Series Preview: Battle for Ohio, Part 1

061112-indians_mediumWith the Reds looking to rebound from Sunday's catastroph*ck, the Indians come to town. The two teams enter the series with the exact same winning percentage! That won't be true when they leave town on Thursday.

In any case, these Indians look like a fairly even match for our Reds. Offensively, they are sort of the opposite of the Reds: not much power (especially with Travis Hafner on the DL), but they've been able to get on base at a good clip, which leads to more runs scored than the Reds (although they get a DH). Their rotation hasn't been as good as the Reds', nor has their bullpen. But they field well (says everything except UZR), and have played themselves to the point that they are just a half game behind the White Sox in the AL Central.

Park Factors: Great American Ballpark

Runs: 1.02

Home Runs: LHB 1.06, RHB 1.13

Position Players

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Holy left-handed! I don't remember seeing a lineup without a right-hander. For this reason, I think there's a good chance we'll see Matt LaPorta or Shelley Duncan make appearances during the series. LaPorta has been the team's DH since Travis Hafner was sent to the DL, and certainly would be the guy I'd tap to man first base if I were the Indians. Or, maybe it'd be time to bench Johnny Damon and play LaPorta in the outfield.

This lineup really misses Travis Hafner's bat. They are also playing without Grady Sizemore, but what else is new? I was a little surprised to see Carlos Santana's offense below average on the season, but I was happy (as a baseball fan) to see Shin-Soo Choo playing reasonably well. He's not back where he was from 2008-2010, but he's been productive. I always enjoyed him, as long as he wasn't playing against the Reds. The main difference has been the power: it's just not there like it used to be.

Jason Kipnis came up last year and is/was a top prospect, with good power potential for middle infield and the ability to make contact. That's pretty much what he's been, and it's resulted in one of the best performances among all second basemen this season (3rd fWAR behind Cano and Uggla).

Probable Starters

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The Indians seem to love ground ball pitchers. Therefore, their acquisition of Derek Lowe made perfect sense. He's been about as extreme as you can get this season, hardly striking out anyone but getting ground balls 64% of the time. It works, mostly. Jeanmar Gomez is trying to follow suit, but with less success in both the grounder and walk categories.

Tomlin doesn't fit the mold of the other two. When he first came up, I thought he'd be a guy who might make about 5 total starts in the big leagues before being sent down and never heard from again. Instead, the control artist has put together 291 career major league innings of 4.21 xFIP pitching, and this year is showing improvements in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate. I was wrong about him. He's not great, but he's a decent back-end pitcher.

I'm pretty bummed about how Mat Latos's season has gone thus far. Each of his main peripherals (k/9, bb/9, gb%) has slipped this season compared to last. He's a better pitcher than this. I hope we start to see it soon.

Bullpens

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This is another team where the best reliever is not the closer. In this case, Vinnie Pestano has shown for a few seasons now that he's a superior pitcher to Chris Perez. But Perez usually gets the job done, and as long as that's true, there's no reason to mix things up. For his part, Perez is showing massive improvements in his strikeout and walk rates this season. It was bad enough last year (5.8 k/9, 3.9 bb/9) that I had pretty much written him off as a "dead closer walking." It looks like that was premature.

Aroldis Chapman is still awesome. But I would like to see him throw his slider a bit more. 90-mph sliders are pretty badass, even when you throw over 100 with your fastball. I'd also really like to see Ondrusek demoted to a lower-leverage role before he does more damage, but I've beaten that drum enough.

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