Baseball is back. Tito is back. Heck, even Tyler Naquin is back.
After two long days without any Major League Baseball action (with exception of the trade of Jose Quintana across the sprawling city limits of Chicago), the Cleveland Indians are back in action as they start a Bay Area road trip on Friday night with three games with the Oakland Athletics.
The Indians (47-40) went into the All-Star break in the spot that they belong, leading the American League Central Division. While they have been able to hold off the hard charging Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals in recent weeks, the true test will come down the stretch in the second half. A playoff tested Indians team would presumably have the advantage over a young Twins club with glaring deficits in its starting rotation, but the Royals still could roll the dice and go in on one last hurrah before dealing with a financial crisis in free agency following the season.
The A’s (39-50) have once again underwhelmed and underperformed. Trade rumors have already begun to swirl around the biggest contributors to the club, including their starting pitcher on Friday night, Sonny Gray. With a loss in their first half finale, the A’s fell to 21 games in back of the Houston Astros. They are the first team in the AL to lose 50 games this season (and one of four in the Majors to do so). They are just one win better from matching the Chicago White Sox for the worst record in the junior circuit.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Friday, 7/14, 10:05 PM ET – RHP Carlos Carrasco (10-3, 3.44 ERA) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (4-4, 4.00)
The road warrior Carrasco will take his 7-1 mark away from home with a 2.38 ERA to California to get the Indians’ second half started the right way. He struck out eleven Detroit Tigers batters in seven innings his last time out one week ago, allowing just two runs on nine hits. Three of his last four outings have been quality outings that saw him back out on the mound to start the seventh inning. He has excelled in his career against the A’s, posting a 3-0 record in five games (four starts) with a 1.80 ERA and a microscopic 0.69 WHIP. That mark includes a win this season, when he allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings.
Gray has been good since coming off of the disabled list at the beginning of May after missing the first month of the season. He faced the Indians on May 30, taking a loss after getting tagged for seven runs on nine hits over four and two-thirds innings. He is coming off of three straight quality outings as he becomes one of the more heavily discussed trade chips in baseball. He allowed two runs on three hits with five strikeouts in six innings in a win over Chicago in his final start of the first half. He has started six games against Cleveland in his career, going 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. He threw a complete game shutout against them in 2015.
Saturday, 7/15, 9:05PM ET – RHP Corey Kluber (7-3, 2.80) vs. RHP Paul Blackburn (1-0, 0.66)
Kluber was held out of Tuesday’s All-Star Game after starting the first half finale for the Tribe on Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. He has pitched like a man possessed since returning from the disabled list to start June. In eight outings since his activation, he has posted a 4-1 record with a 1.29 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP with 82 strikeouts and just eleven walks in 56 innings. He has struck out at least eight batters in every one of those outings, but saw his franchise record streak of five consecutive starts with double digit strikeout totals come to an end in his start on Sunday, when he struck out eight and allowed a run on three hits with three walks in five innings in his shortest start since going on the disabled list. He is 0-2 in two career starts at O.co Coliseum and 2-4 in his career against the A’s.
It will be career start number three for the 23-year-old right-hander Blackburn, so there should be absolutely no pressure on him in his start against the two-time All-Star and former Cy Young winner in Kluber. The former first round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2012 pitched deep into the game in his last outing, allowing a run on eight hits in seven and two-thirds innings in claiming his first big league win, but he did not strike out a single Seattle batter in the contest. He has been good in his first two starts overall, allowing just one unearned run in six innings in a no-decision in his big league debut on July 1 against Atlanta.
Sunday, 7/16, 4:05 PM ET – RHP Trevor Bauer (7-7, 5.24) vs. LHP Sean Manaea (7-5, 3.76)
Bauer has been good, not great, but reliable, of late for the Indians. He has been able to pitch into the sixth inning in each of his last five starts, posting a 2-2 record in that span. In those five games, he has a respectable 3.52 ERA and has averaged three strikeouts per walk, with 27 Ks and nine free passes in those 30 2/3 innings. He has a 2.70 ERA in two starts in Oakland, but an 0-1 record to show for it. In his career, he has made four starts against the A’s with a 1-1 record, a 3.16 ERA, and a 1.33 WHIP.
Manaea, the 25-year-old former first round pick in 2013 by the Kansas City Royals, has been one of the best pitchers on the Oakland staff this season. Seven of his ten starts since coming off of the disabled list from his left shoulder strain have resulted in quality efforts from the southpaw. His last time out, he took the loss in Seattle against the Mariners, giving up three runs on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts in a 7-2 contest. He has faced the Indians each of the last two seasons, taking home victories in both outings. He has a 1.29 ERA and a 0.64 WHIP against them while limiting them to a .133 average. Both starts were near carbon copies of one another, as in each he worked seven innings and allowed a run on three hits (with both run scoring via long ball). Last season, he struck out eight and walked a pair. This season, he struck out nine and walked one.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; NBCSCA
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 95.7 FM The Game, KATD 990 (Oakland)
Cody Anderson (SP) – 60-day disabled list (4/2) – right elbow surgery
Lonnie Chisenhall (RF) – 10-day disabled list (7/9) – right calf strain
Austin Jackson (OF) – 10-day disabled list (6/27) – left quad sprain
Jason Kipnis (2B) – 10-day disabled list (7/9) – right hamstring strain
Tyler Naquin (OF) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (7/14)
Danny Salazar (P) – 10-day disabled list (6/4) – right shoulder soreness; on rehab assignment
Chris Bassitt (SP) – 60-day disabled list (3/30) – recovery from Tommy John surgery
Jharel Cotton (SP) – 10-day disabled list (7/4) – right thumb blister
Ryan Dull (RP) – 10-day disabled list (5/20) – strained right knee
Kendall Graveman (SP) – 10-day disabled list (5/26) – right shoulder strain
Chad Pinder (IF) – 10-day disabled list (6/24) – left hamstring strain
Jake Smolinski (OF) – 60-day disabled list (3/30) – recovery from March 2017 right shoulder surgery
Andrew Triggs (P) – out for season – season-ending left hip surgery (7/13)
Bobby Wahl (P) – 10-day disabled list (5/24) – right shoulder strain
AL CENTRAL STANDINGS
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD
The series will once again reunite the Indians against outfielder Rajai Davis, who with one swing etched his name permanently in postseason Indians lore in Game 7 of the World Series last season.
