Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Philadelphia Phillies

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Twenty-one runs scored, a shutout, a low-scoring affair, the Indians got a little bit of everything with their trip to Kaufman. The Royals are looking good even as the Tribe split with them, they sit at 13-10 to the Indians’ 10-13. What did we learn? The Indians are consistently inconsistent, the Royals are better than some thought and might actually contend this year, and Ryan Raburn is more than just a springtime flash in the pan. In all, capped by the Ubaldo Jimenez performance on Monday (seven innings, no runs, two walks) it was a good trip to a boring place.

So now the “bizarrery” begins in earnest. After a taste of the New MLB a few weeks back with a series against American League-mates the Houston Astros, which seemed real odd, here’s the first taste of Interleague Play the Indians will see this season as they host the Philadelphia Phillies. I’m not against the whole Interleague thing, I like those teams and in this series in particular we get to see some pretty compelling players. It’s just different, and as baseball fans, even those of us as forward thinking as they come, change is scary. The real strangeness is that it’s a two-game series in the middle of the week. It seems so shoehorned in, forced just because it has to happen, and it’s strange. Though they’re not a top-flight team right now, I consider the Phillies a big draw, at least because of that pitching. So naturally, like the Yankees, the Indians get them in April. It’s only fair.

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As I said, the Phillies aren’t top of the tops anymore, not like two and three years ago when they had two MVP’s playing close to that level an another guy who was better than both of them. Now Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins (the MVP’s, you know) are old and worse, and Chase Utley, while beloved by Ronald “Mac/Ronny the Rat” McDonald, has lost some of his best years to injury. That’s not to say they’re finished- Howard has shown flashes of power and is still recovering from a horrible injury, Rollins is flashing a little power and a solid glove even if he’s striking out too much, and Utley boasts an .845 OPS with a team-leading four homers. Of the three, he seems to be the most “back.” Probably because the rest of his body got refreshed with all that time off from his myriad injuries.

Around this familiar old core is a relatively re-tooled team. Catcher Carlos Ruiz had a filthy year last year with a .935 OPS and 16 homers in 114 games, but he’s going to miss 50 games this year because of a probably unrelated PED conviction. Ben Revere was acquired from the Twins to play center field, and the Phillies could do a lot worse. I worked for the New Britain Rock Cats when Revere was a farm hand for the Twins. When he wasn’t getting hit in the face by baseballs and breaking his cheek (I think it happened twice that year) the guy could fly around the outfield, and he’s kept it up in the majors. A punch-and-judy hitter, if you will, Ben gets his money with his legs and his glove, giving some value despite his atrocious beginning to the season (.207/.230/.472). If he keeps it up, he could sign, say, a 4-year, $48 million deal once he hits free agency. Just to pull some numbers out of my head.

Possibly the biggest surprise for this team this early in the season, aside from Utley’s reassertion of the role of offensive leader, is Michael Young’s ability to take a walk. You remember Young, the high contact, middling power, too many strikeout face of Texas Ranger baseball for over a decade. Well, he’s actually taking pitches this year, 10 walks to 16 strikeouts. While I don’t think his .352 batting average will keep up, much less that .418 OBP, he’s definitely adding value where people saw only a black hole in the offseason. His third base defense was never brilliant and now it’s average at best, but he can’t be as bad as Placido Polanco was last year. The guy had a 69 OPS+ for goodness sake. At least Young is league average.

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I would love to get some candid talk from general manager Rubin Amaro, Jr. because this team seems to be spinning its wheels  Their top prospects include guys like pitcher Jesse Biddle, whose ceiling is projected to be a number 2 or 3 starter, shortstop Roman Quinn, a low-A player who could be good down the line and lots of other middle of the road guys. Maybe Amaro sees the writing on the wall (it says NATIONALS AND BRAVES ARE REALLY GOOD) and is taking a step back to restock, but he kind of got fleeced in the Hunter Pence deal, among others. The Phillies aren’t a bad team, with their pitching they’re always a threat, but they’re not exactly what they were.

The Indians have spent the previous series in an extreme way. It ended in a split, with the Tribe scoring 21 runs in four games and getting shut out once. I’ve said it before here, over on that podcast, and to friends of mine who don’t care; this team is boom or bust all the way. My biggest worry for the team has been Jason Kipnis’ utter lack of production, but he finally homered on Monday. Maybe things will start to click. It’s hard to complain about a team that can hang nine and 10 runs on a team like they can, and also not be utterly shut down by below average left-handers, but a little consistency would be nice. It’s also hard to complain about a 5-4 road trip with one game rained out though. I’m writing a letter to Bud Selig asking about saving excess runs later in the week.

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