Michael Fulmer  Corey Kluber
The Detroit Tigers visit the Cleveland Indians on Sunday Night Baseball in what promises to be an exciting duel between All-Star pitchers Michael Fulmer, the winner of last year’s American League Rookie of the Year award and Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young award winner.
Here’s a breakdown of how Fulmer and Kluber have fared as of late and an early prediction for the game.
Pitching Matchup
Michael Fulmer (8-6, 3.20 ERA) vs. Corey Kluber (7-3, 2.85 ERA)
Fulmer’s Last Start
Michael Fulmer (8-6, 3.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), who was recently named to his 1st All-Star game, gave up just three earned runs on five hits (a season-high two home runs) and one walk with five strikeouts over eight innings of a 5-3 win against the Giants on Tuesday.
Fulmer has won his last two starts, posting a 2.78 ERA in those outings and he’s 3-4 with a solid 2.16 ERA with one complete game in seven road starts. He struggled against the Indians last season though, going 1-2 with a 6.98 ERA four starts, surrendering three home runs in 19 1/3 innings of work. Fulmer, who won last year’s American League Rookie of the Year award, ranks sixth in the AL with eight wins, 109 2/3 innings pitched, a 3.20 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, continuing his success from last season.
Fulmer’s strikeout rate has declined from 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9) in 2016 to 6.8 this season but he’s only allowed six home runs in 16 starts, making him a reliable starter and fantasy baseball asset.
Kluber’s Last Start
Corey Kluber (7-3, 2.85 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) had an incredible outing against the Padres last Tuesday, allowing just one earned run on five hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts over eight innings but he took a tough 1-0 loss, as he received little help from his offense or defense.
The Indians went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base and a Cory Spangenberg’s fielder’s choice scored the only run of the game in the fifth inning after the Cleveland defense failed to turn a double play on consecutive ground balls.
Kluber still managed to make history, recording his fifth straight game with 10 or more strikeouts, an Indians record. The 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner also became just the seventh right-hander to accomplish this feat since 1913.
Hitters have been helpless against Kluber since returning from almost a month on the disabled list in May because of a back injury. He’s had two 10-strikeout games; Tuesday’s outing against the Padres and June 14 against the Dodgers, and games with 11, 12 and 13 strikeouts against the Orioles, Rangers and Twins.
Since returning on June 1, Kluber has posted a 1.24 ERA over seven starts, including a 1.26 ERA in six June starts, in which he went 4-0. The right-hander is 1-1 with a poor 10.61 ERA in two starts against the Tigers this season but he’s 5-0 with a 2.85 ERA in seven home starts. Kluber ranks second in the American League with an 0.97 WHIP and two complete games and fourth with a 2.85 ERA and 115 strikeouts.
Early Prediction & Betting Analysis
If you are considering placing some action, make sure to do it on a trusted betting site, the betting odds for this game will be released on Sunday but all signs point to a low-scoring affair for the last Sunday Night Baseball before the All-Star break.
Shop for the best lines available and take Under as your MLB pick because Fulmer and Kluber have been lights out lately and their respective away/home records support this lean.

Miguel Cabrera
It’s always fun to generate and debate lists. We’ll continue with the All-2000 to Present Tigers Lineup.
C – Ivan Rodriquez
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Placido Polanco
3B – Miguel Cabrera
SS – Carlos Guillen
RF – Magglio Ordonez
LF – Curtis Granderson
CF – Austin Jackson
DH – Victor Martinez
SP – Justin Verlander
SP – Max Scherzer
SP – Rick Porcello
SP – Anibal Sanchez
SP – Doug Fister
Closer – Jose Valverde
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays

2011 AL Central Preview

28 February 2011

LestersLegends.com is teaming up with EE Sports World.com to break down all the divisions in baseball. My assignment was the AL Central. I’ll review the teams in the order I expect them to finish.

First Place:  Minnesota Twins
The key to the Twins success is the health of Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Minnesota did an excellent job piecing things together last year with Jim Thome, Michael Cuddyer and company, but if they want to repeat as American League Central Champions, they’ll need Morneau’s bat. The Twins always seem to get by at closer so this isn’t nearly as primary a concern. Even if he falters, they have Matt Capps as an insurance policy.
The Twins added Tsuyoshi Nishioka in the offseason to bolster their middle infield. The rest of their moves were just securing their free agents, namely Carl Pavano and Jim Thome. Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were pleasant surprises for the Twins last year while Michael Cuddyer once again showed his versatility. Denard Span struggled at times, but should bounce back.
Francisco Liriano shined in the rotation, which will be the key to the Twins success. If they can get strong efforts from Liriano, Pavano, Scott Baker, and company there is a good chance that Ron Gardenhire pulls the right strings again to maintain A.L. Central dominance.

