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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: At least they miss Shane Bieber

Getting to face the best pitching staff in baseball is exactly what this offense needs.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals travel to Cleveland to take on the Indians for the final time in 2020 and the good news is they don’t have to face Shane Bieber. The bad news is that the worst Indians starter would still probably the Royals ace, but that’s another issue for another day. Or maybe that’s the issue for today. I don’t know. I’m just doing what I can to make these series previews different enough to provide some new information. The Indians offense has their issues, but identical to the Royals, they scored 13 runs and since and included that game, they’ve averaged five per game, so while they’re inconsistent, their offensive woes have probably been a bit overstated. They work walks as well as anyone and can hit the long ball, so they can definitely be dangerous and really, do they need a great offense to win? Nope. They need enough and they’ve mostly had that, especially in the last month or so.

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .341 .625
Team wRC+ 87 87
Team xFIP 4.73 3.67
Run Differential -48 51
H2H Wins 2 4
H2H Runs 8 29
Highest fWAR Brad Keller, 0.8 Shane Bieber, 2.7

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 180 .270 .352 .396 10.6% 22.2% 104 1.2
Jose Ramirez 3B 180 .253 .356 .487 13.3% 20.0% 125 1.7
Francisco Lindor SS 176 .280 .341 .453 6.3% 17.0% 111 1.0
Carlos Santana 1B 174 .203 .362 .312 19.5% 17.8% 93 0.2
Franmil Reyes DH 159 .315 .377 .538 8.8% 26.4% 144 1.1
Tyler Naquin RF 81 .260 .284 .519 2.5% 24.7% 105 0.1
Josh Naylor LF 55 .250 .278 .346 1.8% 10.9% 65 -0.1
Roberto Perez C 60 .173 .283 .250 10.0% 33.3% 49 0.1
Delino DeShields CF 57 .271 .338 .288 9.0% 23.9% 74 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
Austin Hedges C 75 .148 .243 .311 8.0% 29.3% 53 0.0
Sandy Leon C 65 .113 .277 .189 16.9% 27.7% 37 -0.3
Mike Freeman INF/OF 23 .238 .304 .286 4.3% 30.4% 62 -0.1
Jordan Luplow OF 60 .143 .283 .224 15.0% 13.3% 45 -0.1
Oscar Mercado OF 56 .137 .214 .157 8.9% 26.8% 0 -0.2

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 15 13.2 1 1 28.6% 7.1% 2.63 4.71 0.5
James Karinchak 18 19.0 0 2 48.7% 13.2% 2.84 2.38 0.8
Nick Wittgren 18 17.2 2 0 23.2% 5.8% 2.04 4.52 0.2

Projected Pitching Matchups

September 7, 5:10pm - Brad Keller vs. Zach Plesac

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 5 28.0 3 1 20.7% 10.8% 1.93 4.27 0.8
Zach Plesac 4 27.0 2 1 30.3% 2.0% 1.33 2.89 1.1

The Royals get another crack at Zach Plesac who made his first back from being demoted for putting his team in danger and then blaming the media in a video he made while driving. He’s lucky he can really pitch. After looking like a good back of the rotation starter in his rookie year in 2019 with not too many strikeouts and a manageable but still high number of walks. One thing he did really well last year was limit hits and he’s taken that to an extreme this year while also boosting his strikeouts and limiting his walks. What he’s done is what a lot of pitchers are doing well now and he’s dropped his fastball usage significantly while he upped his slider and changeup usage to fill that void. And those two pitches have been absolutely bonkers good this season. They both sit around a 40 percent whiff rate and he’s allowed a .060 average in 50 at bats that ended on either of those two pitches. What I don’t get is how he’s doing it because his slider doesn’t ever really look exceptional. I feel like he’s due for a rough start. I don’t know if this will be it, but I feel like it’s coming.

The Royals pushed back Brad Keller to give him an extra day, but I think it might have been more to face the Indians, who he’s had a lot of success against. He went 6.1 with just one run on three hits allowed last weekend in Kansas City with his fewest walks of the year (one) against the Indians. He now has a 1.39 ERA in seven games and 32.1 innings against the Indians in his career with 30 strikeouts in 32.1 innings. A big key for him is that while the sample is too small to be meaningful, he’s really held down Francisco Lindor with just three hits in 14 at bats allowed. And he has, of course, given up a home run to Tyler Naquin, but I think that’s a requirement to be a Royals pitcher.

