Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Houston Astros


Cleveland Indians Start Season Against Rebuilding Astros

Finally, after months of suffering through another obnoxiously cold and snowy Ohio winter we get our first real evidence that Spring is here and summer is right around the corner. Baseball is back and the games finally count for real. So after weeks of analysis and debate, we’re about to get our first look at the 2015 Cleveland Indians. Get excited, folks.

The Indians will open up their 2015 campaign in Houston to take on the Astros. As a team with lofty goals for this season, that being a division title to be followed by the AL pennant and ultimately a World Series crown, this is an important series for the Tribe. For the Indians to get off to a hot start and put some space between themselves and their AL Central counterparts, it will be pivotal that they play well within the division.

The Indians will open the 2015 season with series against each of their division rivals, including two series each with the Tiger and White Sox, the two teams that seem most likely to contend for the Central division title. So as I stated a few weeks ago, it will be imperative that the Indians don’t bury themselves early with a poor performance to start the season.

They’ll have their hands full though over their first three games of the season. The Astros, while still in the middle stages of a massive rebuild, have a lot of talent on their roster. So while there is little to no chance of them competing for the AL West title, they’re still a team that can cause some serious problems. Between their dynamic young pitching and stable of super talented power hitters, this is a team on the rise.

Right now for the Astros, everything starts at the top of their lineup with the uber talented and often under appreciated second baseman, Jose Altuve. Despite his small stature, Altuve has become an elite level player at the big league level. His combination of speed and hustle has made him one of the best base stealers in the game today. Thanks to his ability to get on base, he has the ability to steal upwards of 4-50 bases in a given season. That means opposing pitchers will have their hands busy trying to limit his damage.

Mar 24, 2015; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; Houston Astros right fielder George Springer (4) slides in ahead of the tag by New York Mets catcher Johnny Monell (19) at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The limiting the damage part is made especially difficult considering what follows Altuve in the Astros everyday lineup. The star of the show is, without a doubt, George Springer. In his first taste of big league action, Springer belted 20 homers and drove in 51 runs in only 78 games. This year, Springer is projected to hit anywhere between 30-40 long balls and drive in well over 100 runs. Needless to say, he has proven to be every bit as good as advertised by scouts.

Following Springer is a scrappy group that features a little bit of everything. Chris Carter is a behemoth of a power hitter with Incredible Hulk like strength. Over the second half of 2014, he was probably the best home run hitter in the game. Jed Lowrie, who will fill the role of short stop, has the ability to hit for a high average and OBP while providing some pop. Catcher Jason Castro, despite a down year in 2014, has the ability to be ranked among the best offensive catchers in baseball. Oh, and then there is Evan Gattis. The former Brave will move from back behind the plate and make the full-time switch to left field.  In this new role combined with his power and the home run friendly confines of Minute Maid Park, Gattis could achieve super star status in 2015.

From a pitching perspective, the Astros tout a group of young and semi-unexperienced hurlers. Dallas Keuchelleads the way as the ace of the Astros’s staff. The 27-year-old lefty burst on to the scene in 2014, logging his first season of 200 innings while compiling a 12-9 record with a 2.93 ERA. He’ll get he nod tonight. Following Keuchel is the veteran of the group, Scott Feldman, and his career record of 59-68 and 4.48 ERA. After Feldman, things will get interesting for the Astros with rookie right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, 27-year-old Collin McHugh in his second full-time season at the big league level, and everyone’s favorite, Roberto “Don’t call me Fausto” Hernandez.

So as you can see, the Indians will have their hands full during the first three games of the seasons. The Astros will be at full strength and full of optimism and the youthful exuberance that comes from the first week of the season. They have yet to be worn down by the trials and tribulations of 100-plus games. At 0-0, they are just as much in the thick of things as the Indians, Angels, Tigers, or Orioles. This could be their year. That’s what they have to believe and until reality weighs them down, there is no reason to think they won’t come out swinging and ready to ruin the start of the season for the Cleveland Indians. How the Tribe responds to that challenge will go a long way in showing us what this 2015 version is made of.

Probable Pitching Matchups (2014 numbers):

Dallas Keuchel (12-9, 2.93 ERA/3.11 SIERA) vs. Corey Kluber (18-9, 2.44/2.61)

Scott Feldman (8-12, 3.74/4.33) vs. Carlos Carrasco (8-7, 2.55/2.58)

Asher Wojciechowski (4-4, 4.74 ERA at Triple A OKC) vs. Trevor Bauer (5-8, 4.18/3.95)

Next: Opposition Research: Five questions about the Houston Astros