SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
After a tough start to the year the Indians have been red-hot in the second half to come all the way back and find themselves in a tie atop the AL Central.
Red Sox 1, Indians 2
Up. Way up. Nobody is hotter than the two New York teams right now, but Cleveland is not very far behind. They have lost just two series since the All-Star break and have won eight of their last ten. The Indians are also coming off a huge series win on the road in Minnesota against a Twins team with whom they are battling for the top of the AL Central.
8/12: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Zach Plesac, 7:10 PM ET
The Red Sox are desperate for some consistent starting pitching, and Rodriguez has been the closest to that for much of this year. That said, he has fallen back into some old habits in his last few starts. That was never more apparent than his last time out against the Royals in a game that technically has not finished yet. The southpaw only allowed two runs in that outing, but he gave up seven hits and three walks with efficiency being a major issue. As such he only lasted five innings. For much of this season Rodriguez has clearly made a concerted effort to attack hitters more and pitch deep into games. He needs to get back to that style, but against this revamped Indians lineup it will be easier said than done.
The Red Sox got to see Plesac back in late May when these two teams last met in what was the righty’s major-league debut. They struggled a bit in that game, scoring just one run over 5 1⁄3 innings in that one. Since then, Plesac has gotten good results but the underlying numbers tell a bit of a different story. The nephew of former big leaguer Dan Plesac, Zach has a 3.13 ERA over 13 starts this year and is coming off a six inning outing in which he allowed no runs. However, he also has a 6.04 DRA. He strikes out fewer than seven per nine, walks more than three per nine and has allowed 11 homers on the year. It seems like at some point opponents are going to consistently get to him and at least bump his ERA up to the mid-4’s. Plesac will feature a mid-90s fastball along with a changeup and a slider.
8/13: Chris Sale vs. Mike Clevinger, 7:10 PM ET
Among all of the issues with this 2019 Red Sox team, of which there are certainly plenty, the struggles of Chris Sale have been atop the list. It’s been a perplexing issue, particularly since it seems as though there would be no way the team would continue to let him pitch hurt. It’s fair to assume — I do, at least — that he is healthy and just has been ineffective, which in a way is more concerning. He sure as hell looked like the Chris Sale of old in his last start, though, tossing eight shutout innings against the Angels with 13 strikeouts, two hits and no walks. Look for him to come out and try to establish his fastball command early in this star.t If he can make that work, he should be able to have another strong outing, even if it’s not quite that good.
When the Indians decided to trade Trevor Bauer at the trade deadline, part of the reason they were comfortable trading their best starting pitcher was the two guys starting the final two games of this series. One of them is Clevinger, who has emerged as one of the most effective starters in the American League. The righty has been incredible this season with a 3.02 ERA, a 2.67 FIP and a 3.23 DRA on the year. He’s getting more grounders than ever and issuing fewer free passes than any other point in his career as well. On top of all that, he is one of the best strikeout starting pitchers in the game with nearly 13 K’s per nine innings. Of course, it should be mentioned that this has come in an abbreviated season where he missed a couple months early in the year. Still, he’s been lights out of late with a 1.83 ERA over his last seven starts and 44 1⁄3 innings with 58 strikeouts and ten walks. He featured a mid-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.
8/14: TBD vs. Shane Bieber, 1:05 PM ET
Wednesday is when things are going to start to get interesting for this Red Sox pitching staff. Alex Cora has indicated they are going to be shaking things up after the first two games of this series. There’s no firm plan for what that means, but it could include openers and using Rick Porcello and Andrew Cashner out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Darwinzon Hernandez or Nathan Eovaldi for one or two innings for the start of a lot games moving forward with Porcello, Cashner and Brian Johnson serving as the followers for three-to-five innings. That’s all speculation, though.
Clevinger has had a great season when healthy in 2019, but Bieber has emerged as the best current starter in this Indians rotation in this particular writer’s opinion. The righty sort of came out of nowhere last year and was much better than his 4.55 ERA indicated, with that becoming even more apparent this season. The All-Star has made 24 starts (plus one relief appearance) this year with a 3.28 ERA, a 3.22 FIP and a 3.31 DRA. Bieber will give up some home runs here and there, but he misses a ton of bats with more than eleven strikeouts per nine while keeping his walk rates at an elite level. He’s also an innings machine with three complete games and two shutouts in an era where that just doesn’t happen. The positive here is that the Red Sox got to Bieber earlier this year when they scored six runs in five innings back in May. The righty will throw a fastball that sits around 93 mph along with a slider and a curveball.
