The great rivalry renews itself on the most auspicious of days, Friday the 13th, as the Cleveland Indians taking their talents to Kaufmann Stadium and to play the Kansas City Royals. It’s a matchup of two teams that have high hopes for the future even as they hope against hope for a miracle in 2012, and for the first time in a while it should be a pretty darn good matchup. The Royals have saved the Indians from AL Central doormat status a few times recently, but their time in the cellar may be over for a while as their repeated high draft crops finally coming to fruition.
Kansas City’s lineup has a lot of the pop teams are looking for nowadays, with young slugging first baseman Eric Hosmer leading the way. This kid has every chance to be an absolute beast, Joey Votto-level player; he recorded a 118 OPS+ in his 128-game rookie campaign with 19 homers and 27 doubles. This whole Royals team seems to have that doubles thing down: they are the first team in major league history to have three outfielders who recorded 40 doubles last year. Though center fielder Melky Cabrera is gone, two outstanding arms lurk in the corners in Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon, who are dangerous both to opposing pitchers and baserunners trying to take extra bases. The offense is going to carry the Royals as far as they will go this year, as the rotation isn’t anything special.
The bullpen, once a source of strength for the Royals, is in flux in 2012. Joakim Soria is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, so the Royals brought in Jonathan Broxton and it’s already paid dividends. Broxton became the first pitcher in 50 years to hit consecutive batters to end a game. Now that’s history being made in a Royals uniform, that’s for sure. Aaron Crow has returned to the bullpen after being slated for a starter’s spot in spring. He was superb last season, with an ERA+ of 149 and a 9.4 K/9 rate. Greg Holland struck out 74 in 60 innings last year, Jose Mijares was pretty good in MInnesota with 133 ERA+ in 153 ⅔ IP, and Tim Collins is a solid southpaw (113 ERA+). Like the Indians bullpen it has potential to be very good, but Broxton just isn’t a good enough anchor. If the Indians can break into the ‘pen early in games, they will be in great shape to win the series. Of course, that means teye have to hit.
Speaking of which, going into this series, Jose Lopez leads Cleveland with a .534 wOBA. Shelley Duncan and Carlos Santana are next (which makes more sense), then it goes back to ridiculous with Jack Hannahan. They had a season-best six runs scored in the series finale against Chicago, but gave up 10 runs in the process. That’s the early-season small sample size for you, but even so this offense needs to get moving.
Lowe goes for the second time this season, coming off a dominant start in which he lasted seven innings, holding the Blue Jays to just two runs on five hits. He struck out only one batter, but he had the ground ball working to perfection and handed a lead over to the bullpen to earn the W. There is no reason to believe he will play any worse since there is no Jose Bautista lurking anywhere in the lineup and the best the Royals have to offer at the plate are the less-threatening Hosmer, Francoeur, and Gordon. Suffice to say, it’s not the most dangerous lineup, and if Lowe can keep his sinker working it should be another good day.
Hochevar is a conundrum. He seems like he’s been on the Royals forever, but he’s never found any sustained success—there’s a reason why, when you type his name into Google, the first suggestion is “Luke Hochevar bust.” There was talk that he may have turned a corner this spring, but that seems to crop up every spring with Hochevar. For what it’s worth, he was quite good for 6 ⅓ innings against the Angels in his first start of the season.
We have yet to see Jeanmar Gomez start a game this year, as his first scheduled start Tuesday was snowed out. But he could be a sleeper for the Indians, having really impressed in the spring by allowing only three earned runs in 19 ⅔ innings pitched. He was okay last year, getting 10 starts and recording a 4.14 SIERA. He’s still only 24 and has room to grow, so he could be a diamond in the rough. More than likely, though, we will see on Saturday what Gomez really is: a middle-of-the-rotation starter who can give you innings.
Sanchez is a lot like Gomez but with a higher ceiling, and he has a chance to be a fine pitcher for Kansas City for years to come. The Royals got him for Melky Cabrera this winter, and he pitches to his potential they could have an ace on their hands. Sanchez led all of baseball by giving up just 6.6 hits per 9 innings in 2010, but his propensity to get wild often did him in. He has the tools to be successful: a fastball that can get into the low-to-mid-90’s with good movement that he supplements with an improving change-up, a two-seamer and a slider. He was decent if not quite electric in his Kansas City debut, going five innings with four strikeouts, four hits and three walks. He helped his team win but he could be much better than just that as time goes on. It will be an interesting matchup of what really amounts to two hopes for the future battling it out.
Ubaldo comes off what amounts to be the dumbest suspension in the history of sports, missing five games but not a start after beaning former teammate Troy Tulowitzki. It’s a nice time to be back for Jimenez, as he’ll face the Royals instead of, say, the Rangers or Yankees. He’s faced Kansas City once, last August, and he struck out 10 in seven innings en route to a 2-1 Indians victory. Ubaldo pitched well in his season debut; he was perfect for five innings before exiting after the seventh and letting the bullpen blow it. The question continues to be whether it was his health that held Jimenez back last year (he had a groin strain that plagued him all season) or if it was something else. If he shows himself to be the dominant starter the Indians hoped to be getting when they traded for him, he could very well get the Indians on a roll.
The Indians could tee off against Luis Mendoza, who has a 7.05 career ERA. Granted he spent the first three years of his career in the Rangers organization, but even in his two starts as a Royal in 2011 he gave up 11 hits and five walks in 14 ⅔ innings while striking out only seven. It’s heartening to see the Royals holding on to bad pitchers though—some traditions hold true forever.