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Cleveland Indians: Previewing the Series with Texas

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 31: Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians hits a three-run homer in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field on July 31, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 31: Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians hits a three-run homer in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field on July 31, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Indians are riding high after sweeping the Angels. With the fate of the AL Central still up for grabs, they’ll look to keep it up against the Rangers.

The Cleveland Indians will begin a three-game series against the Texas Rangers on Monday night, finishing off a nine-game home stand with three straight visitors from the AL West.

Following a decisive sweep of the Angels over the weekend, this series versus Texas could feasibly allow the Indians to gain a game or two in the AL Central race–if they pick up where they left off on Sunday afternoon. The Twins begin a home series against the NL East-leading Braves on Monday night.

Cleveland and Texas split a four-game series back in June at Globe Life Park, but the August 5 iterations of both clubs are markedly different than they were six weeks ago. Both teams hovered just a few games north of .500 as of the final out of the June meeting, but the Indians have gone 27-10 since, while the Rangers have sputtered at 17-19.

Let’s scout out the Indians’ final opponent before a pivotal four-game road series in Minnesota later this week.

Pitching Matchups

Monday, 7:10 PM EST – RHP Aaron Civale vs. LHP Mike Minor

Aaron Civale will make his second big-league start on Monday. In his first appearance back on June 22, he shut out the Tigers over six innings, allowing three walks and two hits while striking out six.

In Civale’s four years of minor league experience, he has relied heavily on the ground ball–though it’s worth noting that his ground ball rate has decreased at each level of the Indians’ system. Still, he has managed a 2.13 ERA in 42.1 innings at Triple-A this year, with a 26.1% strikeout rate that will play just fine if he’s able to carry it into the majors.

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Mike Minor had worked his way to a 2.40 ERA through 17 starts as June came to a close, allowing just 12 home runs, inducing grounders at a 42.7% rate, and limiting hard contact to 35.5%. Then July rolled around, and things haven’t been going as well.

In Minor’s five starts last month, he posted a 6.59 ERA, allowed eight home runs, and saw both his hard-hit and fly ball rates go up. Over the last two months, southpaws have felt the heat when facing the Indians, as the Tribe owns the third-lowest strikeout rate and the seventh-highest OPS in the league against left-handed pitchers since June 4.

Tuesday, 7:10 PM EST – RHP Zach Plesac vs. RHP Ariel Jurado

What else can be said about Zach Plesac besides that the Indians have needed him to step up and he’s repeatedly answered the call? The rookie wasn’t lights-out in his most recent outing–a five-inning effort against the Astros in which he allowed four earned runs.

Thanks to some healthy run support, Plesac earned the win in that contest anyway, and you wouldn’t necessarily call that start a bad one considering his inexperience and the lineup he was up against.

The Rangers have a decent contingent of lefties and switch-hitters that could make things frustrating for a pitch-to-contact hurler like Plesac, but they are without their most deadly in Joey Gallo.

The Rangers will trot out a young righty of their own for Game 2 in Ariel Jurado. Jurado performed well to start the season, operating primarily out of the bullpen before becoming a rotation fixture in the latter half of May. His ERA sat at 2.08 on May 22, and he even gave Texas four consecutive quality starts from May 26 through June 11.

It was at the halfway point of June that things started to come undone for the youngster, as he owns a 6.70 ERA in his last eight appearances. It would serve the Indians well to pile it on Jurado, because the series finale presents the toughest opposing mound presence for the Tribe.

Wednesday, 1:10 PM EST – RHP Mike Clevinger vs. RHP Lance Lynn

Wednesday’s matinee will pit the two best starters of the series against each other in Mike Clevinger and Lance Lynn. Clevinger has been as electric as they come over the last month, sporting a 34.5% strikeout rate, a 49.4% ground ball rate, and a 1.69 ERA since July 3.

If things go according to plan, the Rangers will play right into Clevinger’s hands, as their 25.7% strikeout rate is the fourth-highest in baseball.

Runs may be tough for either team to come by, however, as Lance Lynn has quietly been one of the better pitchers in the league this season. Lynn’s 27.6% strikeout rate is the highest such number he’s ever posted in a full season’s worth of work, with his 5.7% walk rate coming in at a career low by a long shot.

Lynn has allowed more than three earned runs just thrice in his last 17 starts dating back to May 4. The last time the Indians saw him on June 17, he struck out nine and held the Tribe to one earned run on six hits.

What to Watch For

Trending in opposite directions – As I alluded to above, these are two different teams than the ones who squared up in June. That series ended on June 20, with the Rangers taking the finale. Since June 21, the Indians sport the sixth-highest wRC+ in baseball at 110, while the Rangers rank 24th at 89.

Moreover, here are the pitching numbers and MLB ranks for both teams in the same span:

  • Indians – 3.48 SP ERA (3rd), 3.38 bullpen ERA (3rd), 3.45 overall ERA (1st)
  • Rangers – 5.35 SP ERA (22nd), 4.83 bullpen ERA (22nd), 5.16 overall ERA (25th)

The Indians will have to keep the bats warm against an outgunned Rangers staff to give Civale and Plesac the run support they’ll need in the first two games, and then give Clevinger a chance to out-duel Lynn on Wednesday.

Back half of the lineup – We’ve reached the point where we are surprised when Francisco Lindor doesn’t record at least one hit. Oscar Mercado has performed as well in the two-hole as anyone has the right to ask of a rookie. Carlos Santana has been “old reliable” in the heart of the Indians order, with Jose Ramirez heating up and Yasiel Puig getting ready to turn on the jets in his own right.

But the real key to the Tribe’s offensive success over the last two months has been the lack of a drop-off from the final four hitters in the order. Eight different Indians hitters have recorded at least 100 plate appearances since June 5 and produced a wRC+ of 114 or higher in the same span.

Four of them–Jason Kipnis, Roberto Perez, Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin–are fixtures in the back half of the lineup. And this doesn’t even factor in that six-hitter Franmil Reyes has yet to get things going since coming over in last week’s trade.

The reason the Indians have been one of the best teams in the league this summer is not that their elite players have carried the load, but because that load has been shared by whatever nine guys Terry Francona puts out there on a given night.

Next. Recapping a Sweep of the Angels. dark

It is this type of all-in effort that will ultimately determine how the Indians’ 2019 season ends, but at the moment, you couldn’t ask for them to look like more of a team. Tune in tonight at 7:10 PM, eastern time, as this team tries to continue its winning ways and put itself in a position reclaim the division lead.