Series Preview #26: Cleveland Indians (37-41) at Pittsburgh Pirates (45-33)
Bob Toth | On 03, Jul 2015
So…are you back on the bandwagon? Or are you still holding on for dear life?
The Cleveland Indians (37-41) put on one of the more impressive extended pitching performances in the history of baseball in rebounding from a devastating three-game sweep in Baltimore by claiming all four games against the Tampa Bay Rays during the week.
Cody Anderson took a perfect game into the seventh inning and the Indians staff limited the Rays to just three hits in a 7-1 win on Monday. Danny Salazar was just as brilliant the next night, retiring 15 straight to start the game and getting three home runs of support in a 6-2 win. Carlos Carrasco flirted with the record books on Wednesday, taking a no-hitter within one strike with two outs in the ninth inning before Joey Butler, who had ended his perfect game, broke up the no-hitter and the shutout with a single over the leaping Jason Kipnis at second base in an 8-1 final. Corey Kluber overcame some initial struggles to strike out 14 Rays over eight innings and Mike Aviles sent the Indians packing for Pittsburgh with his solo blast in the tenth in a 5-4 extra inning win.
The Pirates (45-33), in second place in the National League Central, did the Indians a solid during the week by going into Comerica Park and sweeping the Detroit Tigers in three straight. A 14th inning RBI-double from Neil Walker pushed the Pirates past the Tigers, 5-4, on Tuesday. A five-run third inning earned A.J. Burnett his seventh win in a 9-3 victory on Wednesday. Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano threw seven shutout innings as Pittsburgh completed the sweep on Thursday afternoon with an 8-4 win.
PITCHING PROBABLES and GAME NOTES
Bauer may be eager to add his name to the recent stretch of dominance from the starting rotation. His last outing in game one of last Sunday’s doubleheader with Baltimore ended in him earning a loss after allowing four earned runs on five hits over seven innings while his offense remained notably absent at the plate. Morton has pitched well in seven starts since returning in May from labrum surgery that ended his 2014 season early. He earned the win in his last start, allowing four runs on ten hits in six innings, one outing after allowing nine runs in two-thirds of an inning in his only loss of the year.
Anderson is having a memorable start to his Major League career to say the least. In two outings against the Rays, he allowed just one run on eight hits, walked one, and struck out six over 15 2/3 innings. He earned the win in his second start, retiring the first 19 batters in order until a solo home run from Grady Sizemore ended his pursuit of perfection. Locke took the tough loss in his last outing against Atlanta, giving up one run in five innings. He was 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA in five June starts.
The finale will feature a matchup of two of the top young pitchers in the game, as Salazar looks to build off of his last outing. In that win over the Rays, he took a perfect game of his own into the sixth inning to earn his seventh win of the year. Entering Friday, he is sixth in the AL in strikeouts with 101, the third Indians pitcher to eclipse the century mark this year. Cole continued his strong season with a 4-1 mark in six June starts while posting a 2.35 ERA. After winning six straight starts, he took a loss against Cincinnati on June 24th and a no-decision against Detroit on the 30th when he allowed two runs on nine hits in six and two-thirds. He is the MLB leader in wins with eleven and is fourth in the NL with his 2.20 ERA.
As usual, Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio will show all three of the Indians’ games this weekend. ROOT Sports will provide Pirates’ broadcasts. Saturday’s contest will also be aired on the MLB Network.
Radio calls can be found on affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and KDKA-FM 93.7 in the Pittsburgh market.
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
TEAM W-L PCT GB WCGB STREAK
Kansas City 44-32 .579 – – L4
Minnesota 42-37 .532 3.5 – W1
Detroit 39-39 .500 6.0 2.5 L3
Cleveland 37-41 .474 8.0 4.5 W4
Chicago 34-42 .447 10.0 6.5 W2
The Indians are just 16-17 all-time against the Pirates, dating back to 1997 when the clubs first met in Interleague play. They are 10-5 at home, but just 6-12 playing in Pittsburgh. They are 3-9 since the Pirates moved into PNC Park, after posting a 3-3 record at Three Rivers Stadium.
The clubs last met in 2012, when the Pirates took two of three in Cleveland. Justin Masterson earned the win on June 15th in a 2-0 victory, then Burnett defeated Ubaldo Jimenez the next day, 9-2. Jeanmar Gomez took the loss in the rubber match as the Tribe lost a 9-5 final.
The Indians last played in Pittsburgh in 2010, when they dropped the final two games of a three-game June series against the Pirates in three games each decided by two runs or less.
