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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: One more before a much needed break

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The Indians haven’t had a hit in nine full innings.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals wrap up their first half schedule with a trip to Cleveland to face the Indians for four games. You might recall the last time these two teams met that the Indians swept the four-game series in Kansas City, which were the second through fifth losses of an 11-game losing streak, so the hope is obviously that doesn’t start again because with four days off in between, that would be a long time between winning games. The Indians are both not especially healthy and playing terribly, losers of nine in a row and 11 of their last 12. This is a real tickle fight brewing.

The Indians offense has been a struggle for them all year and they’ve probably actually scored more runs than they should have based on the underlying numbers. That said, while they seem to have figured out some things with the promotion of Bobby Bradley to the big leagues along with Harold Ramirez continuing to be a pleasant surprise for them and Reyes returning, they did get no-hit yesterday in a no-hitter that didn’t count and they’re still not doing enough with the bats. And now they’ve also lost Eddie Rosario, so it’s a slog. On the pitching side, they’ve been without Plesac, Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale for a bit now, which has made things hard for the once pitching rich team to get things together, but they do still have an outstanding bullpen and as players get healthier, they will have a chance to maybe make a run down the road.

Royals vs. Indians Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .419 .500
Team wRC+ 89 85
Team xFIP 4.55 4.10
Run Differential -87 -28
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.1 Jose Ramirez, 2.8

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 357 .223 .303 .404 9.5% 22.1% 92 1.2
Amed Rosario SS 300 .265 .313 .375 6.0% 20.0% 88 1.1
Jose Ramirez 3B 321 .262 .343 .525 9.7% 12.5% 129 2.8
Franmil Reyes DH 175 .273 .326 .602 6.9% 31.4% 144 1.0
Bobby Bradley 1B 106 .221 .302 .516 9.4% 31.1% 118 0.4
Harold Ramirez LF 192 .270 .318 .449 4.7% 13.5% 106 0.6
Bradley Zimmer CF 108 .207 .361 .241 12.0% 37.0% 82 0.3
Roberto Perez C 85 .139 .262 .292 12.9% 35.3% 56 -0.1
Daniel Johnson RF 13 .000 .000 .000 0.0% 53.8% -100 -0.3

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 144 .153 .206 .252 5.6% 34.0% 21 -0.2
Ernie Clement INF/OF 43 .205 .262 .231 4.7% 14.0% 38 0.0
Oscar Mercado OF 24 .190 .292 .286 12.5% 33.3% 62 -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
Emmanuel Clase 37 35.2 3 4 25.8% 9.0% 1.51 2.11 1.2
James Karinchak 39 37.1 4 2 42.4% 14.6% 2.41 2.99 0.9
Bryan Shaw 37 36.0 2 3 28.7% 17.2% 3.25 4.37 0.0

Probable Starting Pitchers

Thursday - Danny Duffy vs. Zach Plesac, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 11 52.0 4 3 26.3% 8.3% 2.60 4.15 1.4
Zach Plesac 10 58.2 4 3 16.2% 5.1% 4.14 4.40 0.6

The Indians welcome back one of their main arms in Plesac for this one for a start before the break. He hasn’t followed up his outstanding 2020 with a season nearly as good, but he shows excellent control and even if he isn’t striking batters out, the ratio is still very good which makes the lack of strikeouts a little more palatable. He is coming back from a thumb fracture, which seems awfully painful and he hasn’t been especially good in two rehab appearances in AAA, so it’s really anyone’s guess what he’ll look like when he takes the mound in this one, but the Indians have to be excited to find out. He averages 93-94 on his fastball and opponents have hit that well, though not quite as well as they did last year. His secondary pitches have been the difference this season for him. Last year his slider had a whiff rate of 42.7 percent and his changeup 35.6 percent. This year it’s been 25.8 percent and 20.2 percent respectively. While the slider has still been really effective, it hasn’t been quite as good as last year and the changeup has been hit a bit. I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine having a thumb fracture would impact those pitches, even in his return, so the Royals might catch a bit of a break against a guy who is 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA in six career starts against them.

Danny Duffy will make his fourth start since coming off the injured list and looks ready to go at least five innings, or at least throw enough pitches to get through five. In his last start against the Twins, he got through the first three in just 35 pitches but then needed 34 to finish the fourth and was pulled because of the stress of that inning. His slider hasn’t been the pitch it was before his injury, and he’s actually thrown it very little outside of his one relief outing in Texas, which is a bit concerning. The good news is that outside of his last outing, he’s gotten a ton of swings and misses on his fastball, so he can rely on that even if the slider isn’t quite there for him. He’s faced Cleveland twice this year and was outstanding early in the season in what was his first start and wasn’t quite as good the second time, but also wasn’t horrible and had 16 swinging strikes.

Friday - Brad Keller vs. Eli Morgan, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 18 87.1 6 9 17.7% 10.6% 6.39 4.76 0.2
Eli Morgan 5 21.1 1 3 22.9% 4.2% 8.44 4.87 -0.2

Eli Morgan was the Indians eighth round pick in the 2017 draft out of Gonzaga and had a pretty strong rise through the system that included one start in AAA in 2019. Of course the 2020 season was lost, but he started the year in AAA this year and was not great, walking eight and giving up a hit per inning in four starts. But injuries brought him to the big league level sooner than he was likely ready for and he’s struggled with the numbers you see above. Interestingly enough, he’s actually walked fewer big league hitters in more innings and has struck out more than a batter per inning, but he’s gotten hit around with eight home runs in those 21.1 innings. The scouting report is that his changeup is a really good pitch for him, and it has absolutely been his best offering in the big leagues. His fastball has been hit hard and his slider has been hit harder. In reality, he looks like the classic Indians prospect who you think is a back-end starter and then they do their magic and in a season or two, he’ll finish third for the Cy Young and you’ll wonder how that happened.

