Indians and Astros Meet in Houston in Playoff Preview

If the playoffs were to start today (just past the quarter pole of the actual 2018 season schedule), the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros would be first round opponents in the American League Division Series.

Cleveland (21-21) kicked off a three-city, eight-game road trip in Detroit earlier in the week, taking a pair of bad losses before salvaging the finale behind a stellar start from Trevor Bauer on Wednesday. The bullpen was once again in the spotlight, unable to prevent runs from crossing in the series. Their series with the Astros will be a big test, as they will hope that their starting three for the game will be able to do what they have done for most of the season and pitch deep into the ball game to avoid facing relying on the unstable bullpen’s results. The Tribe comes into the weekend with a game and a half lead over Detroit (20-23) in the American League Central Division.

The Astros (28-17) are the defending world champions, but it has been no cake walk for the club this season as the pressure behind them in the AL West is high as a rebuilt Los Angeles Angels club has remained right in the picture throughout the first month and a half of the season. The Astros are two and a half games in front of the Halos and three games up on the Seattle Mariners, while the Oakland A’s carry a .500 record into the weekend at 22-22. Houston started the month on a down note, dropping five of their first six games (against the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks), but have won three straight divisional series since, sweeping the A’s before taking two of three from the Rangers and Angels.

Clevinger – Ron Schwane/Getty Images

PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES

Friday, May 18, 8:10 PM ET – RHP Mike Clevinger (3-0, 2.70 ERA) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (5-0, 2.03)

The series will open with a pair of unbeaten pitchers with ERAs below three on the bump. Cleveland’s Clevinger has not lost a start since July 31 of last season (he did take two defeats in relief). The 27-year-old has faced the Astros twice in his career, with a short outing and loss in his first effort in 2016 before throwing seven shutout innings of two-hit baseball last season. He earned his third win of the year in his last start on May 12 against Kansas City, throwing a quality seven and two-thirds innings in the victory, allowing eight hits but no walks for the first time this season while striking out five.

Morton, certainly not to be confused with the infielder of the same name who played 87 games in 1882, 1884, and 1885, has turned his career around in Houston after injuries slowed him down. Coming off of a 14-7 record last season and an impressive effort in the postseason, the 34-year-old has won five decisions in eight starts this season with a microscopic 2.03 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He is striking out batters at a career-best rate of 11.5 per nine innings. He struck out a season-high 14 batters in his win over Texas in his last start. He has lost both starts of his career against the Indians, including last season when he allowed four runs on eight hits with three homers surrendered in five and one-third innings.

Saturday, May 19, 4:10 PM ET – RHP Corey Kluber (6-2, 2.34) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (3-5, 3.10)

In a battle between a pair of former Cy Young winners, Kluber and Keuchel will match up with one another again. Kluber is 5-3 with a 3.26 ERA against Houston in his career, but has lost each of his last two starts at Minute Maid Park. He struck out ten last season against them in seven innings in a quality start and win in Cleveland. This season, he has won six of his last seven starts in his Cy defense, matching a season-low with four strikeouts but firing seven innings of two-run baseball (neither was earned) in defeating Kansas City his last time on the mound.

Kid Keuchy, the 30-year-old southpaw and free-agent-to-be, leads the American League in losses despite a 3.10 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP on the year. The two-time All-Star is a three-time Gold Glove winner on the mound, but has had some difficulties staying healthy in the last couple of years. He has pitched well against Cleveland throughout his career, boasting a 4-0 record with a 2.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in six games (five starts). He is coming off of a win over Texas in his last start, striking out a season-high eight while allowing just three hits and one walk in seven scoreless innings.

Sunday, May 20, 8:08 PM ET – RHP Carlos Carrasco (5-2, 3.66) vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (5-2, 3.63)

The series will wrap up with a primetime ball game for the two clubs in a national broadcast on ESPN. A pair of right-handers will square up in Carrasco and McCullers with very similar numbers on the mound. Carrasco has been a road warrior throughout his career – he owns a 40-23 record with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP on the road and a 27-31 mark at home with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He took a tough loss his last time out against Detroit, allowing three runs on six hits in six and two-thirds innings. He is 2-0 in his career pitching in Houston and owns a 3-1 record with a 2.67 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP against the Astros in six games (five starts).

