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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Indians Series Preview

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The Cubs head into a stretch of interleague play.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Every year, the major-league schedule has teams in different leagues face each other in a pair of two-game sets, back-to-back, making for essentially a four-game series. Most years, this will be the designated "rivalry" team -- last year, the Cubs played the White Sox in such a series.

But in years where the designated interleague division is the matching one (Central vs. Central, this year, for the Cubs), the "rivalry" teams play a pair of three-game series, leaving a different matchup for this pair of two-game sets. Every team in baseball is playing one of those this week. The Cubs don't have to go too far in between, just to Cleveland, but the Giants and Mariners have to hop back and forth between the Bay Area and Seattle, and the Dodgers and Rangers between Los Angeles and DFW.

There are other ways they could make the interleague schedule, but for now, we're stuck with this somewhat-clunky system.

Since we'll be seeing a lot of the Indians this week and the Cubs haven't played them since 2009, I asked Jason Lukehart, head of the SB Nation Indians site Let's Go Tribe, to write up a summary of the Tribe season so far.

The Indians got off to a very slow start this season, and were 14-23 at the end of play on May 18. They then played very well for a while and got back within a game of .500, but have now lost five of their last seven. Despite a losing record, they're within five games of a postseason spot, because the American League is so tightly bunched together right now. Another hot stretch between now and the end of the month could have them within a game or two of first place by the season's midpoint.

I think the biggest problem has been team defense, which was also their Achilles heel in 2014. They're a bit better this time around, but still very bad. They've made the most errors of any MLB team, which has led to a lot of unearned runs. More than that though, it's the plays that aren't charged as errors because the fielder doesn't get there, turning what could have been outs in to hits. The Tribe starting rotation has the best FIP in the American League, but their ERA is merely league average. Much of that difference is due to the rotation having suffered through an MLB-high BABIP of .330. They are on pace to strike out a record number of hitters (Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco ranking 1st, 4th, and 5th in the AL for strikeout rate), otherwise the group's ERA would likely be near the bottom of the league.

Kluber is second in the American League in FIP; his strikeout, walk, and home runs rates are practically identical to what they were last season, when he won the AL Cy Young, yet he leads the league with 8 losses already. It's been that kind of year.

The offense isn't without blame, but they've scored a better than average number of runs, led by Jason Kipnis, who's been one of the very best players in baseball, and is sporting a batting line of .335/.409/.504 at the moment. Michael Brantley finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting last year, and after suffering through a sore back for a couple weeks early in the season, he's hitting almost as well as he did a year ago. Brandon Moss, who the Tribe stole from the Athletics for a second- or third-tier prospect, leads the team with 10 home runs. Carlos Santana is having a somewhat disappointing season, but is still a big plus on offense because (same as last year) he leads the major leagues in walk rate.

The offense's problem isn't getting runners on base, it's getting those runners across home plate. They've stranded more men on base, and more men in scoring position, than any other team. As I said, they've scored more runs than the average team, but if they were converted base runners into runs at an average rate, they'd be one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball.

Changes have been in the last few days to try and make a push. Last week they called up third baseman Giovanny Urshela (AKA: "Monstro"). He doesn't have great on-base skills, but he's got decent power and plays very good defense. In even bigger news, just yesterday the front office promoted shortstop Francisco Lindor, who's been the team's prospect basically since the day he was drafted in 2011. He made his MLB debut Sunday against the Tigers and picked up his first hit. He'll be making his first MLB start at Wrigley Field this evening, and should be a big boost to the infield defense. Urshela and Lindor combined should mean a lot fewer balls getting through the left side of the infield, which the pitching staff should appreciate.

There's still a ton of baseball left, plenty of time for the Tribe to get everything clicking again and charge to the top of the top of the standings. I'm generally something of a pessimist when it comes to my favorite team, but I really do think they have the talent to win the division. he longer they hover on he outer edge of the race though, the harder it will become for them to really get back into it. There's no time like the present to get things going.

Pitching matchups

Game One: Jake Arrieta (6-4, 3.16 ERA, 1.117 WHIP) vs. Trevor Bauer (5-3, 3.53 ERA, 1.243 WHIP)

Game Two: Tsuyoshi Wada (0-1, 4.84 ERA, 1.433 WHIP) vs. Shaun Marcum (3-1, 4.09 ERA, 1.091 WHIP)

Game Three: Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.81 ERA, 0.963 WHIP) vs. Danny Salazar (6-2, 3.54 ERA, 1.150 WHIP)

Game Four: Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.80 ERA, 1.150 WHIP) vs. Carlos Carrasco (8-5, 4.38 ERA, 1.243 WHIP)

Prediction

The good news is that the Cubs don't have to face Kluber in this series. Kluber, despite sporting a 3-8 W-L record, has been the Indians' best starter all year. The Cubs have favorable pitching matchups in at least three of these games, the way I see it; only Wada, who's been shaky this year, might not be quite as good as Marcum, who is back in the major leagues this year after missing most of the 2014 season with injuries.

It'll be most interesting to see Lindor, another one of many top prospects debuting this year. He was the major's No. 4 prospect entering the 2015 season.

Kipnis, Brantley and Moss have been carrying the Tribe offense, which has struggled at times. If the Cubs can stop those three, they should be able to win this series, just as they did against the Reds. Three of four.

Next up

The Cubs head to Target Field for a three-game weekend set against the Twins.