The Cleveland Indians have become a dangerous team against left-handed pitching since the All-Star break. They’ll face three of them in a row in LA.
Much of this can be chalked up to nearly all of April without Francisco Lindor in the lineup, as well as Jose Ramirez’s mystifying first few months. But even Lindor was a below-average hitter against lefties leading up to the All-Star break in terms of wRC+.
Even if we narrow down the sample to just the month of June–when the Indians began their summer tear–their wRC+ of 92 ranked 21st in baseball.
Only Jordan Luplow, Carlos Santana, and Roberto Perez posted a wRC+ above 100 against southpaws in the first half.
In the second half, the Indians have drastically improved in this facet of the game. Cleveland’s 110 wRC+ against southpaws since the All-Star break ranks ninth in MLB. Their strikeout rate of 19.7% is the second-lowest, only behind Houston.
It’s a smaller sample than the first half, but 10 Tribe hitters have a wRC+ above 100 against lefties in this span. This even includes Jason Kipnis, who owns a 136 wRC+ in 58 such plate appearances.
It also includes Franmil Reyes, who didn’t even debut for the Indians until August 1. Reyes has made 42 plate appearances against lefties since joining the Tribe, and has a 153 wRC+ to show for it.
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It does not include Yasiel Puig, who has put forth an unpleasantly surprising 74 wRC+ against lefties since taking over as the Indians’ cleanup hitter. It would be immensely helpful if the marquee acquisition in the Trevor Bauer trade can pick things up in the final weeks.
Why does any of this matter? The Angels are set to roll out Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, and Dillon Peters to start the three games of Cleveland’s visit to the west coast this week. All three are lefties.
First up is Sandoval, a rookie who faces the unenviable challenge of opposing Shane Bieber in the series opener. Sandoval has ridden solid ground ball and strikeout rates to modest success in his limited work at the MLB level.
His 3.68 FIP suggests his 4.91 ERA could come down a tick, but he also permits 29.9% line drives and walks 9.9% of opposing hitters. Neither of those numbers will play well for him against the Indians if Cleveland’s hitters bring a disciplined plate approach Monday night.
Suarez is also a rookie, and he doesn’t have nearly as much working in his favor as Sandoval. He’s striking out just under 20% of hitters, giving up a 47.7% hard-contact rate, and allowing 40.5% fly balls. His ERA is 6.45, and there’s nothing in his 6.52 FIP to suggest he’s due for better days.
Suarez also sports a 6.48 ERA his first time through the order. The Indians would be well-served to give Zach Plesac–Tuesday’s starter, who has been struggling in his own right–some early run support.
The Indians won’t see Peters until Thursday, and he’s probably best described as a combination of Sandoval and Suarez. Peters possesses the grounder-inducing ability of the former, while also struggling to rack up strikeouts like the latter.
Nothing can be taken for granted. This is a road series about as geographically far from home as the Indians can get, and the Angels still have Mike Trout (who is currently day-to-day with a toe injury) and Shohei Ohtani making noise at the top of their lineup.
But the Indians have the matchup ingredients to do precisely what they did to the Angels in early August when they convincingly swept a three-game series at home. It’s imperative that they continue to do what they’ve done against southpaws ever since the All-Star break, and these three lefties in particular are far from unbeatable.
It’s also crucial that the Indians maintain the momentum they’ve gained from taking two of three in Minnesota over the weekend. Look for big contributions from Luplow, Reyes, and Perez, in addition to Lindor and Santana.
And pay close attention to Puig. He might not be living up to the billing, but with three straight games against lefties, this series could be his chance to break out.