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Series Preview: Rays look to crash Cleveland's party

We congratulate the city of Cleveland and their Cavaliers for bringing home the city's first championship in 56 years...and we hope the Rays can sneak into town and win a couple while the city is preoccupied.

Maybe the Indians are too distracted for baseball?
Maybe the Indians are too distracted for baseball?
Jason Miller/Getty Images

After a disappointing series against the red hot San Francisco Giants the Rays head to Cleveland to face the Indians for a three game series. The Indians enter the series fresh off a sweep of the scuffling Chicago White Sox.

The Match-ups

Monday: Drew Smyly vs Josh Tomlin

Tuesday: Blake Snell vs Corey Kluber

Wednesday: Chris Archer vs Trevor Bauer

Hopefully the Rays will score some runs.

The Indians rotation is one of the strongest in the American League. Their 3.89 ERA ranks third behind the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays and their 3.85 FIP leads the league. Fortunately the Rays miss Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, but the pitchers they face will still be tough.

Josh Tomlin has allowed a 3.27 ERA and 4.38 FIP. He doesn't  post many strikeouts,  with a 16.5% K-rate,  but also doesn't walk many, with a 2.3% BB-rate. He has had a problem with homers as he's allowed a 13.8% homerun to fly ball rate. Tomlin has shown pretty large reverse splits in the recent past. The last three seasons he has allowed .325, .354, and .370 wOBAs to right handed batters while limiting left handed batters to .296, .193, and .307 wOBAs. Tomlin enters the game coming off three strong starts of at least 6.1 innings and four runs combined over the three starts.

Corey Kluber has posted very similar numbers to last year except in the earned run department. He enters the series with a 4.23 ERA, but only has a 2.94 FIP.  This is due to a well below average 61.7% of runners left on base. He's posting a strong strike out rate, 24.9%, and limiting the walks to 5.3% of batters which are very close to his career averages. Kluber has allowed a .277/.338/.516 line with runners in scoring position, but has been very difficult with the bases empty allowing a .170/.211/.258 line. Kluber is coming off his worst start of the season as he allowed eight runs over five innings, but struck out seven and walked one.

Trevor Bauer started the season in the bullpen, but injuries forced him into the rotation. The former number three overall pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks has taken advantage of the opportunity. In 11.1 innings as a reliever he allowed a 4.76 ERA while allowing a .289/.385/.378 and .343 wOBA, but as a starter he has allowed a 3.23 ERA with a .227/.294/.353 and .283 wOBA in 64 innings. He's striking out fewer, 20.8% to 26.9%, and also walking fewer, 7.9% to 9.6%, in the rotation compared to as a reliever. The biggest factor is his much lower BABIP of .279 in the rotation compared to .400 out of the pen, but some of that is deserved as he allowed much harder contact as a reliever. Bauer is coming off four strong starts as he's thrown at least seven innings and allowed no more than three runs in all four starts.

The bullpen has been good.

The Indians bullpen ranks eighth in ERA at 3.38, but rank seventeenth in FIP at 3.96. They have been limited to 197 innings on the season, fifth lowest total in the majors.

Their closer, Cody Allen, hasn't been quite as elite as in previous seasons, but he's still pretty good.  He's allowed a 3.34 ERA and 3.57 FIP. He's still posting a noteworthy 30.8% strikeout rate, but he's walking 13.3% of batters faced. He's allowed three homers this year in 29.2 innings after allowing only two in 69.1 innings last season.

Dan Otero has bounced back after a 2015 that saw him post a 6.75 ERA and 4.40 FIP over 46.2 innings with the Athletics. This is the best year of his career as he's allowed 0.98 ERA and 1.90 FIP over 27.2 innings which is very similar to his 1.38 ERA and 2.12 FIP in 2013. He's upped his strikeout rate to 22.6% while averaging 15.2% over his career. He's walking a career high 5.2% of batters, but that is still a really strong number.

Bryan Shaw has been their weak link, with a 5.33 ERA and 5.54 FIP due in large part to a 26.9% homerun to fly ball rate. He's allowed seven homers in 27 innings.

Indians offense is average without a true standout.

The Indians have earned a 100 wRC+ this season. They have done this without their best hitter, Michael Brantley, as he only accrued 43 plate appearances before returning to the disabled list.  In his absence their best offensive performer has been Francisco Lindor with a .308/.370/.446 122 wRC+. The Indians lineup has a lot of guys hovering around league average or, in the case of  catcher Yan Gomes, well below.

The Indians would be expected to be better against left handed pitchers with their offseason additions of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Marlon Byrd. Byrd has hit a 178 wRC+, but was recently suspended due to his second PED violation. Napoli has brought some power with his .214 ISO, but has only put up a 107 wRC+. Davis has been their best performing new comer against southpaws as he's hit for a 125 wRC+. Carlos Santana, 56 wRC+, and Jason Kipnis, 62 wRC+, have been their weakest performers. This is a good opportunity for Blake Snell and Drew Smyly to take advantage of.

The Indians have performed well against right handers putting up a .249/.321/.424 and 101 wRC+ line. Rookie Tyler Naquin has been their best performer as he's put up a 148 wRC+ in 99 PA filling in for Michael Brantley. Carlos Santana (130 wRC+), Jason Kipnis (119 wRC+), Jose Ramirez (119 wRC+), Francisco Lindor (117 wRC+), and Mike Napoli (106 wRC+) have been their positive contributors against right handed pitching.

Tough matchup for the Rays.

This will be a tough series for the Rays, but they need to stop the slide after losing four in a row to end the home stand. The Rays need to build some momentum heading into a big four game series this weekend against the Baltimore Orioles.

The good news is that the Rays hitters seem to save their best games for the road, where they've hit .258/.331/.472 and 116 wRC+. The Rays have scored 4.94 runs a game on the road. So much for home cooking.

Hopefully everybody makes it to the game safely as last night was sure to be a wild night in downtown Cleveland after the Cavaliers brought home the NBA Championship. It's time for the Rays to crash the party and start streaking in the right direction.