Series matchup: Tigers vs. Indians

The Tigers survived their three-city road trip with a 4-4 record against three teams that went to the playoffs last year. Yet the sense around the clubhouse after Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Royals was that they not only could’ve done better than that, but should have.

“A 4-4 trip and you’re playing three playoff teams,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Despite the fact that it was a .500 road trip and you’ll take that on occasion, I think we felt like we’re better than that.”

“I’d say we underachieved,” third baseman Nick Castellanos said, “just because we have high expectations for ourselves. But it doesn’t mean anybody’s discouraged or worried. It’s a long season. We’ve had some good at-bats, played some good teams. Go home and win the next series.”

Said Jarrod Saltalamacchia: “It’s not where we want to be, obviously. We want to win every series, especially against our division rivals. But it’s still early in the season. By no means are we hitting the panic button. We have too good of a team. We were in every game, and we don’t have guys like Miggy and Vic and J.D. swinging it like we know they’re going to and we know they can. That’s the positive to take out of it.”

Given that, you can imagine the expectations as they begin a seven-game, seven-day homestand against the Indians and Athletics. After just four games at Comerica Park over the first 2 ½ weeks of the season (not counting the postponed Sunday night matchup with the Yankees), the Tigers now get into the daily grind of baseball in their home surroundings, starting with a division rival that made its own offseason upgrades.

Scene-setter: While the Pistons and Cavs continue their playoff series, Detroit and Cleveland match up on the diamond for the first time this season as they test just how much better the other team is from last year.

Season series: The Tigers and Indians meet up 19 times this season, starting with this three-game set. They’ll face each other again in Cleveland May 3-5 on the tail end of the Tigers’ next road trip.

Probable starters:

  • Friday: Justin Verlander (1-1, 7.16) vs. Mike Tomlin (1-0, 1.80)
  • Saturday: Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 4.60) vs. Corey Kluber (0-3, 6.16)
  • Sunday: Shane Greene (1-1, 7.15) vs. Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.79)

Key matchups: The Tigers face the teeth of the Cleveland rotation this weekend with Kluber and Carrasco, though they get a break missing out on Danny Salazar. Detroit fared decently against Kluber and Carrasco last season, a big reason the Tigers won the season series for a third consecutive year (37-19 in that stretch, according to MLB Network research). But Tomlin tossed a complete-game win in Detroit last September.

The Cleveland on the front of the jersey should be a welcome sight for Miguel Cabrera, who pummeled its pitching for five homers and 17 RBIs in 17 games last season, batting .418 (28-for-67). However, Cabrera is 8-for-43 with three extra-base hits (doubles) in his last 11 games, and his struggles to drive the ball have been pronounced. He had similar April struggles two years ago (.277 average, .735 OPS in April) and bounced back with authority (.380 average, 1.126 OPS in May), so it’s a bit early for alarms.

He’s not the only Tigers run producer who’s been off, of course. Justin Upton heads to Detroit batting .226 (14-for-62) with one home run and 25 strikeouts. Ausmus made it clear he’s sticking with Upton batting in front of Cabrera, saying that to push him down would be a panic move. So far, it has been a rough combination, with Cabrera’s early struggles and Upton’s strikeouts providing less incentive to challenge Upton in the strike zone.

While Indians starters provide a challenge for Detroit’s lineup, the Tribe bullpen has struggled, allowing 15 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings. They covered 6 1/3 innings Thursday afternoon against the Mariners, losing in the 10th on a Robinson Cano home run off Cody Allen (six runs in 6 1/3 innings this season).

Just so you know: The series will mark the Major League debut of Ramon De Jesus, the first Dominican-born umpire to work in the big leagues.

Familiar faces: Rajai Davis, the Tigers’ speedy outfielder in 2014 and 2015, will get his first chance to face his old squad since signing with Cleveland over the winter. Joba Chamberlain made the Indians bullpen after coming to camp on a non-roster invite. Mike Aviles jumped from Cleveland to Detroit on a one-year deal last December.

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