Finally, after four months of pandemic delays, the 2020 Major League Baseball season is under way. The New York Yankees defeated the Washington Nationals in a rain-shortened 4-1 victory in the first game of the season on Thursday, while the host Los Angeles Dodgers rolled the San Francisco Giants in an 8-1 final in the day’s night cap.
The Cleveland Indians open their first three of ten games with the Kansas City Royals on Friday, July 24, as the Tribe kicks off 17 straight games to begin the season. The 60-game schedule will see the Indians play ten games each with its rivals in the American League Central, as well as six games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, four games each against the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs, and three games with the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals in localized, regional play.
The Indians fell short of the playoffs in 2019, finishing in second place in the American League Central with a 93-69 record. It marked the fifth time in the Terry Francona era that the Indians had topped the 90-win mark in a season, but the first time the team was left outside of the postseason in such a campaign.
The rebuilding Royals are coming off of a tough 2019 season. Ned Yost’s club went 59-103, finishing in fourth place in the division. Yost is gone, now replaced by former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and the new skipper will look to develop some of the young talent on the roster surrounded by a handful of veterans with some upside.
Duffy gets the starting nod for the Royals while looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2019 season. His 23 starts were his fewest since 2013. Seeing the Indians jersey 60 feet away likely makes Duffy feel nauseous – he owns a 3-11 record in 21 games (17 starts) against the Tribe with a 5.48 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP.
Bieber was an All-Star and the game’s MVP in a breakout season in his sophomore effort in 2019. This will be his first season opening start, making him the youngest Indians pitcher to do so since CC Sabathia in 2004. The 25-year-old has faced the Royals five times in his career, posting a 3-0 record with a 5.22 ERA against them.
Singer was the Royals’ first round pick (18th overall) in the 2018 draft. The soon-to-be 24-year-old right-hander will make his Major League debut in game two of the season after making just 26 starts in the minors for the Royals in his pro debut last season (at High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas).
Clevinger was one of the Tribe players to benefit from the four-month delay to the season, as it gave him time to recover from knee surgery in the spring. He will hope that it is the last of the injuries for him this season after missing chunks of last year on the injured list.
Sunday, July 26, 1:10 PM ET
TBD vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (6-7, 5.29 ERA in 23 games in 2019)
The Royals, decimated by injuries and illness across the roster but especially to the pitching staff, have not formally announced a starter for the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
Carrasco made an improbable return to the club in the second half of the 2019 season after shutting down play in June after a leukemia diagnosis. He has posted solid numbers against the Royals throughout his career (11-7 record, 3.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 25 games), but he was tagged for six runs on six hits in just two-thirds of an inning in his lone appearance against them in 2019.
TV (all): Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio, Fox Sports KC, MLB.tv
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KCSP 610
The Indians hold the all-time edge in their series against the Royals (dating back to the team’s expansion season in 1969) with a 382-342 advantage. Cleveland has a +49 game lead in the win column when playing the host with a 207-158 record.
Last season, the Indians took 12 of 19 contests from the Royals, outscoring them by a 103-81 tally. The Royals swept their first three games with the Indians in Kansas City in mid-April, but the Tribe returned the favor at Kaufman Stadium in early July. The Indians took two of three in a late June series at Progressive Field and repeated that mark in the third week of July. The last road set for the Tribe with the Royals was taken by Cleveland, which won three of four in Missouri. The Indians added two more wins against KC in the final three-game series with them in Cleveland in the final week of August, eleven months ago.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Yu Chang (IF) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (7/23)
Aaron Civale (SP) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (7/23)
Delino DeShields (OF) – 10-day injured list (7/12); recovery from coronavirus
Mike Freeman (UTL) – contract purchased (7/23)
Cam Hill (RP) – contract selected from Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Daniel Johnson (OF) – recalled from Alternate Training Site (7/24)
James Karinchak (RP) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (7/23)
Dominic Leone (RP) – contract selected from Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Tyler Naquin (OF) – day-to-day (7/24); right big toe contusion
Hunter Wood (RP) – designated for assignment (7/23)
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – recalled from Triple-A Columbus (7/23)
Chance Adams (P) – 10-day injured list (7/20)
Ronald Bolanos (P) – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Franchy Cordero (CF) – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Hunter Dozier (3B) – 10-day injured list (7/22); positive COVID-19 test
Cam Gallagher (C) – 10-day injured list (7/11); positive COVID-19 test
Foster Griffin (P) – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Kelvin Gutierrez (3B) – 60-day injured list (7/16); right elbow strain
Jesse Hahn (P) – bereavement list (7/23)
Oscar Hernandez (C) – contract selected from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Greg Holland (RP) – contract selected from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Jakob Junis (SP) – 10-day injured list (7/19); positive COVID-19 test
Brad Keller (SP) – 10-day injured list (7/14)
Erick Mejia (2B) – contract selected from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Ryan O’Hearn (1B) – 10-day injured list (7/14)
Randy Rosario (P) – 10-day injured list (7/20); arm
Gabe Speier (P) – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Meibrys Viloria (C) – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Kyle Zimmer – recalled from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Tyler Zuber (P) – contract selected from Royals Alternate Training Site (7/23)
Certainly the star of the Royals roster for the last few seasons has been jack-of-all-trades Whit Merrifield. He was an All-Star for the first time in 2019 and had a solid season across the board, appearing in all 162 games with a .302/.348/.463 slash at the plate while leading all of baseball in games played, at bats, hits (206), triples (10), and times caught stealing as his stolen base total dropped by more than half from the previous year. Defensively, he played all three outfield spots and both infield positions on the right side of the infield. He hit .318 against Cleveland a season ago in 19 total games, hitting five doubles, a triple, two homers, and 12 RBI (tied for the team lead against the Indians in 2019).
Alex Gordon re-signed with the Royals in the winter to continue his lengthy career in KC. The 36-year-old, a former second overall pick in the 2005 draft out of the University of Nebraska, returned on a $4 million pact for 2020 to play a 14th season with the Royals. A three-time All-Star from 2013-2015, he has picked up some Gold Glove hardware over the last three seasons while serving primarily as the club’s left fielder. His 150 games of action last season was his highest total since 2014.
Jorge Soler put on a show across the country last year as he topped the American League in homers. He appeared in every game for the Royals in 2019, working at designated hitter and in right field. His 48 homers were four times his previous career best set in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs. His 117 RBI were good for the second-most in the league. The breakout effort for the 28-year-old makes him one of the biggest power-hitting threats in the game today, but has also resulted in the most strikeouts in the league. The Indians, however, contained him nicely in 2019, holding him to a .176/.321/.412 slash with five homers, nine RBI, and 24 RBI in 84 plate appearances in 19 starts.
The Indians open their 120th Opening Day since entering the American League in a game delayed 120 games from the originally scheduled start of the 2020 season. The season will have a different look, with 102 games shredded from the schedule while the playoffs have been expanded from 10 teams to 16, which undoubtedly helps the Indians’ chances in a three-team American League Central race.
Cleveland will be counting on a top of the order led by four straight switch-hitters in Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Santana. A strong starting rotation is expected to carry the club in the 60-game slate, but behind those strong five arms, the bullpen has its share of question marks. Oscar Mercado moves down to the bottom of the lineup card to set the table nicely for the bigger run producers at the top of the order. Franmil Reyes, Roberto Perez, and the corner outfield options will fill out the rest of Francona’s lineup card.
The Indians will continue their six-game homestand to open the 2020 season with a three-game set against the upstart Chicago White Sox. The Royals will head north to Detroit, where the Tigers will host them in four straight next week.
Photo: Justin Berl/Getty Images