McCullers started the season with some shorter outings and one bad game against Minnesota, but has responded with quality starts in five of his last six games (while not surprisingly going 4-1 in that span). He took his second loss of the year his last trip to the mound, giving up just two runs in six innings to the Los Angeles Angels, but dropping the 2-1 final. He has faced the Indians once in his career, allowing five runs on seven hits in five innings in a loss against them last season.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TV (all): Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (5/18, 5/19); ATT SportsNet-SW (5/18, 5/19); MLB Network (5/19, out-of-market only); ESPN (5/20)
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network (Cleveland); KBME 790 (Houston)

TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES

Cleveland:
Cody Anderson (P) – 60-day disabled list (2/25) – recovery from April 2017 UCL surgery
Lonnie Chisenhall (RF) – 10-day disabled list (4/8) – right calf strain
Nick Goody (RP) – 10-day disabled list (5/3) – right elbow inflammation
Ryan Merritt (P) – 60-day disabled list (3/26) – left knee sprain
Tyler Naquin (OF) – 10-day disabled list (5/12) – left hamstring strain
Neil Ramirez (RP) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (5/15)
Danny Salazar (P) – 60-day disabled list (3/26) – right shoulder rotator cuff tendonitis; shut down
Bradley Zimmer (CF) – 10-day disabled list (5/12) – left rib contusion

Houston:
Jandel Gustave (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – recovery from June 2017 Tommy John surgery
Tony Kemp (2B) – recalled from Triple-A Fresno
Jake Marisnick (OF) – optioned to Triple-A Fresno
Brady Rodgers (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – recovery from May 2017 Tommy John surgery

Altuve & Springer – Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

’STROS STATS

There are plenty of names in the Astros lineup to worry about, but it all starts with Jose Altuve. He is right there above the .300 mark in hitting once again, despite a marked downswing in his power numbers. His doubles production remains strong, but he has just two homers on the year after hitting 24 in each of the last two seasons. He is looking for his fifth straight .300+ season at the plate.

Carlos Correa will be a name in the mix in a tight battle for the shortstop spot on the American League All-Star team. He has done nothing to hurt his cause at the plate, slashing .281/.372/.497 on the year with 12 doubles, seven homers, and 29 RBI, the latter of which leads the team.

George Springer leads the club with eight homers on the year while driving in 26 runs, second to Correa. He is hitting .287 and has ten doubles to his credit.

That trio has all scuffled a bit with the bat over the last week. All three are hitting .167. Altuve is 4-for-24 with two doubles and Springer is just 2-for-12 while missing two games. Correa has struck out five times in 18 at bats, but has also drawn six walks to give the team a .400 on-base percentage in that span.

Current Astros hitters have combined to slash .182/.280/.273 against Clevinger in their careers. Altuve is 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Yuli Gurriel has a double in three trips. Evan Gattis has not fared well, with a single and three strikeouts in four plate appearances.

Marwin Gonzalez has hit well off of Kluber, owning a .500 average lifetime in 16 plate appearances with a double, two homers, and six RBI. Correa has struck out in six of his 12 career plate appearances against Kluber, with just a single, a double, and a walk to his credit.

Josh Reddick has handled Carrasco with ease, going 6-for-9 (.667) with two doubles, a homer, and four RBI against the right-hander in his career. Gonzalez and Springer have each gone 3-for-7 against him, with Gonzalez hitting a homer and driving in two, while Springer has hit a pair of doubles. Gattis has not had that kind of success, going 2-for-9 with a single, a double, and five strikeouts in nine plate appearances.

BAUER AND MCCULLERS BEEF

Bauer will not be on the mound for the Indians this weekend after starting in Wednesday’s win, but his on-going feud with Houston’s McCullers Jr. continued on Friday afternoon.

McCullers previously took exception to comments made by Bauer that implied that Houston pitchers may be getting some additional assistance with their pitches on the mound from other foreign substances.

Bauer’s charitable donation spree for the first 69 games of the year continued Friday when he announced that his 51st donation would go to McCullers’ “The Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation”. The description in Bauer’s tweet announcing the donation shared that the foundation “aims to get pets out of sticky situations by promoting pet adoptions, raising awareness for shelters and programs, and continuing the journey to a no-kill world”.

