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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: Battle of post-break titans

The Indians have been on some kind of run and are now within shouting distance in the AL Central.

MLB: All Star Game-National League at American League
Jul 9, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; American League pitcher Shane Bieber (57) of the Cleveland Indians is awarded MVP in the 2019 MLB All Star Game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Chuck LeClaire
Chuck LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, not long ago, that the Cleveland Indians were looking like they might be sellers this season. They were 29-30 and 11.5 games out of first place and not especially close in the Wild Card race either. Since then, they’ve gone 25-11, which is quite good. And even after losing two of three to the Twins after the break, they’ve got not only a real shot at the playoffs but at the division, which really did seem unthinkable just a few weeks ago. They’ve done it by fixing their offense really. Adding Oscar Mercado and getting Jordan Luplow semi-regular at bats has really helped, but Jose Ramirez rediscovering his stroke has been absolutely huge for them. And, as usual, even with all their rotation injuries, they’ve been humming along with their pitching staff. This is a tough team and they typically get better as the season goes on, so the Twins better be on notice.

Meet the Indians

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .367 .579
Team wRC+ 88 92
Team xFIP 4.85 4.16
2019 H2H Wins 4 5
Run Differential -71 40
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.6 Shane Bieber, 3.2

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 344 .285 .343 .494 7.6% 17.2% 111 2.4
Oscar Mercado CF 212 .281 .337 .458 5.7% 17.5% 107 0.9
Carlos Santana 1B 407 .288 .405 .535 16.2% 15.0% 143 3.0
Jason Kipnis 2B 313 .243 .301 .371 8.0% 16.9% 74 0.4
Jose Ramirez 3B 392 .232 .314 .377 10.0% 12.8% 78 1.0
Jake Bauers DH 330 .242 .312 .401 8.8% 26.1% 85 -0.1
Roberto Perez C 260 .246 .333 .491 11.2% 28.5% 111 1.9
Greg Allen LF 90 .228 .295 .430 4.4% 23.3% 85 -0.1
Tyler Naquin RF 198 .286 .320 .492 4.5% 22.7% 104 1.0

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 107 .211 .290 .337 8.4% 17.8% 64 0.2
Mike Freeman INF/OF 94 .299 .396 .468 12.8% 27.7% 128 0.5
Jordan Luplow OF 179 .263 .335 .513 9.5% 26.3% 117 0.9

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 42 40.2 4 3 39.8% 6.2% 2.21 2.70 1.6
Nick Wittgren 33 36.2 4 0 27.3% 5.6% 3.19 3.57 0.6
Tyler Clippard 27 29.2 0 0 24.4% 6.7% 3.64 5.33 0.5

Probable Pitching Matchups

Friday July 19th - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Montgomery 20 27.0 1 2 14.6% 10.6% 5.67 4.85 -0.5
Shane Bieber 20 118.2 8 3 31.6% 5.1% 3.49 3.04 3.2

The Royals have the distinct honor of opening their series against the All-Star Game MVP, Shane Bieber, and he’s had a very good season. He doesn’t have elite velocity, but he gets tons of swings and misses and doesn’t walk hitters, which can sometimes lead to trouble since he’s around the zone so much that he occasionally does get hit, but more often than not, he’s very good. His breaking balls are the big-time pitches for him with his slider featuring a 45.8 percent whiff rate and his curve up at 52.5 percent. But even that fastball, which doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses, has limited hitters to a .229 average this season, albeit with 11 home runs and a .224 ISO. That’s where you can beat him, but if you don’t get him on the fastball, the breaking ball is probably going to sit hitters down. The Royals did okay against him in late June, getting him for three runs on six hits in 5.1 innings and working two walks, which is an accomplishment given that he’s walked more than one in just six of his 19 starts. Last year, they tagged him pretty good too with eight runs on 15 hits in 11.1 innings, so they seem to see him decently at the very least.

Mike Montgomery will get his first start for the Royals after being one of their top prospects nearly a decade ago. He came over in exchange for Martin Maldonado and will get his opportunity to start for the team that drafted him, but he won’t be long for this game as Ned Yost has said he’d keep him to 35-45 pitches. That might mean he gets to 50, so I think three innings is probably as long as he’ll be in this game. But he has the chance to get back on the mound where he recorded the final out of the 2016 World Series for the Cubs, which is pretty cool for him. Montgomery has been bad this year by basically any measure. He’s a very low-spin guy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum and can be effective. But his changeup is what can help him so much and it’s been awful this year. He’s allowed a .310 average and .690 slugging percentage on it with his whiff rate falling from 38.8 percent last year on that pitch to 21.1 percent this year. His curve hasn’t been nearly as effective either, but I feel like if he can get control of the changeup that he can be effective for the Royals.

