Think back to just four days ago when the Cleveland Indians were on the verge of getting swept by the Kansas City Royals and losing their first-place status in the American League Central. Fans slammed the panic button, demanded trades, probably burned a Kansas City logo or two -- it was chaos. Fast-forward to today and Cleveland is suddenly the city of champions, the Indians are back in first place, and all is right in the world.
If the Indians want to keep this good feelings train rolling, they will need to win against the struggling Tampa Bay Rays. They will attempt to do so on the last leg of their current homestand before heading out for a lengthy road trip.
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Josh Tomlin (RHP) vs. Drew Smyly (LHP)
Drew Smyly made the Indians lineup look silly back on April 13, striking out 11 Tribe batters on the day. The Indians still got the last laugh, thanks to a pair of earned runs off of Smyly and a late home run off of Erasmo Ramirez which led to a 4-1 victory. Since that day, Smyly has recorded at least 11 strikeouts in two more outings, including his last against the Seattle Mariners in which he struck out 12, walked none, and allowed four hits in 6.2 innings.
Smyly narrowly edges out fellow starter Chris Archer for the Rays lead in strikeout rate among starters at 27.7 percent (compared to Archer's 27.1%).
Even in the midst of a depressing series against the Royals, Josh Tomlin was able to stand out like a beacon in the darkness. His seven-inning, one-run effort was wasted by a Shaw'ing late, but the Tribe starter continues to be one of the best without being particularly good at anything. He has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts.
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) vs. Blake Snell (LHP)
Blake Snell, the Rays' top prospect according to MLB.com, has only pitched in two games this season at the major league level. In one of them, a spot start back in April against the New York Yankees, he struck out six and walked one in five innings. Snell's most recent start came just last week against the Seattle Mariners when he allowed eight hits in 3.1 innings. Five runs crossed the plate for the Mariners, but only one was charged to Snell on account of poor defense behind him.
At 23 years old, Snell is about what you would expect from a rookie -- he will probably walk a lot, he might catch a few strikeouts, and it will be up to the Indians to capitalize on it.
The Indians, on the other hand, will send out someone who is not quite a rookie. Corey Kluber was absolutely blown up in his last outing against the Royals to the tune of eight earned runs and nine hits -- only one of which were a home run. Kluber has been pretty up-and-down all season long, with early struggles a hallmark of even his best starts, but hopefully he will be on an "up" trend against the Rays.
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) vs. Chris Archer (RHP)
"Hey remember when the Indians traded Chris Archer for-"
Chris Archer struggled to start the 2016 season, but slowly but surely he has worked his way back into being one of the better pitchers in the American League. At the very least, his strikeout totals are returning to where they normally sit -- he has struck out at least seven batters in four of his last five starts. In his last outing against the San Francisco Giants, a loss, he struck out seven but allowed three earned runs off six hits in six innings.
On the mound for the Indians will be Trevor Bauer (which probably means Chris Gimenez will be catching). With a career-high groundball rate, a career-low home run rate, a career-low walk rate, and one of his better strikeout seasons, Trevor Bauer could be in line for the breakout season we have been waiting for. Considering he has been in the league since 2012, it is hard to imagine that Trevor is only 25 years old, which means he is just about to enter his prime.
In 10 starts since returning to the starting rotation full-time, Bauer has a 3.23 ERA, a 3.50 FIP, and 55 strikeouts to 21 walks. He has never allowed more than four runs in any start, and he has rarely collapsed after a bad defensive play or a break that does not go his way -- something he has struggled with in seasons past.
Following this series against the Rays, the Indians will embark on a 10-game road trip involving long trips to Detroit, Atlanta, and the Great White North in back-to-back-to-back series. But good news -- it's all still in Eastern Time! Huzzah!
Team in a box
There is certainly some pop in the Rays bats, but it has not helped them score many runs. As a team, they are fourth in the AL with 98 home runs, but 13th in runs scored with 276. A big part of that struggle to score comes from a lack of clutch hitting. With men in scoring position, the Rays are batting just .228, good for 14th in the American League. They have also struck out 143 times with runners ready to score -- fifth most in the AL.
- Rays interested in bringing back Carl Crawford | MLB Daily Dish
It's hard to remember Carl Crawford used to play for the Rays (and actually be good), but he could be headed back there soon. The veteran outfielder was recently released by the Los Angeles Dodgers, meaning he can be signed by another team for a minor league deal while the Dodgers pay him the $40 million he is owed between this season and the next. The Rays are reportedly one of those teams interested.
Tampa Bay Rays roster
- C: Curt Casali
- 1B: Logan Morrison
- 2B: Steve Pearce
- SS: Brad Miller
- 3B: Evan Longoria
- LF: Desmond Jennings
- CF: Mike Mahtook
- RF: Logan Morrison
- DH: Corey Dickerson
- C: Hank Conger
- IF: Logan Forsythe
- IF: Taylor Motter
- IF: Tim Beckham
- OF: Jaff Decker
Yes, Logan Morrison is listed twice on the depth chart. That's how the Rays currently have it listed, take it up with them.
Evan Longoria, a serial ruiner of good Indians things, is back to his rightful place as the Rays' best player. He leads the team in home runs with 17, FanGraphs WAR with 2.7, and he plays some of the best defense on the team at third base. The only everyday player that has been better than Longoria offensively is the unlikely hero of Steve Pearce. The Indians were reportedly interested in signing Pearce this offseason, but they ended up passing. Butterfly effect and all that, but at least with the Rays, Pearce has been amazing. He is slashing .329/.401/.553 with nine home runs and a 162 wRC+.
The Rays have struggled to replace Kevin Kiermaier on offense and defense. His primary center field replacement, Mike Mahtook, has been by far the worst player on the Rays with a -0.6 fWAR and a .154/.188/.185 slash (that's not a typo).
- RHP: Chris Archer
- LHP: Drew Smyly
- RHP: Jake Odorizzi
- LHP: Matt Moore
- LHP: Blake Snell
- RHP: Alex Colome
- LHP: Xavier Cedeno
- LHP: Enny Romero
- RHP: Erasmo Ramirez
- RHP: Tyler Sturdevant
- RHP: Matt Andriese
- RHP: Steve Geltz
Jake Odorizzi had a bit of a breakout season last year, and he has carried that success into 2016 so far. His 3.99 FIP is best on the Rays among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched this season.
Alex Colome transitioned to the bullpen early last season and he has been spectacular in the closer role for the Rays in 2016. He is currently carrying a 1.76 ERA and 2.67 FIP closing out games for the Rays. Even on a team with a losing record, Colome's 19 saves are tied for third in the majors.
- Brad Boxberger, 15-day DL
- Kevin Kiermaier, 15-day DL
- Steven Souza Jr., 15-day DL
- Ryan Webb, 15-day DL