After being swept by Oakland, the Indians turned around and swept the three game series against the Tigers. In addition to players who have contributed all season, like Michael Brantley, David Murphy and Lonnie Chisenhall, a few other Indians have started heating up, including Nick Swisher, who reached base safely at least twice in each game against Detroit. The Indians pitching staff is the biggest problem at the moment, with both starters and relievers struggling to get outs. Luckily for the Indians, they have three of their best starters going in this series.
Baltimore will be the third division leader the Indians face in three series, although there hold is much more tentative than the previous two. The Orioles hold just a half game lead over the Blue Jays and Yankees after going 4-6 in their past ten games. A large part of this struggle was from a three game sweep against Detroit. As we know, if A (Indians) is greater than B (Tigers) and B is greater than C (Orioles) then A is greater than C. But this is baseball and none of that matters at all.
Game 1: Thursday, May 22nd, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Unknown vs Wei-Yin Chen, LHP, 5-2, 3.69 ERA
Josh Tomlin was originally scheduled to start this game, but was needed to finish out the final game against Detroit. At the moment, it is unknown who will start this game, but options include moving Masterson and Kluber up and fitting Tomlin back into the rotation in a few days or bringing up Kyle Davies or Travis Banwart from AAA. T.J. House, who would be the best option, is not available after being sent down yesterday.
Luckily for the Indians, Chen is the only left handed starter they are scheduled to face in this series. Unluckily for them, he is a pretty good one. Since April 22nd, Chen has started four games and allowed two or less runs in each, dropping his ERA from 4.91. The Tribe’s best chance may be to simply knock him out early, like the Twins and Royals did, pushing him out before the end of the sixth in two of his last four starts.
Game 2: Friday, May 23rd, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Justin Masterson, RHP, 2-3, 5.06 ERA vs Bud Norris, RHP, 2-4, 3.58 ERA
Masterson has taken over Jimenez’s role from 2013 as the Indians most dichotomous pitcher. While he has had three starts where he pitched into the eighth and five where he has allowed two or less runs, he has allowed at least five in his other five starts, including seven in his last appearance against Oakland. Masterson will need to stop walking hitters and work on keeping his sinker down or the Orioles will crush him even worse than the A’s did.
Norris was a trade deadline pick up last season for the O’s and has been a solid pick up, especially this season. He has allowed just 20 runs in 50.1 innings despite a career low 5.9 K/9. The Indians are just the team to help him get his strike outs back on track and they may be the team to help raise his ERA back to his career mark of 4.31 after their success against the difficult Tigers pitching staff.
Game 3: Saturday, May 24th, 12:35 PM EDT (tickets)
Corey Kluber, RHP, 4-3, 3.43 ERA vs Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 2-5, 4.50 ERA
Unlike Masterson, Kluber actually has been pitching like an ace. While he didn’t get the win last time out, Kluber pitched into the eighth against the Tigers and allowed just three runs, giving the Indians the opportunity for a walk-off win. He has been especially impressive in his ability to strike batters out, more to do with getting ahead in the count than any great movement on his breaking pitches or a high speed fastball. His 74 K’s lead the Indians (second in the AL) and are a big part of the reason they currently lead the Major Leagues in team strike outs.
Jimenez has been for the Orioles much like was for the Indians and is yet to earn his massive free agency pay off. He gave up five in five to Kansas City in his last time out after throwing seven shut out innings against the Tigers. It should be fairly obvious early in the game whether he has it or he doesn’t and the Indians may have a slight advantage having played behind him so much.
Game 4: Sunday, May 25th, 1:35 PM EDT (tickets)
Trevor Bauer, RHP, 1-1, 2.25 ERA vs Miguel Gonzalez, RHP, 2-3, 4.53 ERA
The Indians have made two rotational changes since the beginning of the season and both have worked out beautifully. Not every team can be as lucky as the Orioles, whose top five starters have began 42 of their 43 games. Tomlin replacing Carlos Carrasco has been the biggest difference possible between two pitchers and now Bauer has made a great start against Detroit in replacement for Danny Salazar. He needs to continue this success against an Orioles team that is heating up (Chris Davis has four home runs in the past week and Nelson Cruz has three), which should be possible if he can control his fast ball down in the zone.
Gonzalez’s ERA is an unfair look at his season as he allowed seven runs to the Tigers in his first start and has lowered his ERA in every subsequent start. He has pitched in just three games against the Indians and has been significantly better (3.06 ERA, 17.2 IP) than he has against Detroit (8.47, 17 IP). As with the rest of the series, the Indians will need a strong start by their starter, Bauer, and to get to the bullpen early, a general weakness for the Orioles outside of their two stars, Zach Britton and Darren O’Day.
Who’s Hot? – Who’s Not?
Michael Brantley is well on his way to being the Tribe’s team MVP in 2014 (and to getting some actual All-Star game and MVP votes) and he continued that success this week. He leads the team with seven Player of the Game awards this season and won two in the past four games. In the past week, Brantley has hit two home runs (including a walk-off shot in game one against the Tigers), three doubles, six RBI, stolen two bases and reached base safely in half his at bats.
This is a hard choice this week as the most common cold player of the season, Carlos Santana, is still really cold despite the rest of the offense heating up. That being said, it is the other side of the Indians’ game one walk-off win that is “Not Hot” this week. Cody Allen has pitched in three of the Indians last four games and blew the save that lead to Brantley’s game winning home run. He also was destroyed in the game prior against Oakland, where he allowed four base runners and three runs with out retiring a batter.
On Deck: The Indians stay on the road, heading to Chicago for three with the White Sox. Things will start off with a 2:10 PM Memorial Day Special.