Tigers, Indians trending in different directions
Cleveland — Amazing, isn’t it, how quickly things can change?
It was a week ago Sunday that Cleveland left Detroit feeling pretty good about itself. The Indians had swept the Tigers in a three-game weekend series at Comerica Park. They went from one game under .500 to two over at 9-7.
For the Tigers, at least according to a large percentage of the fan base, the sky was falling. The team couldn’t hit or pitch, and the manager couldn’t manage.
So here were are, a week later. Cleveland is coming home after losing five of six and getting swept out of Philadelphia. Detroit rolls into Cleveland on a five-game winning streak, having won six of seven.
“That’s how it is,” J.D. Martinez said. “This game is crazy. You can get hot one day and go cold the next. That’s why you never throw in the towel, never give in to it, because it’s such a long season and it can turn around quick.”
That’s the difference between the players and fans. The players know how to cushion themselves mentally and emotionally for the peaks and valleys of a long season.
“The people in the clubhouse don’t get caught up in it,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “The roller coaster is more about the fans. The fans ride the roller coaster. Players are always a lot more steady. You realize the length of the season.”
That said, the Tigers admit there’s a little extra juice going into this three-game set at Progressive Field. Not because they are rolling; more because the sting of getting swept at home is still fresh.
“We definitely want to show them we’re playing good baseball right now,” Ian Kinsler said. “But we have a lot more games with them besides these three. Really, it’s about winning series, just continue to win series. Put yourself in a good position to win every series and then at the end of the year you will be fine.”
The last time the Indians saw the Tigers, they were kind of laughing at them. In the series finale, a snoozing 6-3 loss in a game where neither Miguel Cabrera nor Justin Upton played, Indians reliever Bryan Shaw was bemused Ausmus thought he was trying to scuff the ball with his wedding ring.
Only to find out the ring was rubber.
“If you can find a way to scuff a ball with a rubber ring, more power to you,” Shaw said after that game. “I’ve had it on the last 2 1/2 years and nobody’s said a word about it from any team. I’ve pitched against them with it on the past 2 1/2 years.
“So like I said, they’re struggling a little bit and I think he’s just trying to find something to nitpick about and throw us off.”
That was the sixth Tigers loss in seven games. They had fallen behind early in all six losses. The starting pitcher went beyond the fifth inning once. The Nos. 2 through 5 hitters at that time — Upton, Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez — were a combined 13-for-78 with three RBIs those six losses.
“Right now we are horse(bleep),” Victor Martinez said.
That was Sunday, April 24.
The A’s came to town the next day and a rested Cabrera homered twice to back Jordan Zimmermann’s fourth straight win. A’s starter Rich Hill doused that brief spark the next day, blanking the Tigers on four hits over seven innings.
Then came the lineup change.
Ausmus, saying it was akin to throwing darts at a board, moved Upton down to the No. 5 spot and J.D. Martinez up to the No. 2 spot. Opinions in the clubhouse vary on the correlation, but the Tigers haven’t lost since.
“I don’t think so at all, really,” Upton said when asked if moving down in the order has helped. “I’ve been around for nine-plus years. They’ve got a laundry list of ways to try and get me out. I don’t think that’s going to change because I’m hitting somewhere else.”
Kinsler and J.D. Martinez believe the change was exactly the shake-up they needed.
“I don’t think it’s coincidental,” Kinsler said. “I think that was the right move. You see the way our lineup is turning over a lot quicker. We’re producing runs. We seem to be threatening every inning.
“The lineup, as it is now, is clicking a lot better than the lineup before. It’s working.”
J.D. Martinez, even though he hasn’t hit well in the No. 2 hole so far, believes the lineup is better constructed with Upton in the No. 5 hole.
“If you look at the hitters, it suits our lineup better the way it is now,” he said. “I think it complements each hitter more. Justin is a guy, he’s never had protection like that in his career (hitting in front of Cabrera before the change). I think sometimes it might have caught him off guard. I think it was a hard transition for him.
“I’m a guy who likes to swing. I don’t have to change my approach at all.”
Numbers don’t lie
There’s no arguing the results. Compare the numbers prior to and after the loss to Cleveland on April 24.
•Before the change, Upton was hitting .214 with a .561 OPS, one home run and three RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .310 and .714 OPS, with one home run and five RBIs.
•Before the change, Cabrera was hitting .206 with a .597 OPS, one home run and six RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .387 and .1.180, with three home runs and six RBIs.
•Before the change, Victor Martinez was hitting .264 with a .799 OPS, two home runs and 10 RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .519 and 1.604, with three home runs and eight RBIs.
•Before the change, J.D. Martinez was hitting .313 with a .837 OPS, two home runs and six RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .185 and .652, with one home run and five RBIs.
•Before the change, Nick Castellanos was hitting .328 with a .827 OPS, two home runs and 10 RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .440 and 1.269, with two home runs and eight RBIs.
•Before the change, Kinsler was hitting .333 with a .888 OPS, four home runs and 12 RBIs. Since the change, he’s at .250 and .649, with no home runrs and one RBI.
So cold and then so hot. Or, vice versa, relatively, in the cases of Kinsler and J.D. Martinez.
“That’s baseball,” Castellanos said. “We are playing really well, but it’s not like we’re going to walk into Cleveland and they’re just going to hand us a series. We could sweep them or they could sweep us.
“It’s our job to prepare to play to the best of our ability.”
We would all do well to ride the waves of a long season as well as the players do.
“We are playing really sound baseball right now,” Kinsler said. “Everything is working well. It’s all about how long you can maintain that.
“And if you slide for a second, how quick can you get it back? That’s what it’s all about.”
On deck: Indians
Series: Three games, Tuesday-Thursday, Progressive Field, Cleveland
First pitch: 6:10 p.m. all three nights
Probables: Tuesday — RHP Justin Verlander (2-2, 5.46) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (3-0, 3.18). Wednesday — RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 6.08) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (1-3, 4.24). Thursday — TBA vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (1-0, 5.28)
Verlander: He was on the losing end of the previous meeting against Tomlin, but that was the start where things started to click for him. He allowed four hits in seven innings, two were homers to Carlos Santana and Marlon Byrd.
Tomlin: The soft-tossing righty beat the Tigers on April 22, allowing a run and four hits over 6 2/3 innings. He kept the Tigers off-balance with his four-seam-cutter-curveball pitch, nothing thrown harder than 88 mph.