This will be the Indians final series before the All-Star break, but rather than the end of the first half, it is more important as it begins a long stretch against Central Division teams that will go a long way into establishing the order of things in the second half. Including this series, the next 14 Indians games will be against Central Division foes, enough to completely rearrange the division standings or solidify them the way they already stand. While the four game series against Detroit to start the second half will arguably be more important, the fourth place White Sox cannot be overlooked.
In 2013, the White Sox couldn’t beat the Indians, but things have changed this year as Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have taken the reigns of a vastly improved team. They have won five of their last eight, all outside of the Central, mostly on the strength of their offense with Conor Gillaspie (.412 AVG, 3 HR, 5 RBI) and Dayan Viciedo (.280 AVG, 2 HR, 5 RBI) leading the way.
Game 1: Friday, July 11th, 7:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Hector Noesi, RHP, 3-5, 4.13 ERA vs Corey Kluber, RHP, 8-6, 2.86 ERA
The White Sox have one amazing starter and one well above average starter in their five man rotation and somehow the Indians are going to miss both of them. Instead, they will be facing Noesi, Carroll and Danks, easily the worst three pitchers on the Chicago staff. Noesi started in the bullpen with Seattle, then Texas, but has improved greatly since joining the White Sox and becoming a starter. After allowing 10 runs in his first 6.1 innings, he has posted a 4.13 ERA in 13 starts for Chicago. He was even better in his last start as he went 6.2 scoreless against Seattle, and in two of his last three starts (2 ER in 13.2 IP). He already has held the Indians to a single run in 7.1 innings (May 28th), but the Tribe tends to hit better the second time they see a pitcher, so previous events are not very predictive of the future.
This will be Kluber’s last chance to prove himself before the All-Star game as he retains some hope of making it in as a replacement player. Of course it will not be easy as the White Sox offense is significantly greater than last season and continues to be a success, especially rookie first baseman, Jose Abreu, who hit one of his league leading 28 home runs against Kluber already. On the positive side for Kluber, he has been as good as he has been all season in his last three starts, allowing two total runs against the Royals, Dodgers and Diamondbacks in 22 innings. He has already set a career high with 137 strike outs and could set a career high in innings pitched and wins in as little as three more starts.
Game 2: Saturday, July 12th, 3:05 PM EDT (tickets)
Scott Carroll, RHP, 3-5, 4.52 ERA vs Zach McAllister, RHP, 3-4, 5.89 ERA
Carrol is 14 games into his rookie season and has already controlled the Indians on two separate occasions, allowing no earned runs in nine innings across a start and a relief appearance. After six appearances out of the bullpen, Carroll has rejoined the rotation and had mixed results. In three starts, he has allowed ten earned runs (12 total), but seven of those came in one start against the Angels. His last time out against Boston was completely different as he one hit the Red Sox through 6.2 innings.
With Justin Masterson being placed on the DL, he needed a replacement in the rotation and this time, McAllister beat out Danny Salazar for the honor. McAllister was initially called up over a week ago, but a rain out made him starting unnecessary and he went back to AAA, where he has went 5-0 with a 2.23 ERA in six starts. This is a very positive trend after he allowed 18 runs across 7.2 innings in his last three starts at the Major League level, prior to being placed on the DL with a back strain. It appears he has gotten back to his old self, but his first test will be against this tough White Sox offense.
Game 3: Sunday, July 13th, 1:05 PM EDT (tickets)
John Danks, LHP, 8-6, 4.15 ERA vs Trevor Bauer, RHP, 3-4, 4.23 ERA
Danks started out the season a little rough, including two poor starts against the Indians (11 ER in 11 IP), but has won five of his last seven starts, dropping his ERA from 5.64 to 4.15 since May 18th. While Indians have struggled against left handers over the past few years, they have been better of late and have always been able to handle Danks. With all this and Bauer going for the Tribe, the Indians should be able to go into the All-Star break on a pleasant note.
Bauer continued his streak of gutsy starts with his last against the Yankees, an effort that earned him his third win of the season. Since his worst start of the year (May 25th vs Baltimore), he has pitched into the sixth inning in every start and never allowed more than four runs in a game. While he has yet to face the White Sox in 2014, his impressive outings against the Yankees, Dodgers and Mariners the last three times out make it seem he is more than up to the challenge.
Who’s Hot - Who’s Not
Last series, Nick Swisher was mockingly given this distinction, but he has actually earned it this time, for the first time this season. The ultimate bro ended the Yankees series with a six game hitting streak that included two home runs and seven RBI.
There weren’t any terrible players for the Tribe this past week, but the worst was David Murphy, who is in a more extensive slump than a single series. In the last 30 games, Murphy has been the worst hitter on the team, batting just .123 (10/81) with two doubles as his only extra base hits and just six RBI. This came after a fantastic April that saw him hit .284 with 18 RBI and seven extra base hits. Now he is batting just .242 and his 42 RBI are almost all due to that early start. With Michael Bourn out, there is no easy replacement for Murphy, so he will have to improve upon himself as there are no other options.
On Deck: The All-Star break is upon us and all but Michael Brantley (and possibly Corey Kluber) will get a nice four game vacation. The Indians will be back on the road on Friday against the Tigers at 7:08 PM.