Second Place:  Chicago White Sox

The White Sox added some firepower in the offseason by bringing in Adam Dunn to join the likes of Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, and Carlos Quentin. Juan Pierre will once again set the table, and Gordon Beckham looks to break out.
The White Sox have a solid rotation, and should get a nice boost when Jake Peavy returns from shoulder surgery around the All-Star Break. Until then, it will be up to John Danks, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson to carry the load. The White Sox lost Bobby Jenks in the bullpen, but Matt Thornton and Chris Sale should be up to the task.
Ozzie Guillen will be entertaining, or annoying depending on your point of view, once again. You cannot accuse him of not speaking his mind. The White Sox seem to have a mental block that keeps them from getting past the Twins. If they can overcome it, the division is theirs for the taking.

Third Place:  Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera is the most talented player in the division, but he may also be the most troubled. Good news for Tigers fans and his fantasy owners that his arrest happened before the season started. He’s dealing with a serious issue though that is bigger than baseball. Fortunately the structure of the season could be what he needs to keep his life in order.
On a less serious note, the addition of Victor Martinez gives the team a little more firepower. With Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, Carlos Guillen, and Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers could have a potent offense in 2011. Justin Verlander anchors the pitching staff with Max Scherzer living up to his promise. There are question marks in the back end of their rotation, which makes it hard for me to imagine they can surpass the Twins or the White Sox.

Fourth Place:  Cleveland Indians
The Indians could actually surprise some people this year. Shin-Soo Choo is one of the most underrated players in the American League. Grady Sizemore is trying to recover from knee surgery. He was one of the most exciting players in baseball, and could really help their offense. Carlos Santana looks like one of the best young catchers in the league while Orlando Cabrera will provide veteran leadership. If players like Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta can take the next step, the Tribe have an outside shot of taking third place.
That is, if they get the pitching they need. Fausto Carmona had a strong year, but if he loses his mechanics on his sinker, he can go south fast. Justin Masterson has the goods, he just needs to work on his control issues. Too many free passes lead to big innings. Chris Perez is a solid closer, but the rest of the pitching staff is loaded with question marks.

Fifth Place:  Kansas City Royals
Zack Greinke is gone. Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Vin Mazzaro do not intimidate opposing batters. Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the American League, but how many leads will he be able to protect? Speaking of protecting, who is going to protect Billy Butler in the Royals’ lineup? Mike Aviles had a strong finish to last year and Kila Ka’aihue has a cool name and some pop, but this is a team that is going to struggle to avoid 100 losses.

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Rick Porcello went 14-9 as a rookie with a 3.96 ERA, which was good enough for him to finish third (behind Andrew Bailey and Elvis Andrus) in Rookie of the Year voting. There was some cause for concern though.
Namely his ridiculous K/BB ratio of 1.71. With just 89 strikeouts and 52 walks in 170-2/3 innings. He also gave up a ton of hits, more than one per inning, which led to a fairly high WHIP of 1.34. His ERA was a shade below four, he did not record many strikeouts, and his WHIP wasn’t good. All he had to hang his hat on were those 14 wins. We know how fickle that category can be.
Last year he struggled mightily going 10-12 with a 4.92 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, and just 84 strikeouts in 162-2/3 innings. He improved his control by walking just 38 batters, but he allowed 12 more hits in eight fewer innings.
Both seasons Porcello got off to slow starts. In 2009 he was 1-3 in April with a 6.23 ERA. Last year he was 2-2 with a 8.03 ERA in April. In his two seasons he’s been terrible three of the first four months and then solid down the stretch.
April:  3-5, 7.19 ERA, .333 BAA
May:  7-3, 2.34 ERA, .240 BAA
June:  2-4, 6.15 ERA, .338 BAA
July:  1-4, 5.55 ERA, .259 BAA
August:  5-3, 3.86 ERA, .240 BAA
September:  6-1, 3.62 ERA, .260 BAA
October:  0-1, 2.25 ERA, .327 BAA
He’s certainly capable of bouncing back, but Porcello is not a pitcher that fantasy owners should be worrying about on draft day. For starters, his WHIP is too high and his strikeouts to low. That really puts you in a bind in those categories.
Plus, his track record of starting slow should be enough to scare you off, at least initially. Perhaps he can figure things out sooner. If he does, be ready to pounce on him, because he’ll likely go undrafted.
What’s your take on Rick Porcello? Is he worth owning at some point in 2011?

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Miguel Cabrera‘s 2009 season with the Tigers couldn’t have ended on a more sour note. He spent three months getting help with an alcohol addition. Assuming his life is in order, he’ll resume doing what he’s been doing for year now…clobbering opposing pitchers.

The past six years he’s averaged 98.5 runs, 32.8 HRs, and 115.2 RBIs, all while hitting a robust .315. The scary thing is the fact that he’s only 27 (on April 18th anyway).

The question is, where do you rank him among his peers.

