Pitching Matchups (per ESPN):
- Justin Masterson (0-2 6.65 ERA/4.82 SIERA) vs. Jered Weaver (3-0 2.43 ERA/2.60 SIERA)
- Jeanmar Gomez (1-0 1.93 ERA/2,89 SIERA) vs. Dan Haren (0-1 4.07 ERA/3.07 SIERA)
- Derek Lowe (3-1 3.00 ERA/4.87 SIERA) vs. Ervin Santana (0-4 7.23 ERA/4.40 SIERA)
Game one is definitely the marquee match up of the series as the aces of both staffs will take the mound. Jered Weaver is off to another great start, as if his 3-0 record and 2.43 ERA weren’t any indication. He’s not walking anyone right now and he’s commanding the strike zone like none other. The Indians have their hands full tonight because it’s going to take something of a miracle to generate any offense against Weaver.
As for Justin Masterson, things could be better for him. He’s struggling right now and hasn’t been pitching to the standard he established all of last season. A big part of that is due to walks—his BB/9 is just under five. Over the past three starts it’s been the same song and dance, breeze through the first time through the lineup and struggle on the second go-around. It almost seems like it’s a mechanical issue. He gets out of a rhythm, loses his arm slot, and his accuracy struggles. I mentioned this heading into the Oakland series and I’ll mention it again here. This is a problem that can be corrected.
Game two is a potentially tough matchup for the Indians. Dan Haren is 3-2 with a 3.58 career ERA in ten starts versus the Indians, but it feels more like he should be 7-2. Haren just seems to pitch well against the Indians for whatever reason. He’s off to the typical Dan Haren type of start to the season, as all his stats are on par with his career averages. The only major difference is a slightly increased BABIP of .370. With a little bit of luck-and some run support-Haren could very well be 3-1 right now.
Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez looked great in his first appearance of more than two innings against the A’s. It would appear that his hot spring has translated to a hot April. Hopefully he can keep it going, what with the aforementioned struggles of Jimenez and Masterson. Look for him to work the strike zone and not beat himself, a true sign of a quality pitcher.
The third game marks the return of Ervin Santana to Progressive Field. For those of you who might not remember, the last time Santana started a game in Cleveland it ended with the Indians being no-hit. Santana is a quality pitcher and has proven over the years to have a very live arm, but he has gotten off to a terrible start in 2012. Or has he? He may be 0-3 with an ERA over 7.00, but the Angels have also been shut out in three of his starts. He’s received a whopping three runs of support all season long. With the exception of giving up four home runs per nine innings pitched—and that will improve—not much is different about Santana.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, Derek Lowe has been a model of consistency so far for the Tribe. He has kept the Indians in every game he’s pitched, as indicated by his 3-1 record, and hes been the veteran presence this team needed. That’s something that can’t be overstated. Look for Lowe to pitch well into the seventh inning and for Angels hitters to beat his heavy sinker into the ground.
Players to Watch: Angels
Albert Pujols: No explanation is really needed for this one. The entire baseball world is watching Pujols right now, waiting for him to break out of his slump. But is it a slump? Pujols’ average has declined every year since 2008 along with his BABIP. His wins above replacement also regularly topped out at 9 fWAR. The past two seasons have been 7 fWAR and 5 fWAR. Is anyone else starting to think this “slump” isn’t so much a slump as it is a slow and agonizing decline? Then again, this may all just be the result adjusting to new teammates and surroundings, changing leagues, and learning new pitchers.
Erick Aybar: Everyone wants to place the blame on Pujols, but bear in mind that the Angels’ pesky leadoff hitter is only batting .229 with a .270 OBP. For his career he’s .275 and .318, respectively. Want to figure out why the Angels are struggling? That might be why. Aybar’s sole purpose is to get on base and use his speed to wreak havoc on the base paths. That’s hard to do from the bench. If he can get himself going, watch out.
Players to Watch: Indians
Carlos Santana: Santana leads the league in walks and is getting on base at a .412 clip, but his growing reputation as a three true outcome player is becoming a bit concerning. He’s struck out 13 times and is currently batting just .236. It would be more forgivable were he also jacking home runs, but he’s not right now. Every at bat seems like a walk or a strikeout. He needs to turn it up a notch, starting this weekend.
Casey Kotchman: Kotchman has yet to be a player to watch, and why would he be? He’s gotten off to a terrible start at the plate. However, focusing solely on his contributions at the plate isn’t doing him justice. Take the time to watch how Kotchman plays first base. He’s been phenomenal so far this season with the leather and deserves to be recognized for it.
Trivia Answer: Casey Kotchman holds the record for consecutive chances at first base without an error. His streak started on June 20, 2008 and lasted until August 21, 2010. It consisted of 2,379 chances in that time span.