September 8, 5:10pm - Jakob Junis vs. Triston McKenzie

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 4 16.2 0 1 15.1% 6.9% 4.32 5.32 0.0
Triston McKenzie 3 16.0 2 0 33.3% 7.0% 1.69 3.36 0.4

The Indians pitching factory looks like it’s turned out another in Triston McKenzie, who probably shouldn’t pitch on a windy night, but has been really good overall in his first three big league starts. He was brilliant against the Royals on Wednesday with six shutout innings and six strikeouts with no walks. Typically a second time in a row against a single team would be a tough go for a rookie pitcher, and this one might end up in the same situation, but the Royals offense just isn’t good, especially if Jorge Soler is out. Unlike Plesac, McKenzie has relied heavily on his four-seam fastball, which has both been really good and maybe he’s outperformed some peripherals with it. He gets a good number of whiffs on it, but the expected average on it is .218 compared to the actual average of .158. Of course, the .218 is still very good, but still, it’s worse than the reality. I mentioned the second straight time facing a team and he has shown a pretty big increase in OPS allowed the second time through compared to the first, so maybe the Royals can actually find a way to get to him in this one.

Jakob Junis left his last start after being hit with a line drive. At this point, we haven’t heard anything else about him, so he should probably be good to go for this one, but it’s been kind of a weird year for him. It looked like he was on his way to his first extended start of the year against Cleveland with just 46 pitches thrown through four innings and one real mistake with a home run allowed to, of course, Naquin. He only struck out one batter, which continued a small sample season of concern over his strikeouts as it’s his third of four with two or fewer strikeouts. I think this is a really important start for him to hopefully get a little deeper into a game as the Royals are running out of time to find some innings for some of their younger arms and might decide to use his spot for them if he doesn’t pitch well.

September 9, 5:10pm - Danny Duffy vs. Carlos Carrasco

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 8 41.0 2 3 25.0% 8.7% 4.83 4.83 0.4
Carlos Carrasco 8 42.0 2 3 29.2% 11.2% 3.43 3.76 0.7

We all know how good of a story Carlos Carrasco is with his return from cancer last season, but he’s been pretty good this year on top of being a great story. He has struggled with control a bit, in walking 4.3 per nine. It’s interesting because he has occasionally been hit by the home run ball and some of that was that he was around the strike zone so much, but he really hasn’t been that much this year. He pitched quite well against the Royals in the first series of the year and has been great in his last two starts, so the Royals have a big challenge ahead of them. Where he’s gotten in trouble is with his fastball, but he really doesn’t throw it much beyond the first two pitches of an at bat. So it gives opponents a choice of either going after it early in the count and hoping for success with the risk of making a lot of early count outs or working him and having to do battle against his slider and changeup, which have been great.

Danny Duffy has been good all season. Until his last start against the White Sox. It was just the second time he’d walked more than two batters and the second time he struck out fewer than four in a game. But it wasn’t all bad. He was almost pulled in the second inning and actually made it through six for just the second time all season. He had 10 swings and misses and was actually pretty sharp after the early struggles. Unfortunately it was too late and the Royals were out of the game and that was that. He pitched really well in the opener against the Indians, but lost out on two inherited runners scoring. The Indians have been pretty horrible against lefties, so this is a good bet for him to bounce back.

September 10, 5:10pm - Brady Singer vs. Aaron Civale

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 8 40.1 1 4 20.6% 8.6% 5.58 4.25 0.1
Aaron Civale 8 52.0 3 4 23.4% 4.3% 3.63 3.58 1.2

The Royals will see Aaron Civale for the first and only time this season. He had a heck of a 10-start debut last year with a 2.34 ERA. While he’s allowed more hits this season, he’s striking out more and walking fewer, which is always a good plan of attack. Plus, he’s averaging more than six innings per start, and that’s not something we’re seeing that much this season, especially from fourth or fifth starters. This Indians rotation is impressive. He doesn’t impress with velocity, throwing his sinker about 31 percent of the time at about 92 MPH. It’s been good. His cutter is the pitch that’s gotten him in trouble when he gets in trouble, and occasionally his slider joins that party. Where the Royals have a chance is that he’s struggled against righties, though with Soler hurt and Whit Merrifield struggling mightily, that’s less of an edge than would have been the case a couple weeks ago.

Brady Singer simultaneously had a rough start and a game where he might have looked his best in awhile. I’d say that’s good and bad. He did give up five runs on 10 hits, but they were all singles and he showed some of his best control and command of the season. The White Sox offense is both really good and was going really good, so he was in a tough situation, especially in his second time in a week against that team. I’m very curious to see if he can get back to what he did in that first start of his career against the Indians when he was dominating with really just his fastball and slider. This Indians offense has a different look now and is going much better, but he still looked his very best in that start, so I’m hopeful we see that again.

Prediction

It’s hard to get swept in a four-game series and probably even harder to get swept in two straight. If Merrifield doesn’t get going, though, I have a worry that this’ll be their second straight. But all that said, I’m going against the grain and I’m going to predict a split in this one. Yes, that’s where we are in this season that a split of a four-game series is optimistic. But here we are and I’m being optimistic.

Poll

One more with Cleveland...how does it end?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Royals Sweep
    (0 votes)
  • 32%
    Indians Sweep
    (15 votes)
  • 6%
    Royals Win Three of Four
    (3 votes)
  • 56%
    Indians Win Three of Four
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    Split
    (2 votes)
46 votes total Vote Now