Happy Independence Day as the Indians will celebrate with fire works after the opening game against Kansas City. Whether they will have any thing to cheer about during the game, however, is yet to be seen. Major difficulties on offense and defense over the road trip brought back little but more questions about how to fix the team and a few more games back behind Detroit in the Central Division.
On June 17th, the Royals finally reached first in the AL Central, but the glory was short lived as just three days later, the Tigers regained the lead and went on a streak that has pushed both the Royals and the Indians back in the standings. After using a ten game winning streak to move up the standings, including the final three against Detroit, the Royals have lost eight of twelve, getting swept by the Mariners and dropping a three game series against the Dodgers. The blame for this is not easy to place, but in the past week, Alex Gordon has put up Nick Swisher type numbers while Eric Hosmer has been hitting fine, but hasn’t knocked in a run in a week. The starting pitching hasn’t been spectacular either, with James Shields, Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas struggling through their most recent starts. Of course, the Indians will avoid two of those three this time around, which may be a good thing as nothing gets Vargas back on track quite like playing the Indians.
Game 1: Friday, July 4th, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Yordano Ventura, RHP, 5-7, 3.26 ERA vs Josh Tomlin, RHP, 5-5, 3.78 ERA
Ventrura has rarely been great, but has always been good, allowing two or less runs in nine of 15 starts. One of these was his last start against the Angels, but then he only threw four innings because of a lengthy rain delay. Since he only threw 56 pitches in that game, he should be stronger than ever in this start against Cleveland and it would be surprising if he didn’t at least pitch into the seventh inning. This is essentially what he did last time against Cleveland as well, going seven innings and allowing just a single run in the Royals win on June 11th.
The Indians can’t wait to get Tomlin on the mound again after his last appearance, his first complete game shut out in his career and a one hitter against the Mariners. Some pitchers, however, see a fall off after a fantastic start like this and Tomlin could be one of those as he threw 111 pitches, more than in any other game this year. While Tomlin has faced the Royals before, he hasn’t started against them since May of 2012, so it should almost be like facing a brand new pitcher for the Royals offense. This could be a benefit for the Tribe if Tomlin can keep maintain his control after his start in Seattle.
Game 2: Saturday, July 5th, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Jeremy Guthrie, RHP, 5-6, 3.69 ERA vs T.J. House, LHP, 0-2, 4.54 ERA
Guthrie lost his only start against the Indians this year back in April, but has generally been a solid starter for KC, second on the Royals in innings pitched and starts, making him a very reliable option every five days. He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in his past four starts, going back to a game against the Yankees in Kansas City when he allowed four.
House has impressed in his rookie season and has held two great offensive squads down in his past two starts, holding both Boston and Seattle to just two runs each. This will be his second start on his current call-up as he gets a unique chance to prove himself with Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister still in AAA and show he can pitch consistently at a Major League level.
Game 3: Sunday, July 6th, 1:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Danny Duffy, LHP, 5-7, 2.60 ERA vs Corey Kluber, RHP, 7-6, 2.99 ERA
It is kind of surprising, given that he started the season in the bullpen, but Duffy has been the Royals best starter this season, by far. Duffy pitched once in relief against the Tribe early in the year and was solid, but has been even better as a starter. He has allowed just four runs in his past five starts and can be generally depended on to get deep into the sixth inning in every start. Since Terry Francona doesn’t believe certain hitters can hit left handers, Duffy will likely get the benefit of pitching to multiple batters who are currently hitting under .205.
As if Kluber wasn’t good enough last month, he used his final start in June from 3.35 on June 15th to under three in just three games, two of which were against Detroit and Los Angeles, two of the best offenses in baseball. After two poor starts to begin June, Kluber has gotten right back on track and is now on pace to strike out the fourth most batters in a single season in Indians history in addition to being well deserving of a spot on the AL All-Star team.
Who’s Hot – Who’s Not
Yan Gomes would be the answer here again this series, but because we don’t feature the same player two series in a row, it is Kyle Crockett who was the hot player against LA. In addition to inducing the triple play that got the Indians out of a jam on Tuesday, he went 1.1 IP with just two base runners allowed and a win earned. Including the rest of the week, he added another 1.1 IP with a strike out and another two base runners in the opener against Seattle.
While the Indians did get one hit twice in the past week, it was actually statistically a pretty good week for the Tribe, so the only player that looks really cold right now is Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco did not pitch this week and hasn’t since the extra inning affair in Arizona. Just when it seemed he had regained enough trust to be used in tight situations, Terry Francona has went back to John Axford instead. In relief, Carrasco has posted a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings, the best on the team. His .188 BAA and 0.88 WHIP are also tops among regular relievers, leaving little reason why he has not pitched in the last seven games.
On Deck: The Yankees come into town as the Royals leave, with a special 7:10 PM start time on Monday. Mike Hegan and Derek Jeter to be honored prior to the start of the first game.