Regardless of what is written to introduce this Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros series preview, none of it matters more than the next two names:
Francisco Lindor. Carlos Correa.
Nothing else matters, does it? This is the matchup baseball fans really want to see.
In a potential preview of American League All-Star and Gold Glove and Silver Slugger shortstops for the next ten to 12 years, the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Lindor begins his first playing career trip to Houston on Monday as the Indians face off with the Astros for three games from Minute Maid Park in Houston. There, he and his Tribe teammates will be met by the reigning AL ROY, Correa. Cleveland (15-13) will be looking to improve upon a 5-9 record outside of the American League Central this year. After struggling against divisional opponents last season, they have jumped out to a 10-4 start in the Central, but are 1-5 in interleague play and 4-4 against the rest of baseball. After putting their 5-1 homestand under their belts, their three-game trip to the Lone Star State will be a quick trip before the club returns home for another mini homestand.
Houston (12-20) has not had the start to the year that the club would have hoped after finding itself in the playoffs last season with an AL Wild Card berth after losing the lead in the AL West late in the year. The Astros split a four-game series over the weekend with the Seattle Mariners, taking games two and four by 6-3 and 5-1 finals. They lost the first and third games of the set by 6-3 and 3-2 finals. They are 5-3 in the month of May, including a win over Oakland on the 1st before taking two of three from the struggling Minnesota Twins.
Monday, 5/9, 8:10 PM ET – RHP Corey Kluber (2-3, 3.35 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (2-1, 5.35)
Tuesday, 5/10, 8:10 PM ET – RHP Trevor Bauer (2-0, 5.14) vs. RHP Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.46)
Wednesday, 5/11, 2:10 PM ET – RHP Danny Salazar (3-2, 1.91) vs. RHP Doug Fister (3-3, 4.54)
TV – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all games); ROOT Sports Southwest (all games); MLB Network (out of market only, Wednesday)
Radio – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KBME 790 (Houston)
The Indians and Astros do not have a lengthy history against one another, as Houston did not join the AL until 2013. When the two teams played against one another as interleague opponents, the Astros held a 10-8 advantage against Cleveland.
Now, with more regular opportunities, the Indians have evened up that score some. With the Astros in the AL West, the Indians are 16-5 against Houston, including 5-2 marks in each of the last two seasons and a 6-1 mark in 2013.
The Indians took two of three in Houston to start last season, then followed it up by taking three of four in Cleveland later in the year. The Tribe holds a 24-15 advantage all-time.
Cody Anderson (SP) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (May 7)
Carlos Carrasco (SP) – 15-day disabled list (April 25) – left hamstring strain
Adam Moore (C) – outrighted to Triple-A Columbus (May 6)
Tyler Naquin (CF) – optioned to Triple-A Columbus (May 7)
Roberto Perez (C) – 15-day disabled list (May 1) – right thumb surgery
Anthony Recker (C) – traded to Atlanta for cash considerations (May 9)
Evan Gattis (DH) – optioned to Double-A Corpus Christi (May 7)
Lance McCullers (SP) – 15-day disabled list (March 25) – right shoulder soreness
Max Stassi (C) – optioned to Triple-A Fresno (May 8)
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
Correa will be a new face still for the Indians, who have faced the young right-handed hitting shortstop in just one series last season. In four games, he had just one single in 16 at bats (.063), striking out four times, walking once, and scoring a pair of runs.
He is hitting .286 on the season, good for the second-highest mark on the Astros roster, with five homers, 16 RBI, and 20 walks to give him a .398 on-base percentage this season.
The Puerto Rico native will not turn 22 until the third week of September. He appeared in 99 games last season, hitting .279 with a .345 OBP with 22 doubles, one triple, and 22 homers while driving in 68. He is also sound in the field and can show off some good speed on the bases, as he stole 14 bases in 18 attempts last season and is 5-for-6 in 2016.
…AND OLD FACES
Jose Altuve has been a surprising home run hitting machine for the Astros and continues to find himself at the top of the AL leaderboard in batting at .325. The duel threat has 14 doubles, nine homers, and has driven in 19 runs while scoring 30 runs and is 13-for-14 stealing bases on the season.
Colby Rasmus has been a huge run producer for the club as well, hitting seven homers and driving in a team-high 26 runs. While he is hitting just .235 on the year, his 20 walks on the season push his OBP to .352.
DODGING A BULLET
In a bit of luck, the Indians will miss the two top arms on the Astros staff, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Both has struggled this season some, as the reigning Cy Young winner Keuchel is just 2-4 on the year with a 4.70 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in seven starts and has issued a team-high 19 walks. McHugh, who quietly won 19 games last season, is 4-3 this season, but has a 5.35 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP, and has seen opposing hitters bat .329 off of him in seven starts this season.
Of the five wins in the last three seasons by Houston against Cleveland, Keuchel owns two (both last season) and McHugh one (in 2014). Current Astros reliever and former Indians pitcher Tony Sipp also earned one in 2014.
After starting the season rocky again, Kluber has settled in. He was dealt losses in each of his first three outings, giving up 13 runs over 19 innings. In his last three starts, he has allowed just three earned runs over 24 innings and has given up just 12 hits. He is coming off of a five-hit complete game shutout over the Detroit Tigers in his last outing.
IMPRESSING AT THE PLATE
In the last week, several bats have come alive in the Cleveland lineup and for others, they remained hot.
Lindor hit .435 during the homestand with ten hits, including a double, homer, and three RBI while scoring a team-high seven runs in that stretch. Mike Napoli hit .333 in six games (7-for-21) with a pair of doubles, two homers, and nine RBI. Jose Ramirez hit .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles and five RBI, and Michael Brantley looks to be locking in on his regular season form behind a .389 average (7-for-18) with a double and six RBI.
After the conclusion of the series on Wednesday night, the Indians will take Thursday off before returning home to Cleveland for a three-game series at Progressive Field against the Minnesota Twins starting on Friday night. They will then play a home-and-home series with the Cincinnati Reds next week. The Astros will report to Fenway Park in Boston on Thursday for the start of a four-game set against the Red Sox at the start of a seven-game road trip.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images