Series Preview #6: Cleveland Indians (5-9) at Houston Astros (4-11)
Bob Toth | On 19, Apr 2013
There is no better time than the present for the Cleveland Indians to get out of town. They head to Houston to take on the newest member of the American League, the Astros, in a three-game series starting Friday night.
The bipolar Indians team is mirroring the weather of northeast Ohio. The offense is stellar one day, hitting on all cylinders and lulling fans into a false sense of comfort before the next storm blows in and blanks the starting nine. Just as unpredictable, the starting rotation has been hit or miss (but mainly hit after hit for the opposition).
Houston may be just as happy to have a change in scenery. The Astros, sporting the AL’s longest active losing streak, dropped two of three in Los Angeles against the Angels and were swept in Oakland by the Athletics. Cleveland will be the first opponent they face outside of the AL West.
Cleveland was swept in three straight against the red hot Red Sox earlier in the week.
In the emotional first game for Boston following the tragic events at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were handed a 7-2 win thanks to the continued ineffectiveness of Ubaldo Jimenez. After three straight groundball outs to start the game, he fell apart in the second inning and gave Boston all the runs it would need, retiring just two batters (a strikeout and a sacrifice fly) while giving up a pair of hits, five walks, and seven earned runs. Lost in the mayhem were seven and one-third innings of four-hit relief by Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Rich Hill, and Bryan Shaw. The four walked four but struck out 15 on the evening.
Justin Masterson was made to look human again as Boston roughed up the Indians ace on their way to a 6-3 victory. Masterson toughed out five innings, despite giving up eleven hits, and worked out of several tight spots after giving up three first inning runs. He stranded a pair in the first, escaped bases loaded jams with no outs in the second and with one out in the fourth, and left one more in the fifth. Cleveland woke up the crowd with back-to-back home runs by Nick Swisher (2) and Jason Giambi (1) in the sixth off of converted reliever Alfredo Aceves, but the Red Sox bullpen slammed the door, working four perfect innings while striking out eight.
Jon Lester pitched seven innings and kept the bats in Cleveland cold despite the summer-like weather as the Red Sox swept their reunion finale with Terry Francona, 6-3, on Thursday night. Zach McAllister allowed three earned runs in five innings, despite striking out a season-high seven. Down 3-1, the Indians pulled within one before the Red Sox pulled away in the seventh with a run charged to Hagadone and a pair of unearned runs charged to Shaw after an error by Cord Phelps at second.
“They did what they wanted to us in the series,” Indians manager Francona said following the completion of the sweep by his former club. “We need to go out on the road and get some wins.”
The Indians (5-9) have now dropped four straight games. The losing skid has sent the Indians to the bottom of the AL Central, three and a half games behind the Detroit Tigers. They are now 2-6 at home and enter the Lone Star State with a 3-3 road record.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the entire series with the Red Sox with a sore left elbow. It is unknown if the injury was contributing to his slow start at the plate this season. He is batting just .125 on the season, including a 1-for-15 clip (.067) against right-handed pitching.
Center fielder Michael Bourn was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, retroactive to Monday, with a laceration on his right index finger. He is not expected to remain on the disabled list any longer than the 15 day requirement. He was among the team leaders on offense with a .333 batting average and .375 on-base percentage.
Scott Kazmir will be activated in time to make his first start on Saturday evening.
Reliever Matt Albers was transferred from the family medical emergency list to the Restricted List Friday afternoon. He will remain off of the roster for at least the next few days.
Catcher Lou Marson remains on the disabled list with a cervical strain. He is not eligible to return until late next week.
Asdrubal Cabrera has had success in limited experience against both Philip Humber and Erik Bedard. He has four hits in ten at bats with two walks against Humber and three hits (one home run) and a walk in nine at bats against Bedard. He is batting .127 on the season.
The Indians’ offensive struggles as a team has the club ranked 26th out of 30 teams with a .228 batting average. They are tied for tenth in baseball with 17 home runs on the season.
Their team ERA of 4.68 is 25th in the league, four spots higher than the Astros’ 5.00.
Houston hopes to be the first of the two clubs to end their losing streaks.
A six-run first inning was all Oakland’s Tommy Milone would need as he easily outdueled Bedard as the A’s defeated the Astros, 11-2. Bedard lasted just one-third of an inning and allowed six earned runs on four walks and two hits. His lone retired batter was a strikeout victim. Milone earned his third win of the season and was supported by four runs batted in by former Astro Jed Lowrie and the first Major League home run for Nate Freiman.
