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Cleveland Indians: Previewing the series in Minnesota

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(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /
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TORONTO, ONTARIO – JULY 24: Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his complete game shutout with Kevin Plawecki #27 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on July 24, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO – JULY 24: Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates his complete game shutout with Kevin Plawecki #27 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on July 24, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

Projected Starters

Thursday, 8:10 PM EST – RHP Mike Clevinger vs. RHP Kyle Gibson

Both teams will march their best horses out to the mound in this series, but the Indians will send both of theirs in the first two games. First up is Mike Clevinger, whose 1.69 ERA and 34.5% strikeout rate since July 3 rank fifth in all of baseball among starters with at least 30 innings pitched.

Clevinger’s adversary will be Kyle Gibson, a righty with decent strikeout stuff and an exceptional ground ball rate. He presents a respectable challenge right out of the gate for the Tribe.

Friday, 8:10 PM EST – RHP Shane Bieber vs. LHP Devin Smeltzer

On Friday, Shane Bieber will look to continue his Cy Young-caliber season. Here are some of Bieber’s stats, along with their AL ranks: 30.9% K-rate (5th), 3.30 ERA (8th), 3.17 xFIP (3rd), 147.1 IP (T-5th), 4.2 fWAR (4th). In his two most recent starts, he’s held the Angels and Astros to four combined runs over 16 innings.

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Bieber will face rookie southpaw Devin Smeltzer, whose body of work in both a starting and bullpen role is too narrow to gauge. In 27.2 innings, he’s surrendered hard contact on 45.5% of batted balls, as well as an exploitable 43.4% fly ball rate. Smeltzer’s only bad outing of the season came on June 4, when the Indians tagged him for four home runs.

Saturday, 7:10 PM EST – RHP Adam Plutko vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi

Getting the nod on Saturday will be Adam Plutko, whose pitching style plays right into the Twins’ hands. In 59.1 innings, Plutko has allowed fly balls at a 46.4% clip, while only striking out 14.9% of opposing hitters.

He can hang his hat on the fact that he’s only giving up hard contact on 32.8% of batted balls, as well as a 3.7% walk rate. He’ll need to be at his sharpest in the command-control aspects of the game against a Minnesota lineup just daring opposing pitchers to make a mistake.

Jake Odorizzi will oppose Plutko, and don’t be fooled by his 3.61 ERA. Odorizzi came out of the gate guns blazing in the first half of the season, rocking a 1.92 ERA and allowing just four home runs in his first 13 starts. But a 50.3% fly ball rate suggested he was in for some trouble sooner or later.

Sure enough, Odorizzi has a 6.29 ERA in his last nine outings. He’s giving up fewer fly balls, but more hard contact, and the law of averages has caught up to him in the form of 11 home runs surrendered.

Sunday, 2:10 PM EST – RHP Aaron Civale vs. RHP Jose Berrios

The series finale will feature the Twins’ ace against just another in a long line of young pitchers to step up in a big way for the Tribe.

It would come as a shock to even the most optimistic if Aaron Civale is able to keep his 0.75 ERA in tact for much longer, but that shouldn’t detract from what the rookie has done in his two starts. The Indians have needed more gutty outings from youngsters this season than they could’ve imagined back in March, and Civale has proved he can handle the challenge.

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Ron Kulpa ejected Terry Francona and Phil Nevin, then had to leave game himself (Video)
Ron Kulpa ejected Terry Francona and Phil Nevin, then had to leave game himself (Video) /

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  • While the Tribe would gladly take six more shutout innings from Civale on Sunday, his job is just to give the team a chance to win.

    That’s a tall order against the likes of Jose Berrios, who is a Cy Young candidate in his own right. Berrios is tied with Bieber in innings pitched at 147.1, ranks eighth in fWAR at 3.5, and is just ahead of Bieber in ERA at 3.24.

    Where he differs from Bieber and the rest of the AL’s top pitchers is in strikeouts. Berrios strikes out 22.9% of hitters, which is a respectable number, but the Indians have become a pretty tough team to strike out of late. It is worth noting, however, that Berrios owns a 30.1% strikeout rate and .147 batting average against in three starts versus Cleveland.

    The Indians will have to prove they’re a different team against a pitcher who’s handled them effectively all year.

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