So we meet again. The last time the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros faced off, it was billed as the first big matchup of the season. Nothing “must-win” for either team, of course, but for baseball fans it was a must-watch series and a potential playoff preview. It still could be, in the long run, but one of these two teams is currently firing on all cylinders and the other is the Indians.
The good guys ended up winning the last series. After they dropped the first game, 4-2, the Indians won the last two by a combined score of 11-9. Far from a blowout, but it counts.
The Indians will send out three of their most inconsistent pitchers to face one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in the league. If all three can be at their best, the Indians have a very good chance to win. If not, they still have a chance, but it won’t be pretty.
Weather in Houston looks pretty terrible over the weekend, but Minute Maid Park has a retractable roof.
Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET: Charlie Morton (RHP) vs. Trevor Bauer (RHP)
“The Charlie Morton?” you exclaim, waiving about your printed FanGraphs page of his 3.26-ERA 2013 season. “Yes, the Charlie Morton!” I respond, not knowing where to take this opening bit.
A longtime Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher who signed with the Astros this offeason, Charlie Morton looks like a whole new pitcher at 33 years old. The results haven’t been the best, with a 3.97 ERA and 3.33 FIP, but he’s striking 27 percent of the batters he has faced this season, a huge leap over his 16.6 percent career rate.
Morton was one of the subjects in Travis Sawchik’s excellent Big Data Baseball, which focuses on the analytical approach of Morton’s former team. As told by Sawchik, Morton was one of the early adopters of advance stats in pitching, namely utilizing PITCHf/x data and FIP to realize he was doing something right, even when the ERA results weren’t perfect.
Sawchik goes into greater detail that I ever could in a series preview in his recent report on Morton’s newfound pitching success, so I suggest you read it. But one big takeaway is that Morton is throwing a lot more curveballs this season, particularly against lefties. Good thing the Indians aren’t a lefty-heavy team. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Trevor Bauer also likes analytics, but it hasn’t given him quite as much success as the often underrated Morton. Bauer looked relatively sharp in his last start, striking out seven batters over six innings and walking none for just the second time this season.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Mike Fiers (RHP) vs. Mike Clevinger (RHP)
“The Mike Fiers?” you exclaim, waiving about your printed FanGraphs page of his 2.13-ERA season. “Yes, the Mike Fiers!” I respond, still not knowing why I’m doing this to start every pitching matchup.
Yes, Mike Fiers had a pretty great season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, which included 10 starts and four relief appearances, but those years appear long behind him. Nowadays he is striking out fewer batters, walking more, and issuing enough home runs to make Josh Tomlin blush.
Fiers carries a 5.75 ERA on the season, and an even worse 8.23 FIP thanks to his 15 walks and 16 home runs allowed. He doesn’t even have enough innings under his belt this season to be considered qualified on the leaderboards (36.0), yet he leads all major league pitchers in home runs allowed. The next closest is Jered Weaver, who has allowed 13 in 41.2 innings. Side note: Jered Weaver is still around and he pitches on the San Diego Padres now. Wild.
In his last outing against the New York Yankees, Fiers allowed a modest two home runs while striking out seven in 5.2 innings.
Mike Clevinger’s last start came on May 13 against the Minnesota Twins, but he also threw and inning in the Tampa Bay Rays series, closing out a loss on May 16. Terry Francona has not yet mentioned using Clevinger exclusively out of the bullpen, and with no help coming from Triple-A and more starting pitcher injuries popping up, Clev is probably safe in the rotation for now, no matter happens Saturday.
In two starts this season, the 26-year-old has allowed nine walks and struck out 10 in 10 innings of work. There seems to be some legitimate concern around his wild mechanics, which could be a reason he gets wrapped up in such long, inconsistent at-bats.
Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET: Joe Musgrove (RHP) vs. Danny Salazar (RHP)
“The Joe Musgrove?” you exclaim, waiving about your printed FanGraphs page of his outstanding minor-league numbers. “Yes, the Joe Musgrove!” I respond, knowing you are already sick of this stupid joke but I literally cannot stop myself.
Musgrove, a former first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, made his debut with the Houston Astros last season and has started 18 games since. In that time, he has a 4.27 ERA and 4.50 FIP over 105.1 innings. His strikeout rate is nowhere near where it was in the minors, and he is walking a lot more than he ever had, but there is plenty of time for the 24-year-old to figure it out.
While Musgrove has yet to start a game without allowing a run this season, he’s lasted at least 5.0 innings in all but one start, and he has walked more than one just twice. His last outing against the Miami Marlins was a 5.2-inning victory in which he struck out five and allowed one run off eight hits.
Danny Salazar has cool hair.
Playing for RE2P32CT
I’m not saying any of this actually matters, but talk around town lately has been that the Astros, not the defending American League Champs, are the team to beat in the AL. That’s nothing a good sweep won’t fix, especially if the Indians can manage it with their best two pitchers injured while touting a great rookie outfielder.
Battle of the bullpens
Chris Devenski is no Andrew Miller. To be fair, of the thousands of people probably named “Andrew Miller” in the United States, I’m guessing none pitch as well as the one who wears an Indians uniform. Still, Chris Devenski has been outstanding for the Astros. He has struck out 44 of the batters he’s faced and he’s allowed eight runs over 24.1 innings. When you take a step back and remember that the Indians’ bullpen is not a realistic expectation of bullpens, Devenski looks pretty great.
No, but really the Astros are really good please just don’t embarrass yourselves
It’s rare that a team wins the offseason on paper then looks just as good as envisioned in the regular season, but the Astros are doing it. For all the jabbing I’ve done in this series about their perception, starting pitchers, and excellent bullpen, they really are that good. This wouldn’t be an easy series for the Indians at their best, and it certainly won’t be an easy series for them with the injuries they’ve sustained.
Houston Astros roster
How many games will the Indians win against the Astros?
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