Oakland used some late inning magic to squeeze past Houston 4-3 on Wednesday. Carlos Pena tied the ball game at three a piece in the top of the eighth, but a two-out RBI triple by Josh Donaldson scored Josh Reddick to increase the A’s best record in the AL. Houston starter Brad Peacock, a former A’s pitcher, struck out seven in four and a third and gave up three runs on four hits.
After Oakland starter Bartolo Colon allowed a first inning run, the A’s offense erupted for six runs in the bottom of the frame in pacing the Athletics to a 7-5 victory. Colon held the Astros to four hits in six innings. Astros starter Bud Norris allowed six earned runs on five hits and three walks in just two-thirds of an inning. Pena hit his second home run in as many days and Rick Ankiel hit a pinch-hit leadoff home run in the ninth, his third of the season.
The three-game sweep against the division-leading A’s pushed the Houston (4-11) deficit to seven and a half games in the AL West. They return home sporting a 1-5 mark at Minute Maid Park, but have not won at their home park since they opened the season against the Texas Rangers on March 31st.
Reliever Paul Clemens was considered questionable for the series opener with Cleveland after suffering a dislocated right pinky finger in long relief of Bedard on Monday night. He reported after the game that the injury is something that had frequently happened throughout his life and was not overly concerned with the situation.
Right fielder Fernando Martinez has been on the 15-day disabled list since the beginning of the season with an oblique injury. He is on a rehabilitation assignment with the Houston Triple-A affiliate.
Left-handed pitcher Travis Blackley, on the DL with a left shoulder strain, has begun his minor league rehab assignment as well.
Former Indians pitcher Alex White is on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He will miss the entire 2013 season.
On Thursday, the team optioned Brett Wallace to AAA and selected Brandon Laird to join the Major League roster. Left-handed pitcher Xavier Cedeno was designated for assignment to create space on the 40-man roster for Laird. Wallace, a former first round draft pick, was in the midst of an 0-for-22 hitting slump. Third baseman Laird was hitting .353 with 14 runs batted in at AAA Oklahoma City.
All-Star Jose Altuve is off to a strong start, leading the Astros with a .365 batting average and .412 on-base percentage. He ranks seventh in the AL in batting average and at bats. His 23 hits are fourth-best in the league.
Pena has hit solo home runs in each of his last two games. He is 0-for-9 in his career against Jimenez with three strikeouts and 1-for-6 against Kazmir with three walks and three strikeouts. He has three hits in 16 at bats against Brett Myers.
The Indians and Astros have met 18 times prior to this series. Houston owns a 10-8 advantage. Last season, the Astros went heavy with the left-handed pitching and limited the Indians to just four runs in three games. It had been the first time the two clubs had met since playing five consecutive years between 1997 and 2001.
The roof is expected to be open for Friday night’s series opener, scheduled for an 8:10 PM ET start. Former Astros pitcher Myers (0-2, 8.82) will make his third start of the season for the Indians. He allowed a two-run home run to Paul Konerko for the only damage against him in six innings in his last start. Lucas Harrell (0-2, 5.63) will oppose for the Astros. He was the tough luck loser last season against the Indians, striking out nine and allowing just one earned run on two hits in seven innings.
Kazmir will make his first start in an Indians uniform Saturday night against former pitcher of perfection, Humber. Kazmir (0-0, 0.00) will make his debut after spending the first few weeks of the season on the disabled list after sustaining a right rib cage strain in the days just before his first scheduled start. Humber (0-3, 2.89) will make the start one day short of the anniversary of his perfect game thrown last season while a member of the Chicago White Sox. The first 10,000 fans in attendance at the 7:10 PM ET start will receive an Altuve bobblehead.
Sunday afternoon’s 1:10 PM ET first pitch will pair up Jimenez and Bedard. This matchup will see two pitchers looking for redemption after allowing six earned runs or more in their last starts. Jimenez (0-2, 11.25) has allowed seven earned runs in each of his last two outings. He earned a win against Houston last season, walking four, giving up four hits, and striking out eight in six and two-thirds. Bedard (0-1, 7.04) allowed two hits and two walks in his first seven and one-third innings of work, then was his own worst enemy, allowing six earned runs, four walks, and two hits in one-third of an inning his last time out.
All three games will be aired on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and Comcast SportsNet Houston. For those in need of a radio broadcast, tune in to the Cleveland Indians radio network or the Astros’ flagship station, KBME 790 AM in Houston.
The Indians will head to Chicago after the series for a three-game set beginning on Monday against the White Sox. The Astros will host the Seattle Mariners for three in Houston before returning to the road for a seven game road trip to Boston and New York.
Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images