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Indians Indians Archive Indians Look To Sink Pirates This Weekend
Written by Adam Burke

Adam Burke

phelpswalkoffThe Indians will have had about 27 hours to lick their wounds before first pitch at 7:05 p.m. on Friday night with the Pittsburgh Pirates in town. This “rivalry” certainly lacks the flare of the Browns-Steelers animosity, but we never like to lose to Pittsburgh in anything. The Tribe will have a chance to get back on track after getting swept by the Cincitucky Reds to finish up a nine-game road trip with a 4-5 record.

The last time the Indians played the Pirates was, coincidentally, Fathers' Day weekend in 2011. Cord Phelps hit a walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning to finish off a sweep for the good guys. That win pushed the Indians to 39-31 and they were never more than eight games above .500 the rest of the season. The two teams will exchange pleasantries in Cleveland on Fathers' Day Weekend this year.

Pittsburgh started June hot, winning seven of nine and sweeping the Kansas City Royals before getting cooled off by the Baltimore Orioles in their mid-week interleague series. One of the most underrated players in baseball, Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, is hitting .322 for the season and posted a very good 1.134 OPS in May with eight home runs after not hitting a single long ball in May. He has three in 11 games this month.

The Pirates, like the Indians, seem, on paper, to be overachieving a little. Both the Pirates and Indians got swept in their latest series and both are now -31 in run differential. The difference is that the Pirates have the league’s worst offense by 13 runs while the Indians are in the middle of the pack in the American League. The Pirates pitching staff, including much-maligned starting pitcher AJ Burnett, has been excellent all season long, allowing just 3.65 runs per game.

Friday’s series opener features Pittsburgh’s James McDonald (5-2, 3.29) against Justin Masterson (2-6, 4.78). McDonald is having a coming out party this season after being a highly-touted prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization that could never put it together. McDonald was the key piece in the July 2010 trade with the Pirates that sent Octavio Dotel out to the City of Angels.

After posting a 4.21 ERA in 31 starts in his first year as a starter, McDonald has been downright dominant this season, holding opposing hitters to a .200 batting average. McDonald’s WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of .996 ranks sixth in all of Major League Baseball and second in the NL to Matt Cain, who just threw a perfect game on Wednesday night, and RA Dickey, who threw a complete game one-hitter on Wednesday night. McDonald’s 2.39 ERA ranks ninth in MLB and seventh in the NL. He has never faced the Indians. In 19.1 career interleague innings, McDonald has a 3.26 ERA, but a 1.60 WHIP.

Masterson armOpposite McDonald will be lanky right hander Justin Masterson. Masterson has something to build on from his last start, his best of the season, against the St. Louis Cardinals where he went seven innings of one-run ball and didn’t walk a batter for the first time all season. Masterson will look to continue his career success in interleague play, where he has a 3.43 ERA in 81.1 innings.

In two career starts against the Pirates, Masterson has no record with a 3.27 ERA in just 11 innings of work. Masterson has been significantly better at Progressive Field this season than he has been on the road. In eight home starts, Masterson has a 1-3 record with a 3.54 ERA. On the road, over five starts, Masterson is 1-3 but with a 7.07 ERA.

Friday night’s game will feature fireworks, the pre-game Rally Alley festivities on Eagle Avenue behind the left field bleachers, and discounted Student ID tickets.

ubaldo-jimenez-vert-jgjpg-1ead7e2073991f72On Saturday, the Indians will play a 4:05 game to avoid FOX’s exclusive 7:05 time slot. Saturday’s matinee will feature Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (6-2, 3.61) on the bump against the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez (6-4, 4.91). Burnett is having a “Comeback Player of the Year” type season for the Buccos while Jimenez is still trying to figure out how to come back.

Burnett is having a superb season. After being a media punching bag for the New York Yankees, Burnett is pitching well and thriving in his first full season in the less-stressful confines of Pittsburgh. With the exception of one incredibly bad start, a 12-run pasting over 2.2 innings by the Cardinals on May 2, Burnett has given up more than two runs one other time in his nine other starts. If you take away that St. Louis start, Burnett has a 1.96 ERA. Burnett missed the first three weeks of the season after fracturing his orbital bone in Spring Training while practicing bunting.

