The new look Cleveland Indians are in town for their only appearance at Tropicana Field this season. Only 11 of the 25 players who made the trip to St. Pete in July of 2012 remain with the Indians as they arrive for their first meeting in 2013. Not only did the Indians turn over their roster, the mood in Cleveland changed considerably in early October when they also put the experienced and widely respected Terry Francona in the dugout with a 4-year deal.
The Indians Roster:
Catchers - Carlos Santana, Lou Marson, First Base: Nick Swisher, Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera, Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall, Utility: Mike Aviles Outfield: Michael Brantley (LF), Michael Bourn (CF), Drew Stubbs (RF), Ryan Raburn (IF/OF), DH Mark Reynolds.
In 2012 the Indians were abysmal against LHP finishing last in the AL in batting average (.234), SLG% (.352), and OPS (.334). And remarkably, right handed batters only hit 38 homers which also ranked dead last. It was also a distant 16 homers away from the next team (Mariners ) and less than half of the team after (Twins ). It should not come as a surprise that the Indians posted a record of 18-35 versus left handed starters in 2012. Probably by chance and not by design the Rays will be throwing both lefties Matt Moore and David Price against the Indians.
Friday: Matt Moore vs Zach McAllister
Saturday: Alex Cobb vs Trevor Bauer
Sunday: David Price vs Justin Masterson
What to look for with the Indians offense:
Rays pitchers are going to have to deal with a very patient Cleveland Indians offense. The Indians will feature a lineup that likes to take a lot of pitches and guys who know how to get on base. The Indians had three players Michael Bourn (42), Drew Stubbs (30), and Jason Kipnis (31) with more than 30 stolen bases in 2012.The Indians will look to run on Matt Moore who allowed 19 of 23 and Alex Cobb who allowed 19 of 21 runners to steal successfully. The few baserunners who do get on base against David Price will more than likely tether themselves there as only 11 out of 21 runners were successful when running on him.
Hold on to your ticket stubs!
When Rays pitchers strike out 10 or more batters in a game fans can take their ticket stub to Kane's furniture for a coupon for a free pizza (no purchase necessary!). With the Indians in town there is a good chance that you'll have yourself a valid coupon. The Indians are patient and walk a lot but they also have several members of the 100 whiff club: Michael Bourn (155), Jason Kipnis (109), Nick Swisher (141), Carlos Santana (101), Mark Reynolds (159), and Asdrubal Cabrera gets the honorable mention with 99.
What to look for against the Indians bullpen:
The Indians hope to have enough offense to take a lead into the later innings. Last season, the lack of quality starting pitching exposed the ugly underbelly of the bullpen, which led to very few opportunities to get to their solid back of the pen. As presented by Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, the combination of Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith posted an ERA of 3.01 and a WHIP of 1.13, while the rest of the bullpen members posted an ERA of 4.56 and a WHIP of 1.35. Over the winter the Indians added Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, and Rich Hill to go with the returning Cody Allen.
Thanks to some roster maneuvers to get around Scott Kazmir's injury and Carlos Carrasco's suspension the Indians bullpen only includes one lefty (Rich Hill), but Joe Smith has developed into one of the better relievers against left handed hitters over the past several seasons.
What to look for against the starting pitchers:
The Rays will face what Cleveland hopes to be the foundation of their rotation for years to come with Zach McAllister, Trevor Bauer, and Justin Masterson.
Friday: Zach McAllister
The Indians acquired Zach McAllister from the New York Yankees for Austin Kearns on August 20, 2010. In parts of 2 seasons with the Indians he has made 26 starts and posted a record of 6-9 with an ERA/FIP of 4.47/4.14, a K-rate of 19.8% and a BB rate of 7.2%. According to Fangraphs, in 2012 he attacked hitters with his fastball 70.2%, curveball 14.7%, change-up 8.1%, and slider 6.9%. His flyball rate of 40.3% was well above league average (34%).
He was victimized by a high HR/FB rate of 12.1% and his LOB% was only 64.7%. Things to keep an eye on is how long Francona sticks with him. In his career he has an OPS against of .553 the first time through the order, .814 the second time, and .991 the third time through. Another thing to watch is the Rays on the bases as base runners were 18 of 19 in stolen bases against.
