The phrase “coming back to Earth” is rarely more apt than right here. The key for a pitcher like Gomez, who lacks overpowering velocity and and electric secondary pitch, is location. Unfortunately, though he doesn’t walk a ton of people, he doesn’t paint the corners, either. That five-inning, six-run outing with no strikeouts against the Tigers is the kind of thing that happens when a contact pitcher can’t induce weak contact. Unfortunately for him, the Reds aren’t slouches at the plate either. That middle of the order with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce is deadly. They’ll feast on hanging sliders and fastballs too far over the plate. Combine that with the Great American Ballpark being a launching pad and it could be a short outing for Jeanmar. He’s never faced the Reds, so perhaps that will play in his favor. Whatever he can use to his advantage he’s going to need, because this is an amazing offense.
Meanwhile, there’s something intriguing about Gomez’ opponent, Johnny Cueto, I don’t know what it is. He’s just pretty good. His 2.63 ERA is backed up by less favorable advanced numbers (3.90 SIERA). He knows how to pitch in his home park—he has a 48 percent groundball rate and he’s been able to keep fly balls in the park pretty well. This year his HR/FB rate is 6.8 percent, and with a lineup like the Indians’ that doesn’t really blast it a lot, don’t expect a slugfest. Cueto is a fine pitcher, and Cleveland won’t have it easy.
The grizzled vet versus the young gun. When Lowe won his first major league game, Leake was still in grade school. By the time Lowe won a World Series, Leake might have kissed a girl or two. Now they take the mound opposite each other in what may be the decisive game of the series. Lowe continues to look like a fine pickup for the Indians, and though his ERA is creeping back up to be more in line with his peripherals, he can get it done. That shelling he took against Detroit (seven runs on nine hits in five innings) can be attributed to a non-sinking sinker. But if the ball stays down the bandboxian nature of GABP will be neutralized.
Meanwhile, the young Leake is in his third year in the majors, and is a serviceable if not great starter. He strikes out 15.8 percent of batters and walks 6.6 percent, though against this Indians lineup expect that number to jump. Maybe he’ll succumb to the massive pressure as carries the hopes of southern Ohio on his shoulders, or maybe there’s a writer out there somewhere making too big a deal out of this rivalry. He faced the Indians on July 3, 2011 striking out eight and giving up four runs on four hits including a homer, but that Indians team just loved to swing the bat. This is a different lineup, and perhaps he’ll pitch like it’s the team he saw last year. If he does, there will be some runs on the board early—he hasn’t had to face The JK Kid yet.
Just when you think you have Tomlin figured out, he goes out and shuts down a great St. Louis Cardinals lineup, to the tune of eight hits and two runs over seven innings—this one game removed from his giving up five runs in six innings to the Twins. Was Tomlin a beneficiary of the Cardinals’ unfamiliarity with him? Almost definitely. But he was still consistently in the low 90’s (usually high 80’s) and working all over the plate. The Cardinals broadcasters said something along the lines of: when you’re facing Tomlin, you look up and just wonder how he got you out, but it’s because he knows how to pitch, and he covers up his deficiencies by working to his own strengths. Last year he went seven innings of one-run ball (a sacrifice fly by the currently injured Scott Rolen) against the Reds, and there’s no reason we can’t expect the same. He’s efficient, he rarely misses a spot, and he gives the Tribe a chance. They’re going to need it in this game.
Mat Latos may be the perfect example of a park making a pitcher. Petco park in San Diego was his old home, and thanks in large part to those cavernous confines he finished eighth the in Cy Young voting and notched a 126 ERA+ two years ago. This year, in the much smaller confines of Great American, his HR/9 rate has leapt up by a full dinger per game. It’s hard being a flyball pitcher in a band box, and Latos is showing just that. He still has good velocity on both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs (93.5 and 91.7 mph career, respectively) and a solid change at 83.3 with good movement. He’s apparently started throwing a cutter this year but has yet to master it, so a hanging one or two of those would be nice, tracing a nice parabola to the stands in right. He’s still young and could learn how to pitch in his new home, but right now he’s ripe for the picking by a hot Indians lineup.
It’s the Tribe’s first crack at their southern neighbors this year and it’d be sweet to take home the first round of the Ohio Cup. The Indians lead the series 39-36, so a little more breathing room, not to mention bragging rights, would be a nice outcome. Either way, these are two good, well-coached, and fundamentally sound teams. It’s going to be good baseball.
Topics: Aroldis Chapman, Chris Perez, Cincinnati Reds, Derek Lowe, Dusty Baker, Jason Kipnis, Jay Bruce, Jeanmar Gomez, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Josh Tomlin, Manny Acta, Mat Latos, Michael Brantley, Mike Leake, Ohio Cup, Vinnie Pestano