The good news is that Brad Keller had one of his best starts of the year his last time out against the Twins. He went 6.1 innings, got a ton of swings and misses on his slider and only allowed two runs. In fact, he had a season-high in swings and misses. The bad news is that he’s been so bad this season that even a really nice outing that looked like it could have some future impact for him with the way he figured his slider out that his ERA lowered to 6.39, still awful. He hasn’t faced the Indians this season and he’s been very successful against them in his career with a 2.08 ERA in 39 innings with 31 strikeouts and 11 walks with just two home runs allowed. Of those 39 innings, 21 have been in Cleveland where he has a 2.14 ERA with no homers allowed, so this has been a good park for him in the past.

Saturday - Mike Minor vs. Cal Quantrill, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 18 102.1 6 7 23.4% 7.4% 5.36 4.35 1.4
Cal Quatrill 25 55.2 0 2 17.1% 7.8% 4.20 4.64 0.6

The Indians got Cal Quantrill from the Padres last season in the deal that sent Mike Clevinger and others to San Diego. He worked really well as mostly a reliever, but did make three starts. He started this season in the bullpen, but has been pushed into rotation action due to all the injuries and the results have been pretty mixed. Since moving to the rotation full time, he’s had a 5.73 ERA in 22 innings over five starts with just 14 strikeouts and seven walks. So that’s not great. There’s a lot to like, though. His slider has been good this year with a 33.3 percent whiff rate and a .222 average allowed with just a .296 SLG. His sinker flashes plus, but he just needs to refine it a bit to get there more often because it gets hit pretty easily when it’s not right. He also has a changeup that’s been fine enough, a four-seamer he uses occasionally that’s been hit hard and a very sporadically used curve that he ditched last season entirely. He likely will not be long for the game, but the Royals do have a way of making starters look very good.

Mike MInor had a much better start than the numbers would indicate from his start against the Reds on Monday when he ended up giving up four runs over six innings. He had given up just one run on two hits over the first six and while he had thrown 82 pitches, he was set to face the middle of a very good Reds lineup. I thought it was a mistake at the time and I was proven right very quickly, much to my chagrin. It’s been a bit of a tough go for Minor over his last few starts, which comes on the heels of an excellent stretch for him where he was limiting walks and giving the Royals quality innings. He is the only starter at 100 innings this season for the Royals, so that’s a feather in his cap. He faced the Indians once this year and gave up three runs in 5.1 innings with three walks, three strikeouts, three hits allowed and three runs, so threes might be wild again in this one.

Sunday - Kris Bubic vs. Triston McKenzie, 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 15 56.2 2 4 19.1% 12.0% 5.40 4.99 -0.5
Triston McKenzie 11 42.1 1 3 31.2% 20.6% 6.38 5.33 0.0

This was originally going to be Logan Allen, I think, before he was optioned on Wednesday, so it looks like Triston McKenzie will get the ball in this one, but he’s not even on the big league roster, so that could change. If it does, it’ll change here. McKenzie had such a nice start to his career last season, but he’s been pretty horrible this year. Yeah, he’s getting strikeouts, but he’s also walking a ton with 38 in his 42.1 innings. In fact, he’s only throwing in the zone 41.9 percent of the time, so theoretically, if you just see seven pitches, he’s likely to get to four balls before three strikes. In his big league time this year, his velocity has been down about a mile and a half per hour, which isn’t great for a guy who was already only averaging about average velocity. He does have a nasty slider and a nasty curve that can get swings and misses, but as tempting as they might be, just 81 of 272 of those pitches have ended up in the zone. Hitters should know that if they see spin, just take. He’s been tougher on righties than lefties and he’s been really bad once runners get on base.

Kris Bubic is the guy penciled in for this, but after the way Carlos Hernandez threw in relief, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got the start or maybe they do a bit of a piggyback. Either way, we’ll talk Bubic for now, who threw a ton of curves against the Reds in his start on Tuesday night, but he continued to get hit with pitches in the middle of the plate. It was just the third time this season that he’s had double digit swings and misses, so that’s a good thing. A lot of the Indians hitters have struggled with changeups from lefties, so it might not be a bad idea to keep working on that pitch because it is absolutely his best when it’s on and not sitting middle-middle.

Prediction

The Indians are beaten and battered, but getting healthier, at least by a bit. The Royals are sort of beaten, but also just not very good. The Royals are 40-63 in Cleveland since the start of 2010, but they are 5-4 there since the start of last season, so I don’t know what’s more important. Either way, I’m going to go out on a surprising limb and say they split this four-game set before the break.

Poll

Last series before the break; how does it end?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Royals Sweep
    (3 votes)
  • 12%
    Royals Take Three of Four
    (8 votes)
  • 42%
    Split
    (27 votes)
  • 33%
    Indians Take Three of Four
    (21 votes)
  • 6%
    Indians Sweep
    (4 votes)
63 votes total Vote Now