He was 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in two starts against the Rays in 2012 working 11.2 innings allowing 5R/1ER on 7 hits striking out 13 while walking 7. He was in line for the win on the last game of the first half in which the Rays came back to plate 3 runs in the top of the ninth (including a Will Rhymes homer) against closer Chris Perez to defeat the Indians 7-6.
Saturday: Trevor Bauer
The Indians acquired Trevor Bauer (#3 overall pick in 2011 and Baseball America #17) in the off-season because Kevin Towers and the Arizona Diamondbacks wanted their shortstop of the future Didi Gregorious in the worst way. Then, after the trade was made, the primary focus of the deal from Arizona's end seemed to shift away from Bauer's talent and ceiling to his attitude.
When his attitude issues started is not known, but the rift between himself and Diamondback's catcher Miguel Montero occurred prior to his first big league pitch. Bauer, the rookie, the know it all book smart kid, had the nerve to shake off his catcher. For what it's worth Montero didn't keep his disdain for Bauer in the clubhouse.
When Bauer returned to AAA that year he was pitching in the championship game and again found himself in the bad-attitude soup when he wasn't thrilled to be removed from the game drawing the ire of his fiery manager Brett Butler. His pre-game/pre-inning warmup routine is also viewed as extreme and his resistance to drop it did not please the Diamondbacks or manager Kirk Gibson.
His initial call up to the big leagues was not as successful as he would have hoped posting a 1-2 record with a 6.06. His problem was his inability to control the strike zone issuing 13 walks in 16.1 innings - a problem he attributes to a strained groin injury that he pitched through.
His repertoire includes just about every pitch besides the Dice-K Matsuzaka gyroball but the sequencing and pitches the Rays may see is an unknown. His fastball can hit the upper 90's but he generally pitches in the 93-94 mph range. He will unleash a series of sliders, cutters, and curveballs to deceive the hitter. Mentally he is seen by scouts as an advanced pitcher on the mound - someone who won't be afraid to double up or throw off-speed while down in the count. If Bauer can not command the strike zone with his fastball or get the breaking stuff over the plate or generate swing and miss with it then he'll go with the predictable fastball which could lead to a fun night for Rays fans.
Sunday: Justin Masterson
The Rays own Justin Masterson. It doesn't matter if he is a starter or a reliever, what team he is playing for, or where the game is held. He has appeared in 13 games against the Rays including 9 starts and has a record of 1-7 with an ERA of 7.74. He has worked 52.1 innings and allowed 65 hits including 11 home runs walking 38 batters while striking out only 41. The Rays and their ever changing roster of hitters have posted a slash line of .313/.424/.514.
He has appeared in 6 games (5 starts) at Tropicana Field and has a record of 0-4 with an 8.44 ERA. In 26.2 innings of work he has given up 36 hits including 6 home runs walking 24 while only striking out 15. In 3 starts against the Rays at Progressive Field he hasn't performed much better in 3 starts (16.2 IP) with a record of 0-3 and an ERA of 8.74 giving up 22 hits striking out 18 and walking 10. While a member of the Red Sox he appeared in 4 games (1 start) and did slightly better going 1-0 with a 4.00 ERA. He worked 9 innings and gave up 7 hits including 2 homers while striking out 8 and walking 4.
In his career he struggles against left handed batters (.299/.366/.431) but is very effective against right handed batters (.224/.305/.302). According to Fangraphs he throws a 4-seam fastball 32.4% (92.5 mph), a sinker 43.6% (91.5 mph), and slider 22.3% (82.8 mph) of the time. He throws a heavy sinker which generates a lot of ground balls. Since 2010 he is 6th of all qualified starting pitchers in the majors with a 56.7% groundball percentage. When he is locked in a good groove he mows down the lineup with quick efficient innings. The Rays hitters will have to be patient as he is prone to losing control as he has a walk rate of 3.6 BB/9 in his career.
Predicting who will be on the field and where on Sunday will be difficult due to all the variables in play. The Rays are playing their 6th straight game on the turf so Maddon may try to get guys off their feet. The team also departs for their first road trip of the year with the first stop being in Arlington. With Masterson's struggles against left handed hitters chances are the Rays will use a lineup with every available left handed hitter in the lineup.