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Series preview: Cleveland Indians at Philadelphia Phillies

Let's never talk about that Minnesota series ever again.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being projected to finish with the second-worst record in Major League Ball by FanGraphs (67-95), the Philadelphia Phillies have gotten off to a pretty solid start if you do not count their season-opening sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. Since that fateful series, the Phillies are 11-8 and feature a strikeout-heavy pitching staff and an offense burdened by Ryan Howard.

If the Indians want to get right back into the American League Central race in this early season, they will need to show up and not let another lowly team beat them like they did against the Minnesota Twins.

This will be the Indians' second interleague series of the year as they work their way around the National League East. The two teams will play a pair of 7:10 p.m. ET starts before wrapping up on Sunday with an afternoon game.

Matchups

  • Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. TBD
  • Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (RHP)
  • Sunday, 2:35 p.m. ET: Danny Salazar (RHP) vs. Vince Velasquez (RHP)

The Cleveland Indians would be facing Charlie Morton on Friday, but he suffered a torn hamstring and will miss 4-6 months. Not the 4-6 weeks that Carlos Carrasco will miss with his strain, but 4-6 months -- meaning his season is over. Just in case you forgot how lucky Carrasco was with his injury.

While it has not been officially announced as of this writing, the Indians are expected to face 26-year-old left-hander Adam Morgan, who carried a 4.48 in his 15 starts last season.

The Tribe will also face the surprisingly dominant Vince Velasquez. The Phillies apparent ace has just allowed five runs on 16 hits in his 25.1 innings this season. He also leads the Phillies in strikeouts with 33. And do not be fooled by Jerard Eickhoff's 4.07 ERA. Like many on the Phillies staff, he has been the victim of poor defense if his 3.15 FIP and 3.18 xFIP are any indications.

Saturday will mark Trevor Bauer's first start since last October as he fills in for the injured Carrasco. Bauer carries a 4.76 ERA and 3.64 FIP in 11.1 innings of relief this season. He has also struck out 26.9 percent of the batters he has faced, which would be a career-high over a full season's worth of innings.

Upcoming schedule: After three-straight series on the road, the Indians will return to the friendly confines of Progressive Field to face the Detroit Tigers next Tuesday. Following that series, they will play at home against the Kansas City Royals before hitting the road again to face the struggling Houston Astros in Texas.

Team in a Box

Philadelphia Phillies

Offense

NL Rank

Pitching

NL Rank

Record

11-10

R/G

3.29

15th

ERA

4.08

7th

NL East

3rd

OBP

.293

15th

HR/9

1.35

11th

Last 10

6-4

SLG

.374

13th

BB/9

2.88

5th

Streak

W2

Steals

9

10th

SO/9

10.23

1st

The profile of this Phillies squad is clear: A batch of pitchers that can strike you out with an offense that would struggle against Double-A pitching. Despite hitting 19 home runs, the Phillies are still tied for the fewest runs in the National League to this point in the season (69). The team they are tied with, the Atlanta Braves, have hit just four home runs and are looking like a historically bad offense.

Philadelphia batters have struck out in 23.9 percent of their at-bats, the third most in the NL, and they have walked in 7.3 percent, the worst mark in the NL.

The Phillies pitching staff, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise over the first month of the season. Currently, they are the only staff in the majors besides the Boston Red Sox to strike out double-digit batters per nine innings. They have also induced the second most swings and misses in the NL (11.8%), just 0.1% behind the leading New York Mets.

Phillies position players

  • C: Cameron Rupp
  • 1B: Ryan Howard
  • 2B: Cesar Hernandez
  • SS: Freddy Galvis
  • 3B: Maikel Franco
  • LF: Darin Ruf
  • CF: Odubel Herrera
  • RF: Peter Bourjos
Phillies bench
  • IF: Andres Blanco
  • IF: Emmanuel Burriss
  • IF: Andres Blanco
  • OF: David Lough
  • OF: Tyler Goeddel

The Phillies offense is lead by Odubel Herrera, a 24-year-old outfielder with a walk rate this season that puts Carlos Santana to shame. Herrera has walked in 21 of his plate appearances this year, good for a 23.1 percent walk rate. He is only seven walks shy of tying his total last season in 537 plate appearances. A large part of Herrera's great plate approach comes from patience. He has swung at just 21.9 percent of pitches outside of the zone, and he has made contact 82.4 percent of the time.

Andres Blanco is off to a hot start as well, leading the Phillies with a wRC+ of 158. His .421 BABIP would suggest some regression is in store soon, but so far this season he has been great.

Veteran Ryan Howard is about as Ryan Howard as Ryan Howard can be this season. He has hit four home runs (tied for second most on the Phillies), but he has also struck out in 28.2 percent of his at-bats. Howard is slashing just .177/.254/.371 for a wRC+ of 58. If this production kept up over a whole season (which, to be honest, it probably will not), it would be the 36-year-old's worst career season by a long shot.

Phillies starting pitchers
  • RHP: Jeremy Hellickson
  • RHP: Aaron Nola
  • RHP: Jerad Eickhoff
  • RHP: Vince Velasquez
Phillies bullpen
  • RHP: Jeanmar Gomez
  • RHP: David Hernandez
  • RHP: Dalier Hinojosa
  • LHP: Brett Oberholtzer
  • LHP: Elvis Araujo
  • RHP: Hector Neris
  • RHP: Andrew Bailey
  • RHP: Luis Garcia

Apparently the Indians were just using Jeanmar Gomez incorrectly for all those years. Gomez never had a season with an ERA below 4.40 as a starting pitcher for the Indians, but since transitioning to a full-time reliever in 2014 he has been passable, at the very least. He is off to a hot start this season, in particular, with the best strikeout rate (21.6%) and second-best walk rate (5.9%) of his career, if those numbers hold up over a whole season. Strangely enough, Gomez is inducing fewer ground balls than he normally does -- the 43.2 percent groundball rate would be the worst of his career -- but he is making it work, regardless.

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