The Indians are on a little bit of a hot streak after winning their last series on the road against Tampa Bay. So far in April, they have won all three series and went 7-3 after losing their last six in May. The biggest turn around has been in the starting rotation as pitchers are finally getting past the fifth inning with regularity. The offense is also starting to turn things around with Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Aviles leading the way, finally getting some production out of the infield. They will need to continue on this path and get a few more players going, however (like Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana) if they want to catch up to Detroit.
This will be the second series this season between the Tribe and the Jays and the last one didn’t go too well for Cleveland. After losing the first two games, the Tribe barely stopped the sweep in the finale, despite a poor start by Carlos Carrasco, thanks to great games by Michael Brantley and David Murphy. One big difference between this and the last time is that Toronto will be featuring three completely different pitchers this time around. Since their last battle, Brandon Morrow and Maicer Izturis have been added to the 60 Day DL and luck allows them to avoid the two best Blue Jays starters, Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison.
Game 1: Tuesday, May 13th, 7:10 PM EDT
Justin Masterson, RHP, 2-1, 3.86 ERA vs R.A. Dickey, RHP, 3-3, 4.72 ERA
Masterson has finally started pitching like an ace in his contract year. In his last two starts he has thrown 13.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs, lowering his ERA from 4.84 on April 28th. After going 0-1 for the entire month of April (6.04 ERA), he has already won his first two starts in May with an ERA of 1.32. This game should be one of the easier ones for Masterson as he has already faced the Blue Jays once this year and dominated with 9 strike outs and just two runs allowed in 6.1 innings.
Everyone was surprised when the knuckle-balling Dickey won the Cy Young in 2012 behind a 20-6 record and a 2.73, but as usual, when something completely surprising happens, it won’t maintain that way. Dickey has returned closer to his career ERA of 4.05 and chances are, the 39 year old is on his last legs. Patience needs to be the strategy, but the Tribe shouldn’t have too much trouble with this 12 year veteran.
Game 2: Wednesday, May 14th, 7:10 PM EDT
Corey Kluber, RHP, 3-3, 3.48 ERA vs Dustin McGowan, RHP, 2-1, 4.63 ERA
With McAllister struggling in his last outing, Kluber has moved into the title of the Tribe’s best pitcher. He has made quality starts in three of his past four games and allowed more than four runs just twice this season. His last two outings have been among the best in his career, striking out 22 batters in 14.2 innings. He did pitch against Toronto in the early season series, but was not quite as solid then, giving up four runs in 6.2 innings. Like every other Tribe pitcher, he will have to be especially careful with the middle of the Blue Jays line-up as they are fairly weak following Edwin Encarnacion.
McGowan has always been one of those pitchers with more expectations than results. He has spent his whole career with the Jays, but has a sub-.500 record with a 4.65 ERA, despite obvious talent. The Indians have really had his number as he is the type of pitcher they like the best, slow and right handed. In four games, the Tribe has scored 18 runs in 14.2 innings and they will look to continue this success the next time around.
Game 3: Thursday, May 15th, : PM EDT
Danny Salazar, RHP, 1-3, 5.65 ERA vs J.A. Happ, LHP, 1-1, 4.63 ERA
Salazar looked to be on the fast track back to AAA, but has really settled down since Carlos Carrasco’s demotion left him as the low man on the totem pole. In his last three starts, Salazar has allowed just seven runs in 18.1 innings. Since April 22nd, he has lowered his ERA by more than two runs, without costing his K’s. He has struck out 44 batters in just 36.2 innings this year.
What’s the Happs? The Happs is that the Indians are terrible against left handers again after just a single year of respite. The Tribe is currently hitting Major League worst, .205 against left handed pitchers compared to .253 against right handers, good enough to 12th in the Majors. The problem remains that the Tribe’s top hitters, Brantley, Murphy and Lonnie Chisenhall, are all left handed and the Indians best hitters against left handers generally, Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn and Carlos Santana, are struggling against everyone. The Indians could luck out here, but chances are, their offensive woes will continue against the former Phillie.
Who’s Hot? – Who’s Not?
Asdrubal Cabrera has finally been heating up, but it is impossible not to recognize the contribution of Mike Aviles this past week. With Jason Kipnis out for the rest of the month, the Indians needed someone to step up at second and Aviles has done just that. In addition to his walk-off single against Minnesota, Aviles has batted .476 in the past week with a home run and five RBI.
While Nyjer Morgan could easily have been listed as “hot” after his last game in Tampa, the Indians other center fielder is about as cool as you can get. Michael Bourn has missed some time of late with recurring hamstring issues and hasn’t played in more than two consecutive games in May either due to that or his lack of bat. While he does have hits in six of his last seven games (6/30), he has not had two hits in a game since April 27th and has just two extra base hits in his last nine games. At this point, Morgan is healthy and outplaying Bourn in every capacity (especially defensively, although it is harder to point out statistically), making it foolish to continue starting Bourn in center, despite the money involved.
On Deck: After three in Toronto, the Indians will return to face the A’s to start off a six game home stand.