- Justin Masterson (2-6, 4.76 ERA/4.16 SIERA) vs. James McDonald (5-2, 2.39/3.25)
- Ubaldo Jimenez (6-4, 4.91/5.43) vs. A.J. Burnett (6-2, 3.61/3.17)
- Jeanmar Gomez (4-5, 4.71/4.79) vs. Brad Lincoln (3-2, 3.15/3.21)
Game one features one of the best pitchers in baseball and no, it’s not Justin Masterson. I’m talking about James McDonald, the highly underrated starter for the Pirates. With a record of 5-2 and ERA sitting just below 2.50, McDonald is having a fantastic season. In fact, McDonald has been downright dominating striking out close to nine batters per nine innings and walking two. He’s a big reason why the Pirates own the fourth-best ERA in baseball. This will be a real test for the Indians and their struggling offense.
Masterson, meanwhile, comes into tonight’s game with some serious momentum. He pitched great his last time out against the Cardinals, falling short only because Kyle Loshe somehow pitched even better. We’ve been waiting for Masterson to finally break out in 2012 and this could be the game that does it. The Pirates, as previously mentioned, are a mediocre offensive team and could be the perfect confidence booster for the Tribe’s beleaguered ace.
Game two gives the Indians a chance to face a pitcher they are a little more familiar with in A.J. Burnett. As you may recall, Burnett had spent the previous five seasons in the American League with the Blue Jays and Yankees so there shouldn’t be any surprises here. He’s going to throw a lot of fastballs and try to dominate the Indians through sheer force. This has been a pretty solid year so far for Burnett following his struggles in New York, so by no means will it be easy. The key here will be to work counts early and prevent Burnett from getting into a rhythm. As is the case with most power pitchers, once he settles in things become infinitely more difficult.
Meanwhile, the Pirates will have to deal with a suddenly rejuvenated Ubaldo Jimenez. In his last two outings, Jimenez has been lights-out dominant, holding the opposition to just two runs in 13.2 innings with 10 strikeouts and only one walk. It’s like we’re watching a completely different pitcher. Obviously the key has been his discovery of this thing called the “strike zone.” Kidding aside, he’s not forcing himself into high pressure situations with walks and he finally looks in command of his stuff. The only question left is: Can he keep it up?
In the finale, the Pirates will send Brad Lincoln to the hill. This is a bit of a transition period for Lincoln. He was the fourth overall pick in 2006 out of the University of Houston. Originally a starter in his few big league stints, Lincoln made the team in 2012 as a reliever. Now, thanks largely to injuries, Lincoln is transitioning back to a starter. He was solid out of the bullpen but in his last two starts has failed to make it out of the fifth inning and took the loss both times. This will be one of those games where either the Indians jump all over Lincoln and tattoo him or he comes out and pitch a gem—don’t expect any middle ground.
The Indians will counter with Jeanmar Gomez. There’s no sugarcoating this: Gomez needs to have a big game. After a dominating spring and successful first handful of stats, Gomez has really struggled of late. He’s 1-3 in his last four outings with an ERA of 7.84. To make matters worse, he’s given up four long balls and is walking more batters than he’s striking out. I don’t know if he’s hit a wall or if other teams have just figured him out, if he struggles again it could pave the way for David Huff or Zach McAllister to get a call up.