Game One: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Chris Sale
It’s becoming depressingly clear that Ubaldo Jimenez is nothing more than an alright starter. He’s still one of the two best pitchers on the Indians’ staff, but we’re not going to see that guy who started the season 16-1 and pitched like Bob Gibson before leveling out as the season ended, as he did in 2010. Still, he’s got filth in that arm of his—if only he could get that walk total down (he already has 14 this year, against only 13 strikeouts). He’s logged 24 innings in six starts and is just not pitching effectively for long stretches, as seen in his 88 ERA+.
Facing the White Sox though, Jimenez gets guys like Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza and Brent Morel—guys who just love to swing the bat. He could very well rip off a 12-strikeout day, or he could be unable to find the zone again and give up three or four home runs. Paul Konerko is still there, and he will hit early, late and often.
Chris Sale dominated the Indians the last time he faced them, his first time starting a game after his conversion from the bullpen. Carlos Santana had the Tribe’s sole RBI against Sale, who made it through 6 ⅔ innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five. He features a four-seamer and two-seamer along with a change and slider, the two-seamer being his main pitch. Lots of movement and a big, gangly delivery keep opponents off-balance. Sale is having a fine season early on: in 26 innings he has 26 strikeouts to go with a 3.12 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.
Game Two: Josh Tomlin vs. Phillip Humber
It turns out these two guys are good friends, and train together in the offseason. They’re very similar pitchers, relying on throwing strikes and location because nothing they have is overpowering. Humber threw a perfect game two starts ago, in case you hadn’t heard. He was then shelled his next time out, giving up nine runs on eight hits in five innings against the Red Sox. That perfecto has shined his numbers up a bit, but in 19 ⅓ innings over three starts he’s notched a 1.03 WHIP and a 92 ERA+.
Like Humber, Tomlin is the definition of a back of the rotation starter. He’s had a couple tough outings, but he’s walked only three in his three starts this year. His ERA is still a bulbous 5.48, but a good outing or two (meaning six or so innings and only three runs, the vaunted Quality Start) should get that back down to the 4.00-4.50 range he’s more used to. Tomlin gives up a lot of homers, a symptom of his less-than-dominating stuff and tendency to throw it in the zone. At U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox’ big bats could tee off on him. With these two pitching, it will likely not be a pitcher’s duel, and you can look for more a 6-5 end with a good tour of the back end of the bullpen. So advantage Indians.
So it’s not Roy Halladay vs. Clayton Kershaw, but darn it, these are our aces, and it’s going to be good. Justin Masterson has just had a rough start to the year, as we’ve already discussed. Through April he’s leading all of baseball with 17 walks (with only 14 K’s) with a 1.47 WHIP and 5.40 ERA. You’d hope he’s just unlucky, but a .250 BABIP (compared to his career number of .301) just tells us it could be worse. His last outing against the Sox lasted five innings, and he allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits while getting only two strikeouts. His sinker worked well in his last outing, so hopefully he can get this free-swinging Sox lineup to bite at diving sinkers and spinning sliders and carry the Tribe to victory.
We’re getting to the point where Danks is running out of time to show his potential. For a while he was seen the up-and-comer to succeed Mark Buehrle; now Buehrle has headed south to Miami and its Danks at the top. The 27-year0old isn’t doing much better than Masterson this year with 15 walks to 24 strikeouts in 30 innings and an ERA north of six. It’s a little funny, in a morbid, sad way, that both Opening Day starters may be the worst pitchers on their teams right now. If Masterson can find something resembling what he was last year, it could be a Tribe victory.
Taking the series here is more than possible for the Tribe, which would give the Indians a two-game lead in the division on the way out of Chicago. Humber pitched over his head through most of April, Tomlin looked much worse than he normally does, Danks at his best isn’t as good as Masterson at his, and Ubaldo could dominate this lineup. It’s AL Central baseball, ladies and gentlemen, hard-fought and hard-won. And it’s what we live for.