The Detroit Tigers provided the Cleveland Indians with everything that they needed over the weekend, getting the team back on track after a tough portion of the schedule. Now, they continue their road trip against another lackluster opponent, heading to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park for three games with the Pirates.
The Indians moved to 13-9 on the year with a strong three-game sweep of the Tigers to extend their winning streak over Detroit to 20 straight decisions, now within striking distance of the most consecutive wins against one opponent in Major League Baseball history. Cleveland got its share of strong starting pitching and quality work out of the bullpen, but the bats came to life against a shaky pitching staff in Motown, dropping 21 runs on the Tigers arms during the three-game set.
Once again, the Indians will play an opponent that has sat idle for an extended stretch. After completing their game with the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, the remaining two dates of the Pirates’ four-game series with them was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test by one of the Reds. The three days of rest could be problematic for a Pirates club that was already struggling in the early going, posting a 4-14 record with single wins against St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Cincinnati this season. The Pirates are just 2-9 in August and have had five different games postponed this month alone (including their three-game series at St. Louis last week) due to the pandemic.
The Mike Clevinger/Zach Plesac drama continues to draw a little bit of attention from national media after a new story from ESPN on Monday. It detailed the pair’s demotion to Lake County and highlighted some of the player concerns shared on Friday in Detroit, most notably Oliver Perez’s intentions to step away from the team in the event that the two were brought back to the team right away.
Obviously, trust was violated by the pair. Plesac’s transgressions were bad. He seemed to take his lumps, but then responded recklessly on Thursday in an Instragram video that may have accomplished everything but what he was intending to in a six-minute rant while driving around Cleveland without a seatbelt on. He claimed to understand, yet felt it imperative to point fingers at the media and downplaying his actions as safe, even though they broke the rules. As for Clevinger, he let his “best friend” take the fall for both initially before subjecting the entire team and staff to whatever it was that he got into during the Saturday night soiree. He had the opportunity to step up, but instead he was around the team and the staff both at the ball park on Sunday and on the plane ride back to Cleveland afterwards, presenting a much more heinous and egregious act compared to Plesac’s. Not owning it right away looked bad, but his silence since a notably scripted and canned apology is appreciated, one of the few things that he has done right since walking out of that Chicago hotel.
There are hurt feelings in the Tribe clubhouse, for their teammates, for their families, and to their coaching staff, already reduced three members during parts or all of this season due to health (manager Terry Francona) or COVID-19 concerns (bench coach Brad Mills, hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo). Perez was right to feel a sort of way about things, as was Adam Plutko, who has been the most vocal publically about the affair. The ESPN story noted Francisco Lindor as being outspoken some, and it is hard to not believe that Carlos Carrasco has not had some feelings about things after his very public battle with leukemia just one year ago.
All in all, it is a story that just will not go away soon enough.
An early season slump, you say? Say no more, says Franmil Reyes. The 24-year-old slugger busted out of it by being one of the lone Indians hitters to perform well against both Chicago clubs before trying to singlehandedly defeat the Detroit Tigers by himself over the weekend and coming darn close to doing so.
Reyes was hitting just .163 through his first dozen games, which included the first three games of the team’s series against the Cincinnati Reds in the first week of the month. Just two days after mashing a key two-run home run in the team’s 4-2 win in Cincinnati on August 4, he got started on a seven-game hitting streak. He has hit safely in eight of his last nine games (with seven multi-hit games in that span) while posting a .515/.579/.939 slash (1.518 OPS to save you the math) with 17 hits, four walks, and a scary hit by pitch in 38 plate appearances. He now leads the team in hitting at .316, is tied for the team lead in homers with five (matching Jose Ramirez), and is second in RBI with 15.
This is the type of production the team had to have been hoping for when scooping him up from the San Diego Padres as part of the three-team Trevor Bauer trade last July. The Indians have lacked pure right-handed power for the majority of the 21st century, and the Franimal has all the makings of being a fan favorite in town for many years to come.
One of the more disappointing lines of numbers on the Cleveland Indians’ stat sheets (and trust me, there are plenty to choose from) is the minimal production provided by Oscar Mercado while holding down center field this season. That poor showing led to his Monday ouster to Eastlake, where he will look to get his swing right at the plate.
Mercado, who impressed in a significant sample size a season ago, was in essence the only outfielder who seemed locked into a spot in the garden when spring training opened, even after the club acquired Delino DeShields as part of the Corey Kluber trade in the offseason. With a list of names for the outfield that felt a mile long (yet none overwhelmingly comforting), Mercado’s was the one penned in, but I suppose that’s one of the reasons why BIC Wite-Out exists. A paltry .111/.167/.111 line at the plate over 17 games with just five singles, three walks, three runs scored, and one stolen base leaves the Tribe without its Opening Day center fielder, since replaced by DeShields, who has impressed both offensively and defensively since his activation from the 10-day injured list earlier in the month.
Mercado has some upside, but trying to correct his swing and approach at the plate while in the pressures of a shortened schedule and as part of an already-underwhelming outfield was likely not the best approach for the 25-year-old or the team. The Tribe will hope that he takes this opportunity to get himself right, because the Indians could benefit from the skill set that he showed a season ago, especially with the meager production being provided by some of the other members of the rather large outfield contingent.
