Tribe and Twins Match Up in Cleveland for Key Midseason Series
Bob Toth | On 24, Aug 2020
The Cleveland Indians have been the epitome of inconsistency this season. This weekend was a prime example of that as the Tribe dropped two of three to the Detroit Tigers in matchups that were on paper favorable for the second seeded club in the American League Central.
The Tigers, who were 9-14 entering the series, came into Cleveland in bad shape and left with a confidence boost after putting up 23 runs against the Indians’ vaunted pitching staff to bring an end to a 20-game losing streak against the Tribe coming into the weekend. Now, the Indians will have to contend with the first place Minnesota Twins over the next three days.
The Twins (19-10) hold a game and a half lead over the 17-11 Tribe coming into the only series between the two clubs to be held in Cleveland this season. It will be an importance set for Cleveland, as Minnesota could knock them off the pace in the division or allow the Indians to keep right with them or jump over them. The Twins have the top run differential in the AL at +40 and the second-best mark in all of baseball (the 22-8 Los Angeles Dodgers are +79 for the year). The Twins have not lost a series since August 7-9, when they were stunned by the Kansas City Royals in a three-game sweep. In a weird stretch of the schedule, the Twins have only played the Royals (10) and the Milwaukee Brewers (6) over the last 16 games.
Maeda flirted with the history book in his last start on August 18 against Milwaukee. Making his second straight appearance against the Brewers, he allowed just one run on one hit over eight innings, striking out 12 to earn his third win in five chances on the year. He has had a good season overall in his first in the Majors outside of Los Angeles, making four quality starts for Minnesota. One of those came against the Indians on August 1, when he threw six shutout innings of one-hit baseball in a win, allowing a walk and striking out six in his first career game against the Indians.
The second-year right-hander Civale has proved that the Indians starting rotation is right where he belongs. He dropped his ERA back below three his last time out in his first career complete game (and first since high school!). Against Pittsburgh on August 19, he flirted with the complete game shutout, but instead allowed a run in the ninth to settle for just going the distance. In that gem, he allowed five total hits while issuing no free passes and striking out six. It marked the fourth time in five starts that he had recorded a complete game and the fifth time this season that he had completed at least six innings of work on the mound. He last faced Minnesota on August 2, allowing three runs on five hits with a season-high nine strikeouts in a tough-luck loss.
The offspeed wizard Hill, now 40 years old, returns to his former home in Cleveland in the middle game of three at Progressive Field on Tuesday. After a good showing in his first start of the season against St. Louis, he landed on the injured list with left shoulder fatigue. He was activated last week and made his second start of the season on August 19, suffering a loss to Milwaukee after allowing four runs on four hits with three walks and one strikeout in just two and two-thirds innings of work. Hill was a member of the Indians bullpen for 63 games during the 2013 season.
Bieber continued his perfect season with six solid innings against Pittsburgh on August 20, earning his fifth win in six tries. He struck out eleven batters for the second straight outing, giving him four double-digit strikeout efforts on the year. He has allowed just five runs in 40 2/3 innings this season, with all of that run damage coming in his first two starts of the month of August. His 65 strikeouts are tops in baseball and he has struck out no fewer than eight in any outing. In some aberration of scheduling, this will be Bieber’s first home start since the Home Opener on July 24.
Wednesday, August 26, 7:10 PM ET
RHP Jose Berrios (2-3, 4.75) vs. TBD
Berrios suffered the Twins’ only loss to the Indians thus far this season. He evened up his August record his last time out with a quality six innings of work against Milwaukee, giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out nine. He previously allowed four runs in back-to-back starts against Kansas City in consecutive losses. He faced the Indians on July 30 in his second start of the year and was serviceable in defeat, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts in five innings of work.
The Indians have not yet penned in a starter for the series finale on Wednesday. The team announced on Sunday that the decision was to come down to five different options, but Adam Plutko’s name does appear on several websites as the tentative starter for the day. More on that to follow below.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Indians and Twins have played four of their ten games already this season. The Indians claimed a 2-0 win, led by Bieber over Berrios, in the first game of the series, but then dropped the next three in a hotly contested outcomes. The Indians held the Twins to just ten runs in the series, but managed themselves just four runs of support in total for the four games.
The two teams will meet for the final time beginning Friday, September 11, back at Target Field. They will play a pair of evening matchups before an afternoon 4:10 PM ET start on Sunday, September 13, when the two clubs hope to be in the midst of strong pennant pushes.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Delino DeShields (OF) – day-to-day (8/22) – left hip soreness
Sandy Leon (C) – family medical emergency list (8/18)
Triston McKenzie (SP) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/22)
Oscar Mercado (OF) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/17)
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/22)
Willians Astudillo (UTL) – 10-day injured list (7/2)
Homer Bailey (SP) – transferred to 60-day injured list (7/29) – right biceps tendinitis
Byron Buxton (OF) – 10-day injured list (8/20) – left shoulder inflammation
Danny Coulombe (P) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/22)
Josh Donaldson (3B) – 10-day injured list (8/4) – right calf strain
Mitch Garver (C) – 10-day injured list (8/20) – low-grade right intercostal strain
Zack Littell (RP) – 10-day injured list (8/22) – right elbow inflammation
Jake Odorizzi (SP) – 10-day injured list (8/22) – chest contusion
Sean Poppen (P) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/22)
Cody Stashak (RP) – 10-day injured list (8/12) – lower back inflammation
NOT HAVING FUN WITH NUMBERS
If you thought the Cleveland outfield was bad, you were not wrong.
