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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: Pedro Cerrano’s not walking through that door

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The assumed favorites in the Central are trying to make up a lot of ground between now and October.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians
Jun 23, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) celebrates after hitting an RBI double during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians treated the offseason as if it was a foregone conclusion that they’d run away with the AL Central even without making necessary upgrades. They’re eight games out and while they’re playing considerably better, they’re still operating at a big disadvantage because they didn’t address most of their issues. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger all on the disabled list, they’ve had to rely on some strong starting pitching performances from their system to fill in the gaps behind Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber, but even those two haven’t been that good. And offensively, the team is a bit of a disaster. The complete disappearance of Jose Ramirez has been one of the biggest factors that’s overshadowed some surprising offensive performances from Roberto Perez, Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow. Even through all that, they do hold a playoff spot at this moment and they’ve had some amazing second halves in the past, so maybe they have a shot, but it’s a much more uphill battle than they’ve had in the past.

Meet the Indians

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .346 .545
Team wRC+ 87 87
Team xFIP 4.81 4.15
2019 Head to Head Wins 3 0
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 2.4 Carlos Santana, 2.6

Indians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Francisco Lindor SS 262 .291 .355 .504 8.8% 16.0% 119 1.9
Oscar Mercado CF 140 .310 .365 .484 5.0% 20.0% 124 0.9
Carlos Santana 1B 327 .293 .416 .541 17.1% 15.9% 149 2.6
Jason Kipnis 2B 241 .240 .298 .369 7.9% 16.2% 74 0.2
Jose Ramirez 3B 324 .211 .299 .320 10.8% 13.3% 62 0.0
Tyler Naquin RF 139 .267 .297 .427 4.3% 26.6% 84 0.2
Bobby Bradley (AAA) DH 284 .292 .359 .638 8.5% 32.0% 144 ---
Roberto Perez C 199 .241 .335 .494 12.1% 27.1% 115 1.5
Jake Bauers LF 274 .224 .302 .384 9.5% 26.2% 79 -0.2

Indians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kevin Plawecki C/1B 96 .176 .260 .318 8.3% 18.8% 50 0.1
Mike Freeman INF/OF 75 .267 .384 .367 14.7% 26.7% 105 0.2
Jordan Luplow OF 150 .252 .320 .511 8.7% 28.7% 113 0.8

Indians Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Brad Hand 34 33.1 3 2 39.2% 6.4% 1.08 2.70 1.5
Nick Wittgren 25 27.1 3 0 28.5% 3.8% 2.63 2.98 0.8
Tyler Clippard 20 20.2 0 0 28.8% 6.3% 3.05 4.74 0.5

Projected Pitching Matchups

Monday June 24th - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 16 97.0 3 9 16.1% 11.4% 4.45 5.05 1.3
Adam Plutko 5 27.2 3 1 19.5% 2.7% 4.55 5.03 -0.1

This is the third big league season Adam Plutko has seen action, and he hasn’t been especially impressive in any of them, but he’s been his best so far this year. He has excellent control, which works to his detriment too often because he’s always around the zone but doesn’t have particularly great stuff. That’s what’s led to him allowing nine home runs in his 27.2 innings so far this year. One thing that illustrates the pedestrian stuff is that he’s actually allowed a very hitter friendly line when he’s ahead in the count, which is very rare. Opponents have hit .267 with a .578 slugging percentage when he has the advantage. That’s not ideal. And while he has a basically respectable ERA to this point, he’s allowed a .297/.333/.622 line with nobody on base and a .176/.171/.412 line with runners on and .100/.091/.400 with runners in scoring position. One of those has to give and my money is on the numbers with runners on.

This is a big start for Brad Keller to me. He’d pitched so well over his previous five starts that there was considerable optimism heading into his last one against the Mariners. With the Royals going for their first sweep since sweeping the Indians in April, he gave up four in the first and ultimately only went four innings and gave up seven runs. The good news is that he was still throwing strikes and somewhat limiting walks. He’s walked just 6.7 percent of hitters over his last six starts, which is a massive improvement. He still isn’t getting enough swings and misses, but it’s a start. He did have a season high in swings and misses in his only start against the Indians this year when he struck out 10 in 6.2 innings back in April. He also walked five, but he only gave up one run in one of his best outings of this season.

