The past few weeks have seen the Indians face off against a daunting list of play-off contenders. After losing a four game split series against the Reds, Cleveland has won series against both the Yankees (four games back in the Wild Card race) and the Orioles (the leaders in the East) and moved to within six games of first in the Central and five back in the Wild Card. After this test, which has seen the Indians win five of the last seven, the Indians should be able to take things easier this week.
After another off-day on Monday (one of just three left in the season), the Tribe will be off to Minneapolis to take on their least frightening Central Division foe. While the Twins did stick around longer than expected this year, their fall was inevitable, largely due to their lack of starting pitching. Minnesota tried to shore up its’ rotation during the off-season with a group of free agent signings, but of these, only Phil Hughes has worked out. Kevin Corriea (5-13, 4.94 ERA) and Ricky Nolasco (5-8, 5.99 ERA) were the most disappointing of these the Twins, but they have seen some success with home grown product, Kyle Gibson (11-9, 3.96 ERA). Gibson is scheduled to start the first game of this series and he has generally been successful playing the Tribe, allowing one run on five hits through twelve innings in two starts this year. For the rest of the series, Nolasco and Hughes are scheduled to pitch, placing this series well within reach for the Indians to win and possibly gain in their play-off hunt.
Offensively, the Twins are a little better off, but they are a different team than the last time they faced the Indians, having waived the white flag at the trade deadline. One of their top hitters, Sam Fuld, was dealt to the Athletics in exchange for Tommy Milone and their latest free agent signee, Kendrys Morales has been sent to Seattle. Josh Willingham has also been traded, going to Kansas City, leaving just three offensive performers worth worrying about. Catcher, Kurt Suzuki was the teams only All-Star and was a deserving one. He is still batting .310 with 24 doubles and 49 RBI. Also of note are Brian Dozier, the Minnesota version of Jason Kipnis, who has stolen 19 bases and hit 20 home runs, and Danny Santana, the speedy rookie who has been a bright spot for a very dismal Twins team.
Moving on from the Twin Cities, the Indians will come back home for a three game weekend series with Houston. The Astros are an extremely underrated team, filled with young talent. They have already surprised many by surpassing the Rangers and will likely surprise a few more people before things are through. Included in these upstarts are the strike out first, hit home runs later DH, Chris Carter, their single All-Star Jose Altuve, who currently leads all of baseball with a .337 average and right fielder George Springer with 20 home runs and 51 RBI. Of course, the Astros are still a below .500 team and with the good comes plenty of bad. Three Astros have already struck out 100 or more times with two more likely to join that soon. The worst of all may be Jon Singleton, who famously signed an eight year extension before making his Major League debut. Singleton has struck out 90 times already in just 229 at bats, batting .183 while striking out in almost 40% of his at bats. He may be a future star, but for now, he is a gaping hole in their lineup.
The Houston rotation has been remarkably consistent this season with six pitchers starting all but six of the Astros 124 games. Of these, there are only two of note, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh (5-9, 3.08). Most should know Keuchel by now, who was an All-Star snub along with the Indians own Corey Kluber. Unlike Kluber, however, Keuchel hasn’t turned it up to another level since the All-Star Game. He has still been impressive, throwing 156.1 innings with a 3.11 ERA and the Indians will be lucky to avoid him. McHugh has come on more of late, allowing just three runs in his past three starts across 19.1 innings.
Both series will feature a team of generally under performing veterans against a team of nothing-left-to-lose rookies. While it shouldn’t be a major challenge, this group of games should be a good test for the Indians to see if they are truly play-off material. If they want to maintain pace with the Royals, Tigers, Yankees, Mariners and Blue Jays (who all lead Cleveland in one race or both), they will need to win both series. At best, the Indians could take five of the six and possible gain a game or two in the races, while if they lose either series it will put them in a position to be removed from the race entirely when the play seven consecutive games against the Royals and Tigers at the beginning of September.
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Who’s Hot – Who’s Not
It was a short week for the Tribe, playing just five games in the past week, but the hottest player may have been the most dichotomous. Zach Walters hit a walk-off home run in the early Wednesday game, then hit another game winning shot on Friday night. When he wasn’t homering, however, he has went 2/19 with eight strike outs.
Yan Gomes‘ week has been a lot like Walters’ without the home runs. Over the Indians past five games he is 3/17 with three strike outs. All of his hits have been singles and he doesn’t have an RBI or run scored in the past week.