Fresh off a series win against the White Sox, the Indians head back to Cleveland tonight to kick off a weeklong homestand at Progressive Field. It’ll be nice to be back home, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy weekend. The Indians will face their toughest opponents of the year in the Texas Rangers. At 17-8 the two-time defending AL pennant winners have the second-best record in the league, and they’ll be deploying their top starters against the Tribe.
As we wait for action to get underway at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I talked to Nolan Writin’ Senior Editor Jared Book about Texas’ hot start, the incredible Josh Hamilton, and the guys we’ll see on the mound for the Rangers this weekend. Here’s what he had to say:
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: The Rangers have looked fantastic this year. What’s driving their hot start?
JARED BOOK: Everything going as perfect as it can. The starting pitching was great, the hitting was timely and they stayed healthy. In the past two series against Tampa Bay and Toronto (both losses), the pitching was not as solid and they had to deal with injuries to both Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. The Rangers have good offense but losing Hamilton and Beltre really hurt them. It’s not too worrisome at this point, but the quick start was a case of everything going right. You can’t expect that for 162 games.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: With the Angels struggling, is there any doubt that Texas will make the playoffs? Is this the year the Rangers finally win it all?
JARED BOOK: I don’t think there is a doubt that the Rangers will make the playoffs at this point. A quick start like this means that they can afford to drop off and still have a good overall record. Even if the Angels catch them, it will take a great collapse to fall out of Wild Card contention. As for winning it all, the team has a solid pitching staff which is good for short series in the playoffs. The offense is well documented but being successful in the playoffs is all about being hot at the right time. Can they? Yes. Will they? We’ll have to see in October.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Looks like Josh Hamilton is making the most of his contract year. What does this mean for his future in Texas?
JARED BOOK: Hamilton has been amazing. I thought this at the beginning of the year, and still believe it now, that Hamilton almost has to remain a Ranger after this year. The Rangers have a hole in the middle of their lineup when he’s not in there and with the Angels going after Albert Pujols, I don’t think Texas can afford to lose Hamilton and still be as strong of a team. However, they do have Leonys Martin in Triple A who is the center fielder of the future and a quick look at the St. Louis Cardinals shows that you can replace one player in a lineup with multiple changes. I think Hamilton in Texas makes the most sense, but his injury history makes you want to shy away from a long-term deal that he is sure to get on the open market.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: What’s wrong with Nelson Cruz? Do you expect him to heat up soon?
JARED BOOK: I don’t know. Cruz’s struggles have been masked with Kinsler, Young, Napoli, Hamilton and Beltre in the lineup and hitting well. But in the last two games against Toronto, with Beltre and Hamilton out you need Cruz in the middle of that lineup. With him struggling, it sets the team back. His peripheral statistics look pretty lined up with his career averages, so it’s not just a matter of luck or anything. I do expect him to get back into the swing of things eventually and luckily for the Rangers, they managed to succeed despite his slow start.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Who’s pitching for the Rangers this weekend, and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
Lewis is probably the most underrated pitcher in the American League. He doesn’t sound like an ace, until you look at his statistics and watch him pitch. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff that makes you ooh and aah but he has been so good this year. He has only walked four in over 32 innings and that obviously helps. He also has not allowed a hit with runners in scoring position which contributes to his way above-average LOB% of 95.4. League average sits in the 70′s so that is bound to show some regression.
Holland has struggled in his last two starts against the Yankees and Rays, but his ERA of 5.13 is misleading. His FIP is much lower and shows his true form. He is a very solid No. 2 pitcher and the Rangers need him and the other lefty in the rotation, Matt Harrison to step up and return to their form from their first three starts.
Darvish is an enigma even to Ranger fans. In his last two starts he has shown so much more command and maybe that’s a confidence issue. He has thrown much more strikes in his last two starts and has 19 K’s to show for it so he definitely has swing-and-miss stuff. An interesting stat: Taking away his first inning against Seattle where he allowed four runs, he has allowed four earned runs in his next 32 innings. He is truly becoming the pitcher everyone thought he would be. Now, as more tape is shown on him how will he adjust? That’s the next step for Yu.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: What’s your prediction for the series?
JARED BOOK: I think the Rangers will pull out the series, especially with their top three starters going but I don’t expect a sweep. Hamilton and Beltre being healthy will be a big part of this series as well but they need Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli to continue swinging their hot sticks and their bullpen to keep them in games which has been great all year but went missing in the middle game against the Blue Jays. The Indians smell blood with the Tigers struggling and this is a good opportunity to show they belong with contenders. It would be a mistake to underestimate them, that’s for sure.