Obviously Albert Pujols is in a league of his own. He is without peers. He’s clearly the number one overall player, let alone first basemen.

In my estimation, Miguel Cabrera is in tier 1-A with three other first basemen. Those 1Bs, in no particular order, are Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder. You can’t really go wrong with them, it’s just a matter of preference.  Let’s break down their recent averages.

Cabrera (2004-2009):  .315, 98.5 runs, 32.8 HRs, 115.2 RBIs, 4 SBs
Howard (2006-2009):  .278, 102 runs, 49.5 HRs, 143 RBIs, 2.5 SBs
Teixeira (2004-2009):  .295, 100.8 runs, 36 HRs, 119 RBIs, 2.3 SBs
Fielder (2007-2009):  .288, 99.3 runs, 43.3 HRs,  121.3 RBIs, 2.3 SBs

Looking at these players and you can quickly eliminate runs and SBs from the equation as they are practically the same number for each performer. Two numbers stand out from the crowd. Miguel Cabrera’s batting average and Ryan Howard’s RBI total.

I know Ryan Howard’s 2008 average (.251) and his first-half 2009 average (.257) were tough on fantasy owners, but overall they don’t kill you. In fact, when I adjust my initial first base rankings (click to see), I think I’m going to have to put Howard at #2. I know he strikes out a ton, but the number of HRs and RBIs he brings to the table is just too valuable.

So that leaves us with Tex, Prince, and Cabrera. There isn’t much of a difference between Teixeira and Cabrera’s numbers since 2004. I give Tex a slight bump simply because of the lineup his in and the ballpark they play in.

That brings us to Prince and Cabrera. Fielder is obviously a bigger power threat. Cabrera has the ability to hit 30 or 40 points higher than Prince. Fielder’s RBI totals are higher, but they are skewed by the 141 he had last year. Cabrera’s were skewed in the wrong direction with the 103 he had last year.

Like I said, it’s a matter of preference between these guys. I happen to like what Cabrera brings to the table a little more. That doesn’t mean I think you’re wrong if you like Prince better.

Prediction:  .335, 100 runs, 35 HRs, 120 RBIs

Past profiles:
Arizona Diamondbacks:  Brandon Webb
Atlanta Braves: Yunel Escobar
Baltimore Orioles:  Adam Jones
Boston Red Sox:  Clay Buchholz
Chicago Cubs:  Geovany Soto
Chicago White Sox:  Jake Peavy
Cincinnati Reds:  Joey Votto
Cleveland Indians:  Grady Sizemore
Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez


1. Can Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios bounce back?
Quentin has missed significant time the past two years because of injuries. Juan Pierre was brought on board to help set the table. His foot has healed and as long as he can avoid the injury bug, he should be a high-end OF again.

Rios was having a disappointing season even before he was dealt to the White Sox. He hit a brutal .199 for his new club with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs in 146 ABs. The bad news for Rios is he’ll be playing his home games outside. His AB/HR in outdoor parks is 43.5 compared to 29.9. Minnesota no longer has a dome, which would also work against him. His average and OPS have been on the decline the past four seasons.

2. How about Jake Peavy?
Peavy likely won’t be as dominant this year as in year’s past. He has to face a steady dose of American League hitters without the comfort of PETCO Park. Working in his favor though is the absence of the World Baseball Classic. I believe that threw off his April last year, which led to his bloated 5.74 ERA in April.

3. And Grady Sizemore?
He battled through an elbow injury and a hernia to still put up respectable numbers (73 runs, 18 HRs, 64 RBI, 13 SB in 436 ABs). Don’t let his numbers get you down on him though. Not many players can bring we he can to the table. Bump him down a few spots from where you had him ranked going into last year, but don’t let him slide too long.

4. What will the Indians do with Michael Brantley?
The Indians have a good problem having four quality OFers for three spots. Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta, and Shin-Soo Choo are blocking the path for Brantley, who hit .313 after replacing Sizemore last year. LaPorta can play some First Base, which would allow Brantley to play in LF. LaPorta is one of the Indians’ few right-handed hitters though so don’t expect him to be out of the lineup very frequently. Brantley can play all three OF positions, which will help his cause. The Indians could choose to send him to Triple-A so he can get steady playing time. In any case, take the wait-and-see approach with him.

5. Can Austin Jackson replace Curtis Granderson?
He certainly doesn’t have the power, but he has flashed his speed stealing 24 bases to go along with nine triples last year for Triple-A Scranton. He hit .300 as well. He’ll be challenged by Clete Thomas and Ryan Rayburn. Watch that battle during Spring Training.

6. Will Zack Greinke get some help?
Gil Meche should be better for starters assuming his back and arm are healed. His ERA surged above 5.00 after being below 4.00 in his previous two years with the Royals. Luke Hochevar has a world of talent, and the former #1 pick should be better. He can’t get much worse. I’d hold off on drafting him unless he shows some promise during Spring Training.