McCullers fought back, announcing that he would be re-donating the funds to another Houston-area charity of need. Apparently, money can’t even buy love in Twitter beefs.

Ramirez & Brantley – Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

TRIBE BY THE NUMBERS

Michael Brantley comes into the series with a seven-game hitting streak active. He has hit .387 in that span with 12 hits, including three home runs, while driving in 11 runs. Edwin Encarnacion has also hit safely in a modest five-game span.

Francisco Lindor’s 15-game hitting streak (the third-longest in baseball this season) came to an end during the Tribe’s series in Detroit, but his on-base streak has continued. He has reached base in 17 straight games, dating back to April 29, putting up a .438/.500/.877 line at the plate in that time. His batting average has climbed from .225 to .314 during that streak.

Jose Ramirez is slashing .351/.448/.807 for the month of May with 20 hits. Of those hits, eight have been doubles and six more have left the yard while driving in 14 total runs and scoring 14 times in that span.

Morton has handled the Indians lineup throughout his career. Jason Kipnis and Encarnacion have each taken him deep. Brantley and Lindor have each doubled in six trips. Yonder Alonso, however, has had no luck, with just a single and one RBI in 14 plate appearances with four strikeouts.

Brandon Guyer will almost certainly be in the lineup to face Keuchel on Saturday afternoon. He is 6-for-14 (.429) against him in his career with a double. Yan Gomes has also had success against the southpaw, going 5-for-12 (.417) with a pair of doubles. Brantley is just 4-for-18 (.222) against him, but does have a home run.

Current Indians have hit well against McCullers, as the seven active players with plate time against him have gone 11-for-24 (.458) with five doubles and a home run. Alonso leads the way with four hits (two doubles) in ten plate appearances with a pair of walks and three RBI. Brantley is 2-for-3 against him with a double and three RBI. Encarnacion is 1-for-4 against him with a homer and a sacrifice fly.

TRIBE TRIVIA

As the Tribe heads to Texas to take on the Houston Astros, our Tribe Trivia for the weekend will feature a Cleveland-Houston connection. One answer will be revealed in the game recaps for each of the three games of the series.

The Astros have three pitchers in their bullpen who have pitched in the Indians organization. One left via Rule 5 selection prior to pitching for the Indians, one was part of the Bauer trade with Cincinnati and Arizona, and the third was passed last season by Bryan Shaw for the Indians’ franchise record for career holds.

Who are we?

The Indians and Astros have four of the top eleven picks from the 2011 draft class on their rosters (two each) and all are serving big roles for their respective clubs.

Who are we?

This current coach on A.J. Hinch’s staff spent five seasons in the Majors, including one year with the Indians in 1973. He is probably better known as being the second person to undergo Tommy John surgery, having the procedure in 1978.

Who am I?

WINDING UP IN THE WINDY CITY

Stop three of the Indians’ three-city road trip will take them to the Windy City, where the Tribe will play a pair with the Chicago Cubs to wrap up their split home-and-home series this season. The Astros will take Monday off before hosting the San Francisco Giants in interleague play on Tuesday in a short two-game set before they travel to Cleveland to play four more with the Indians to wrap up their season schedule, at least, for the regular season that is…

Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Related Posts

Deals Left at the Table Leave Tribe Fans Wondering What Might Have Been

The Indians’ quick playoff exit has led to a lot of 20-20 hindsight, deals that in retrospect could have been made and should have been made. And…

Tribe Bullpen Has a Good Hand, With Questions on Other Arms

After several years of boasting one of the game’s best bullpens, including the 2016 version that nearly carried the club to a World Series championship, the Cleveland…

Seventy Years Later, Tribe Still Stands Without a Championship

Last Friday marked the anniversary of the last time a championship parade rolled through the streets of Cleveland in honor of the city’s Indians. A week and…

Indians Outfield Has Many Questions, Few Answers

During the six-year tenure of manager Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians outfield has been a work in progress, piecemealed together and full of platoons for much of…

Indians Starting Slow in Arizona Fall League Play

The postseason hangover in Cleveland has extended all the way to Arizona for the Indians organization, as the team’s participants on the shared roster of the Glendale…

So Where Do We Go From Here?

So this is how it ends, like T.S. Eliot, not with a bang, but with a whimper. When the Cubs beat the Indians in the wee small…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.