This right here is a match up of two guys that were not expected to contribute much at all for their teams. Now, they’re playing a big role. Zach McAllister has been making a living recently as a spot starter, but with how he’s throwing the ball he’s a legit major league starter. Where once he could barely get above 90 on the radar gun, his last time out against the Rays he was hitting 93 and 94. That can happen on a warm day; a pitcher getting a bit looser than normal and getting a couple extra m.p.h. This time he’s in Tampa so there’s a chance that will slip away. Either way, he’s been good. In McAllister’s last three starts he’s striking out 9.9 per nine innings and the Rays, despite being disciplined at the plate, are 26th in baseball at 8.10 strikeouts per game. McAllister is doing a good job of taking advantage of the opponents he’s facing, and I can’t be the only one who thinks this might be a diamond in the rough type of find for the Indians. So for now, thank you Austin Kearns.
Meanwhile, Cobb did a good job handcuffing the Indians earlier in the month. He started opposite Justin Masterson that time, and while Masterson couldn’t find the plate, save for some cookies that turned into homers, Cobb was in fine form going six innings and allowing three runs. Perhaps seeing him so recently will be good for the Indians and they’ll have better luck. Also, getting the running game going will be key. Opposing hitters are notching a .327 average with runners in scoring position and giving Cobb a 14.63 ERA (16 innings worth of sample, but still). We know the Indians can get to first, so moving to second will be important in getting into the youngster’s head. He was tough at Progressive Field, let’s see how he does in St. Pete.
The Cowboy (yes, that’s Tomlin) was on fire his last time out. Facing these same Rays, Tomlin got the win aided by a rare trio of long balls from the Tribe. He pitched seven dazzling innings of two run ball. His four-seamer was hitting 93, his cutter was forcing grounders, and he made the Rays look like rank amateurs for seven frames. Can he do it again? Sure, it’s the same lineup and he does a good job of minimizing the baserunner threat, which is one of the Rays’ greatest strengths. We know what to expect, it’s all about execution at this point.
Matt Moore continues to tantalize and probably frustrate Rays fans everywhere (There are a couple dozen dusted about the country, right? There have to be, their colors are so nice.) but he is going to be very good. He raised expectations sky-high in the postseason last year, looking every bit the young ace he could become. He isn’t there yet though, and as evidenced by his last outing of five innings with five hits, runs and walks, he is a young talent still finding himself. He’s walking 4.5 per and paid for it last game. However, he does hold batters to a .700 OPS at home compared to .838 on the road. He’s also (ugh) left-handed so the Indians will need to be patient and let him get himself into trouble. Regardless, he’s fun to watch, so whatever the outcome we’re in for a fun game.
Justin Masterson (6-8, 4.14 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (4-6, 3.46 ERA)
Justin was amazing against the Blue Jays the other night. That’s the ace we hoped for and need if this team is going to go anywhere. He got his usual miserable run support (solo dinger by Hafner) but ran with it, and now he gets to go up against a weaker-hitting team missing its best player in Evan Longoria. Of course, before the break he was just terrible at home against Tampa throwing 102 pitches in less than five innings of work. He couldn’t find the plate, issuing four walks and giving up two home runs. Sometimes you just lay an egg. But, if he pitches as expected and like he did on Friday night, the more hubristic Indians fans among us can pencil in a victory.
Jeremy Hellickson, the man who denies batting average on balls in play as a viable statistic, got his defense to do the work for him his last time against the Indians as he struck out only three but allowed only two runs. He does get to play in front of a great defensive team, so why not take advantage of what you can. For whatever else he believes in, Hellickson is a fine pitcher and on a worse team might be considered the ace. Plus, he’s only 25 so good things are in the future for this young man. He holds lefties to a .757 OPS (and righties to .619) which gets the job done and his WHIP has a big home/away split, 1.079 to 1.370. Maybe he’s just more comfortable in that horrible stadium. A man’s home is his castle, I suppose. But yeah, despite his lack of overpowering ability, Hellickson is a fine pitcher and one of the reasons the Rays are as good as they are.
Ugly Ubaldo Jimenez made an appearance again Saturday. The Indians got shelled in an 11-9 loss and Ubaldo took it on the chin. In his shortest outing (2 ⅓ innings) Jimenez walked four and gave up two homers. He’s now walked nine men in July and allowed four home runs. Boy, when he loses the plate, it goes into another county. Luckily for him, this is a Rays team without the pop in the middle of the order the Blue Jays do, but with that long delivery they’re sure to steal some bases.
The Indians just couldn’t sneak out of St. Pete without seeing the Rays ace it seems. David Price is a great pitcher, plain and simple. Whether it’s the overpowering fastball that runs in toward lefties, the neat little change or his wicked slider, Price is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, and everyone knows it. Considering what other less than impressive lefties have done to the Tribe this year, the way Price is sure to vaporize Cleveland’s lineup is going to be a thing of vicious beauty. Left-handed batters have a .556 career OPS against him and righties not much better at .617. His career ERA at home is 2.75, more than a run less than on the road. He’s already struck out 113 this year with a BB/K ratio of 2.83. I could go on, but if you don’t know David Price is a great pitcher, you don’t watch much baseball.
The Rays and Indians are in the same boat for how they should build themselves – neither has much revenue to dig into and both need to take advantage of every possible chance to win when they can. One thing can be assured, it won’t be a mash-fest in the Trop. We are going to see some great baseball in Tampa, just like we did in Toronto despite taking only 1 of three. Four games against this pitching staff and these coaches will be a true test of the Indians resolve, adaptability, and a nice test against a real contender to see what the ceiling is on this team.