- Josh Tomlin (4-5, 5.85 ERA/4.51 SIERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (4-4, 3.44/4.82)
- Justin Masterson (5-7, 3.92/4.03) vs. Alex Cobb (3-5, 4.94/3.54)
- Ubaldo Jimenez (7-7, 4.59/5.28) vs. Matt Moore (5-5, 4.17/4.15)
- Zach McAllister (3-1, 3.93/3.72) vs. James Shields (8-5, 4.11/3.44)
First and foremost, this needs to be said: The Indians and their arsenal of left-handed bats who struggle mightily against left handed pitchers will not, I repeat, will not have to face off against David Price. Talk about dodging a bullet.
Game one features Josh Tomlin versus Jeremy Hellickson. Tomlin is coming off a shaky outing in which he benefited from the Indians offense exploding for 11 runs. While he recorded the win, he wasn’t particularly sharp allowing five runs on seven hits over the course of six innings. More alarming was the fact that Tomlin walked three batters. For most pitchers that’s not a lot, but when you consider the fact that Tomlin hardly ever walks anyone and pitches to contact those walks could have been a disaster. He also gave up another home run. Tomlin needs to be better, because the Indians need him to be the innings eater he’s capable of being.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Hellickson, the defending AL Rookie of the Year, has had a better year than his 4-4 record would indicate. The problem is run support. The Rays’ offense is averaging slightly more than three runs per game in the games that Hellickson has started. In fact, they have scored five runs or more in only four of his 14 starts. Remove those four outings and the Rays are averaging only 2.6 runs per start. Hellickson has had to pitch almost perfectly to win, and to his credit, he almost has.
Game two will be Justin Masterson against Alex Cobb. Masterson comes in riding a serious wave of momentum. He pitched well the entire month of June (so far so good in July) and looks to have figured out the issues that were plaguing him earlier in the season. His sinker is sinking, he’s commanding the strike zone, and he’s getting deep into games. That’s exactly what you expect to see from the ace of your staff.
As for the Rays and Alex Cobb, it’s been a real mixed bag of results. Cobb has turned in every type of performance you can think of in 2012. He’s thrown a seven-inning shut out, an eight-inning eight-run clunker, and everything in between.There’s no telling what they’re going to get from him in any given start. He’s a gamer though and he’s going to take the mound, throw 100 pitches, and try to force the Tribe into some groundball outs. He’s a three-pitch pitcher with a fastball, curve, and changeup and doesn’t give up the long ball. This is a game the Indians might have to grind out if they want to win.
In game three we’ll see Ubaldo Jimenez versus Matt Moore. In an interesting turn of events, Indians fans are loving themselves some Ubaldo. Much like Masterson, ever since the calendar switched from May to June, Jimenez has been a completely different pitcher. He’s not walking nearly as many batters and he’s striking out more. As a result he’s working deeper into games on fewer pitches and completely shutting down opposing lineups. All of the sudden the trade that took place a little less than a year ago isn’t looking so bad.
For Matt Moore, there were a lot of lofty expectations heading into 2012. After his run of success in 2011 many felt that Moore was going to become one of the elite pitchers in Major League Baseball. He’s been decent in 2012, but not dominant. He’s fallen victim to the same type of bad luck as Hellickson in terms of run support which hasn’t helped. However, he has won four out of his last six starts, two were no decisions, and in that time frame has a 3.29 ERA with 35 strikeouts against 17 walks. He also throws the ball with his left arm, so this could be tricky for the Indians.
The final game of the inaccurately measured “first half” of the season features Zach McAllister against James Shields. McAllister has something of a godsend for the Tribe. As a spot starter and now a full-time rotation guy since the demotion of Jeanmar Gomez, McAllister has shown that he belongs at the big league level. He’s 3-1 with a 3.93 ERA. In addition, he’s struck out 33 and walked only seven in six starts. It’s this type of contribution the Indians need to get out of the last man in their rotation if they want to continue to hang around in the AL Central.
James Shields is the type of pitcher who can come out and absolutely dominate a game. He’s a four-pitch pitcher (fastball, cutter, curve, and change) who very well could be the ace of any other staff in baseball—he’s that good. He’s having a decent year by most standards, especially with a record of 8-5, but still it feels like he could be pitching better than he has been. Yes, that’s probably a bit of nitpicking, but you tend to set high standards for a guy with this much talent. This will be a tough matchup for the Indians. They’ll have earned their break after this weekend.