The tables have turned dramatically on the Cleveland Indians while playing in their third consecutive American League Division Series. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox in 2016 and winning the first two games of the set last season against the New York Yankees, the Indians find themselves in an 0-2 hole against the reigning champions, the Houston Astros. Cleveland will host Game 3 on Monday, and if the Indians can pull out a victory, Game 4 will take place from Progressive Field on Tuesday.
The series has not gone well for the Indians thus far. Key hitters have slumped and the team as a whole has managed just six hits through the first two contests against a notably tough Astros pitching staff. Four different batters have gone hitless in the series. The starters have given up six walks in ten innings of work, and the bullpen has surrendered four runs in six innings.
The Astros have made the Indians look bad in their title defense. They have put up a balanced attack at the plate, with eight extra base hits and 21 hits in total. They have struck out (10) the fewest times of any of the ten playoff teams this season. The pitching staff has struck out 24 Tribe hitters while walking just four in 18 innings of work. The bullpen has worked five and two-thirds scoreless one-hit innings.
Game 1 – Cleveland 2, Houston 7
Game 2 – Cleveland 1, Houston 3
Keuchel, 30, took a loss in two starts against Cleveland during the regular season, marking his first career defeat against the Indians. In seven starts and one relief appearance in his career, he is 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. He comes into his first playoff start of this season with a 4-2 record lifetime with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in eight total games. He went 2-2 last year in the Astros’ run to the title, earning wins in the ALDS and ALCS and losses in the ALCS and World Series.
The 27-year-old Clevinger will make his first career playoff start and seventh overall appearance in postseason play. He worked in four games in the 2016 postseason, including three times in the World Series. He worked twice against the Yankees in last year’s ALDS, walking four in an inning and one-third. Command is often the biggest piece in determining Clevinger’s success in an outing, and his career 6.43 playoff ERA has been hurt by the nine walks that he has allowed in seven innings. Clevinger wrapped up a career year with a strong second half, going 6-3 after the break in 13 starts with a 2.31 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and a .189 batting average against. After going 1-4 with a 4.85 ERA in July, he finished the final two months of the season by going 6-1 with a low twos ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in September. He is 1-3 in his career against Houston with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in four starts. He blanked them over seven innings last season, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Game 4 (if necessary) – Tuesday, October 9, 4:35 PM ET – RHP Charlie Morton vs. TBA
Game 5 (if necessary) – Thursday, October 11, 4:07 PM ET in Houston
TV (all): TBS
Radio (all): ESPN Radio, Cleveland Indians Radio Network
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORDS
Cleveland: 56-52 (14 seasons); World Series wins in 1920 and 1948, losses in 1954, 1995, 1997, 2016.
Houston: 37-45 (12 seasons); World Series win in 2017, loss in 2005.
The Indians and Astros lack an extensive history against one another, as Houston spent the bulk of its existence in the National League (through 2012). The two teams began play against each other during Houston’s time in the NL Central when interleague play kicked off in 1997. They played a single series for five straight years, then did not meet up again until 2012. Starting in 2013, the teams have met twice a year.
Cleveland has historically had the better results in the matchup, posting a 35-24 record all-time, including a 17-14 mark at home and an 18-10 record in Texas. The Indians have dominated the Astros since they joined the American League, but things were much more evenly matched up this season, with Houston claiming four wins (two at home, two on the road) and Cleveland earning three (two at home, one on the road). The Astros outscored the Indians, 45-29, in the seven games.
ONE MORE WIN
Gonzalez has been a hitting machine for the Astros in the series, racking up five hits in seven at bats (.714). His four-hit game helped Houston claim a 3-1 win on Saturday, as his two-run double in the sixth inning turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. He is 2-for-5 in his career against Clevinger with two singles and a walk, but he has struck out twice against him.
Bregman has hit homers in each of the first two games of the series and has driven in three runs. He has three hits in total and has drawn a pair of walks in the first two games. He has drawn two walks and gotten two hits against Clevinger in his career, including a home run. He has driven in more runs (3) off Clevinger than any other current Astros hitter.
Reddick is 3-for-6 in the series with a pair of RBI. He has stepped into the box just three times against Clevinger, drawing a walk.
Springer is 3-for-8 in the first two games of the ALDS with a solo homer. He has scored a pair of runs in the series. He has good numbers against Clevinger in his career, getting three hits and drawing three walks in ten total trips. He is just a triple short of the career cycle off of Clevinger.
Correa has struggled in the series, going 0-for-7 with two strikeouts. He has had minimal success with Clevinger in his career, going 1-for-8 with a single and two walks.
STILL RALLYING TOGETHER
The Indians are hitting .100 (6-for-60) as a team this postseason, while the Astros have hit an MLB-best .333 (21-for-63).
Lindor is the only Indians hitter with hits in both games, or with two hits total this postseason. He singled in Game 1 and provided the lone tally on Saturday with a solo home run, his 39th home run of the season. To continue his team-leading production against Houston in the playoffs, he is going to have to overcome some difficulties against Keuchel in his career as he has just a pair of singles and a walk in 13 career plate appearances against the left-hander. He has grounded into two double plays against him, but has never struck out.
Brantley, Cabrera, Encarnacion, and Gomes each have hit singles in the series to account for the Indians’ other four hits.
Brantley has ignored the lefty-lefty matchup issues with Keuchel, as he leads all Indians players with two homers against the former Cy winner. Cabrera has hit .368 against Keuchel in his career with a pair of doubles. Gomes owns a .353 average and OBP against Keuchel with two doubles, but he has struck out in seven of his 17 plate appearances against him overall.
Kipnis has struck out in five of his six at bats so far in the series. Alonso has done so four times in his six trips. Donaldson, Ramirez, Encarnacion, and Gomes have all struck out three times. Only Cabrera has gone without a strikeout in the series.
Ramirez is the team’s best career hitter against Keuchel, owning a .417 career average in 12 plate appearances. Three of his five hits off of him have been two-base hits and he has driven in two runs.
Guyer has posted strong numbers against the southpaw, hitting 6-for-15 (.400) with a double and one run batted in. He is expected to be in the starting lineup against Keuchel.
The reserve Davis will not see the plate with Keuchel on the mound. He is 0-for-20 in 22 plate appearances against him with two walks and five strikeouts.
If the Indians can claim a pair of home wins over the Astros on Monday and Tuesday, the series will relocate back to Houston’s Minute Maid Park in a Game 1 rematch between Verlander and Kluber.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images