7. What will the Twins’ new ballpark bring?
All you have to do is look at the two New York ballparks, and you know they can be unpredictable. The Yankees play in a launching pad while the Mets saw a power outage. The Twins won’t get as may infield hits as they move to grass. See where Justin Morneau ranks among fantasy First Basemen.

8. Will J.J. Hardy rebound?
Hardy was terrible last year, but a change of scenery could do him wonders. He goes to a club that is starving for solid Shortstop play after they dealt away Jason Bartlett a couple years back. Hardy averaged 83.5 runs, 25 HRs, and 77 RBIs in 2007 & 2008. In a lineup that features Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span, a resurgence is very likely.

9. What will the Twins do at Third Base?
This is an annual issue. Nick Punto plays a great Third Base, but can’t hit. Brendan Harris had his moments. Joe Crede returning isn’t out of the question. No matter what their “solution” is, it’s not a fantasy friendly one. Look elsewhere.

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The Mets were forced to put John Maine on the 15-day DL because of shoulder soreness.  The Mets just can’t catch a break with the injuries.  Maine was 5-4 with a 4.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 42 Ks.  Fernando Nieve, who was called up when J.J. Putz went on the DL for the Mets, will get the start for Maine tomorrow.  In four starts for Triple-A Buffalo Nieve was 3-0 with a 3.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 23 Ks in 24-1/3 Innings.

Jeremy Bonderman made just one poor start before his shoulder forced him back on the DL.  He gave up 6 Runs in 4 Innings.  Dontrelle Willis, who has looked shaky at best since his return, will hold down Bonderman’s spot in the rotation.  However, with a 6.60 ERA and 1.70 WHIP, his spot is exceedingly tenuous.

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We’ve been tracking Dontrelle Willis’ rehab stint here at LestersLegends, and I’m glad to report that he will make his return to the Detroit Tigers’ rotation on Wednesday against the Twins.  Willis had spent time on the DL as he dealt with an anxiety disorder.

Here’s a look at how Willis fared is his four starts:

A+ Lakeland:  L, 7 IP, 4 Runs, 8 Hits, 0 Walks, 2 Ks, 5.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
AA Erie:  W, 6 IP, 2 Runs, 3 Hits, 3 Walks, 6 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
AAA Toledo:  ND, 5 IP, 3 Runs, 7 Hits, 2 Walks, 4 Ks, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP
AAA Toledo:  L, 7-2/3 IP, 2 Runs, 5 Hits, 4 Ks, 2.35 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Jeremy Bonderman has been making progress for the Tigers in his rehab assignment as well.

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A-Rod went 1 for 5 with a Single and a Walk as he continues his rehab assignement.  He also slid for the first time on his surgically-repaired hip.  A-Rod said he felt good after the slide.  He is scheduled to play in one more game tomorrow before possibly rejoining the Yankees on Friday to face Baltimore.  For the full story, check out this ESPN.com article.

Image from MudHens.com

Dontrelle Willis was back on the mound as well.  He pitched much better today.  The D-Train threw 7-2/3 Innings for Triple A- Toledo allowing two Runs on 5 Hits.  74 of his 118 pitches went for strikes, but he still managed to walk four batters.  He was on the losing end of a Pitchers’ Duel as Michael Bowden led Pawtucket to a 2-1 victory.  For the full story, check out the Mud Hens’ site.

Here’s a look at how Willis fared is his previous three starts:

A+ Lakeland:  L, 7 IP, 4 Runs, 8 Hits, 0 Walks, 2 Ks, 5.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
AA Erie:  W, 6 IP, 2 Runs, 3 Hits, 3 Walks, 6 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
AAA Toledo:  ND, 5 IP, 3 Runs, 7 Hits, 2 Walks, 4 Ks, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP

Dontrelle Willis who is dealing with an anxiety disorder made a Triple-A start for the Toledo Mudhens on Friday night.  He struggled a little with his control.  He got a no-decision, but was leading 5-3 when he left after five Innings.  Here’s his line:

5 IP, 3 Runs, 7 Hits, 2 Walks, 4 Ks

His ERA for the game was 5.40 and his WHIP was 1.80.  He also hit a batter and threw a Wild Pitch.

Here’s a look at how Willis fared is his previous two starts:

A+ Lakeland:  L, 7 IP, 4 Runs, 8 Hits, 0 Walks, 2 Ks, 5.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
AA Erie:  W, 6 IP, 2 Runs, 3 Hits, 3 Walks, 6 Ks, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

In other Tigers’ news Jeremy Bonderman’s rehab is going well according to mlive.com’s Steve Kornacki adding some zip on his fastball bringing it into the low 90′s.  His return is not imminent.  He has to continue to build his arm strength and then he’ll need to make some rehab starts.

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