Corey Kluber has bounced back well following a rather unspectacular start in Baltimore back on June 27th. Since then, Kluber has had two no decision, but has pitched well enough to put the Indians in a position to win both games. Coincidentally, one of those games came against these very same Kansas City Royals. Kluber has been nothing short of marvelous this season since his emergence as a legitimate major league starter and there is little to no reason not to expect that trend to continue tonight.
Meanwhile, Bruce Chen will take the mound for the Royals. Surprisingly, this is Chen’s first start of the 2013 season. After serving as a top of the rotation guy for the Royals over the past few seasons, Chen was relegated to the bullpen along with former #1 pick Luke Hochevar following the face lift to the starting rotation. Always a solid starting pitcher, Chen has flourished as a reliever, as his 2.41 ERA would attest. How long he is able to last and how effective he will be back in the role of starter is anyone’s best guess.
Don’t let Kazmir’s 4-4 record and 4.74 ERA fool you. He is on an absolute role right now. Over his last three starts, he has thrown 17.2 solid innings allowing only six runs total. In each of those starts he left with a lead and ultimately wound up getting a no decision thanks to the failures of the bullpen. The cause for the most recent success appears to be a newfound commitment to throwing a sinker as opposed to trying to blow everyone away with fastballs. Kazmir simply looks like he knows who he is and what he is trying to do on the mound right now. His spot in the rotation appears to be safe.
As for Jeremy Guthrie, the former Indians prospect has had a solid year for the Royals. After a rough stretch of four starts that saw him go 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA, he pitched well in his most recent start against the Yankees. In that start he went 6.2 innings and allowed only one run to cross the plate. Is this a sign that Guthrie has found a solution to his problems of late, or was it an anomaly? Hopefully the latter and the Indians can hang a five spot on the board like they did back on July 3rd.
In the never ending saga that is Ubaldo Jimenez turning a corner, his last start might have been the best in the most recent string of small successes. He went six complete innings for the first time since June 1st against Tampa Bay and allowed no runs and only two walks. It’s still not the Ubaldo Jimenez we thought we were getting back in 2010, but it’s better than the alternative. Hopefully this is a trend that can continue and Jimenez will lead the Indians into the all-star break on a positive note.
Jimenez’s counterpart on Sunday will be Royals ace James Shields. Despite his 4-6 record, Shields has been spectacular for the Royals. Unfortunately, he has fallen victim to some of the worst run support in all of baseball. As a result, the Royals have looked like the losers of the Wil Myers trade even though there is no reason to doubt the trade, at least as of now. Shields will be a good test for the Tribe heading into the all-star break and a win against him could sere as a nice cap to the first half of the season.
This is the final series before the all-star break and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Tribe. The bullpen is out of gas, the starting rotation is about to get back Zach McAllister, and the every day players have more than earned a few days of rest. This is setting up to be a fun ride the rest of the way as the Indians battle the Tigers for what hopefully will be their first division title since 2007. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Royals are a good team and one that could help make or break the Indians second half of the season.