ON THE MOVE and ON THE MEND
Gavin Floyd (SP) – 60-day disabled list (April 5) – right elbow surgery in March
Nick Swisher (DH) – 15-day disabled list (June 13) – left knee inflammation
Josh Tomlin (P) – 60-day disabled list (April 10) – right shoulder surgery
Brandon Cumpton (RP) – 60-day disabled list (May 16) – recovery from March 2015 Tommy John surgery
Corey Hart (RF) – 15-day disabled list (June 22) – left shoulder impingement
Andrew Lambo (LF) – 60-day disabled list (June 26) – plantar fasciitis in left foot
Rob Scahill (RP) – 15-day disabled list (June 26) – right forearm tightness
Justin Sellers (UTL) – 60-day disabled list (May 19) – left heel pain
The Indians pitching staff put together one of the finest four-game stretches in its history in shutting down the Rays this week. The club combined to allow just 13 hits in the series, including just one hit in Wednesday’s win and two in Tuesday’s. While Kluber allowed more hits (seven) in his start than in the 27 innings combined before him (six), he also struck out 14, the third time in his career he had struck out that number of batters in a game (September 16th and September 21st of last season). Those three outings trail just his 18-K gem against the St. Louis Cardinals in May.
Giovanny Urshela extended his career-best hitting streak to eleven straight games with a single in the win on Thursday afternoon. The streak is currently the longest in the American League – Baltimore’s Chris Davis saw his streak end at eleven on Thursday, while Houston’s Jose Altuve was idle Thursday so his streak remains at ten. The 23-year-old third baseman has exactly one hit in each of those games and ten of the eleven hits have been singles. The lone outlier was a three-run homer he hit in Tuesday’s win.
Michael Brantley is nipping at his heels in the AL hitting streak ranks, owner of hits in all seven games of the road trip and eight straight overall. He drove in a pair in Thursday’s win and two more earlier in the series.
After Kipnis saw his 20-game hitting streak end with hitless outings in each of the two games of the doubleheader against Baltimore on Sunday, he has begun a new streak, reaching successfully with hits in all four games against the Rays this week. He had just three hitless games in the entire month of June, hitting .358 for the month.
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker has hit safely in six straight games and went on a tear against the Tigers, boosting his batting average 21 points in the process. He had four hits in each of the final two games of the series and was 10-for-17 in the set with two walks, two doubles, two homers, and seven RBI. In Wednesday’s game, he had ten total bases and knocked in three runs. He is now hitting .483 over the last week.
As hot as Walker has been, shortstop Jordy Mercer might be just as hot at the plate. He is in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak, hitting .444 in those games, and has six multi-hit games during the span. His batting average has climbed 32 points. He is hitting .469 in the last week and .306 in the last 30 games.
Outfielder Starling Marte also is sporting an eight-game streak at the plate, hitting .438. He was 7-for-15 against the Tigers and had a four-hit game on Wednesday, falling a triple short of the cycle in their win. His outfield partner and former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has hit safely in nine straight.
Former Indians utility infielder Jeff Branson, a member of Cleveland’s 1997 World Series team, is in his second season as hitting coach for the Pirates. He replaced another former Indians infielder, Jay Bell, before the 2014 season after working as an assistant hitting coach for Bell during the 2013 season.
After spending five and a half seasons in the Majors with Cincinnati, Branson was traded with starting pitcher John Smiley from the Reds to the Indians in a six-player swap at the trade deadline in 1997. While injury removed Smiley from aiding in the Indians’ postseason push, Branson hit .264 in 29 games and logged time at second, short, and third base. He struck out in two plate appearances in one game of work in the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles and did the same in one appearance in the World Series against Florida.
He remained with the Indians in a utility role during the 1998 season, playing in 63 games while working at all four non-catching infield positions. He made one plate appearance in the ALCS against the New York Yankees and was retired without a hit.
Following the season, he resigned with the Reds and spent 1999 in the minors before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons between the Dodgers and their Triple-A affiliates and spent all of the 2002 season at Triple-A Las Vegas to wrap up the playing portion of his career.
The Indians will make the two-hour trek home to begin their final homestand of the first half, hosting the Houston Astros for three games to conclude their season series before welcoming in the Oakland A’s next weekend in their first matchups of the season. The Pirates will stay put, taking on the San Diego Padres for three games before a key divisional series with the NL Central’s first place St. Louis Cardinals for four games.
Photo: Brain Blanco/Getty Images