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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: Another first place team

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The other best team in the AL Central comes to KC for three with some offensive questions, but a phenomenal pitching staff.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals welcome the Cleveland Indians to town for a three-game set that’s pretty important for the Indians as they’re stuck in a dogfight with the White Sox and the Twins (though they’ve fallen on some hard times) and really need to find their wins against the Royals as the White Sox have so far this season. The Indians are obviously stacked in the pitching department, but their offense leaves quite a bit to be desired. They score more than the Royals, but that’s honestly because they’re better situationally as the Royals are actually better offensively in everything but working walks and actually scoring the runs, which, well, is the most important thing. The one positive you can say for the offense, and you’ll see it below in the numbers, is they really do work those walks. And man can they pitch. And they just keep churning out pitching to take the place of rule breakers, injured pitchers and anyone else who might need to take a break from the big league roster. It’s really quite incredible.

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .382 .618
Team wRC+ 94 85
Team xFIP 4.67 3.67
Run Differential -19 40
H2H Wins 1 2
H2H Runs 5 13
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 1.1 Shane Bieber, 2.1

Indians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Cesar Hernandez 2B 153 .271 .362 .406 11.8% 21.6% 109 1.0
Jose Ramirez 3B 155 .248 .348 .474 12.9% 20.6% 118 1.4
Francisco Lindor SS 151 .266 .325 .432 5.3% 19.2% 100 0.6
Carlos Santana 1B 149 .211 .389 .333 22.1% 18.1% 107 0.4
Franmil Reyes DH 134 .289 .351 .496 8.2% 28.4% 124 0.6
Tyler Naquin RF 57 .291 .316 .545 1.8% 24.6% 123 0.1
Roberto Perez C 48 .150 .292 .150 12.5% 33.3% 34 0.0
Josh Naylor LF 38 .278 .316 .417 2.6% 10.5% 99 0.1
Delino DeShields CF 54 .277 .346 .298 9.3% 24.1% 79 0.1

Indians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Sandy Leon C 58 .130 .310 .271 19.0% 19.0% 56 -0.1
Austin Hedges C 71 .158 .258 .333 8.5% 25.4% 62 0.1
Yu Chang INF 11 .222 .364 .222 18.2% 36.4% 74 0.0
Mike Freeman INF/OF 23 .238 .304 .286 4.3% 30.4% 62 -0.1
Domingo Santana OF 84 .157 .298 .286 15.5% 29.8% 63 -0.1
Jordan Luplow OF 53 .116 .264 .209 15.1% 15.1% 35 -0.1

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 12 10.2 0 1 28.9% 8.9% 3.38 4.96 0.4
James Karinchak 16 17.2 0 1 51.5% 10.6% 1.02 2.03 1.0
Nick Wittgren 14 14.0 2 0 22.8% 7.0% 1.93 4.46 0.2

Probable Pitching Matchups

August 31, 7:05pm - Shane Bieber vs. Brad Keller

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Shane Bieber 7 46.2 6 0 42.9% 5.1% 1.35 1.57 2.1
Brad Keller 4 21.2 3 1 21.6% 12.5% 2.08 4.63 0.6

I guess it’s good to get this one out of the way early as the Royals have to face the leader in the Cy Young race, Shane Bieber. He’s pitched at least six innings in every start. He’s struck out at least eight in every start. He’s worked two or fewer in all but his last start. He’s given up no more than six hits in any start. The guy has become an absolute machine. His fastball is good and seems to be getting better with experience and coaching, but his curve is nearly unhittable. Opponents are 6 for 56 against it with 35 strikeouts and when they swing, they miss more than 57 percent of the time. That’s disgusting. If that was his only pitch he could dominate with, you’d think you could find a way, but his slider is even better. Opponents are 2 for 23 with 17 strikeouts against it and whiff on 73.5 percent of their swings. Looking for some positives? I guess I am too, and he’s had a tougher time against righties, but a tougher time means a .615 OPS allowed. He’s allowed a .152/.170/.174 line the third time through the order. But if you want to find the positive, he’s allowed a .313/.313/.563 line, so put all your money on Nicky Lopez for this one.

He’s opposed by a guy who looked like he might sneak into the race if he never allowed a run in Brad Keller. But then Keller did allow a run, in fact he allowed a few of them, so that dream ended about as abruptly as it started. Still, he’s had a very nice season with three scoreless outings and one that he will want to forget. The key for him is limiting the walks, which will be tough against this lineup that doesn’t swing the bat all that often, but if he can get the Indians to swing at really anything he throws, he has a chance for another good one since the Indians offense struggles so much outside of working counts. Keller is 2-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 26 innings against the Indians and actually has 26 strikeouts, so this has been a good matchup for him in the past.

