Series Preview #1: Cleveland Indians (0-0) at Toronto Blue Jays (0-0)
Bob Toth | On 02, Apr 2013
By Bob Toth
The Cleveland Indians head north of the border for a three-game set to start the 2013 season against the new look Toronto Blue Jays.
Arguably the two most active and aggressive teams in the offseason in the American League, both organizations surprisingly spent freely throughout the winter months and are looking to impress the league with their new lineups and new (but familiar) leadership within the dugout.
After their similar offseasons, it seems only fitting that the two would face off against one another to open a second straight year.
After competing for most of the first half of the 2012 season, the Indians (68-94) crumbled to a fourth place finish in the American League Central Division. The collapse led to the late season firing of manager Manny Acta and the hiring of two-time World Series champion Terry Francona to guide the ballclub into the future.
A surprise spending spree ensued, as the team signed two of the top free agents on the market in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Signings of slugger Mark Reynolds and pitcher Brett Myers supplemented the moves. Outfielder Drew Stubbs, infielder Mike Aviles, relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers, and future starting pitcher Trevor Bauer came to town in trades. Spring invites tendered to Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn, Rich Hill, and Scott Kazmir appear to have given the team more stability and an added veteran presence.
Cleveland adds all of their new parts to an existing young talent base, led by catcher Carlos Santana and second baseman Jason Kipnis. Santana started slowly and was hampered by a concussion early in the season, but rebounded to lead the team with 18 home runs and 76 runs batted in. Kipnis had an All-Star worthy first half before tapering off in the second half last season.
The Blue Jays are coming off of a fourth place finish last season (73-89) in the highly competitive AL East. They used a total of 34 different pitchers over the course of the season and had just one pitcher accumulate ten wins (Brandon Morrow). Two different pitchers (Henderson Alvarez, Ricky Romero) lost 14 games apiece.
Despite having an injury shortened season from All-Star slugger Jose Bautista (92 games played), the team still ranked in the top five in the American League in home runs. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season and was rewarded mid-year with a contract extension. He finished the season with a .280 batting average and mashed 42 home runs while driving in 110 RBI, all team highs.
The Jays responded in the offseason by easily being one of the most aggressive teams in all of baseball, acquiring pitchers Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and R.A. Dickey, and shortstop Jose Reyes in a pair of trades and signing free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera. The moves clearly shored up the team’s most glaring issue – the starting rotation – while bolstering the lineup.
Like the Indians, Toronto also had to replace their manager, hiring their former manager John Gibbons after John Farrell moved on to Boston to become their skipper. Gibbons posted an even 305-305 record in his previous tenure with the club.
The Blue Jays took the first two games to open last season in Cleveland. The memorable and chilly Opening Day affair was won by a J.P. Arencibia three-run home run off of Jairo Asencio in the top of the 16th inning after an outstanding performance from Indians starter Justin Masterson. The game marked the longest Opening Day game in baseball history.
Toronto won the season series, 4-2. They also have a slight edge in the all-time series between the two clubs, 190-188. The Indians have fared better at home than on the road, with a 100-89 record in Cleveland. The Blue Jays have scored just one more run than the Indians in their head-to-head matchups.
In some player news, the Indians announced during the final week of Spring Training that Giambi would start the season on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain. He is eligible to return next week.
Reliever Frank Herrmann was formally placed on the 15-day disabled list over the weekend after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in March. The Indians added the contract of Raburn to the 25-man roster and designated left-handed pitcher David Huff for assignment. Huff has since been outrighted to Columbus. Ezequiel Carrera, who was placed on waivers at the end of Spring Training, was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies.
In an unexpected roster move, Kazmir was added to the team earlier than planned on Tuesday afternoon, prior to the opener. Reliever Nick Hagadone was demoted to Columbus to create roster space for the Tribe’s number five starter. Kazmir strained an abdominal muscle while playing catch in the outfield. The team will re-evaluate him after a scheduled bullpen session on Wednesday and determine whether or not he will need to be placed on the disabled list.
Toronto announced last Tuesday that last season’s Opening Day starter, Romero, would be optioned to Class-A Dunedin. After a deceptive 8-1 start in 2012, Romero went 1-13 while battling through knee injuries and control issues. The team attempted to correct some mechanical flaws in his pitching delivery but has not seen the results they had hoped for by the end of Spring Training.
On Monday, the Blue Jays announced that up-and-coming third baseman Brett Lawrie would start the season on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, retroactive to March 25th. Relievers Dustin McGowan (sore right shoulder) and Michael Schwimer (strained right shoulder) will also begin the year on the DL.
The reigning National League Cy YoungAward winner Dickey will make his first start for Toronto in the season opener on Tuesday, April 2nd. The 38-year-old returns to the AL after three seasons with the New York Mets. He is coming off of a 20-6 season that saw him lead the league in starts, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Masterson will counter for the Indians; he finished 11-15 last season while tying for the lead in all of baseball with 34 starts. It will be his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Indians.
The Blue Jays will send Morrow to the mound for Wednesday’s start. Despite missing two and a half months of the season, the Jays right hander still finished 10-7 in 21 starts, including three complete game shutouts of three hits or less. The Indians will send out Ubaldo Jimenez, who hopes to return to form after the worst season of his Major League career. In 31 starts, he was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA and led the AL with 16 wild pitches.
Thursday’s series finale will pair Buehrle and Myers. Buehrle returns to the AL with the Blue Jays just one year after signing a four-year contract with Miami. He was 13-13 for the Marlins last season. Myers will make his first appearance for the Tribe and his first as a starting pitcher since being shelled September 28th, 2011 with Houston against St. Louis. He split last season as a reliever between the Astros and White Sox, earning a 3-8 record overall with a combined ERA of 3.31 and 19 saves in 70 appearances.
All three games in the series are scheduled for 7:07 PM starts. They can be seen on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Rogers Sportsnet and heard on both the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays radio networks. The two teams will not square off again for three full months, when the Blue Jays come to Progressive Field July 9th through July 11th to wrap up their season series.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer