The Indians are on a roll. Sideways on the ground in front of a bus, but a roll none-the-less. The offense has been depressing with the only bright spots coming from bottom of the line-up players, Lonnie Chisenhall and David Murphy. The starting rotation has been similarly disappointing, especially considering length of start. They currently rank last in the league with just 5.1 innings per start and their 5.03 starter ERA is third to last in the Majors. Of course there is no part of the Tribe as dreadful as their defense that ranks fourth from the bottom in the Majors in fielding percent, first in errors with 20 and first in wild pitches (12) plus passed balls (3). It doesn’t matter how good the pitching is if nobody can catch the ball once it leaves the bat.
The Royals on the other hand are driving that bus. They had a five game winning streak ended just before coming into this series and currently lead the Central in wins. While their offense hasn’t been much more impressive than the Tribe’s, the real difference is in the rotation. Justin Vargas, James Shields and Yordano Ventura have all been solid for Kansas City, posting ERAs below 2.00 and have averaged six innings per start. The Indians will avoid the best of the three so far in Ventura, who has a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings. Another piece of good news for the Tribe is that they will be facing right handed starters in the first two games after facing a slew of left handers. Left handed starters have a way of keeping Murphy and Chisenhall out of the lineup and right now, those are the Indians two most consistent hitters.
Game 1: Monday, April 21st, 7:05 PM EDT
Jeremy Guthrie, RHP, 2-0, 4.34 ERA vs Zach McAllister, RHP, 2-0, 2.04 ERA
Guthrie will be the worst pitcher the Indians face in this series, but that doesn’t mean he is a poor starter. Guthrie has seen dramatic swings between greatness and mediocrity since joining the Royals, sometimes as quickly as one game to the next, so his poor overall numbers to this point can’t be emphasized too much. He has had mixed success against the Tribe in his career as well, going 4-3 with a 5.33 ERA against the team who drafted him.
The real story for game one is the glorious return of the former steroid using AL MVP, Jason Giambi. For no real reason, Giambi is set to be activated from the DL prior to Monday’s game, most likely to the detriment of the Indians offense as he will almost certainly take away the already limited at bats of Chisenhall, who is still batting over .400. He will also destroy the versatility of the team, by wasting a roster spot on a player who can’t do anything but DH or pinch hit and can’t even do that multiple days in a row. Keeping Giambi around makes less sense than any other decision by the Cleveland Indians in at least the past 30 years.
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22nd, 7:05 PM EDT
James Shields, RHP, 1-2, 2.00 ERA vs Danny Salazar, RHP, 0-2, 7.71 ERA
While Wil Myers was the big name in the Shields trade of 2012, Shields has become a dominant ace for the Royals, just as they expected. He lead the league in innings pitched in 2013 and has been strong so far this season as well, striking out 26 in 27 innings through four starts. Salazar on the other hand has been the exact opposite. While his strike out numbers remain consistent (17 in 14 IP), he has had real issues pitching through the fifth. In each of his last two starts, Salazar has made a premature exit and this has been compounded by the fact that he isn’t the only starter with this problem. While Salazar’s age and lack of experience keeps him free from blame for the Indians starting woes, he could go a long way to turning things around just by staying in games until the sixth inning.
Game 3: Wednesday, April 23rd, 7:05 PM EDT
Jason Vargas, LHP, 2-0, 1.24 ERA vs Justin Masterson, RHP, 0-0, 4.98 ERA
The Indians ace will face off against the first of two left hander throwing for either team in this four game series. Tribe hitting struggled against the left handers of Chicago and Toronto, so facing one they have beaten regularly in the past could be a good thing. Vargas is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA against the Tribe, so as long as Masterson turns his problems around, the Indians should have a real chance of winning this game.
Masterson was much better in his last outing than his previous two, giving up just two runs in the seventh inning. He has had plenty of experience against Kansas City, going 5-6 with a 5.87 ERA in 14 starts (19 GP). After his amazing April in 2013, his issues in his second and third starts were surprising, but it appears he is back on track after a nice effort against Toronto.
Game 4: Thursday, April 24th, 12:05 PM EDT
Bruce Chen, LHP, 1-1, 6.60 ERA vs Corey Kluber, RHP, 1-2, 5.40 ERA
Chen had a fantastic first start, but had issues in the next two, allowing ten runs in his last 8.2 innings. Like the rest of the Royals rotation, he has an extensive history against the Indians, and it isn’t great, with an ERA of 4.29 in 77 innings.
Kluber had control issues again in his last start, but still managed to make it through seven innings for the second time this year. He has been one of the Indians most consistent starters over the past two seasons and there is no reason to think he won’t be back to normal against the Royals. This should be a tough series for the Tribe, but Kluber will give them a good chance to win or split the series if the rest of the team can take one or two of the first three games.
Who’s Hot? – Who’s Not?
Michael Brantley has been the Indians top hitter all season, with a team leading 16 RBI and 19 hits, but this past week he has been especially special. In the past five games, he has hit two home runs, knocked in six and stolen a base. He has generally been the only Indians regular who could be depended on to get a hit in a clutch situation or any other situation for that matter.
Nick Swisher has been all kinds of bad this past week, both at the plate and in the field. In addition to his less than stellar defense, he has hit safely just three times in the past week (five games), stranding eight runners in scoring position and striking out nine times. If this kind of production came out of the number nine hitter it wouldn’t be reason for worry, but as the Indians number two hitter and a 48 million dollar man, it causes some distress.
On Deck: Interleague play starts up again for the Tribe as they will head to San Francisco to take on the Giants for three.