September 1, 7:05pm - Zach Plesac vs. Matt Harvey

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zach Plesac 3 21.0 1 1 31.2% 2.6% 1.29 2.91 0.9
Matt Harvey 2 5.2 0 1 20.7% 13.8% 11.12 5.91 -0.1

I wrote this earlier when Mike Clevinger was an Indian. He’s no longer an Indian and by MLB rules, he is not allowed to start for them after he was traded from them, so he is not starting this game. To replace him, they’ve chosen the other guy who broke the rules and got optioned in Zach Plesac. Look at those numbers above. They replaced the top starting pitcher on the trade market with a guy who has been even better this season. That’s gotta be nice. Plesac has been difficult to hit with great control and tons of strikeouts to start his 2020 season, and that’s a heck of a combination to have. He hasn’t made a big league start now in more than three weeks, though, so maybe his pitch count won’t be quite where he needs it to be to get deep in this one, which would be good for the Royals. Plesac is throwing his fastball less this year and his slider more, and it’s led to the great results he’s had so far. His curve and changeup have also been next level good, so it’s not like you can sit on a pitch with him, similar to Bieber. He’s had a reverse platoon split in his career, but has been nasty against everyone this season. He’s a good pitcher, but maybe catching him in his first game back will help the Royals out a little bit.

After throwing in the bullpen the other day, Matt Harvey is back for another start which makes you wonder if Danny Duffy isn’t quite right and needs an extra day again. I’m not necessarily opposed to him getting another start, but I’m a little skeptical after he’s hit a wall at the same point in each of his first two starts. Still, before that wall, he’s looked great, so that’s why I’m fine with him getting (hopefully) one more chance before they say forget it and move him to the bullpen. The third is the disaster for him, but he’s been truly good in those first two innings with just one hit allowed and five strikeouts with one walk. Of course, a 37.80 ERA in the third inning isn’t good for a starter, so I guess this’ll be an adventure!

September 2, 7:05pm - Triston McKenzie vs. Jakob Junis

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Triston McKenzie 2 10.0 1 0 34.2% 10.5% 2.70 3.90 0.0
Jakob Junis 3 12.2 0 0 17.5% 8.8% 4.26 5.23 0.0

We get our first chance to see Triston McKenzie in action. A first round pick in 2015, he’s climbed the ladder and been ranked as a top prospect along the way and finally got his shot after injuries had taken him down for the last couple seasons. His first start against Detroit showed how electric he can be, striking out 10 in six innings. His next start, against St. Louis, reminded us that he’s a rookie. He wasn’t bad, but he only struck out three and he walked three in four innings. It happens for rookies. He’s been very fastball heavy in his first two starts, throwing it more than 60 percent of the time and it’s been mostly good, sitting at 92-95 with some decent movement. Opponents are only 4 for 25 against it, so he’s doing something right. He also has a changeup, curve and slider that I would expect we’ll start to see as he makes his way around the league a little bit more. The future is bright if he can stay healthy, but we all know that young pitching can be so volatile from game to game, so the Royals need to do what they can to jump on him early and get him on the ropes.

The Royals turn to Jakob Junis, who was set to get the bulk innings in an opener situation before he was hurt and now is back to starting. I still would like to see Matt Harvey get the ball for the first couple innings and then turn it over to Junis, but maybe they’re worried that he hurt his back because his routine was messed with? I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. After striking out just four in his first nine innings, he finally got back on track with six in 3.2 against the Cardinals. It was his first game back from the IL, but he needs to start giving this team some innings. He didn’t get the loss in that game that was such a devastating one, but if he and/or Harvey had given some innings in either that game or the game before, the Royals bullpen wouldn’t have been so tapped out. I just want to see him get up to 80-85 pitches and get through five innings here.

Prediction

The Indians pitching obviously worries me. The Royals scored five runs the opening weekend against their staff and I could see that happening again or maybe even worse. That said, I like the Royals approach much more lately with a 10.2 percent walk rate in their last 21 games, so maybe they can scratch across some more this time, even with Bieber going to start the series. I’m going to go against the grain and say the Royals take two fo three because something just feels like it could be a weird series.

Poll

Who takes this series?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Royals Sweep
    (4 votes)
  • 27%
    Indians Sweep
    (20 votes)
  • 25%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (18 votes)
  • 41%
    Indians Win Two of Three
    (30 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now