Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Atlanta Braves

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Pitching Matchups:

Alex Wood (2-2, 2.50 ERA/2.92 SIERA) vs. Danny Salazar (1-1, 3.52/2.70)

Buckle up Tribe fans. This is one of those games where you think the Indians should have a field day, but instead they find a way to struggle. Alex Wood has made all of seven big league starts. He is a rookie who has little experience navigating through Major League caliber lineups. Somehow, someway, the Indians will find a way to make Wood look like the second coming of Nolan Ryan. However, that’s not to say Wood has been bad. In his seven starts he has been surprisingly good, posting a 2.50 ERA and a 9.52 k/9. He has all the makings of being a really good pitcher for a very long time.

Meanwhile, the Tribe will counter with Danny Salazar. For the most part, Salazar has been fantastic in his limited time with the Tribe. Of course, it helps that Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway have done an even better job managing his innings and keeping him out of dangerous situations. Only once has he thrown more than 100 pitches and on most nights he it topping out at around 75-85 pitches max. Some might question this mentality, but after the news that Matt Harvey tore a UCL in his pitching arm yesterday, the Indians are better served being cautious.

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Paul Maholm (9-10, 4.51/4.07) vs. Justin Masterson (14-9, 3.50/3.38)

Paul Maholm has been probably the most mundane of the Braves starting pitchers. He has had his ups and downs throughout the season, but for the most part he has been very consistent. What will be interesting for the Braves is finding out how Maholm responds to the pressure cook environment that is playoff baseball. Prior to coming to Atlanta, he has spent the entirety of his career with the Pirates. The Pirates, as we all know, have not been known as a baseball powerhouse over the past two decades. With his first taste of games and innings that really, truly count for something, it will be a real test for the veteran lefty.

As for Justin Masterson, he is coming off of a solid start against the Angels. In 6.2 innings of work, he allowed only one run to cross the plate while striking out seven in the process. It was just another day at the office for Masterson. As the ace of the staff the Indians have come to rely on him to have those types of starts on a regular basis. So far 2013 has seen that happen more times than not. The big question will be how Masterson handles the offseason and how he responds to the success. He has yet to put together back to back  solid seasons as a starter.

Kris Medlen (10-12, 3.74/3.92) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (9-8, 3.95/4.30)

Kris Medlen has had a rough go of it in 2013. After a spectacular 2012 that saw him go 10-1 and post a 1.57 ERA in 12 starts, Medlen has been a shell of himself. That’s to be expected from rookie pitchers, though. Opposing teams have a scouting report and film on Medlen. As a result, they have a better feel for what Medlen will try to do to them. It’s up to him to counter with adjustments of his own. He has been much better over his last four starts, throwing like the 2012 version of himself, but can he keep that going against the Indians?

Facing off against Medlen will be Ubaldo Jimenez, the personification of being up and down. Actually, that;s not true. Jimenez has been very consistent for quite some time now. He is limiting teams to about two runs per game and making his way into at least the sixth inning, if not longer. Sure the lighting quick fastball isn’t there anymore, but Jimenez is making up for it in other ways. In his last start, Jimenez struck out 10 Twins in a hard luck loss. He was outstanding and provided many fans with more confidence in his abilities than we have had at any point during his Indians career.

Final Thought:

We know the Indians are good enough to beat up on the lesser teams in the American League. The real issue has been with the teams competing for a title. The Indians have struggled mightily against many of baseball’s more elite teams. The Braves definitely fit the bill as one of the elite teams in baseball. As a result, the next three games will serve as an important measuring stick for how good the Indians really are and whether or not they have what it takes to be a championship contender.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves BJ Upton Cleveland Indians Craig Kimbrel Justin Upton Kris Medlen