The Detroit Tigers (27-12) are riding the most impressive streak in baseball after sweeping the first-place Orioles in Baltimore and waxing the defending-champion Red Sox in Fenway Park.
Detroit has won 15 of its last 18 games and owns the top record in Major League Baseball heading into a three-game series with the division-rival Cleveland Indians (19-25). Cleveland is the final stop in Detroit’s nine-game road trip, which is off to a perfect start as the Tigers have now won their last 11 games away from Comerica Park.
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Cleveland is trending in the opposite direction following a sweep at the hands of Oakland that landed the Indians in last place in the AL Central. Terry Francona led the Tribe to the postseason in his first season as its manager, but the first quarter of 2014 has been unkind to his team.
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Starting pitching has been the greatest problem for the Indians of late. Justin Masterson surrendered seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on Friday and Zach McAlllister gave up eight runs Sunday while recording just four outs.
While Oakland was outscoring Cleveland 30-6 in its three-game series, the Tigers were putting a beating on the Red Sox. A 15-hit onslaught Sunday night concluded a series in which Detroit outscored Boston 13-3.
Detroit sends Drew Smyly to the mound on Monday, fresh off a quality start against Baltimore that lowered his ERA to 2.70. The young lefty is settling into his role in the starting rotation, but will need to be careful with an Indians lineup that features three players batting over .420 career against Smyly.
Smyly will face off with Cleveland’s most consistent pitcher through nine starts, 28-year-old Corey Kluber. Kluber leads the rotation with four wins, 66 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA. He won his last two starts by allowing two runs and striking out nine in each.
Much like he does to so many other pitchers, Miguel Cabrera has dominated Kluber during the pitcher's young career. In just 17 at-bats the slugger hits .471 with three home runs against the right-hander, who might be better off walking the two-time defending MVP. Cabrera has hit in his last nine games and recorded three hits each of the last two games against Boston. The recent surge brings the three-time defending batting champion up to fourth place in the AL with a .316 average.
Detroit maintained its substantial lead over AL opponents in team batting average thanks to its top four hitters, which are all over .300. The top four hitters in Sunday’s batting order combined for 22 hits in the series.
After three games in Cleveland, the Tigers will return to Comerica Park for a short four-game home stand against the Texas Rangers before heading out west.