Can Tigers pitchers keep up with elite Indians starting rotation this week?
Detroit Tigers host Cleveland Indians in three day games
DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have been a pleasant surprise through the first 10 games, sitting in first place in the American League Central Division with a 7-3 record.
The Tigers have been fortunate, however, to win so many close games. Both the starting rotation and bullpen have been clutch and consistent, making up for a sluggish start from the offense.
This weekend will be a major test, though, as the heavy favorite in the division will make its first trip to Detroit.
The Cleveland Indians are going through similar offensive struggles without star shortstop Francisco Lindor, but their starting rotation is possibly the best in MLB.
Other than Masahiro Tanaka, the Tigers haven't seen any ace caliber pitchers yet this season, making the slow offensive start even more concerning.
When the Indians series begins, the Tigers will see back-to-back top-10 pitchers and a rising prospect. It's possible the pitchers the Tigers face the next three days are the three best they've seen all season.
Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer will certainly be the two best starting pitchers the Tigers have seen.
Kluber is coming off a rocky start against the Chicago White Sox, but he's a perennial Cy Young contender and has owned the Tigers the last three years.
Bauer might be the best pitcher in the American League. He's allowed one hit through 14 innings this season while striking out 17 batters. Last year, he posted a 2.21 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and a 5.8 WAR while striking out 221 batters in 175.1 innings.
Even Shane Bieber, who's only pitched 122.2 innings in his MLB career, looks like he belongs in the big leagues. He's got good strikeout potential and an elite walk rate. It's a luxury to have a 23-year-old with tremendous upside as a No. 5 starter.
Runs will be at a premium for the Tigers this week, so the pitching will have to be dominant for them to have a chance in the series.
Jordan Zimmermann has only allowed one run in 13.2 innings while Matt Boyd has an incredible 23 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. Those two will have to pitch like aces to go toe-to-toe with Kluber and Bauer.
Ron Gardenhire will counter Bieber with a young starter of his own in Spencer Turnbull, who turned in a nice start on Opening Day in Detroit. Turnbull has also shown good strikeout potential and hasn't been overmatched in his two starts. Bieber has a much better prospect pedigree, but Turnbull looks like a viable MLB starter.
Cleveland's offense has been almost as bad as Detroit's, so Zimmermann, Boyd and Turnbull certainly have a chance to build on their success. The Indians have only scored three more runs than the Tigers this season, good for 26th in baseball.
Only Cincinnati -- which has to bat a pitcher -- has a lower OPS than Cleveland, and it's lower by a single point.
It might be a weaker overall lineup, but the Tigers have to be careful with superstar third baseman Jose Ramirez, who's off to a slow start and guaranteed to break out at some point. He hit 39 home runs and 38 doubles while stealing 34 bases last season, so his early .493 OPS is a mirage.
When Ramirez breaks out of his slump, there are going to be fireworks. The Tigers have to try to delay that breakout for another three games.
First baseman Carlos Santana is off to a much better start in his second stint with the Tribe. He's batting .419 with a 1.066 OPS after a sizzling spring training.
Santana has hit 20 home runs and 31 doubles against the Tigers in his career with a .355 on-base percentage. He's had a lot of big hits and walks against Detroit in his career.
It's been a nice start for the Tigers, but the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals aren't expected to be very good this season, and the New York Yankees are dealing with an incredible number of injuries.
This week will be the team's first true test against a playoff-caliber roster and the toughest test for a struggling offense.
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