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Cleveland baseball team series preview: A battle for the Central

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Burn on, Big River, burn on

Do you smell that?
Do you smell that?
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals travel to Cleveland to face that baseball team that plays there who have a name and a mascot that we'll not bother mentioning here. Cleveland trails the first-place World Champion Kansas City Royals by 2.5 games heading into the action. The Royals are red hot, winning 15 of their last 20 and 13 of their last 16.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Thursday, 6:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Yordano Ventura 10 55.2 38 33 5.17 5.50 5.63 5.57
Carlos Carrasco 4 22.0 20 5 2.45 4.34 3.42 3.53

Though his peripherals suggest his ERA is a bit of a mirage, Carrasco was a 4.8 fWAR pitcher last season, good for 15th-best in baseball. Hampered by a hamstring injury early this season, this marks his first appearance since leaving his April 24 start after facing just eight batters. He'll be limited to somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 pitches. If the Royals are lucky, they'll get his pitch count up early and get into Cleveland's pen.

Even when Yordano Ventura does the things he should do - not walk guys, actually strike people out - it seems things can't go right for him. Expect the frustration to continue with Ventura, and then anything less that the worst expectation will be a pleasant surprise.

Game Two - Friday, 6:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Edinson Volquez 11 67.1 54 23 3.74 3.73 4.07 4.17
Danny Salazar 10 60.1 72 28 2.39 2.81 3.54 3.62

For more about the man who has been Cleveland's best pitcher this season (in a talented rotation), David Laurilia has a nice piece on Danny Salazar from late last week. Salazar's walk rate is still a bit on the high side (4.18 BB/9, 11.3 BB%), but he's throwing down a 10.74 K/9 with a 29.2 K%, the sixth-highest K% amongst starting pitchers. While the Royals could have success if they tried to work the count with Salazar, that's not exactly a strength for the World Champs.

Volquez will likely be Volquezy.

Game Three - Saturday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Ian Kennedy 10 59.1 59 23 3.03 4.29 4.44 4.04
Josh Tomlin 9 54.2 37 6 3.79 4.52 4.06 4.11

Tomlin should be well rested after getting shellacked by the Rangers on Memorial Day. Only four of the eight runs he allowed Monday were earned, but his single strikeout compared to nine hits (one dong) probably wasn't going to get things done. He doesn't walk guys. He doesn't strike them out either. He lives off his cutter and four-seamer, which he throws 40.1% and 33.0% of the time respectively. He also mixes in a curve, change, and sinker (in that order of usage) while trying to win the BABIP war. To be fair, his .274 career BABIP suggests he does have some control over his out performing his peripherals a bit.

Though Kennedy walked entirely too many batters on Monday, he did get out of those self-made jams. He'll look to get ahead and stay ahead of batters on Saturday, as walking five is not the recipe for success for anyone.

Game Four - Sunday, 12:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Chris Young 9 36.1 37 13 5.94 6.81 4.72 4.18
Corey Kluber 11 73.2 73 16 4.15 3.11 3.32 3.36

The Klubot must be wondering what is amiss. His peripherals all indicate that though he is not quite at 2014-2015 levels of performance that he should still be pretty, pretty, pretty good. Instead his ERA is north of 4.00, his strand-rate is a paltry 64.7%, and he's given up four or more runs in five of his 11 starts, though not due to an uptick in home runs allowed. It doesn't make much sense, but Kluber doesn't look to be doing anything discernibly different than last year, so it may not be prudent to hope for his struggles to continue this weekend.

Chris Young's struggles are hopefully over. At least that's what the Royals tell themselves as they reinsert him into their rotation, optioning Dillon Gee to Omaha in favor of the lanky Princetonian whose fastball appears to have its movement back. If the Invisiball is back, watch out Cleveland.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Carlos Santana DH 216 9 25 25 3 .227 .338 .436 .337 113
Jason Kipnis 2B 219 7 27 28 3 .265 .312 .420 .316 99
Francisco Lindor SS 219 4 33 22 10 .306 .367 .413 .341 116
Mike Napoli 1B 197 11 32 36 2 .229 .299 .475 .332 110
Jose Ramirez LF 165 3 24 19 4 .310 .384 .448 .365 131
Juan Uribe 3B 144 2 9 11 0 .248 .313 .349 .289 80
Lonnie Chisenhall RF 100 1 14 9 3 .292 .364 .427 .342 117
Yan Gomes C 156 6 14 25 0 .171 .212 .349 .240 46
Rajai Davis CF 173 5 24 22 11 .244 .318 .404 .316 99
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Chris Gimenez C 32 2 4 2 0 .241 .313 .483 .341 117
Michael Martinez Util 25 0 2 0 0 .280 .280 .400 .291 82
Tyler Naquin OF 65 0 10 2 0 .317 .338 .413 .325 105

Stats through Tuesday, May 31

Now without the services of Marlon Byrd, who was suspended for 162 games on Wednesday for testing positive for a banned substance, an outfield unit that was already thin with Michael Brantley only having registered 43 plate appearances is now scrambling to fill its allotment of playing time. Lonnie Chisenhall and Juan Uribe both probably should be in platoons, but without Byrd and Brantley that isn't really possible.

That isn't to say Cleveland's position players aren't good. As a unit, they're the sixth-most valuable group of position players, worth 9.0 fWAR through the end of May. They've slashed .255/.322/.412 with a .318 wOBA and 101 wRC+ while being the eighth-most valuable defensive unit in terms of the defensive component of fWAR (though DRS hates them, putting them at -13). Just shy of one-third of a season's worth of playing time, Jose Ramirez has been worth 1.6 fWAR, while getting the balls-in-play luck that eluded him last season thanks perhaps to a shift in going increasingly the other way or back up the middle. Francisco Lindor has somewhat quietly established himself as one of the game's best players. And after a cold first month of the season, Mike Napoli heated up in May with a .363 wOBA and 131 wRC+.

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