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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: Yep, they play again

Why don’t they just make the whole season out of Royals/Indians games?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians
Jul 19, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and center fielder Oscar Mercado (35) celebrate after the Indians beat the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been so long since the Royals and Cleveland Indians have matched up that we’ve gone from mid-July to late-July. The last three days have been such a whirlwind. In case you’ve forgotten, the Indians are an American League Central team that has won the last three division titles and looked like an also ran this year for awhile, but has since won a lot of games and not lost very many and now it’s a true race in the division. You might also recall that they recently took two of three from the Royals in Cleveland. It’s understandable if you’ve forgotten since so much time has passed, so I wanted to be sure to remind you.

Meet The Indians...Again

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .379 .584
Team wRC+ 87 92
Team xFIP 4.82 4.18
2019 H2H Wins 5 7
Run Differential -73 52
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.7 Shane Bieber, 3.8

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 372 .293 .348 .503 7.3% 16.7% 116 2.8
Oscar Mercado CF 239 .290 .340 .479 5.4% 18.4% 112 1.2
Carlos Santana 1B 433 .280 .400 .518 16.4% 15.2% 137 2.8
Jason Kipnis 2B 339 .244 .301 .366 8.0% 17.1% 73 0.4
Jose Ramirez 3B 418 .236 .313 .385 10.0% 12.4% 80 1.1
Jake Bauers DH 355 .239 .313 .393 9.0% 25.4% 84 -0.2
Roberto Perez C 277 .238 .324 .473 10.8% 28.2% 104 1.9
Greg Allen LF 104 .264 .333 .451 4.8% 21.2% 103 0.1
Tyler Naquin RF 212 .288 .322 .505 4.7% 23.1% 109 1.1

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 115 .214 .287 .340 7.8% 19.1% 63 0.2
Mike Freeman INF/OF 102 .274 .367 .429 11.8% 27.5% 111 0.4
Jordan Luplow OF 192 .259 .339 .494 10.4% 26.0% 115 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 44 42.1 4 3 39.6% 5.9% 2.55 2.72 1.4
Adam Cimber 44 39.0 5 2 16.9% 6.9% 2.77 4.10 0.3
Nick Goody 16 19.1 1 0 34.6% 11.5% 1.86 3.76 0.4

Probable Pitching Matchups

Thursday July 25th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Adam Plutko 9 48.2 3 2 15.7% 3.1% 4.81 5.60 -0.2
Mike Montgomery 21 29.0 1 3 14.2% 9.7% 6.83 4.82 -0.6

The series starts with two guys the Royals saw last week in Cleveland with Adam Plutko starting things off in game one. I made a Josh Tomlin comparison before his last start and Plutko promptly went out and threw a Tomlin-esque game against the Royals with seven innings and one run on two hits. He walked just one and struck out four and gave up a home run. If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought Tomlin was actually on the mound. Plutko is going to throw strikes as he’s walked jsut six batters in his nine appearances, so hitters be ready to swing. It leads to a lot of home runs, but since he’s not putting guys on for free, it hurts a bit less for him. The nice thing about facing Plutko is he doesn’t really have a putaway pitch, so while the first pitch is a strike 69 percent of the time, you don’t have to swing at it because that’s hitting on his terms. He’s a guy the Royals should hit, but if they will is another story.

Mike Montgomery gets his second chance at the Indians and at the Royals rotation, this time on a pitch count of 60-65 pitches in all likelihood. He wasn’t bad in his first couple innings but the wheels fell off in the third and forced the Royals into a comeback they just couldn’t complete (partially due to Wily Peralta, but you know). And it makes sense. He hadn’t pitched since July 2nd, so he was definitely rusty. This is a tough test for him, facing the same team that did light him up last weekend, but it’s a good test. If he succeeds and can get through four or even into the fifth inning with one or two runs allowed, I think that will say a lot about him. And if he does struggle, well, there’s always next time?

Friday July 26th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zach Plesac 10 54.0 4 3 18.7% 9.4% 3.50 5.08 0.2
Jakob Junis 21 119.1 6 8 22.0% 8.2% 4.83 4.59 1.0

I can’t quite figure out Zach Plesac. The stuff looks sort of okay because he has good velocity on his fastball, but really, he doesn’t get a ton of spin on it or his curve ball and because of that, he gives up too much hard contact and doesn’t get nearly enough swings and misses. And yet, he’s allowed just a .226 average on his fastball, though a slugging percentage allowed of .462 isn’t very good. But still, per Statcast, he’s expected to have allowed a .268 average on the pitch and a .520 slugging percentage, so there’s probably soem regression there. Honestly, in baseball today, a 94 MPH fastball with below average spin is probably not very good even though 20 years ago, he’d be seen as a beast. But, for now, he’s mostly succeeding in spite of the low strikeout rate and too many walks. He was very good in his last start, going six innings against the Royals and giving up just two runs on four hits while walking two and striking out six. He threw three no-hit innings in his previous start against the Tigers that a rain delay interrupted. But in the start before that, in Kansas City mind you, he didn’t get out of the third. So there’s honestly no predicting a Plesac start. He’s probably good to give up a home run, though, so place your bets on who it is in thi sone.