Terry Francona is, of course, the best manager in Red Sox history. As I do every time the Red Sox meet back up with this old friend I have to mention his unceremonious exit from the organization. Parting ways with Francona when they did was one thing — there was a fair argument for it at the very least — but the pot shots taken by ownership through leaks to the media were unnecessary, unprofessional and unacceptable. It is one of those things that we should never let this organization forget.
Josh Smith...the other Josh Smith! Last season the Pawtucket pitching staff included a pair of Josh Smiths, but only one remains now. The other Josh Smith, Josh D. Smith, is now an up-and-down arm for Cleveland, much like the Josh Smith that remains with the Red Sox.
Notable Position Players
Francisco Lindor is the face of the Indians franchise, one of the faces of baseball, one of the most fun players to watch in the game and most importantly one of the best players in the game. A slick shortstop, Lindor hits for power and average while also getting on base. He’s amazing.
José Ramírez got off to a truly horrible start this season after a couple of MVP-worthy seasons the previous two years. He’s recovered in a big way since then, though, with a 160 wRC+ in the second half.
Yasiel Puig was the major part of the return in the aforementioned Bauer trade and he has hit well in his first handful of games with the Indians and has provided a very real spark to this lineup.
Carlos Santana has somewhat quietly been having an absurd season at the plate this year, drawing more walks than strikeouts while also smacking 25 homers en route to a 139 wRC+.
Franmil Reyes was another part of the Bauer/Puig deal. He’s struggled since getting to Cleveland and strikes out a ton, but he also has some of the most raw power in all of baseball.
Jason Kipnis will put the ball in play and draw a decent number of walks but he hasn’t really hit for the kind of power the Indians could use to make him even an average hitter this year.
Oscar Mercado is a really aggressive hitter who will swing and miss some but puts the ball in play at a good rate and makes a legitimate impact with his legs.
Robero Pérez is an underrated catcher in this league who has been something of a three true outcomes hitter while also providing strong defense behind the plate.
Tyler Naquin strikes out a bunch and hardly ever walks but he’s been able to mask that for the most part with above-average power.
Brad Hand is the top arm in this Indians bullpen and is having another great season. He misses bats, limits his walks and also keeps the ball in the yard despite one of the most extreme fly ball profiles in the league.
Adam Cimber is the opposite of Hand. He throws from the right side from a submarine position and relies almost entirely on weak contact and ground balls. He’s at his best against right-handed hitters and we can expect to see him against Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in this series.
Nick Goody has emerged as a top arm in this Indians bullpen and while he’s not as good as his 1.26 ERA would indicate his peripherals suggest a legitimate late-inning arm.
Corey Kluber has been out since May with a fractured ulna after being hit with a line drive, but he’s getting very close to his return. He just recently made his third rehab start and should be back with the Indians shortly after this series ends.
Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia back in May. He wants to pitch again this year and has thrown a couple of bullpens in the last week but the Indians are not going to rush him back.
Danny Salazar made it back to the majors at the start of this month for the first time since the 2017 playoffs. He’s now back on the IL with a groin injury in just a brutal break. There’s no timetable on his return at this point.
Dan Otero has been out since May with a shoulder injury but he could be ready to return at some point this month.
Bradley Zimmer hasn’t played all season but he is finally getting back into game action. Presumably he’ll need a lengthy rehab assignment.
Christian Arroyo was traded to Cleveland from Tampa Bay at the deadline. He’s on the 60-day IL but could return before the end of the month.
A.J. Cole just went down a couple days ago with a shoulder injury. It’s not clear at this point how much time he’ll miss.
Tyler Olson is out with shingles. His timetable is unclear.
Jordan Luplow went down last week with a hamstring injury and his timetable to return is not yet clear.
Jefry Rodriguez has been out since June with a shoulder injury and there have been no updates since then.
Cody Anderson underwent surgery on a torn flexor midway through this season and won’t be back until 2020.
It might be a dicey few days in Cleveland coming up. There is rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for Monday and Tuesday, but we might luck out. Right now it looks like it might all start after Monday’s game ends and end before Tuesday’s game begins. Obviously that could change quickly, though.