Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

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Probable Pitchers

I maintain that Hiroki Kuroda is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Now that he’s in New York he’s sure to get more publicity, but even with that I don’t think people respect him enough. He seems to pitch angry, he’s as near a guarantee for 200-plus innings as you can get and judging from his 3.73 SIERA last year he can get people out. With his numbers he’d be poised for success if the Yankees lineup was at full strength but right now he still gives the team a chance to win. This is an underrated pitching staff as a whole, and Kuroda in a major reason for it. Maybe if CC Sabathia weren’t so big a name, people would see it more. Kuroda works in the low to mid-90’s with his fastball and sinker with a good collection of supporting pitches, He’s a joy to watch, from an objective pitching fan’s standpoint. Indians might have their hands full unless that 1.1 inning outing was a sign of things to come. Early games are weird.

How about the Big U, huh? Six innings in Toronto, just a homer to Maicer Izturis of all people, and 64 strikes in 103 pitches. Not bad. I can take this every game. He looked good too, comfortable, like he knew where his pitches were going. I’m ready for the other side of the buttered bread to hit the floor, but I am cautiously optimistic. He gets rocked by Cano though (four hits including a homer in nine at-bats) and Brennan Boesch of all people has six hits against him, though that’s in 25 at-bats. He can certainly handle a depleted Yankees lineup like this, able to work around their sole power threat and take advantage of the freer swinging guys like Wells, Overbay and Nunez. A good start could get it going in earnest for Ubaldo, he needs to get it done in this game. It’s never too early for a critical game, especially for a guy with such a fragile-seeming psyche.

At this point in his career, what else is there to say about Andy Pettitte? If he’s still good, he’s going to give the Yankees a chance to win, he’s going to squint over the top of his glove a ton, and he’ll probably have a decent amount of success. He retired then came back to pitch 12 games for the Yankees last year and had a career low in SIERA (3.30), struck out a career-high 8.2 per nine (maybe because he didn’t have to work as long?) and was just pretty good. Whether the 41-year old still has it for the long haul is the question, but his eight-inning start to begin the season, allowing one run to Boston, gives hope to Yankees fans to begin the season. He learned to pitch some years back and he’s showing that wiliness that’s given him such continued success over the years. His middle name is Eugene though. In 127.1 innings against the Indians in his career he’s got a 4.17 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. He’s 6-4 at Progressive Field with a 3.84 ERA and allowed seven homers in 64 innings. But he hasn’t faced these Indians, he should be shaking. Right? Seriously, Eugene.

The triumphant return of Carlos Carrasco, the man all Tribe fans hope will be good so the Cliff Lee trade wasn’t a waste of time. Yes, I love Lou Marson too, but come on. Carrasco is back from Tommy John surgery and has a full spring, 18 innings pitched with 14 strikeouts and 12 earned runs. Before the surgery Carlos had a filthy fastball with halting command, intermittently good focus and decent secondary pieces. When he was on he was amazing, highlighted by a five-start run in June where he faced Minnesota, the Yankees in New York, the Pirates, the Giants and D-Backs in their houses, allowing four earned runs and 22 hits in 36.2 innings. He had a 28:5 K/BB ratio in this stretch. This flash gave me and probably many others of acehood, until the wheels fell off. But that’s why this start is so interesting —if Carrasco is that one we saw in those late June evenings and not the one who gave up seven earned runs in 3.1 innings to the Royals later that year, the Indians take a definite step forward.

When he was called up, the New York media loved Ivan Nova. Another coup by the Yankees brain trust, another star from the minor leagues. Of course, there was a certain level of misinformedness in this, because though Nova had a 116 ERA+ and (much more loudly mentioned) 16 wins in his first full season, we know wins are a bit of a ruse (especially on the Yankees), and his 4.29 SIERA told a different story. He was actually better than his numbers (88 ERA+ among them) told last year, with a 3.84 SIERA, so it’s still kind of early in his career to pass judgement on Nova. Anywhere but New York he’d be rarely talked about, but no matter your skill level you are going to get ink if you’re a Yankee. Nova will probably end up being about league average as a pitcher, he has nice stuff and if he can maintain consistency he’s a valuable piece. Indians can get to him though, and that’s the key, considering who’s starting opposite him.

I can’t believe this is happening again. Last year I had to find new ways to describe how maybe, just maybe, Ubaldo Jimenez could win the game. Now we got Brett Myers getting $7 million and giving up four homers. He can’t possibly be 12.60 ERA, 7.2 HR/9, 24 ERA+ bad, but man he didn’t look good. Progressive is a bit more forgiving to hitters than the Rogers Centre, so hopefully he makes himself at home. The Yankees don’t have the thunder of the Blue Jays, and Cano has one hit in nine at-bats against him. No current Yankee has homered against Myers actually, and seeing as the weather will be a bit raw, it could be a perfect strom of a bounce back for Brett. I don’t need another dreadful pitcher in my life.

There was a time when Phil Hughes, along with Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, were the new breed, a group of young arms that were going to carry the Yankees to into the new millennium with championships, Cy Youngs and total domination. Then Kennedy was traded and became the ace down in Arizona, Joba Chamberlain was a bit of a wash as a starter and had elbow surgery, missing 2012, and Phil Hughes hasn’t taken the step past mediocre starter. Plainly, the Yanks would love to have Kennedy back, but such is buyer’s remorse. In the last three years Hughes has had SIERAs of 4.05, 4.80 and 3.95 respectively. Injury and dead arm limited him to 14 starts in 2011, but even healthy he hasn’t been the guy the Yankees wanted.

He seems to have changed his approach a bit last year, throwing fewer cutters and curveballs and upping his change up to 10 percent of his pitches, up from a career average of six percent. He’s still young, turning 27 in June, so he could still find it, you just have to wonder how the pressure of New York and changing pitching coaches from Dave Eiland to Larry Rothschild impacted him. He’s still just league-average according to ERA+ (99) so there’s room for improvement. In 16 innings over three starts in his career at Progressive Field he’s allowed seven runs and one homer, so perhaps the park effect of that bandbox in the Bronx hurt him. Plus, this is a better Indians team than he’s seen.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is a pretty equal matchup really. If Zach McAllister were still in New York he’d be getting the Nova treatment. Being alright gets you pretty far in the Big Apple, so just imagine how someone like Ben Zobrist would be touted if he were a Yankee. (I think I just gave Rays fans heart attacks.) McAllister had a decent start to the season, six innings of two earned run ball (four runs total) with six hits and a few K’s. He threw strikes, 66 of 100 total, pretty much the ratio you hope for. McAllister packs a 3.98 SIERA and that’s about what I expect out of him, but I like the potential this guy shows. He works hard and seems like he has a grip on what he’s capable of, something that’s all too rare in baseball, and life really. He’s never faced the Yankees, and of their starting nine only Boesch (1-for-6) and Kevin Youkilis (1-for-3) have hits. Ichiro is 0-for-5 with a walk, somehow.

Final Thoughts

Apparently the game on Wednesday is on ESPN, which is a bummer because Myers is pitching and it’s going to be a poor reflection of the Indians on a national audience. But maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. This team has a lot of promise, avoiding early attention could actually be good, let them sneak up on the opponents. A sweep, or at least a series win, against the Yankees is always a boost for a team no matter how New York is doing. They can do it, this is the time of the small guy knocking off the tottering old juggernaut.

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