Tuesday, August 18, 7:05 PM ET
RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-2, 3.22 ERA) vs. RHP JT Brubaker (0-0, 3.38 ERA)
Carrasco had a tough time with command in his last start on Wednesday, and an inconsistent strike zone from the plate umpire did him no extra favors as he lasted just four and one-third innings in a loss to the Chicago Cubs, walking five and giving up three earned runs despite striking out seven. It marked the first time this season that Carrasco failed to complete six innings on the bump. This will be his third consecutive interleague start of the year.
The series opener may have a bullpen game look to it for the Pirates as they call on Brubaker, who made his first big league start earlier in the month. The team is hoping that he is stretched out enough to go four to five innings, but that will all depend on which Indians lineup that he sees – the patient one, or the aggressive one. He made two relief appearances to begin his season before that start on August 6, but he has not pitched since. Brubaker is a local product – the Springfield, Ohio, native attended college at the University of Akron ahead of his big league debut on July 26 of this season.
Civale got the win his last time out, but for the first time in 2020, he did not provide the team with a quality start. He worked six innings, but he allowed season highs of four runs and eight hits to the Tigers while striking out just three batters, to improve to 2-2 on the year. He has been consistent overall on the mound for Cleveland this season, striking out 26 and walking just three in 25 innings of work.
Brault was originally thought to be in line to pitch in the series opener, but he will instead go in the middle game for manager and former Indians hitting coach Derek Shelton. He last pitched on August 9, working two scoreless innings in his third “start” of the year, but he has lasted no more than three innings in any one appearance. He has done well to limit hits this season, allowing just four over seven innings of work, but six free passes push his WHIP to 1.43.
Bieber was stellar once again his last time out on August 15 against the Tigers, blanking them over seven innings of three-hit baseball while walking one and striking out eleven on the way to a fourth victory in five attempts on the year. That outing ended a brief problem with the long ball; playing at the spacious Comerica Park may have helped some with that. He did better than he had all year at keeping the ball on the ground. In 34 2/3 innings on the year, Bieber has struck out 54 batters and walked just six, sitting atop the Major League leaderboard in Ks.
Williams, a 28-year-old right-hander, will make his fifth start of the season and second interleague appearance of the campaign. He lasted just five innings his last time out, giving up three runs on a season-high seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts against Cincinnati on August 13, but he took home his first win of the year. He was at his best his previous start, when he limited the Twins to a run on three hits with five strikeouts and a walk in seven innings in a tough loss on August 5.
TV (all): Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio, ATT SportsNet-PIT, MLB.tv
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; KDKA-FM 93.7 (Pittsburgh)
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Oscar Mercado (OF) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/17)
Roberto Perez (C) – 10-day injured list (7/29) – right shoulder strain
Chris Archer (SP) – 60-day injured list (6/28) – recovery from neck surgery
Tyler Bashlor (P) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/17)
Nick Burdi (P) – 60-day injured list (8/5) – right elbow injury
Kyle Crick (P) – 10-day injured list (7/28) – right shoulder strain
Miguel Del Pozo (P) – outrighted to team’s alternate training site (8/15)
Phillip Evans (3B) – 60-day injured list (8/9) – concussion, fractured jaw
Michael Feliz (P) – 60-day injured list (8/3) – right forearm discomfort
Clay Holmes (P) – 60-day injured list (8/11) – right forearm strain
Keone Kela (CL) – activated from 10-day injured list (8/13)
Kevin Kramer (OF) – 60-day injured list (6/28) – recovery from right hip surgery
Mitch Keller (SP) – 10-day injured list (8/2) – left side discomfort
Luke Maile (C) – 60-day injured list (7/23) – right finger fracture
Joe Musgrove (SP) – 10-day injured list (8/11) – right triceps inflammation
Cody Ponce (P) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/16)
Subtractions: OF Starling Marte
Moran has been homer happy for the Pirates this season. He leads the club with six blasts on the season and is tied for the team lead with nine RBI, matching the hot start of Evans before a fractured jaw and concussion ended his season. Moran has cooled some in August – he hit four of his homers and drove in five of his runs in the first week of the season, but in his ten games in August, he has posted a .158/.238/.316 slash with two homers and four RBI.
The former Tribe utility man Gonzalez has made the most of his playing time in August after a 1-for-9 start in four games in July. He has hit safely in seven of his last eight games, which included a three-hit game on August 4 in Minnesota and a four-hit game against Detroit on August 7 when he drove in six runs. Over those last eight games, he is hitting .452 (14-for-31) with six doubles, one homer, and nine RBI while striking out just four times.
I’M COMING HOME
While the Pirates will stay home in Pittsburgh this weekend to host the Milwaukee Brewers for three games, the Indians will head back home for their first homestand longer than two games in quite some time.
The Detroit Tigers will be the first opponent to town, set to play with the Tribe for three beginning on Friday night. Following that series, a key three-game American League Central Division showdown with the Minnesota Twins will start on Monday from Progressive Field.
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images