Series Preview #1: Cleveland Indians (0-0) at Houston Astros (0-0)
Bob Toth | On 06, Apr 2015
Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco certainly have a few million things to smile about these days as the long awaited 2015 Major League Baseball season gets under way for the Cleveland Indians this week.
Kluber and Carrasco were both rewarded for their strong showings last season with contract extensions over the weekend, locking the players up on team and player friendly deals for the foreseeable future. Their inked extensions will add to an already long list of core teammates who give the Indians an extended window of opportunity to reach and excel in the playoffs. Meanwhile, those same Indians players have caught the attention of the national media and, in some cases, have been picked to go to and win the World Series.
This week is the first test to see how the young team can handle a new and somewhat unexpected level of pressure. Under the guidance of Terry Francona, they may just be able to withstand the weight.
The Astros were active throughout the offseason and are an up and coming team that could surprise after working in the shadows to add some significant pieces to their roster. They worked the trade market heavily, acquiring catcher Hank Conger from the Angels, catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis from the Braves, and third baseman Luis Valbuena from the Cubs. They also signed relievers Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, and Joe Thatcher to stabilize the bullpen, starter Roberto Hernandez to add depth to the starting rotation, shortstop Jed Lowrie to tandem with Jose Altuve up the middle, and outfielder Colby Rasmus. The moves add some veteran experience to what was the youngest club in baseball, by average player age, in 2014.
Monday, 4/6, 7:10 PM ET: RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 2.44 ERA in 2014) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (12-9, 2.93)
Wednesday, 4/8, 8:10 PM ET: RHP Carlos Carrasco (8-7, 2.55) vs. RHP Scott Feldman (8-12, 3.74)
Thursday, 4/9, 2:10 PM ET: RHP Trevor Bauer (5-8, 4.18) vs. RHP Asher Wojciechowski (making MLB debut)
Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and ROOT Sports will cover all three television broadcasts. ESPN will also air the opener on Monday. The affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and the Houston Astros Radio Network will handle the radio calls.
The Indians hold a 19-13 edge in the all-time series with the Astros, including a 10-9 record in Houston, in a series dating back to 1997 between the two clubs.
Cleveland won both series against Houston last season, including taking three of four at Minute Maid Park. All three starters for the Indians this series earned wins last season against the Astros and closer Cody Allen was 1-1 with three saves.
For the Indians:
Gavin Floyd (SP) – 60-day disabled list (April 5) – right elbow surgery in March
Nick Swisher (1B/DH) – 15-day disabled list (April 2) – recovery from double knee surgery in August
Josh Tomlin (P) – 15-day disabled list (March 29) – right shoulder inflammation
Zach Walters (UTIL) – 15-day disabled list (March 27) – right oblique strain
For the Astros:
Josh Fields (RP) – 15-day disabled list (March 27) – right groin strain
Brett Oberholtzer (SP) – 15-day disabled list (March 31) – blister on left index finger
Brad Peacock (SP) – 15-day disabled list (March 30) – recovery from hip surgery in October
ON THE MOUND
Kluber hits the mound in his first start since becoming the third Indians pitcher in the last eight years to win the Cy Young Award. The trip to Houston may be a pleasant trip down memory lane for the Tribe ace, as it was his four innings of scoreless relief of Scott Kazmir in a 19-6 blowout win in 2013 that led to his insertion into the rotation. Kluber will turn 29 on the home opener this coming Friday.
Bauer has faced just four of the current members of the Astros roster. He has allowed a single and a double in their eleven plate appearances and has four strikeouts. Carrasco has fared even better, allowing just five hits in 36 at bats to current Houston Astros players with 15 strikeouts. Altuve is the leader among the men with two hits in six at bats against Cookie.
Keuchel left an impression in his first career start against the Indians back in 2012. In just his second MLB outing, he threw a complete game six-hitter, allowing one run (a home run by Asdrubal Cabrera) on six hits with three strikeouts. Cleveland will miss the bat of Swisher for this matchup, as the energetic Indian is a perfect 5-for-5 in his career with a pair of doubles off of the Houston lefty.
Feldman first faced the Indians back in 2005 while a member of the Texas Rangers. He has limited current Indians to a .219 average; Brandon Moss and Mike Aviles are tied with a team-high four hits against him. The 26-year-old Wojciechowski will be making his MLB debut after appearing in 15 games in the minors in 2014.
BY THE NUMBERS
Michael Brantley looks to build on his career year at the plate and his third place finish in the American League MVP balloting. He hit a career high .327 with 20 homers, 97 RBI, and stole 23 bases while being named to the All-Star team and winning a Silver Slugger award. He hit .280 against Houston last season.
Jose Ramirez might just welcome the sight of Houston pitching. He hit .345 against them last season with ten hits in 29 at bats. He had three doubles and added a pair of runs batted in. He will be the first new Opening Day shortstop for the Indians since Cabrera took over the position in 2010.
Houston may not be as welcoming of Cleveland pitching. Their combined .184 average against the Tribe last season was the second-lowest average they had against any opponent in 2014. Altuve was one of the best of the bunch, hitting .323 with ten hits, including a double and a triple, on the way to an AL batting title with a career-best .341 mark at the plate with 56 steals.
After hitting just three home runs in 26 April games, the bat of Chris Carter erupted. In the final five months of the season, he hit 34 home runs and drove in 80 and finished second in all of baseball for the season with his 37 dingers. In somewhat usual territory for a power hitter, he also placed second in the AL in strikeouts with 182.
If a few of the faces look familiar at Minute Maid Park this week, they may just be. A pair of new Astros acquisitions spent several seasons in an Indians uniform.
Valbuena played with the Tribe from 2009 to 2011 after being acquired in a three-team, eleven-player swap between Cleveland, Seattle, and New York. He joined reliever Joe Smith with the Indians, while outfielder Franklin Gutierrez went to the northwest. Valbuena was purchased by Toronto following the 2011 season and he was later claimed off of waivers by the Chicago Cubs, where he had spent the last three seasons while providing some surprising pop to their lineup.
Hernandez may be better remembered by Tribe fans as the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona. He was signed by the Indians in 2000 and debuted with the club in 2006. He was 19-8 and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2007 and was an All-Star in 2010. He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent for the 2013 season and split last year between the Phillies and Dodgers organizations.
The two new members of the Houston club join another former Clevelander, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, on the 25-man roster. Sipp was drafted in the 45th round of the 2004 draft and reached the Majors in 2009. He spent four years in the Indians bullpen, but was traded to Arizona following the 2012 season in the three-team trade with Cincinnati and Arizona that brought Bauer and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. He was 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA and four saves for Houston last season in 56 games.
The Astros will hit the road, but will not have to travel far as they head to Globe Life Park in Arlington to take on their in-state rivals, the Texas Rangers, for a three-game series. The Indians will make their debut in Cleveland for a weekend series with the division rival Detroit Tigers starting Friday afternoon.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer