Divisional match-ups always have more on the line than a regular series and the Indians made the most of their time with the Royals, taking the four game series 3-1. It was enough to move them out of the Central Division cellar, ahead of Kansas City by half of a game. After ten of the Indians last 13 games came against the Central, it is now time for them to move outside the division and outside of the league to take on San Francisco.
The Giants have been one of the teams least faced by the Indians (they have only played six games against the Dodgers, who are on the schedule later this year), so it makes sense if they are a little unfamiliar. San Francisco has won two of the last four World Series, breaking a ringless stretch that spanned back to 1954 when Willie Mays helped the Giants sweep the Al Rosen and the Indians. This year, the Giants have opened up their first 21 games against divisional opponents so the Indians will not only be the first AL team they face, but the first team outside of the NL West. Since they haven’t been outside of the West, it is hard to really see how good this version of the Giants is. They come into this series in second place at 12-10, but have lost two series in a row against the Padres and Rockies, making the West almost as close as the Central is now with the top four teams within three games.
Game 1: Friday, April 25th, 10:15 PM EDT
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, 0-2, 7.31 ERA vs Tim Hudson, RHP, 2-1, 2.40 ERA
The Indians have tried just about everything with Carrasco to this point and nothing has really worked. In his second start he tried coming out of the bullpen to start the game. In his third, the Indians gave him a couple extra days off by pushing him back in the rotation, but the results were the same. Now, he will be back to normal. He has had his usually rest and knows he is starting. The Giants aren’t an especially impressive offensive team, in the middle of the pack with 93 runs scored and towards the bottom with a .234 team average, so this should be a good chance for Carrasco to get back on track.
Unlike the other pitchers on the Giants staff, Hudson actually has faced the Indians quite a bit (8 games, 6.33 ERA), but it wasn’t these Indians. Those games came in the early 2000′s when Hudson was part of Oakland’s big four and placing in the Cy Young voting every season. On the other side of the bay now, Hudson is a different pitcher. He is a decade older and nowhere near as durable as he once was. He has had a great start to this season, however, with 20 strike outs and no walks in 30 innings so far. Hudson is exactly the type of pitcher who has a tendency to vex the Indians, making this game look like a tough one for the Tribe to win.
Game 2: Saturday, April 26th, 4:05 PM EDT
Zach McAllister, RHP, 3-0, 2.28 ERA vs Tim Lincecum, RHP, 1-1, 6.43 ERA
McAllister has unquestionably been the Indians top starter so far this season and he has done so by pitching through the sixth inning in each of his past three starts. While this may not seem like much, the Indians rotation has been dreadful this year, so any sense of stability is welcome. Like most of the Indians, McAllister has never faced San Francisco, so he may have an added advantage, especially the first time around.
Lincecum has had major swings up and down and the Indians have missed all of them, from his two Cy Young award winning seasons to his bad years, like when he was forced into the bullpen for the Giants 2012 World Series run. This year, he has been somewhere in between, allowing 15 runs in 21 innings, but striking out 24. Lincecum is most famous for his wild wind-up and it can be disconcerting to players who have never seen it before. Of starters, Michael Bourn, David Murphy and Nick Swisher have at bats against Lincecum and none have seen success to this point. If nothing else, expect a lot of strike outs in this game as the rest of the Tribe hitters get used to hitting against “The Freak.”
Game 3: Sunday, April 27th, 4:05 PM EDT
Danny Salazar, RHP, 0-3, 7.85 ERA vs Ryan Vogelsong, RHP, 0-1, 7.71 ERA
Salazar had another rough start last time out, going just 4.1 innings against the Royals and taking his league leading third loss of the season. He has been fantastic in the early innings, but seems to run into trouble his second time through the line-up, leaving many to believe he is due for a trip back to Columbus. With Trevor Bauer more than ready for another shot at the Majors, it may actually be Salazar and not Carrasco, who gets replaced in the rotation first. This game may go a long way in deciding if he is really ready to stay in Cleveland.
Vogelsong seemed to come out of nowhere in 2011 when he became an All-Star and held a 2.73 ERA for the Giants. He initially came up with the Giants 11 years prior to that, but went to the Pirates and spent the next decade bouncing between the rotation, the bullpen and the minor leagues. He played in Japan from 2007 through 2009 and didn’t make it back to the Majors until that great 2011 season. Now, his age may be affecting him as he will turn 37 later this season. In four starts, he has allowed 14 runs and struck out just 11 while walking eight. In his last start, Vogelsung had his worst appearance yet of the year, going just 1.1 innings and allowing five runs. If Salazar can make it past the fifth inning, the Indians should have a great chance at winning the finale.
Who’s Hot? - Who’s Not?
Jason Kipnis was batting just .212 a week ago, but has batted 8/26 over the past seven games, bringing that average up to .240. In addition, during the last series with the Royals, Kipnis hit his second home run of the season, three doubles, knocked in three and scored twice giving him 9.63 Player of the Game points during the past week.
Ryan Raburn has hit rock bottom, going 0/12 in the past seven days and 0/16 overall. In fact, the last hit he got was a big one, breaking a tie to give the Indians a two run lead against the White Sox on April 12th. Since then, he has been used almost exclusively against left handed pitchers, but has reached base safely just once in four games and struck out three times.
On Deck: The Indians will stay on the West coast, but regain the DH as they take on the Angels for three.