Jakob Junis might be displaying some extra dad strength after welcoming his third child to the world this past week. His last start against Cleveland when he threw six shutout innings continued a career-long trend where he’s just a different guy in the second half. Now in 151.2 career second half innings, he’s posted a 3.20 ERA with a 22.5 percent strikeout rate, 4.6 percent walk rate and less than a home run per nine innings. And now likely getting to throw to his long-time battery mate Cam Gallagher, he might be in for a huge finish to the season. It was nice to see him succeed against the Indians because he’d faced them three times prior to that last start and was 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in 17 innings. Hopefully he can find success again in this one.

Saturday July 27th - 6:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Clevinger 8 42.1 4 2 39.4% 9.1% 3.61 2.45 1.3
Glenn Sparkman 19 79.0 3 6 12.5% 5.8% 4.67 5.51 -0.2

Mike Clevinger is one of the premier strikeout pitchers in baseball today, which is quite a climb after being sort of a nobody just a couple seasons ago. He’s missed a huge chunk of the season with a couple different injuries, but he’s been very good in July, going 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 34 strikeouts against just five walks in 24 innings. He throws strikes, he gets swings and misses and he can definitely get a game to the bullpen. His ability to combine some elite velocity (averaging 96 MPH on his fastball) with a heck of a spin rate (2,357 RPM) gives him a 35.5 percent whiff rate on a fastball, but the real gem in his arsenal is his slider. Opponents have hit .121 with a .182 SLG on it and have whiffed on 56.3 percent of swings against it. That’s just stupid. It almost makes his curve, which also has an elite whiff rate, look pedestrian by comparison. The sample is small because of injuries, but one interesting Clevinger stat is his home/road splits. At home, he’s posted a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings with just one home run allowed and 40 strikeouts against seven walks. On the road, the ERA is 6.98 with 25 strikeouts in 19.1 innings and eight walks. It’s probably a blip and a small sample thing, but it’s the hope the Royals have in this one.

Speaking of home/road splits, the Royals counter with Glenn Sparkman who backed up his first career shutout by giving up five runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings against the Indians. In some ways, he wasn’t quite as bad as the final line as he was tiring in the sixth and gave up three of the five runs, but he also was only able to get four swings and misses after his career-high 18 against the White Sox. But this start is at home. As a starter at home, Sparkman is 3-1 with a 1.03 ERA in five starts spanning 35 innings. He doesn’t get especially more swings and misses at home, but that’s crazy considering he’s 0-4 with a 9.91 ERA in six road starts covering just 26.1 innings. It probably has to stop sometime because a guy who doesn’t get swings and misses has to have some serious ground ball inducing ability that Sparkman doesn’t, but maybe the home magic can continue for another few innings in this one.

Sunday July 28th - 1:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Trevor Bauer 23 152.1 9 7 28.1% 9.3% 3.49 4.26 2.6
Danny Duffy 16 89.2 4 5 20.9% 8.4% 4.32 4.98 1.0

The series wraps up with Trevor Bauer taking the hill. It’s been a sort of weird year for Bauer. He’s throwing a ton of innings and striking out a ton of hitters, but he’s also walking a ton and giving up some home runs. The walks and the homers were two big keys to his breakout last season when he posted a 2.21 ERA, but both are back this year with similar numbers to his 2017 season when he was good but flawed. The last time he pitched in Kansas City was earlier this month and he was hit pretty hard, allowing 11 hits for the second time in his career (the first time was to the Royasl too) and giving up five runs with two home runs allowed. He’s been on quite a run since then with a 2.30 ERA in his last four starts and 39 strikeouts in 27.1 innings during that span. His swinging strike rate of 15 percent in those starts is excellent, but he’s still issuing a ton of walks and giving up home runs, so he’s beatable. Of course, he’s also capable of throwing a no-hitter any time out, so this could be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

Danny Duffy gets to take the mound coming off his best start of the year. He started rough giving up some hard contact to the Braves, but settled down and ended up striking out 11 over six innings of one-run ball. His 13 swinging strikes were tied for his third highest total of the season. The key was that his slider was on point. He threw a ton of sliders, 39 of them to be exact, and had a 33 percent whiff rate on swings against that pitch. His changeup was also excellent, though used sparsely. If he pitches like that again, the Indians might have some trouble and this could be a very fun pitching matchup. Outside of two games where he’s been hit by line drives and had to leave the game, Duffy has made six starts since the start of June and has a 3.38 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 14 walks over 45.1 innings. So the key for him is to not get hit by a line drive.

Prediction

The Indians are both good and playing great. The Royals are not good, but are playing some pretty good baseball, so this might be a fun series. I think there’s equal odds that this is a competitive weekend and that the Indians blow the Royals out of the water, but I’m going to predict a split because I think the Royals are playing well enough to keep it fairly even.

Poll

More Royals vs. Indians. Who takes the series?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Royals Sweep
    (13 votes)
  • 3%
    Indians Sweep
    (4 votes)
  • 19%
    Royals Win Three of Four
    (20 votes)
  • 26%
    Indians Win Three of Four
    (27 votes)
  • 37%
    SPLIT
    (38 votes)
102 votes total Vote Now