Let me start off by saying that if Josh Hamilton goes 10-for-14 against the Indians this weekend and singlehandedly destroys Cleveland for three days, I won’t even be mad. He’s just too much fun to watch, a singular marvel of baseball.
Anyhow, the Rangers come to Cleveland this weekend for a three game set after riding a dominating lineup and superb pitching (considering the circumstances) to a sterling 17-8 record and first place in the AL West. They’re World Series contenders again and it’s series like these that the Indians need to relish as measuring sticks for their own position in the league. A series win or even a sweep of the defending American League champs could spring this team to a new level of confidence.
The Indians need a mistake-free weekend against Texas, not a series full of mistakes like they just had against the White Sox. The extra outs in that fateful third including a ball lost in the smoke doomed Ubaldo Jimenez in game one, and they just left too many men on base in game two even though they did win that one. The Rangers’ offense will feast on added opportunities and mental lapses, and Cleveland pitchers will find breaks in the lineup rare.
It’s all led by Josh Hamilton, 2009 MVP and all-around superhuman, who has the added motivation of a contract year. A slash line of .395/.438/.744 with a league-leading nine homers is a nice little hint of what’s to come for the next 137 games. This man is as talented as anyone.
The Rangers’ offense as a whole is simply murderous this year, from Ian Kinsler’s .948 OPS and five homers out of the leadoff spot to Mike Napoli’s seven homers despite a slow start at the plate, to Michael Young’s continued assault on baseballs (.327 batting average). Even with Nelson Cruz (.630 OPS) and Mitch Moreland (.727 OPS) off to slow starts, the Rangers are second in baseball in on-base percentage, second in homers, and even flashing some speed with 18 steals. They’re really, really good, and the Indians’ rotation is going to have its hands full.
The Indians offense, meanwhile has come alive the last couple games. They scuffled against a strong Angels rotation, but against the White Sox they scored two, six and seven runs, breaking out of a team-wide home run drought that had stretched 11 games. Jason Kipnis was 6-for-11 in Chi-town with a homer and is hitting .389 over his last 10 games. Johnny Damon got his first hit as an Indian, Travis Hafner homered, and Asdrubal Cabrera has been turning it on (.308 over his last 10 games with a homer Thursday night).
The Indians see a lot of pitches—they’re the most walked team in the game with 114 free passes, 15 ahead of the Padres. They’re fourth in OBP at .341 but the power numbers are lacking as they are slugging .382, 19th in the majors. Not homering for 11 games will do that to you. It’s not the most fearsome lineup, but now that Shin-Soo Choo is back from a hamstring injury the lineup is pretty punchy, especially with Kipnis turning into Chase Utley and the addition of Johnny Damon. Speaking of Damon, his career OBP is .353, so the fact he’s replacing Brantley at the top of the order when he plays shouldn’t be surprising. It could mean more men on base and more runs crossing the plate.
One other thing about this offense is that they need to start cashing in on big opportunities. They left 36 men on base in the Chicago series alone, including two bases-loaded situations that ended up to be fruitless. You just can’t do that against great teams like the Rangers. They’re going to score runs, so the Indians need big hits too. Walking a ton is great, but eventually someone is going to have to drill one in the alley. Texas’ rotation is a bit better than the Sox was, but even so, you need to capitalize if you want to be considered anything.
Speaking of pitching…