Thursday, 7:05 PM EST – RHP Adam Plutko vs. RHP Chad Green
I feel like a broken record when it comes to Adam Plutko, because every series in which he’s lined up to start, I have to talk about how his high fly ball and low strikeout rates are not conducive to effectiveness against the opposing lineup.
Despite the evidence that suggests he should be regularly getting run out of ballgames, Plutko continues to navigate around lineups and keep things within reach. In his most recent start against the lethal Twins, he gave up four earned runs over six innings, which is far from a bad outing for a pitcher like him against a lineup like that.
Yankee Stadium is a lot less forgiving than Target Field, however. It’s imperative that Plutko keeps the ball down in the zone against a New York club that can hit five home runs by accident.
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Chad Green will get the nod as the opener for the series premiere, which figures to present a formidable challenge for the Tribe, quite literally, right off the bat. Green’s 4.69 ERA is almost entirely the result of a handful of questionable outings back in April and May.
Since May 22, Green’s ERA is 1.96. He has given up one or zero earned runs in all but one of his appearances during this span. He is, however, allowing hard contact on 46.7% of batted balls, 42.4% of which have been flies–yet he owns a 2.6% HR/FB rate in this time frame.
Green is tough, but the Indians could tag him early if they can barrel him up a few times. Either way, he won’t be in the game very long before turning the mound over to the rest of his bullpen.
Friday, 7:05 PM EST – RHP Aaron Civale vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Like Plutko, Aaron Civale gives up a high enough percentage of fly balls that his 1.00 ERA probably isn’t long for this world. (Though to be fair, no starting pitcher in baseball could reasonably be expected to maintain an ERA that low.)
Unlike Plutko, however, Civale has the ability to strike hitters out, rocking a solid 27.3% K-rate through 18 innings. The Yankees are a relatively difficult team to strike out, but they’re also at the slight disadvantage of never having faced Civale before.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Masahiro Tanaka. Through his final outing in May, Tanaka owned a 3.20 ERA and a 22.7% strikeout rate over 12 starts. He allowed nine home runs in this span.
In his 12 starts since the beginning of June, Tanaka’s ERA is 6.15, his strikeout rate down to 16.8%. He has given up 13 home runs. Tanaka’s go-to weapon is the ground ball, but it hasn’t been working out as well of late with the sudden drop-off in his ability to miss bats.
The Indians’ 21.5% strikeout rate for the season is ninth-lowest in the league.
Saturday, 1:05 PM EST – RHP Zach Plesac vs. LHP James Paxton
Zach Plesac’s pitching style is more comparable to that of Plutko than of Civale. He only strikes out 17.8% of hitters and gives up a ton of contact. Where he differs from Plutko is in his ability to keep said contact from being of the high-danger variety. Plesac has allowed hard-hit balls just 37.6% of the time while primarily inducing grounders at a 42.4% rate.
What’s most impressive about Plesac is his ability to dodge his way through traffic on the base paths and keep games from getting out of hand. Of course, that’s also what he needs to do since he pitches to contact. It’s a dicey way to go through games, and we’ve seen good hitting teams like the Astros and Red Sox put him to the test recently.
The Indians own the league’s ninth-best wRC+ (114) against left-handed pitching since the All-Star break, and James Paxton presents a handful of exploitable trends for this matchup. For one thing, he’s become especially prone to allowing fly balls lately, giving them up at a 55.3% mark through three starts in August and an even 50% clip since the All-Star break.
Paxton also evidently has trouble settling into games early on. He owns a 5.64 ERA his first time through opposing lineups, with a 2.30 ERA his second time through. It would serve the Indians well to attack him in the first couple innings before he has a chance to find his groove, because once he does, he is a high-strikeout pitcher that doesn’t let up.
The third feather in the Indians’ cap is that Paxton has–like many lefties–struggled against right-handed hitters (.836 OPS against, 20 HR). All three of Cleveland’s best offensive players are switch-hitters, with Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes presenting power threats from the right side of the plate.
This game will be decided by whether or not Paxton can shut down the Indians’ suddenly deep complement of options in the righties’ batter’s box.
Sunday, 1:05 PM EST – RHP Mike Clevinger vs. LHP CC Sabathia
Mike Clevinger will look to bounce back after the Red Sox chased him in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s start. Tuesday marked the first time in over a month that Clevinger didn’t achieve the quality start threshold of six innings and three or fewer earned runs allowed.
There’s not much to read into here. The Red Sox are an uncompromising team at the plate, with (arguably) four of the 15 best hitters in the American League at the top of their lineup. They’re going to make things difficult on just about anybody. Clevinger is still striking out 33.2% of hitters and inducing grounders at a 46.1% clip since July 3.
As for CC Sabathia, if ever there was a time for the Indians to put a swift end to whatever has allowed him to succeed against them in recent years, now is that time. Sabathia will make his first start since July 27 on Sunday, returning from a short stint on the IL.
In his three starts prior to landing on the injured list, Sabathia gave up eight home runs in 14.1 innings. He’s been tattooed by right-handed hitters to the tune of an .898 OPS. Much like with the above-mentioned Paxton, the Indians must exploit their advantage over left-handed pitching.