Panic! The Indians are 4-12 in their last sixteen games and have lost five of their last six series. But...the Tigers have lost five of their last seven and maintain a slim lead on the AL Central despite the Tribe's struggles. Even the White Sox who, the person who usually writes these articles picked as his surprise winner for the Central, have lost eight in row against the cellar dwelling Cubs and the lowly A's and Mariners.
In all likelihood, this stretch is the hardest of the season, facing nine straight opponents with a winning percentage over .500. After this, the Indians only play two teams over .500 in a row one more time (Atlanta followed by Detroit in late August). This stretch will also played almost entirely on the road with 14 of 25 games away from home. Don't worry Tribe fans, it gets better.
Game 1: Friday, June 7th 7:08 EDT
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 4-3, 4.83 ERA vs Justin Verlander, RHP, 7-4, 3.70 ERA
Rematch! This will be round three of the Jimenez/Verlander match-up of 2013. Round one went to Jimenez and the Indians as Verlander was only able to pitch five innings while allowing three runs. Round two saw a reversal with Jimenez throwing just four innings and allowing six runs (Verlander actually pitched worse in this game than round one, but still got the win). Round three could be the deciding battle to prove who is the better pitcher.
Jimenez may surprisingly have an advantage as the two pitchers are headed in severe opposite directions. Since April 16th, Jimenez has lowered his ERA steadily from 11.25 to his current 4.83. He had a set back against Detroit last time out, but besides that game he hasn't given up more than two runs in a game since April 21st. Verlander has gone the other way, starting from May 5th, when he held an ERA of 1.55. Two of his next three starts came against the Tribe who raised his ERA to 3.66 while mediocre outings against the Pirates and Orioles have raised it a little since then as well.
Game 2: Saturday, June 8th 4:08 EDT
Justin Masterson, RHP, 8-4, 3.57 ERA vs Rick Porcello, RHP, 2-3, 5.21 ERA
Masterson didn't look much like himself against the Yankees last time out, but no one on the Tribe played particularly well. He has struggled with some of the Tigers in the past, but if he can avoid Miguel Cabrera, he should be alright. Like every pitcher in this match-up, Porcello is a familiar face to Indians hitters. The Indians switch hitters have seen the most success against the right hander in the past, with Carlos Santana hitting three home runs and Asdrubal Cabrera batting .351. Even Nick Swisher has seen some success in his few appearances against Porcello with a home run and four RBI.
Game 3: Sunday, June 9th 1:08 EDT
Scott Kazmir, LHP, 3-3, 5.24 ERA vs Anibal Sanchez, RHP, 6-5, 2.65 ERA
Sunday would be Zach McAllister's normal start day, but some finger discomfort has forced the Indians to skip his start this time around. This will be Kazmir's normal time of rest as the Indians have an off day on Thursday before the series. Kazmir took a step back last time out, but, while he took the loss, he pitched better than any other starter against the Yankees, thowing six innings and allowing just four runs. After dealing with Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, the Tigers should be nothing for the left hander.
Sanchez has possibly been the Tigers best starter this year as he maintains an ERA below 3.00 and has struck out 98 over 78 innings. Of course, he has yet to face the Tribe so these numbers are almost certainly inflated. We all know that the Braves, Nationals, Rays and Athletics (all teams that have been shut down by Sanchez), have nothing on the prolific Indians offense.