The Indians just completed one of their most impressive series of the season, filled with early comebacks, late comebacks and a complete game shut out. This success has not been without it's rewards as the four game winning streak (and 15-5 record during the past 20 games) has placed the Indians back into first place in the AL Central. One game past the half way point, the Indians are a half game ahead of the Tigers, who have played one less game than the Tribe.
The Indians will play a quick series in Kansas City before coming back to Cleveland to play Detroit in what looks to be a big four game series. The Tribe can't look past the Royals however, who are currently in third in the AL Central, just four games behind the Tigers. The Royals will have a little different look than in the past as for the first time since 2010 Jeff Francoeur will not be a starter. In his place, they have brought up Johnny Giavotella, who is off to a pretty good start, knocking in two games in his first game.
Game 1: Tuesday, July 2nd 8:10 PM EDT
Corey Kluber, RHP, 6-5, 4.16 ERA vs Luis Mendoza, RHP, 2-4, 4.16 ERA
The Indians will take advantage of the off-day by pushing Kluber ahead of Kazmir in the rotation as he has been suffering from back spasms after his last start. Kluber took the loss in his last start (his worst of the year) against the Orioles, but should have much less of a problem with the Royals. The Orioles have scored almost 100 more runs than Kansas City and Kluber has been generally above average as a starter this year.
The Indians just beat Mendoza two starts ago on June 19th when he gave up four runs in five innings. Michael Brantley hit two home runs in that game, so look for another big game from him as he has begun to heat up after a poor June. Jason Giambi has also had some success against Mendoza, so he will probably get the start at DH, pushing Swisher to right field or Lonnie Chisenhall to the bench.
Game 2: Wednesday, July 3rd 8:10 PM EDT
Scott Kazmir, LHP, 4-4, 4.83 ERA vs Jeremy Guthrie, RHP, 7-6, 4.11 ERA
Last time out, Kazmir brought a no hitter into the 7th inning before being removed due to injury. He seems to be fine now after being listed as day-to-day and should make this start, one day later than his normal turn in the rotation. He has thrown 14 innings in his past two games, giving up just a single earned run between the two games. In roster news, Michael Bourn should return to the Indians lineup for this game, giving the team much greater flexibility and their lead-off hitter back.
Guthrie was also recently considered day-to-day with some swelling on his hand, but is also expected to be ready for the second game of the series.The former Indian has faced the Tribe just once so far in 2013, when he pitched a six inning shut out in April. That start was part of a three game stretch that saw Guthrie throw his best games of the season, but has since struggled, most recently giving up 10 runs through 15.2 innings in his last three starts (0-3). The starting pitching performance could be wildly variable given the past of these two starters, making this the most difficult game to predict.
Game 3: Thursday, July 4th 2:10 PM EDT
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 6-4, 4.63 ERA vs James Shields, RHP, 3-6, 2.99 ERA
Jimenez had his biggest issue this year pop back up in his last start when he was able to throw just five innings while allowing three runs against the White Sox. He has averaged just 5.2 innings per game this season and hasn't pitched through the sixth inning since June 1st. Luckily for the Indians, they currently have nine relief pitchers on the 25 man roster (although that will certainly decrease by the time this game comes around) so if Jimenez can't pitch past the fifth, they will have plenty of arms to fill in the extra space.
The Royals ace (that cost them the new Rays stud Will Myers) will start the final game for Kansas City against the Indians. Shields has given up more than four runs just once this season (5/27) and kept the Indians to a single run in his last start against Cleveland. This game will be the hardest for the Indians to win, so they will need to focus on winning the first two games to guarantee a series win.