Series Preview: Indians at Astros
By John Burgess
CLEVELAND INDIANS (5-9) VS HOUSTON ASTROS (4-11)
MINUTE MAID PARK IN HOUSTON, TEXAS
In this special Series Preview, I had the honor of speaking with the Senior Editor of Fansided’s own Wahoo’s on First, Lewie Pollis, and getting his take on the 2013 Cleveland Indians.
The Indians made a lot of noise this offseason with some high-profile acquisitions, including their new manager Terry Francona. Pollis said that the Francona move was very positive for the team and fan base because, “somehow he managed to instantly change the tenor of the clubhouse from the torpor that had taken hold under [Indians’ former manager] Manny Acta several months before he actually managed a game.” He went on to say that, “the gravitas he brought to the team played a key role in luring high-profile free agents to Cleveland this winter.”
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
One such high-profile player is former New York Yankee Nick Swisher. Swisher is known for his fun-loving and up-beat personality as well as his power potential from both sides of the plate. Pollis discussed the Swisher signing, saying that “he was maybe the highest-profile acquisition the Tribe made in an offseason of big moves. The Shin-Soo Choo trade was a better move and the Michael Bourn signing was more exciting, but the Swisher deal was the Indian’s coming out party.” Pollis said that the signing of Swisher really proved to the fan base that the Indians were serious about “building a winner”.
The Indians are off to a slow start this season, and are coming into this series on a four game losing streak. The American League Central is a much improved division with maybe the best team in the AL, the Detroit Tigers, leading the way. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals have both taken steps to improve as well. Knowing this does not change Pollis’ opinion on the Tribe’s outlook for 2013. He says, “I think you’d have a tough time making the argument that Cleveland is anything but the second-best team in the AL Central,” saying that you may bet against them to make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise him if they snuck in with a Wild Card bid. Pollis did recognize that the team’s glaring weakness is it’s starting pitching. He said that he is “a big fan of Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister, but [he’s] not terribly confident about anyone behind them.” The Indians do have a lot of starting pitching depth for the 3-5 spots in the rotation, but so far they have had little success from the mid-to-back of the rotation.
Luckily for the Astros, they won’t have to face Masterson or McAllister in this series. Instead, they will be facing former Astro Brett Myers, former Sugar Land Skeeter Scott Kazmir, and former Colorado Rockies’ ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
Game 1: Friday, April 19th at 7:10 CT
Brett Myers (0-2, 8.82 ERA) vs Lucas Harrell (0-2, 5.63 ERA)
Brett Myers is well-known by the Houston Astros. He spent two and a half seasons with the Astros between 2010 and 2012, logging more than 470 innings during that time as both a starter and reliever. The Indians signed Myers this offseason in hopes of turning him back into a starting pitcher, but he has had little success thus far. Myers currently leads all Major League pitchers in home runs allowed with eight, but is coming off his best start of the season going six innings and allowing just two earned runs against the White Sox.
After a dreadful start against the Athletics on April 7th, Lucas Harrell was able to bounce back against the Angels on the 13th, allowing just one run over 5.2 innings. The only Indians’ hitter with more than three career at-bats against Harrell is former Cincinnati Red Drew Stubbs, who is 3-10 lifetime.
Game 2: Saturday, April 20th at 6:10 CT
Scott Kazmir (0-0, -.–) vs Philip Humber (0-3, 2.89)
Scott Kazmir will be making his first Major League start since 2011, when he pitched for the Angels. He spent 2012 with the Sugar Land Skeeters, who are a part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The Indians decided to take a chance on him this offseason by offering him a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Cleveland saw enough of him to think he deserved the fifth spot on their rotation. Pollis commented on Kazmir saying, “call me an optimist but I could see him delivering 150 innings with an ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00’s.” His health will be one major hurdle that stands in the way of those numbers, as he has a long history of injury and has already spent time on the Disabled List this season.
Despite his 0-3 record, Philip Humber has been the Astros most reliable starter thus far. Unfortunately for Humber, the Astros have provided him just one run over his three starts combined. In 22.2 innings pitched against the Tribe, Humber is 0-2 with an 8.74 ERA in his career. Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana have all had success at the plate against Humber in their careers.
Game 3: Sunday, April 21st at 1:10 CT
Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2, 11.25 ERA) vs Erik Bedard (0-1, 7.04 ERA)
Ubaldo Jimenez was an Astros’ killer during his time with the Rockies, posting a 4-0 record with a 1.88 ERA and 32 strikeouts. Since the trade to Cleveland, he has not been near the same pitcher. I asked Lewie Pollis about Jimenez, and he brought up the children’s book When You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He said:
"When a pitcher who’s gotten by on pure power starts losing his velocity, his fastball becomes more hittable. When his fastball becomes more hittable, he has to rely more on his off-speed stuff. When you have to rely on your off-speed stuff and you set it up with an inferior fastball, your off-speed stuff also becomes less effective. When all your pitches lose their effectiveness, you start to pitch defensively. When a pitcher who never had very good control starts nibbling at the corners, he goes from ‘effectively wild’ to just plain old wild."
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Erik Bedard is hoping to bounce back from the worst start of his career, lasting just 1/3 of an inning while allowing six runs on four walks and a homer to the A’s. He was strong in his previous 7.1 innings this season, so I expect to see him bounce back, as control has never been an issue for him. Bedard has extensive experience against the Indians in his career. In 57.2 innings pitched versus the Tribe, he is 2-2 with a 4.53 ERA and 64 Ks.
- The Astros enter this series on a five game losing streak, being outscored 15-31 during that time. A loss Friday would match their season high for consecutive losses.
- Former Astro Michael Bourn was placed on the DL with a finger laceration and will miss his homecoming. As Pollis points out, “Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley are both capable center fielders”, so the Indians should not miss him too much.
- Brett Wallace was optioned back to Triple-A Oklahoma City and Brandon Laird got the call up. To make room for Laird on the 40-man roster, Xavier Cedeno was designated for assignment. The Astros still have a spot left on the 25-man roster, so expect another move before game time.