The Indians will have to watch out for him against Carrasco on Friday, as he has had a bit of success against the Tribe right-hander. He is 7-for-22 (.318) against him with two doubles, two triples, and a run batted in.
He has a homer and four RBI against Bauer.
ATHLETICS’ NUMBERS AGAINST THE TRIBE
With the exception of Davis and Ryon Healy (4-for-6, one homer), current A’s have done little against Tribe starter Carrasco. Matthew Joyce is 1-for-9 with three strikeouts. Marcus Semien is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts. Jed Lowrie is 1-for-7 with a single and two strikeouts. All-Star representative Yonder Alonso is 1-for-6, but that one hit was a solo homer. Khris Davis is 0-for-6 with five strikeouts, while Adam Rosales is 0-for-4 with two Ks.
Like Carrasco, Kluber has been able to shut down the bulk of the A’s lineup. Only Alonso (3-for-8) has put up respectable numbers against him. Semien is 2-for-12 (.167) with a double and a solo homer, Joyce is 2-for-8, Lowrie is 1-for-4, and Josh Phegley is 1-for-7. K. Davis and Healy have combined to go 0-for-10 with six strikeouts between them.
The A’s have been able to touch Bauer while at the plate. Alonso and K. Davis are each 4-for-10 and both have taken him deep. Healy is 3-for-8 with a double and two RBI. Bauer has posed a problem for a few of the hitters, including Lowrie (1-for-8, four Ks), Joyce (0-for-4, two RBI, one K), and Phegley (0-for-6, four Ks).
Lowrie leads qualified A’s players with a .279 batting average and 27 doubles this season. The slugging K. Davis is tops on the squad with 24 homers and 60 RBI, but is also second in the American League with 117 strikeouts. Alonso was an All-Star this season with a .275 average in 79 games with 14 doubles, 20 homers, and 43 RBI at first base.
INDIANS IN DEPTH
With a pair of tough injuries in the days just before the break, the Indians lost their leadoff hitter Kipnis and then their starting right fielder Chisenhall, who just so happened to lead the club in RBI this season despite significantly fewer plate appearances than his other teammates near the top of that list.
The Indians will look to Erik Gonzalez and Jose Ramirez to plug the hole at second base, with Giovanny Urshela up still from Columbus to provide some more depth on the left side of the infield. Naquin, who had played well at Triple-A prior to a back injury and has been so-so since, was recalled Friday and will team up with Abraham Almonte and Brandon Guyer to plug the vacancy in right field. Michael Brantley will continue to carry the regular duties in left field, while Bradley Zimmer may see more time at the top of the order while getting a more regular work load in center field regardless of the platoon matchups.
Cleveland has had some success against Gray, starting with Brantley. The two-time All-Star left fielder owns a 6-for-14 mark (.429) against him with two doubles and a run batted in. Almonte is 4-for-8 with four singles and a run batted in. Guyer has taken him deep twice while driving in five runs in seven total plate appearances and he, of course, has been plunked by a pitch. Edwin Encarnacion has a homer off of him.
Several Indians will not welcome the sight of Gray on the mound. Carlos Santana is a .125 hitter against him with two singles and two walks to his credit. Francisco Lindor is 1-for-9 with a single and a run driven in. Ramirez is 2-for-10 with a double and one RBI. Yan Gomes is 1-for-7 and has struck out four times against him, while Urshela is 1-for-6 with three Ks.
Current Indians have combined to hit just .118 (4-for-34) off of Manaea in his two starts against them. Guyer is 2-for-5 with a double and a walk. Ramirez has struck out in three of his six trips, while Encarnacion has struck out in three of his five trips (with a single) and Gomes has struck out both times that he has faced him. Santana has struck out twice in six hitless plate appearances off of him, while Brantley is 0-for-3 and Almonte is 0-for-2.
Ramirez enters the weekend series leading the Indians in all triple slash categories with a .332 average, a .388 on-base percentage, and a .601 slugging mark. He is second on the club in homers (17), trailing Encarnacion’s 18. He is tied for second with Encarnacion in RBI with 48, just behind Chisenhall’s 51.
HEADING ACROSS THE BAY
The A’s will stay put in the Bay and will welcome in the Tampa Bay Rays for the second and final series of their second half opening homestand before hitting the road for seven games. The Indians will make their shortest jump between road cities this season as they hop across the bay to San Francisco to play three games against the worst club in the National League West, the Giants. Despite the record, the Indians’ struggles against the senior circuit this season during interleague play have been very real. The two teams will play Monday through Wednesday before an off day on Thursday before their next homestand.
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