As if it wasn’t bad enough losing Zach McAllister before the last series, the Indians placed both Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana on the disabled list during the White Sox series. While both of these players have been struggling this season, they have been improving as the season goes on and are significantly better than their replacement players (no offense to Jesus Aguilar and George Kottaras). The Indians will have to maintain without them and try to find a way to win the series if they want to keep up their near .500 pace.
Cleveland will have to face one of the toughest teams in Majors let alone the National League. The Rockies are a surprising success story out of the West, where they are currently five games out of first, despite being four games over .500. They are doing this with a return to their big bat days of the late 1990′s. Troy Tulowitzki currently leads the Majors in batting average (.373) and three other Rockies are in the top 16 in the NL (although one, Nolan Arenado, will miss the Indians series on the DL). Tulo is also second in the NL in home runs and his teammate, Charlie Blackmon is 11th with nine. If there is one consolation, it is that this series will take place in Cleveland and none of those high average players is batting over .276 on the road (Tulo is hitting just .258 with six of his 14 home runs outside of Denver).
Game 1: Friday, May 30th, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Juan Nicasio, RHP, 5-2, 3.61 ERA vs Corey Kluber, RHP, 5-3, 3.10 ERA
Nicasio has been a beneficiary of the Rockies increased offense, but has been well deserving of his five wins. He has thrown at least six innings in his last three starts, allowing six total runs across them and has allowed seven total in the month of May. His last start may have been his best of the season as he threw six innings of two hit ball against the Braves and he will look to continue his success against another Native American named team.
Indians fans have known about Kluber’s consistency and durability for a few years, but nobody thought he would be this good. Rather than comparing him against other Cleveland players, he is now among the best in baseball, leading the Majors in strike outs and 14th in the AL in ERA (fourth in May behind Hughes, Kuechel and Weaver). Kluber has become a strike out machine and is the Indian most likely to get deep into a game. He will be pitching with an extra day of rest this time around, so he could be even stronger than normal against Colorado.
Game 2: Thursday, May 31st, 3:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Franklin Morales, LHP, 3-4, 5.65 ERA vs Trevor Bauer, RHP, 1-2, 3.86 ERA
Morales has been an innings eater for the Rockies, but will be, by far, the worst pitcher the Indians see in this series. He has averaged more than four runs allowed per start through his last six and came out after a season low 4.2 innings in his last start against Atlanta. The Indians have been hitting slightly better against left handers as of late and it will be interesting to see what they can do to Morales after just facing two of the hardest left handers in baseball, Jose Quintana and Chris Sale.
Like Tomlin after him, Bauer is a newer addition to the Indians rotation and has pitched well to this point. He did have some control issues in his last start, specifically, leaving the ball up in the strike zone against the Orioles leading to two home runs and four runs total in just 4.1 innings. Bauer also struck out eight in the match as he had good movement on his breaking pitches, but no amount of movement or velocity can make up for bad location.
Game 3: Friday, June 1st, 1:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, 0-4, 5.20 ERA vs Josh Tomlin, RHP, 3-2, 3.04 ERA
Speaking of giant home/road splits, Chacin has been almost a half run better on the road. Whether that means the Rockies stopped using the humidor or that global warming is decreasing the air density in Denver is irrelevant, the Indians are still better off playing this juggernaut in Cleveland. Chacin has made three of his starts on the road and is averaging more than five innings and about three runs per start. He didn’t join the Rockies until early May, so he still trying to get things back in order since returning from the disabled list.
Josh Tomlin also didn’t get started until recently, but has had no problem getting right back on pace. He has a decision for every single appearance so far, mostly because he has been able to pitch deep into games (or late, as was the case in the extra inning win against Detroit). Errors hurt him in his last time out against Chicago, but he is still yet to give up more than three earned runs in a single game and gives the Indians their best chance at winning out of all the starters excluding Kluber.
Who’s Hot? - Who’s Not?
The Indians’ bullpen was a place of extremes this past week, with two poor players, John Axford and Carlos Carrasco, performing very well, while others, Bryan Shaw and Mark Lowe, did not. Of these Josh Outman was the best of the week, throwing five innings, stranding both runners left on while striking out four and earning a win. He even showed off his glove with a nice play against Baltimore.
On the other end of the spectrum, Lowe has been a disaster since his call-up from AAA, pitching in four games and giving up runs in three. His error cost the Indians a game against the Orioles and his home run allowed in game two against Chicago allowed the White Sox to win 1-0. It would be very surprising if C.C. Lee, Kyle Crockett or any other AAA pitcher didn’t take his place on the roster very soon.
On Deck: The Indians will stay at home and take on the Red Sox for three, beginning Monday.