team and his results have went both ways. He has struck out 249 Indians, 64 more than his next best team (KC), but has also given up the most runs (109 in 224 IP, 4.38 ERA). Because of that, and Masterson’s early struggles, this could be a fantastic pitching duel or something very ugly.
The Indians will take advantage of an off-day for the first time this year and bump Masterson up in the rotation so he pitches on his normal, four days of rest. In the past, this would be an obvious move, but this year things have changed. While it is thought that many players put out an extra effort in the final season under contract, Masterson has put out two of the worst starts in his career in a row. With his great first start factored in, he has averaged just over five innings a game and allowed ten earned runs in the past two games after going scoreless in the opener. He better step it up in this match, because if the Twins and White Sox can do that kind of damage against him, it is scary to think about what the Tigers could do.
Who’s Hot? - Who’s Not?
Asdrubal Cabrera started the season off slow, but has turned it up of late and comes into Tuesday’s game after getting on base in five straight games. His 9.90 Player of the Game points lead all Indians in the White Sox series as hit four of nine hits this season with three doubles, a home run, four RBI and four runs scored.
Blake Wood pitched in the first two games in the Chicago series and allowed a run in each. In the second game, he walked four of the seven batters he faced in one inning, giving the White Sox a free run. With an ERA of 9.64 this season, he is one of two prime candidates (along with Elliot Johnson) to be designated to make room for Michael Bourn, who is slated to come back from the DL on Tuesday.
On Deck: The Indians are going to push Carlos Carrasco back one more day as Corey Kluber will face the Blue Jays to open a three game set, Friday at 7:05 PM, back in Cleveland.