While the front office has worked to free up some playing time and give some guys more consistent reps in what was a messy logjam in the grass, it has not translated into better results as few have taken the opportunity to make a real mark on the lineup when in it.
The shuffling began early when Jake Bauers was sent out during spring training 2.0. Oscar Mercado (15 games) was optioned to the team’s alternate training site after a woeful display over the first few weeks of the campaign and Bradley Zimmer (20 games) followed him there on Saturday. Daniel Johnson (5 games) has shuffled back and forth between Cleveland and Eastlake in his rookie season. Greg Allen (10 games), currently on the roster, has done the same with little results offensively, beyond his three-run home run in garbage time on Sunday.
That group of participants, as well as Domingo Santana (21 games), Jordan Luplow (12 games), Delino DeShields (10 games), Tyler Naquin (9 games), Mike Freeman (3 games), and Franmil Reyes (1 game) have combined for a .174/.278/.261 slash at the plate in the team’s 28 games. The slugging percentage by the Indians outfielders is more than 100 points lower than the next closest team in the league, the Kansas City Royals (.373). The Cleveland contingent also owns the worst batting average and slugging percentage marks in all of baseball and the second-worst on-base percentage, ahead of only Pittsburgh’s .260 effort there.
American League triple slash averages this season, by comparison, are .239/.318/.425, respectively.
Indians outfielders have hit five home runs this year. The next lowest total on the AL leaderboard is ten, held by five other clubs. Their 31 RBI as a group is tied for 13th of 15 clubs. Their 48 total hits are 12 behind Texas and their 26 runs scored are 9 behind KC, both good for dead-last in the league.
Outfield is a problem, and if there is one area that the team could and should absolutely upgrade at the trade deadline, this would be the spot. To be fair, there has been some better play of late from a pair that were recently activated from injured list stints. Naquin is hitting .250 on the year with a .273 OBP and .375 slugging mark with two doubles, a triple, and four RBI in ten games. DeShields has appeared in eleven games and slashed .250/.333/.250, getting eight hits and four walks in 37 plate appearances. But the overall numbers have been rather discouraging, especially when considering that corner outfielders are generally considered power threats and center fielders speedy, on-base types. The Indians’ group has lacked all of the above.
Not to focus all of the blame on the outfielders, but the Tribe infield has combined for the worst batting average and slugging marks in the AL as a collective group, but their on-base percentage (thank you, Carlos Santana) does earn a fifth overall position on the board. Cleveland catchers have combined for a .106/.255/.153 slash in 28 games with just two extra base hits and four RBI.
TITO TAKING HIS TIME
The Indians announced early Monday afternoon that the team will play the series without manager Terry Francona once again. Sandy Alomar Jr. will continue to serve the club in an interim capacity while Francona recovers from a medical procedure completed last week.
Francona stepped away from the club for the very first time this year at the end of the Indians’ first series against the Twins on Sunday, August 2.
WHO’S ON THE MOUND
Cleveland has a bit of a dilemma to sort out by Wednesday, but in fairness, it is a good problem for the organization to have.
The team has been down two spots in the rotation after the surprise demotions of starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac following their vacation in Chicago a couple of weekends ago. Adam Plutko has filled a spot, while off days had prevented the club from needing to call on a fifth arm until last Saturday when Triston McKenzie made his big league debut.
The team is considering Plutko, who has struggled of late, but also mentioned either of Clevinger or Plesac as candidates for the outing. Both right-handers threw five innings each at Lake County last week, with Clevinger getting his work in on Wednesday and Plesac on Thursday, meaning ample rest time will have passed in between appearances if one of the pair were to get the call.
Plutko is the easy choice, as no roster moves would be needed, but he has lasted no more than four innings in his last three outings and a matchup against Minnesota seems unfavorable for the 28-year-old right-hander. He was roughed up by the Detroit Tigers in back-to-back starts against them on August 16 and August 21, allowing ten earned runs on eleven hits over six total innings of work.
McKenzie will not be an option for the Wednesday outing, but the club will get him another start, possibly as soon as the team’s series opener in St. Louis against the Cardinals on Friday. He was called up on Saturday to make his Major League debut while filling one of the rotation vacancies and shined, working six innings of two-hit baseball with ten strikeouts.
The names of Scott Moss and Sam Hentges were also mentioned on Sunday. Neither has made their big league debut yet, but both have reportedly looked good at the team’s alternate training site in Eastlake.
PACK YOUR BAGS
The Indians will get back out on the road after an off-day Thursday to wrap up the month of August with their longest and furthest trip west for the season. They will play three games at Busch Stadium over the weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals before heading three and a half hours west down I-70 to Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium for three more with the Royals starting Monday to complete a six-game road trip to Missouri. After another Thursday off, the team will host the Milwaukee Brewers next weekend.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images