Jason Kipnis and the Indians have been the AL's best team the last few weeks
The Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers on Friday in the opener of a four-game series at Progressive Field. Earlier this week, the Indians took over sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time since early May. But thanks to three straight Tigers wins and back-to-back losses by the Tribe, Detroit comes in with a 1.5-game lead in the division.
Of course, it’s still just a fraction of the 5.5-game lead Tigers held on June 11. How have the Indians been able to go an AL-best 15-7 since that day and close the gap in the Central?
Most Two-Out Runs Scored
The Indians have scored nearly 41 percent of their runs with two outs this season. Their 169 runs scored with two outs are the most in the American League and second-most league wide (Cardinals - 174). The Tribe leads MLB in two-out slugging percentage (.433) and ranks second in two-out OPS (.767).
Offseason additions like Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs were meant to improve overall team speed, and it’s paid off. The Indians’ 64 stolen bases are tied for fourth in MLB and no team has more than their 20 stolen bases since June 11. It’s a dramatic improvement for a team that ranked 12th in stolen bases in 2012. Cleveland baserunners have also gone first to third or scored on a single 61 times this season, most in MLB.
The Indians are 18-8 (.750) in one-run games (best in baseball), and are the only team that has yet to lose an extra-inning game (5-0). Meanwhile, the Tigers are just 9-12 in one-run games and have gone 2-9 in extra innings, the most extra-inning losses in baseball.
Lowest Opponent BA vs Sliders
Starting Pitchers This Season
Justin Masterson has been one of Cleveland’s best starters during its run and he gets the ball on Friday. In four starts since June 11, Masterson is 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA and the Indians have won three of those four games. In his last start, Masterson shut out the White Sox with eight strikeouts and just one walk. It was his major-league best third shutout of the season
Masterson, primarily a sinker-baller, has thrown 28 percent sliders this season after doing so just 19 percent of the time in 2012. His .091 opponents’ batting average against his slider is the lowest among qualified starting pitchers. He’ll be tested on Friday, however, as Detroit has the highest OPS (.783) and the most home runs (21) against sliders this season.
KipnisAfter hitting .189 through May 1, Jason Kipnis has hit .340 since (sixth in MLB over span) including an AL-best .419 during the month of June. His efforts earned him player of the month honors, the first Indian to win the award since Shin-Soo Choo in September of 2008. He’s riding a career-long 15-game hitting streak and has reached base safely in 35 straight games. It’s the longest on-base streak by a member of the Indians since Victor Martinez reached in 45 straight during a stretch spanning the 2005 and 2006 seasons.