The Indians finally won a series in Texas and will move on to face the Washington Nationals, the last team in their difficult stretch of nine straight series against teams above .500. During the stretch the Indians went 6-16 including two sweeps by Detroit, one by the Yankees and one by Cincinnati. The series against the Nationals will be a rarity for the Tribe. They haven't played against Washington since 2010 and before that, 2007 and each was just a three game series. With the new 15 team alignment, they will almost certainly start playing each other more often.
The Nationals were expected to be not just the best team in the NL East going this year, but the top team in the entire National League. Instead, they have had trouble scoring (rank second to last in runs scored in all of baseball) and currently rank six games behind the Atlanta Braves who have used a revitalized Uptony offense to rank number one in home runs in all of baseball.
Game 1: Friday, June 14th 7:05 PM EDT
Gio Gonzalez, RHP, 3-3, 3.59 ERA vs Justin Masterson, RHP, 8-5, 3.68 ERA
The Indians ace has struggled in his last two times out and three of his last four, going from 7-2 to 8-5 over that stretch. He has still been able to pitch deep into games, but allowed 16 runs in 19 innings against Detroit, New York and Boston. Playing against the weak Washington offense may be the one thing that gets him back on track.
The Indians are familiar with Gonzalez from his time with the Oakland A's and the young pitcher is hitting his peak now with the Nationals. Gonzalez has pitched well for the Nats this year (like most of their staff), allowing more than four runs just four times this season. In fact, his two worst starts came against the tough Braves offense that leads their division. The Indians players do have some experience against Gonzalez from his time in the AL, with Ryan Raburn especially having good numbers, so expect him to start in right field in lieu of Drew Stubbs.
Game 2: Saturday, June 15th 7:15 PM EDT Fox
Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, 9-3, 2.00 ERA vs Scott Kazmir, LHP, 3-4, 5.33 ERA
In thirteen starts, Zimmerman has allowed just 21 runs. This is made even more impressive when you notice that he allowed seven of those in a single bad game against Baltimore. Outside of this one start he has an even more impressive ERA of 1.42 and has not given up more than three runs in any one game. This is just about as bad a pitching match-up as the Indians can get, as Kazmir is starting for the Tribe and has allowed four or more runs in half of his starts. Of course, anything can happen in baseball, but this would be the game to want a three hour rain delay during the second inning in.
Game 3: Sunday, June 16th 1:05 PM EDT
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, 3-5, 2.54 ERA vs Corey Kluber, 4-4, 4.08 ERA
The Indians have faced the Nationals phenom just once before, in 2010 before he missed an entire season due to Tommy John surgery. He is now on the disabled list for the fourth time in his career with a strained lat, but is expected to be activated in time for the series finale in Cleveland. He last pitched on May 31st when he was pulled in the second inning due to injury. This broke a streak spanning all season of lasting at least five innings in each game. He has a current streak of five games allowing a single run or less. Overall this year he has blanked opponents three times, but hasn't pitched a complete game shut out. In fact, he has only pitched into the eighth inning twice as the Nationals are being very careful with the fragile pitcher they believe to be the future of their franchise.
Kluber has been a surprise this season and over his last six starts, has become the Indians third most dependable pitcher (after Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez). In his last outing he struck out just three, but held the AL West leading Rangers to just a single run in eight innings. Two games before that, he struck out 10 Red Sox and held them to a single run as well, but was unable to get out of the seventh. Kluber is exactly the starter the Indians want going against Strasburg as he can try to keep things close until it becomes a battle of the bullpens.