After ten road games in a ten day span, the Cleveland Indians have survived no worse for the wear. In a tough stretch against three teams near or in the top spot in their respective divisions, they managed to salvage a .500 trip after being swept out of Baltimore. A four-game sweep in Tampa and a win in a rain-drenched performance on Friday against Pittsburgh gave the club a chance to return home on the positive side of the script, but two tough performances against the Buccos ended those chances.
Now, the tough stretch will continue, but at the somewhat friendly confines of Progressive Field as the American League West leading Houston Astros come to town for the start of a four-game set to wrap up the season series between the two clubs.
The Indians (38-43) continued their impressive stretch of starting pitching over the weekend, despite the 1-2 trip through the ‘Burgh. An early Brandon Moss home run and timely hitting from Michael Bourn on Friday pushed the Indians past the Pirates, 5-2. A third straight strong start from Cody Anderson was wasted as the Tribe offense managed just three hits off of Pittsburgh lefty Jeff Locke in a 1-0 defeat Saturday afternoon. The NL’s win leader, Gerrit Cole, added a 12th win to his season total on Sunday in a 5-3.
The Astros (48-36) hit a bump over the weekend, losing the final two games of their three game series in Boston with the Red Sox, bringing an end to their five-game winning streak. They won a 12-8 final on Friday before dropping 6-1 and 5-4 losses on Saturday and Sunday after previously sweeping Kansas City and taking the final game of their series with the New York Yankees.
PITCHING PROBABLES and GAME NOTES
In a fantastic pitching matchup, easily the best of the series, likely All-Star Keuchel will get his second stab at the Indians this season as he battles with Carrasco, having a career year of his own and certainly worthy of at least some All-Star consideration for his efforts this season. Keuchel has been one of the biggest reasons for success for the ‘stros. Since his worst start of the season on June 20th, Keuchel has thrown 17 scoreless innings and struck out 19 batters on 13 hits in a pair of wins over New York and Kansas City. Carrasco will take the mound for the first time since coming one strike away from ending a 34-year no-hit drought for Cleveland. He is 2-0 in four career games, including three starts, against the Astros with a 0.40 ERA and a complete game shutout.
The rookie Velasquez will make his sixth career start and first against the Tribe after being called up in June from Double-A Corpus Christi. He matched his career high of seven strikeouts in his last outing, a no-decision against the Royals on July 1st. Kluber, the king of no run support, will hopefully receive enough to get him through his outing. He took the no-decision his last time out, striking out 14 Rays batters in Thursday’s win. He is 3-1 in his career against Houston in four games, three starts, with a 1.90 ERA.
Straily will make his second straight start after being recalled from Triple-A in time for his start on July 3rd. He was acquired by the Astros as part of the Dexter Fowler trade in January. Bauer will put the bat aside after his impression impersonations at the plate in Friday’s Interleague game in Pittsburgh and will focus on the mound. He is perfect in his career against the Astros, winning both starts while not allowing an earned run and limiting their hitters to a .103 career batting mark. He had a no-hitter threw six innings against them earlier this season that was lost by the Indians bullpen in the ninth inning.
The 6’2” McHugh has faced the Indians twice in his career, earning a win and a no-decision while limiting them to two earned runs over 12 innings with nine strikeouts. Both prior outings came in 2014. Anderson will make his fourth start of his career and his first against the Astros. He was strong for the third straight time in a loss to the Pirates, allowing just one run in a complete game effort.
Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and ROOT Sports will air each of the four games of the series this week. MLB Network has picked up coverage of the series finale on Thursday night. Radio coverage will be provided by the affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and KBME 790 in Houston.
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
TEAM W-L PCT GB WCGB STREAK
Kansas City 46-33 .582 – – W1
Minnesota 43-39 .524 4.5 – L1
Detroit 41-40 .506 6.0 1.5 L1
Cleveland 38-43 .469 9.0 4.5 L2
Chicago 36-43 .456 10.0 5.5 L1
The Indians have a 21-14 (.600) edge over the Astros in the series dating back to 1997 with the advent of Interleague play. Cleveland is 9-4 at home against Houston and 12-10 on the road.
They took two of three from the Astros to open the season, losing only the season opener to Keuchel, 2-0. Carrasco and Bauer each earned wins in the previous series. As the home team, the Indians have won eight of their last nine when hosting the Astros.
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
Sam Deduno (P) – 15-day disabled list (May 14) – lower back strain
Scott Feldman (SP) – 15-day disabled list (May 27) – May 2015 right knee surgery; on rehab assignment
Jed Lowrie (SS) – 60-day disabled list (May 14) – May 2015 right thumb surgery
Jake Marisnick (OF) – activated from 15-day disabled list (July 5)
Brad Peacock (SP) – 60-day disabled list (July 2) – left intercostal strain
Chad Qualls (RP) – 15-day disabled list (June 25) – pinched nerve in neck
Colby Rasmus (OF) – day-to-day – skin infection
Domingo Santana (OF) – optioned to Triple-A Fresno (July 5)
George Springer (OF) – 15-day disabled list (July 2) – right wrist fracture
ALL-STAR SECOND SACKERS
Altuve will be the first Astros starter since 2008 (Lance Berkman). He was able to edge out Kansas City’s Omar Infante, who had led at the position for the majority of the balloting period despite far inferior numbers compared to his position counterparts. While the reserves and final vote participants had not been announced at the time of this preview, it is largely assumed that Kipnis will be the Indians representative on the team backing up Altuve. His strongest competition for the spot is Minnesota’s Brian Dozier, who has shown more power and has more runs scored than Kipnis, but with a batting average and on-base percentage almost 80 and 90 points lower, respectively.
LEADERS IN THE CLUBHOUSE
Evan Gattis is the Astros’ team leader in RBI with 50 on the season. He has used 14 homers, 13 doubles, and a surprising four triples to help faciliate offense in the Houston lineup this season. He has hit in six straight games, batting .348 during that time with a homer and four RBI.
Chris Carter is the top strikeout man in all of baseball, as he has been set down 110 times this season in 272 at bats of 80 games. He has used his 15 homers and 40 RBI to offset the K damage done.
Kipnis is baseball’s doubles leader heading into this week, leading Dozier by one with 27. With 109 hits, he trails the AL league leader, Texas’ Prince Fielder, by one, and his .341 batting average is third-best in the league and fifth-highest in all of baseball.
Former Indians utility man Luis Valbuena has found a consistent role and a sudden jolt of power in the heart of the Astros lineup.
Valbuena, who spent time with the Indians from 2009 to 2011 after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, came to Houston in the offseason from Chicago as part of the deal sending outfielder Fowler to the Cubs. Playing regularly at third base, he is hitting just .203 but has a team-high and career-high 19 home runs and has driven in 36 on the season.
A total of 44.2% of his hits this season have been home runs and 62.8% have gone for extra bases.
The Oakland Athletics will come to Cleveland to wrap up the first half of the season on Friday before the All-Star break next week. Houston will remain on the road, finishing their ten-game road trip with a three-day stay in Tampa against the Rays.
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images