Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

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Game One: Justin Masterson vs. Kevin Millwood

A wily veteran versus what is becoming a top-tier major league starter, that’s what this matchup is about. At this point in his career, Kevin Millwood is a known quantity. In his first start this year against Texas, he went six innings, allowing a run on four hits and striking out seven—a wonderful start against a dominant lineup, Millwood isn’t the same pitcher he was when he won the ERA title with the Tribe in 2005, but he just knows how to pitch. His career work has earned Millwood 47.5 fWAR, evidence of a great career.

Toeing the rubber for the Indians is Justin Masterson. The gigantic righty is the Tribe’s definitive ace, and even after being rocked in five innings last week against the White Sox (five runs on eight hits, only two strikeouts), Cleveland fans can be confident that he’ll bring home a win. Of course, the offense has a propensity for taking the day off when Masterson is on the mound, but in Seattle it’s to be a pitcher’s duel if only because of the locale.

Game Two: Derek Lowe vs. Jason Vargas

Derek Lowe has been just great for the Indians this year. In 13 ⅔ innings he’s allowed just three runs, and he’s been arguably the Tribe’s best pitcher thus far. He’s struck out only three batters this year, but he’s never been a heavy-strikeout guy; in 2,529 ⅓ career innings he’s struck out just 1,662. Lowe is the Indians’ version of Kevin Millwood: a fine pitcher that fills that No. 3 slot in the rotation well, and against a questionable lineup like Seattle’s he could very well come out of it with another win.

Jason Vargas gets the start opposite Lowe, which bodes well for the Indians. Vargas has struck out 5.7 batters per nine innings while allowing free passes at a clip of 2.9 BB/9. Safeco is a great place to pitch, and Vargas has been a beneficiary of that for most of his career. He’s a flyball pitcher so he’ll be hurt by the absence of Franklin Gutierrez. This matchup leans the Indians’ way and should give them a series win.

Game Three: Josh Tomlin vs. Felix Hernandez

This game is why the Indians need to make hay in the first two games of the series. Simply put, Felix Hernandez is a buzzsaw, regardless of who he’s facing and where he’s facing them. The 2010 Cy Young winner is as good as ever and is still getting better. This will be his fourth start already, and in each of his previous outings he’s gone at least seven strong games. Felix is just a great pitcher, and he’s shown that through 21 ⅓ innings this season—he’s given up just 20 hits and four walks while racking up 19 strikeouts.

The Indians’ offense woke up against the Royals, but this is the kind of lineup a guy like Felix will just feast upon. There’s every chance of a historic performance by the Mariners ace. He’s one of the best the game has to offer, so even if the Indians are getting vaporized at th plate, at least it’ll be amazing to watch. Like a train wreck, or a car compactor, or one of those “Will it Blend” videos online. The destruction is just fascinating.

Josh Tomlin does one thing exceptionally well, and that’s throw strikes. Heck, the last time he walked more than one guy in a games was more than a year ago—April 10, 2011, against the Mariners. The downside to his propensity for pounding the zone is that he just isn’t overpowering. Tomlin’s fastball hovers in the 88 mph range, with a cutter at 85 and a changeup at 80. As Manny Acta said last year, he’ll give up a lot of homers, but they’ll be solo shots most of the time. The Mariners offense has a lot of potential pop, but as a flyball pitcher he should benefit from pitching at Safeco. He can go deep into games if guys are swinging early, which would be nice after all the work the bullpen got in Kansas City.

It’ll be a great series because it always is between these two teams. If only they were both contenders and more casual fans would pay attention, they would see the fire these two teams have when they face off. Late nights are in the offing for Tribe fans, but for matchups like these it’s worth staying up past your bedtime.

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