The Indians series win against the White Sox in Chicago ensured their continued hold over first place in the AL Central. The Tribe are currently 1.5 games ahead of Detroit and 2 games above the Chi Sox. Cleveland will need that two game lead as they head into a series with the team with the second best record in the Majors, the Texas Rangers. The Indians have struggled mightily with the Rangers over the last few years, losing 9 of their 10 matchups in 2011 and four of six in 2010. They may have some trouble reversing history as a few important Indians are still battling injuries (Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner and Johnny Damon). On the other hand, the Tribe bullpen is in top shape and the pitching matchups look favorable so the Indians are in their best position to hold back the potent Rangers offense.
Jeanmar Gomez will have to be just about perfect in this matchup to beat the Texas ace. Lewis has yet to give up more than 2 runs in a game and has pitched into the 7th in three of five starts. The best chance for the Indians to win is probably the same way the Mariners beat the Rangers last week against Lewis. In the only game the Rangers have lost that Lewis started, the M's scored four runs against set up man Alexi Ogando and Joe Nathan after being shut out by Lewis. The Indians have an equal if not better back end of the bullpen, so as long as they don't need to go deeper than Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, there is a chance here.
In the battle of Dereks the Indians will have their best chance to steal a game out of this three game series. Lowe has been incredibly dependable so far this season, much better than anyone expected when he signed with the team late last year. Holland, however, seems to have regressed a bit in his last two starts. Combined he has allowed 18 hits and 12 runs in 13 innings. He also recorded losses in both games after winning two of his first three. If the Indians can't put up some offensive numbers in this game it could be a very short and depressing series.
I had the pleasure of watching Yu Darvish pitch in his second Spring Training start this year and the numbers he has produced in the regular season bear no relation to the pitcher I saw. At the time he was a wild mess, going deep into counts with every hitter and allowing anybody who wanted to to get on base. Since struggling in his first Major League start, Darvish has not allowed more than a single earned run in any one game and he struck out 19 in his last two games combined. He certainly seems to be pitching like the pitcher the Rangers paid over $100 million for.
Ubaldo was aided by three unearned runs in his last start, to make him look better than he was. He still gave up 7 total runs and was pulled out of the game before the end of the 5th inning, continuing a trend of Indians starting pitchers throwing fewer innings each game. I have so little confidence in Ubaldo against the Rangers that the rest of this post will be about Nick Hagadone, who could possibly throw as many as three innings in this game. Hagadone may be technically replacing Rafael Perez in the bullpen, but his left handedness does not make him a situational pitcher. Hagadone is the real deal against any type of hitter. So far this year he has faced an equal amount of lefties and righties and has allowed exactly one hit to each. He did walk a lefty and has struck out one more righty (3 RH, 2 LH), but the small sample size makes it hard to judge. Just wait and see how he plays against Texas in this series. He should show that he is something special.
AAA Roster Moves: Ryan Spilborghs was traded to the Rangers for cash just before the start of this series.
The puns will by a flying when Yu Darvish makes his debut in Cleveland.
(Picture of Yu Darvish throwing against Michael Brantley at Goodyear Ballpark)