Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Nationals

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Pitching Matchups:

Game one is an interesting match-up to say the least. The Indians will send their ace, Justin Masterson, to the mound to take on Gio Gonzalez. The match-up is intriguing because Masterson has gone from being red-hot to ice-cold while Gonzalez is in a constant state of self-defense ever since his name was listed as part of the Biogenesis scandal. For Masterson, the need to turn things back around grows ever more pressing with each and every start. He has lost each of his last two starts and been beaten up pretty well in each of them. As their ace, he needs to be the one the Tribe can lean on to stop the bleeding. That Hasn’t happened.

As for Gonzalez, he is having another solid season despite the rumors and legal issues swirling overhead. Facing the possibility of a 50-100 game suspension for possibly dabbling in PED’s can’t be fun. Give him credit though, because he has found a way to block all of that out. Like many of the Nationals’ pitchers, his record might not indicate how well he has been pitching this year, but rest assured this is a pitcher that can shut a team down each and every time he takes the mound.

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Kazmir has been both solid and reliable of late. In his past three starts he has pitched at least six innings and put the Tribe in a position to win the game. Unfortunately the result hasn’t been as good as we would hope it would be, but Kazmir’s performances have been encouraging. His velocity has remained stable, he’s still striking guys out, and even better, there have been no signs of wear and tear on his arm. It’s beginning to look as if Kazmir has regained control of his career and will earn a multi-year deal from someone next season if he can keep this up.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman has been the Nats’ best pitcher all season long. His ERA is sitting right at 2.00, he has a record of 7-3, and he has helped keep the Nationals in contention while they wait out the return of both Harper and Strasburg. Like Gonzalez, he sports an arsenal of pitches which are capable of shutting out even the best teams on any given day. The Indians will need to remain patient and make the ever reliable Zimmerman work hard. The last thing they can afford to do is let him get comfortable and into a rhythm.

Don’t look now, but all of the sudden Corey Kluber looks like a competent starting pitcher at the Major League level. His last outing against the Rangers was spectacular. I had no idea that Kluber had an 8 inning , 1 run game in him. I am pleasantly surprised by this development. However, that’s not to say I have complete, 100% faith in Kluber and ready to proclaim him a permanent member of the rotation. He needs to keep this positive momentum going an extend his impressive pitching across his next few appearances. Do that and maybe we can reassess the situation.

It won’t be easy for Kluber either. Taking the mounf opposite him will be the Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg. For Strasburg, this is his first start in two weeks. Sunday will be his first start since being placed on the 15 day DL on June 5th with a strained back muscle. There’s a chance that Strasburg could be rusty. In fact, that might be the Tribe’s best chance for victory on Sunday. Strasburg is a stud and although his record might not look so great, Strasburg still sports an ERA under 3.00. To make a long story short, if the Indians want to win this series, they had best jump all over Gonzalez and Zimmerman on Friday and Saturday.

Player to Watch: Nationals

Ian Desmond: Desmond is red-hot right now and easily the Nationals best offensive player while Bryce Harper is on the DL. He also comes into the series with a 15 game hitting streak. Simply put, players don’t tend to get much hotter than what Desmond is right now. The Indians should do their best to try to keep him off of the base paths and also pitch around him if he comes to the plate with runners on. Make someone else beat you.

Player to Watch: Indians

Justin Masterson: It’s extremely important for Masterson to regain the dominating form he exhibited earlier in the season. If he can do that and sustain it over the long haul, then the Indians become a legitimate contender with a legitimate ace. If not, things could begin to spiral out of control in a hurry. Masterson has to be the leader of the pitching staff and there is no better way to do that then by coming out on Friday night and setting the tone for the weekend.

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