Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Miami Marlins

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Things are looking up in Cleveland as the Indians coming off a pair of short series sweeps of the Twins and Mariners to follow a rough weekend against the Red Sox. The Tribe is protecting home turf and beating the teams they should beat,. At 22-16 coming into Friday, they’re in first place in the AL Central, have been above .500 since April 19th, and unlike last year they’re doing it with offense.

They’re 10th in the league in runs scored (last year they were 16th total) and fourth in OBP at .342 (up from 15th last year). They did this last year too, leading baseball in runs scored in April of 2011 and were second in OBP, but this time it just seems more sustainable. Jason Kipnis is proving himself to be a real pro (.275/.339/.463) and Asdrubal is mashing the ball (.325/.420/.520), while Travis Hafner looks to be healthy and Jack Hannahan was proving to be a very valuable offensive piece before his back tweaked out. The pitching is a little iffy, but that should get better as guys get into their grooves (and they better, Masterson is still struggling and Ubaldo is sometimes frightening to watch) even as Derek Lowe pitches like an ace.

Cleveland hosts the toast of South Beach this weekend: those boldly dressed Miami Marlins. We have to hope they’ll wear their unforgettable orange hats at least once. The Marlins come in at 20-18, good for fourth in a tough NL East that includes the last-place Phillies. It’s a fine team they’ve assembled in Miami, a potentially great youthful core bolstered by a free agent spending spree by the normally thrifty Marlins owner Jeff Loria. It’s sure to give the Tribe fits and make for some fantastic baseball.

Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

This Marlins’ lineup is centered around a pair of wonderful young players in Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is notching an .874 OPS that’ll only go up as he gets more used to a surprisingly cavernous new stadium back home, while Ramirez is at times dazzling and often confusing, but always talented. He’s off to a slow start as the adjustment to this new confines continues, but he’s still, well, Hanley Ramirez, the guy with the career 130 OPS+ and a batting title back home. He’s not the young phenom he was, but he still has all the talent in the world, or at least most of it, and opposing hurlers should beware. Stanton could probably hit the ball to Eagle Avenue if he squares one up, and really, wouldn’t that be worth a run or two, to see that? Mistakes cannot be made if the Tribe wants to win this weekend.

At the top of the lineup is Jose Reyes, one of of the Fish’s big offseason pickups and a man who will put plenty of pressure on the Tribe’s infield defense. Reyes’ speed forces rushed throws to first and with a still-learning (though greatly improved) Jason Kipnis at second that’s not really the best news. Emilio Bonafacio is a speed merchant himself, giving the Marlins two chances at the top of the lineup every time around to get a base stealer on. Marlins left fielder Logan Morrison is quite the knucklehead, but has a great bat despite a slow start this year with a 99 OPS+. He did hit 23 homers in 123 games but now he has a manager that doesn’t just think he’s a young whippersnapper.

Speaking of managers, the great Ozzie Guillen make his triumphant return to Cleveland, using the same clubhouse but without that White Sox loathing emanating from the stands. He knows the Indians, and he has to have some emotional connection he can tap into and galvanize his players from the battles he’s been through while managing the White Sox. That, and he probably knows a couple pretty sweet spots to grab a bite to eat around town. It’s always fun to have Ozzie in the building though, and now that he has to make double-switches and pinch-hit decisions, it’s like a whole new adventure for him and Ozzie gazers everywhere.

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