Saturday July 20th - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 20 113.1 5 8 21.6% 8.0% 5.08 4.57 0.8
Adam Plutko 8 41.2 3 1 15.7% 2.9% 5.40 5.54 -0.3

Adam Plutko gives off some very real Josh Tomlin vibes, which should give Royals fans chills. He doesn’t have great stuff, doesn’t walk many and doesn’t strike out many. He also gives up a ton of home runs. Oh yeah, and he also shut down the Royals pretty well in a 3-2 Indians win in June in Cleveland. He was able to navigate four innings by just allowing one run and throwing just 34 pitches. That was the rain delay game that cost Brad Keller a chance at a very good start, and Plutko can make the same claims. The thing about Plutko is that he comes by his subpar numbers honestly. He doesn’t throw hard enough and he doesn’t get enough swings and misses and he gets hit really hard. His curve has some ridiculous spin, so maybe he starts to lean on that more, but even with that, he’s allowed a .333 average and .722 slugging percentage against it. He’s been hit harder by righties than lefties with a ridiculous .633 slugging percentage, so the Royals will really need Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier to do their things against him in this one.

Jakob Junis is coming off easily his best start of the year. It’s just the second time he’s allowed fewer than two runs this season and the first time since a five-inning start against the Rays at the end of April. He also struck out a career-high 10 and had a career-high 20 swinging strikes. All in all, it was a fantastic game. He did allow a home run, which gives him nine allowed in his last seven games and 21 for the season, but he has a respectable 4.14 ERA in that stretch with a strikeout per inning and a reasonable walk rate. I put this on Twitter after his last start, but it’s worth repeating that Junis has been so much better after the break in his career. Including this last game, he’s posted a 3.34 ERA with a 22.1 percent strikeout rate and 4.3 percent walk rate after the break in 145.2 innings compared with a 5.30 ERA with a 20.3 percent strikeout rate and 7.6 percent walk rate in 243 innings before the break. The Indians have been a problem for him, though, as he’s just 2-4 with a 6.43 ERA in his career against them. But, on the flip side, he’s put up a 3.33 ERA with three home runs allowed in 24.1 innings in Cleveland, so that’s a plus.

Sunday July 21st - 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Glenn Sparkman 18 73.1 3 5 13.4% 5.7% 4.54 5.26 0.0
Zach Plesac 9 48.0 3 3 17.9% 9.5% 3.75 5.26 0.1

The series wraps up with Zach Plesac taking the hill, and he’s been a pleasant surprise for the Indians for the most part this season. The issue is it’s kind of hard to see him maintaining the numbers he has given his low strikeout rate, too high walk rate and the home runs he’s allowed. He’s allowed way fewer hits than innings pitched, so that’s keeping his WHIP down and keeping him afloat, but we’ve actually seen first hand how things go for him when it’s not working. He threw 58 pitches in 2.2 innings against the Royals, walking three and striking out just one on July 4th. The Indians ended up winning that game, but he just didn’t have it, and that was true in his previous start as well when he gave up seven runs in 3.2 innings against the Orioles. He’s currently allowing a .205 average and .410 slugging percentage on his fastball, but the expected numbers are .254 and .505 respectively. If he doesn’t change the profile, he’s probably not going to be experiencing this much success for a lot longer.

The Royals counter with another pitcher who not only had his best start of the year or of his career, but of his life. Glenn Sparkman threw his first complete game and obviously his first shutout, and was in control of the White Sox the entire game. He had a career-high 18 swinging strikes, obliterating his previous high of 12. But he also has a silly home/road thing going on. At home, he’s posted a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings, walking just eight batters. On the road, he’s posteda 9.22 ERA in 27.1 innings, walking 10 batters. While this could easily be one of those weird fluke stats, he also doesn’t typically get many swings and misses, and more than half of his previous road apperances have been in New York, Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland and Houston, all of which are very hitter friendly and don’t lend themselves to guys who live in the zone without swing and miss stuff. Kauffman Stadium allows him a little more acreage to make a mistake, which might play into it on the mental side for him. Either way, he has to be working with a ton of confidence after what he did against the White Sox, so let’s see if he can’t figure out how to be even 80 percent of that on the road.

Prediction

The Royals have looked much better since coming out of the break, and the Indians have continued playing very well, so they’re not catching a break. I think ultimately, they drop this series, but do take one of the three, which isn’t the worst result possible.

Poll

The Royals are 6-1 since the break. The Indians are 5-2. Which team comes out on top in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Royals Sweep
    (6 votes)
  • 14%
    Indians Sweep
    (15 votes)
  • 27%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (28 votes)
  • 51%
    Indians Win Two of Three
    (53 votes)
102 votes total Vote Now