CLEVELAND — The last two times the Indians and Tigers have faced off in a series, it has set the tone for both teams for the next 3-4 weeks.
When the Tribe swept the Tigers in May, the Indians went on a run that got them back in the AL Central race while Detroit went in a tailspin. The Tigers though regained their mojo with a three-game sweep at Progressive Field last month that has seen them open up another comfortable cushion atop the division.
Going into a four-game series that begins on Friday at Comerica Park to start the second half of the season, the Tigers have a 6½ game lead over the Royals with the Indians 7½ back.
If Cleveland is going to make up ground, the next 11 games are crucial. Following the weekend series in Detroit, the Tribe travels to Minnesota for three and Kansas City for four.
"We’re in a good place. Slowly but surely coming around," Mike Aviles said. "Last year was the same type of deal where we got better as the season went along. No one is running away from things. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played and we’re understanding that it is time to kick it into gear and start winning games."
If the Indians are going to kick it into gear and make a second-half run, here are five things they need to do:
For the first two months of the season, the Tribe was averaging nearly one error per game. Things have improved over the past month but they still lead the Majors with 69 errors, which is five more than Arizona. Yan Gomes (11) and Asdrubal Cabrera (14) lead their respective positions in the American League in errors while third basemen have combined for 22.
"That’s been our one area that has been most challenging for us in the first half," general manager Chris Antonetti said last week. "If you were to ask anyone in the clubhouse, that’s the area we feel we have the most opportunity to improve, because we feel we’re a better defensive team than we’ve (shown)."
GET CONSISTENCY IN ROTATION
The Indians have the third-worst ERA among its starters in the AL at 4.49. The only constant in the first half has been Corey Kluber, who is 9-6 with a 3.01 ERA. Justin Masterson is on the disabled list, Danny Salazar is in Columbus and Carlos Carrasco has been moved to the bullpen, where he is thriving.
Until Masterson returns from the DL, which could be as soon as next week, the rotation will consist of Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Tomlin, Zach McAllister and T.J. House. McAllister and House are assigned to the minors currently but McAllister could be the starter in Saturday’s second game at Detroit as the 26th man and House will be called up for Monday’s game at Minnesota. Tomlin has struggled in four of his past five starts while Bauer has shown steady improvement.
If the rotation is to improve though the one guy who has to get back on track is Masterson. With the third starting spot remaining up in the air, the Indians should be in the market for another arm near the deadline.
BETTER PRODUCTION FROM SWISHER AND SANTANA
The good news is that Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana are above the Mendoza Line. The bad news is that both are below .210.
Swisher did have a good homestand before the break, including three home runs. Playing primarily designated hitter over the past couple weeks has helped rest his knees and he has a history for being a second-half player. Moving primarily to first has done wonders for Santana’s defense but his offensive numbers began to wane over the past week.
The interesting thing will be how Terry Francona juggles having Swisher, Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall in the lineup at the same time. It has worked great with Swisher at DH, Santana at first and Chisenhall at third, but Francona also doesn’t want Swisher exclusively at DH. That means the shifting we saw the first couple months of the season could return soon.
DON’T WAIT UNTIL SEPTEMBER
It would be the height of folly to expect the Tribe to win 21 of their final 27 games. Last year they didn’t face Detroit after Labor Day. This year they will face the Tigers seven times in the final month. With a rainout against the Angels being made up on Sept. 8, the Indians will have only one day off in September. Add in late-season games against the Royals and Rays and this season’s final month looks a lot more difficult.
BE PATIENT WITH LINDOR
There will be a lot of debate about whether or not Francisco Lindor will be called up during the second half, especially if Cabrera is traded. He could be up in Columbus sometime the next couple weeks but the one thing the Indians have shown is that they are not going to rush his development.
Lindor will be here next year, but he should only come up this season if the Indians are confident his time is now.