Lets take a break from draft talk for a moment to get back to our Cleveland Indians. A four-game road set with the first place (yeah, you read this correctly) Kansas City Royals starts tonight and once again, the Tribe is searching for some consistency. The offense has been hot and cold – mostly cold – and has started to show a little bit more of that speed we expected to see when the season began. Still, they are very reliant on the home run ball. Center fielder Michael Bourn is still out with the gash in his right index finger, but should return at some point next week. Manager Terry Francona has been attempting to mix and match all over the diamond. The versatility of bench guys like Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, along with the fact that Nick Swisher can be moved from first base to right field at any time, certainly helps.
I love Tito. I really do. But in all seriousness, how can he hit Raburn third or fifth? I don’t care who is injured or who doesn’t start, under no circumstances should Raburn be hitting in the middle of the order. Go ahead and tell me how he is hitting .313/.421/.500 against lefties thus far. That doesn’t mean he is the second coming of Albert Belle. Raburn still is what he is – a 32-year old journeyman who the Tigers DFA’d after last season. Remember how upset people were in 2012 when Manny Acta would hit Shelley Duncan in the cleanup spot at times? Or when Casey Kotchman would hit fifth? This is the same thing, but to me even more egregious. Acta’s club didn’t have better options with the injuries and a true lack of talent. But even when Francona decides to go to his bench, there is literally ZERO reason for Raburn to be in the middle of the order.
But I digress.
The big reason the Tribe’s weekend opponent, the Royals, have ascended into first place has been the improvement of their starting rotation. Yes, they have the young, highly touted bats in their lineup, but many of them have started slowly. Mike Moustakas, the former #2 pick overall, should be ready for his breakout season. Instead, the KC third baseman is hitting just .154/.225/.200 with just one RBI. The great Eric Hosmer hits in the middle the Royals lineup, yet he has yet to hit a home run and has driven in just six. Mainstays Alex Gordon (.337/.368/.530/15 RBIs) and Billy Butler (.397 OBP/14 RBIs) are doing their thing and center fielder Lorenzo Cain (.359/.419/.500/10 RBIs) is finally starting to emerge. But the real story for has been the KC rotation.
Over the winter, GM Dayton Moore dealt his top prospect, OF Wil Myers, to Tampa in order to solidify the top of his pitching staff with James Shields. “Big Game James” has 32 K’s in 35 innings with a 1.09 WHIP and an ERA of 3.09. Luckily, the Indians will miss him. Wade Davis, another starter who came over in the deal, has also pitched well. Ex-Angel Ervin Santana, tonight’s starter, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts to start the campaign. He has a team low 2.48 ERA and has 26K’s in 29 innings. Throw in old friend Jeremy Guthrie and you have an all of a sudden formidable group. Their fifth spot is manned by Luis Mendoza, who has only had to make two starts thus far and is the only member of the rotation with an ERA over 3.90. He beat the Indians three times in 2012.
But what about the Indians rotation? As I wrote on Monday, the Tribe starting five is an in flux mixed bag. Tonight’s starter is Scott Kazmir, who we have seen just once thus far in last Saturday’s 19-6 beatdown of Houston. Kazmir pitched with a 14-0 lead and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, allowing six runs on eight hits and three walks against a AAA-type lineup that the Astros currently field. The biggest issue the Tribe faces today is that Kazmir MUST step up and make himself a reliable member of the rotation immediately. Remember back in the Spring when it looked like the Tribe could have eight, maybe nine starters they could potentially count on? Well its not even May 1st and they are dropping like flies.
Brett Myers, signed to be the middle of the rotation veteran stabilizer is currently on the DL with a sore elbow. He will miss at least a month. Carlos Carrasco, who was thought to be the first call up in case of injury, has a eight-game suspension hanging over his head and sits in Columbus. Of bigger concern today is the line drive he took square off his right elbow last night in Scranton. Carlos was sent to the hospital for x-rays and the team said this morning he is day-to-day with a deep contusion of the right elbow/forearm. Those in attendance said it did not look good.
Corey Kluber, who was thought to be more of a depth guy than anything, currently is in the Myers spot with the big club. That leaves the next man up as phenom prospect Trevor Bauer (three AAA starts, 1-0, 2.50 ERA, 24 K’s/6 BB’s in 18 IP) who the Indians want to take it slowly with if they can. Daisuke Matsuzaka is also in C0lumbus, but he is having trouble with his command (4.58 ERA/22 K’s/18 BB’s) and his velocity still isn’t where it needs to be.
I didn’t even mention that Ubaldo Jimenez is still kickin’.
You can see why it is so important for Kazmir to establish himself. Then again, here we are asking a guy who hasn’t been a rotation regular since 2010 (15 losses and a 5.94 ERA) to have a resurrection of his career. Here’s hoping that big Spring was not a fluke.
The Royals (11-8) are three games in front of the last place Indians (8-11), but things could easily change with a series win for our Wahoos. The pitching matchups for the weekend look like this:
Tonight 8:10 PM: Kazmir (0-0, 16.20 ERA) vs. Santana (2-1, 2.48 ERA)
Tomorrow 7:10 PM: Jimenez (0-2, 10.06 ERA) vs. Guthrie (2-0, 3.86 ERA)
Sunday 2:10 PM: Justin Masterson (4-1, 1.85 ERA) vs. Davis (2-0, 2.25 ERA)
Monday 8:10 PM: Zach McAllister (1-3, 3.52 ERA) vs. Mendoza (0-2, 6.17 ERA)