By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
Well, consider one hurdle cleared. Battle 1 between the Tigers and Indians went Detroit’s way. What a difference a year makes!
Winning the 3-game series brings about a question, one that will take all season to answer. But let’s take a quick bite out of it.
Holly and Kurt have not shared their answers. It’s the best way for our readers to get the best bang for their buck. So here we go.
After the series win in Cleveland, are the Indians still the better team? Explain.
Maybe. No. Still too early to say. All of the above. But most definitely better than last year especially since the Tigers won their first series against the Indians in almost 1.5 years.
This weekend’s win gives us hope; proof that the Tigers are looking to get that Cleveland monkey off its collective back and hope for the future of the team, especially for young pitchers by the name of Norris and Boyd.
The Indians are essentially at full-strength this year with the Tigers suffering more injuries and doing more with less given the absence of JD Martinez and now the annual concern over Miggy. Heck, they even have an outfield problem similar to the Tigers. Advantage: Tigers.
But I would grade each team on 4 other factors with 2 of them being malleable over time. The first is the mental game as seen in Saturday’s blowout game with many of the Tigers yukking it up in the dugout while their opponents, ahead by a touchdown, were laser-focused on the game with every player wearing his game face. Advantage: Indians.
The second is (surprise!) the bullpen, that Achilles heel for the Tigers for over 10 years now. Their closer is a ticking time bomb given his age and arsenal while on the other hand, the Indians have one of baseball’s top ranked bunch of relievers with Andrew Miller ranked #1 and Cody Allen sitting at #8. And we know what impact bullpens have on winning. Advantage: You have to ask?
Third on the list is the manager. While Brad has improved substantially this year, he still is not the savvy, experienced skipper. Contrast him to Terry Francona, arguably 1 of baseball’s top 3 managers and an impressive winning record with scores of WS wins. Advantage: the Tigers’ former third base coach.
And finally, it’s all about starting pitching – left-handed pitching to be precise and the soft spot in the Indians make-up at the moment. They simply cannot hit it and one of the reasons why Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd were successful this weekend. JV lost his game because he was a RHP but also the one pitcher in MLB who has gone up against Cleveland the most. Forget the “stealing signs” excuse – every analyst on Monday morning dismissed it immediately as not remotely credible. Advantage: Tigers.
The next time these two teams face each other, the Tigers are expected to have 3 RHP starting those games. If each team has 2 clear advantages which results in a tie, we can only hope that Brad thinks carefully about who will pitch in them, especially JV.
Well, it will take more than one series to determine who has the leg up this season. The end of Game 1 and all of Game 2 looked a lot like last year’s nightmare season series. But moving on from Saturday’s disaster and bouncing back with a solid outing on Sunday to take the series said a lot.
Is the proverbial monkey off their backs? Well, baby steps, ok? It was a good start. When their starter pitched well, they won. When their starter didn’t, they lost. Jim Leyland’s, “you are only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher,” rang true every day in Cleveland, and Brad acknowledged that heading into Saturday.
Offensively, the Tigers are getting the big hit. They homer every single game and continued it all through the Cleveland series, with amazingly, 2 of them coming from Alex Avila.
Cleveland still has the better bullpen, but Andrew Miller got nicked up by the Tigers on Saturday, something you never saw last season.
Last season, the Tigers were not only beaten continuously by the Indians, they were bruised and battered, and never seemed to come close to being able to compete with them. There was a large chasm between the overall talent of both teams and an even bigger gap between the talents of the 2 managers.
This season? Well, the sample size is 3 games, but outside of the Verlander anomaly, the Tigers played to their strengths and their manager is becoming more of a strength than a weakness.
So who’s better? Well, Cleveland is. They came within a whiff of a World Championship, so until they are knocked out or until the Tigers wrestle the division from them, they don’t give up their throne. But there are many battles to come.