The Indians and Tigers open up a critical four-game set on Monday. What will be the keys?
The Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field in Cleveland starting Monday night in a very important four-game series that will largely affect the American League Central race. The Tigers currently lead the Indians by three games in the division.
The Indians need to attain at least a split in the four-game series to keep the race close. Here are my four keys for the Indians to make that happen.
Beat Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister
The Indians probably have confidence that they can beat anybody right now as they have won 10 of their last 11 games. However, two of the pitchers they will face in this series are Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Scherzer (16-1, 2.85 ERA, .91 WHIP) has been virtually unbeatable so far on the season, so it will prove to be a tall order to beat him in Game 4 of the series. The Tribe is 0-1 against Scherzer so far on the season in his two starts against them.
Verlander (11-8, 3.88 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) has not been as dominant this season as he was last year or in his Cy Young-winning season, but he is still one of the best in the game and is always tough to beat. The Indians beat him this season in a 7-6 win when he went five innings and surrendered four runs (three earned), five walks and six hits while fanning seven.
In Verlander's win against the Tribe this season in a 11-7 Tiger win on May 22, he still gave up five runs (all earned) to go along with 10 hits, one walk and a home run in only five innings of work. So in his two starts against Cleveland he has struggled, but he will obviously be no pushover in Game 2 of the series.
Since they will be facing the Tigers' top two hurlers, the games against Sanchez in Game 1 and Fister in Game 3 will be that much more important. These two pitchers are no slouches, but they aren't as good as Scherzer and Verlander.
Sanchez (9-7, 2.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) beat the Indians earlier this season.
Fister (10-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) had a no decision in July against the Indians when he went six innings, gave up six runs (all earned), allowed six hits, walked three and surrendered three long balls while striking out four.
Winning the games against these two pitchers will make the games against the very tough top two a little less critical.
Don't Give Extra Outs
The Indians defense has been awful lately committing 15 errors in the last 16 games. The gaffes have come at critical times to make things worse.
In back-to-back games against the Twins on July 19 and July 20, Lonnie Chisenhall made critical late-game errors that led to identical 3-2 losses against a bad Twins team.
Three more errors (and two more by Chisenhall) were critical in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on July 24.
The defense has to tighten up against a Tigers lineup that is one of the best in MLB. The Indians can't give extra outs to the lethal bats of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter et al if they are to have any success in this series.
Cleveland ranks 18th in MLB in least amount of errors committed with 70 after the team's latest defensive cold stretch.
Don't Let Miggy or Prince Beat You
It could be a blessing for the Indians that Miguel Cabrera is hurting right now and his availability for the series versus the Tribe is up in the air.
If he does play in the series, to paraphrase Kevin Millar in a MLB Network promo, "Let him go to first. Don't let Miggy beat you."
Miguel Cabrera (.360/.455/.668) didn't start for the fourth-straight game on Sunday because of an ab strain, but he did come off the bench to pinch hit and delivered a single in the 12th inning of the Tigers' 3-2, 12-inning win over the White Sox on Sunday.
Cabrera is currently first in MLB in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS and is second in home runs (32), runs batted in (99) and runs (78). If he plays in the series, nagging injuries or not, Miggy is not the guy you want to beat you
If Cabrera is unavailable for the series, the next guy who you don't want to beat you would be Prince Fielder (.260/.355/.434, 17 HR, 76 RBI). The rest of the Tigers lineup is dangerous, most notably Torii Hunter (.315/.349/.484, 12 HR, 55 RBI), Jhonny Peralta (.305/.361/.461, 11 HR, 54 RBI) and Victor Martinez (.272/.325/.396, 9 HR, 60 RBI).
It's a "pick your poison" type of position when you face the Tigers, but I would think the Indians would want to pitch around Fielder and Cabrera in critical situations.
Indians' Big Guns Need to Deliver
The Indians have some big guns of their own, but they haven't been as consistent as the Tigers'. The team's chances of earning at least a split will be enhanced if Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana deliver solid performances in the series.
Mark Reynolds (.215/.307/.373, 15 HR, 48 RBI) started out by carrying the Indians for the first month of the season. He was absolutely on fire in April. He has been just as cold since.
In April, Reynolds had a slash of .301/.368/.651 and slugged eight home runs and drove in 22 runs. In May, his slash dipped to .218/.310/.386, and his homers and RBI dipped to five and 19 respectively. In June, his slash plummeted to .187/.288/.253, and he only hit two home runs and drove in a measly five runs.
In July, he lost his starting job after a mark of .098/.233/.098 with no home runs and no runs batted in.
Reynolds' playing time has dropped considerably as super-subs Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles have been delivering at a much more productive clip. If Reynolds can find his old form in this series, the potency of the team's lineup will be enhanced.
Nick Swisher (.244/.344/.394, 11 HR, 33 RBI) has been a little more consistent than Reynolds, but he has been a disappointment nonetheless.
Swish had a pretty solid slash in July (.284/.376/.420) but only had three home runs and four runs batted in. Those numbers could be pointing toward a more productive end to the season, and the team hopes for more productivity in the Tigers series.
As for Carlos Santana (.272/.374/.453, 12 HR, 48 RBI), he hasn't struggled, but it seems like he is capable of more. Santana is hitting .316 over his last 10, but he has only one home run and five RBI in that span.
The Indians lineup will be even more dangerous if Santana can be productive in the series.
This is a very important series for the Indians and Tigers. It is made even more important by the fact that the Indians only play the Tigers three more times for the rest of the season (Aug. 30 thru Sept. 1 at Detroit).
If the Indians find success in the above four areas, the Tribe could have a successful series on their way to a very successful season which could include a Central Division crown.
Thanks for reading. I welcome any comments you may have!