Tuesday June 25th - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Glenn Sparkman 14 49.2 2 3 12.7% 5.7% 3.62 5.26 0.2
Shane Bieber 16 91.0 6 3 31.4% 5.7% 3.86 3.22 2.0

The Indians came into this season counting on Shane Bieber as their fourth starter. They knew he’d limit walks and strike out a ton of hitters without a big fastball. His slider is the money pitch. He throws it a lot and gets a ton of swings and misses on it, which could be a problem for this Royals offense in spite of their much better showing in the Twins series (13.6 percent strikeout rate in the four games). He gets hurt on the four-seamer with a .261 average allowed and .549 SLG. And based on the batted ball data, those numbers should probably be even worse, so there’s a chance for regression. He doesn’t follow a typical pattern in that he’s at his very worst early in games, allowing a .266/.326/.508 line the first time through the order and .205/.247/.375 the third time through. That could be due to trying to establish the aforementioned hittable fastball and not going to the slider early enough, but whatever it is, the Royals will need to start fast as they have quite a bit lately.

Glenn Sparkman, from a pure results standpoint, has been excellent. As a starter, he’s posted a 3.38 ERA and limited opponents to a .220/.262/.374 line, but he’s also struck out just 12.3 percent of hitters, which makes the first two numbers hard to sustain. Even so, he’s pitched well against very good lineups like the Rays (they were playing very well back in early May), the Twins and the Red Sox. I’m going to want to see more swings and misses, and this Indians lineup is considerably better than the one the Royals saw earlier in the year, but they have enough holes that Sparkman should be able to navigate through it all if he’s locating as well as he has been in his best starts.

Wednesday June 26th - 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 16 88.2 4 6 21.3% 8.4% 5.18 4.58 0.6
Trevor Bauer 17 112.1 5 6 25.7% 9.7% 3.69 4.44 1.7

Trevor Bauer is one of the most polarizing players in baseball both for his inability to control himself on social media and for the fact that he’s really only had one full season good enough to act the way he does. He was amazing last year with some absolutely silly numbers. This year, he’s been better than he was before 2018, but not nearly up to par with what he did last year. Still, he’s pitched a ton of innings and given up very few hits. But he’s walked more batters than last, actually getting close to his 2018 total number already and he’s hit 11 batters. Add in some additional home runs, and he just hasn’t been the same. He’s also allowed nine unearned runs, which don’t hurt the ERA, but still count on the scoreboard. Lefties have been his downfall this year. He’s allowed a .249/.356/.474 line to them with just a 21.4 percent strikeout rate compared to .180/.262/.335 and a 29.1 percent strikeout rate to righties. This doesn’t bode well for the Royals given that so much of their offensive talent is right-handed, so I’m not hopeful for them in this game, but you never know I guess.

The Royals bullpen blew it for Jakob Junis, but he pitched very well against the Twins after really struggling in his previous outing against them. He went six innings and gave up just three runs with a season high eight strikeouts and 17 swings and misses. The story is almost always the same for Junis. If his slider is working and he’s getting one more pitch over, he’s going to be in pretty good shape, but if he only has the slider (or if the slider is getting hit hard too), he’s toast. He threw 11 changeups in that last start, which is noteworthy because he’d thrown 59 all year before that. And it was a solid pitch for him. If that indeed is something he’s added to his repertoire, the story on Junis changes, but I’ll need to see that again to even start believing it. Junis has struggled against the Indians in the past, posting a 5.87 ERA in seven games (six starts). He gave up five runs in 6.1 innings against them in April. It was a bit of a crazy game that the Royals won 9-8, but he definitely wasn’t good.

Prediction

The Royals are obviously playing better, but so are the Indians and they remain the better team. Because of that, I think the Royals snag one game in this series, but ultimately can’t win their second road series in the last week.

Poll

Who takes this series?

This poll is closed.

  • 7%
    Royals Sweep
    (8 votes)
  • 23%
    Indians Sweep
    (24 votes)
  • 27%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (28 votes)
  • 41%
    Indians Win Two of Three
    (43 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now