As for Jimenez, the Indians, nearly 11 months after they traded for him, still aren’t totally sure who Ubaldo Jimenez is. Jimenez has been terrific in his last two outings against two very good teams, the Tigers and the Cardinals, throwing 13.1 innings, allowing just two runs and striking out 11 to just one walk. Those promising outings come after a four-start stretch where Jimenez gave up 20 runs. It took Jimenez a seven strikeout, zero walk effort in his last start to finally have more strikeouts than walks for the season for the first time since April 15.

Burnett is 3-6 lifetime against the Tribe with a 4.55 ERA. Jimenez has pitched very well against the Pirates in his career with a 3-1 record and a 2.31 ERA. As for home/road split, Burnett is 2-2 with an 8.69 ERA, however, the small sample size is skewed by the one bad start. Jimenez has been quite good at home going 3-1 with a 3.38.

Saturday’s game will again feature the Rally Alley on Eagle Avenue and also Sugardale Dollar Dog Day.

jeanmarSunday’s Father’s Day tilt will start, as most Sunday games do, at 1:05. The series finale will feature Pittsburgh’s Brad Lincoln (3-2, 3.15) against Jeanmar Gomez (4-5, 4.71). Lincoln, if he makes the start, will likely be on a pitch count as he has appeared in 16 games this season but just three of the appearances have been starts. Gomez has been the conductor of the “Regression Train”, getting battered in three of his last four starts and lasting just five innings in the other.

As a starter this season, Lincoln is 1-2 with a 6.90 ERA over 14.1 innings. In his last two starts against Cincinnati and Baltimore, he failed to get through the fifth inning, allowing nine runs and 15 hits in 8.1 innings.

For the Indians, Gomez needs something positive to build on. Gomez hasn’t gotten through the sixth inning in his last four starts, allowing 18 runs in 20.2 IP (7.84 ERA). It’s been an up and down season for Gomez as he has thrown five starts of two earned runs or less, but also has four starts of five earned runs or more.

Lincoln has faced the Indians one time in his career, a 2010 start at PNC Park where he didn’t factor in the decision and gave up three runs on eight hits over six frames. Jeanmar Gomez has never faced the Pirates. In six interleague appearances, four starts, Lincoln is 0-3 with a 5.63 ERA. Jeanmar Gomez made his first two career interleague starts this season, beating Miami with 6.1 scoreless innings on May 19 and taking the loss against Cincinnati this past Tuesday night.


Keys to the Series:

1. Stay away from Mr. Cutch – Andrew McCutchen has been Mr. Everything at the plate for the Pirates this season. Cutch has been clutch, hitting .358 with runners in scoring position. Make somebody else beat you.

2. Win Friday night – The Indians have to erase the bad memories of the sweep this past week. Putting themselves in position to win the series will help that. The Indians should get some good crowds with Pittsburgh just a short drive away and a beautiful weather forecast. Wins make everyone feel better.

3.  Play from ahead – If this past series against the Reds showed us anything, it’s that our bullpen depth is unreliable. Tony Sipp, Nick Hagadone, and Scott Barnes, all three of the Indians southpaw relievers, gave up home runs in their first inning of work. If the Indians can shorten the game to the point where they can use Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez, their chances of winning go up drastically.


Player to Watch:

This week’s player to watch is Carlos Santana. Santana has to get it going. The bottom of the Indians lineup has been pretty much awful for the majority of the season. When Choo, Cabrera, and Kipnis get on base, Santana needs to drive them in or put the hitters after him in an advantageous position. Santana has just 18 RBIs in his last 33 games. In his defense, he had the DL stint, but he’s just 5-for-32 since returning from a concussion and was just 3-for-25 in the seven games prior to injury.


Wishful Thinking:

Is it asking too much to hope that Josh Tomlin starts in left field and bats seventh in Friday’s series opener? Tomlin is now 4-for-7 in his career. He was a shortstop before converting into a pitcher, so the arm is clearly not an issue. Not sure about his range, but he seems athletic. If nothing else, he’d be an upgrade with the bat.


Central Focus:

The White Sox will head out west for three against the LA Dodgers, the Tigers will entertain the Colorado Rockies, the Royals play their annual rivalry series against St. Louis Cardinals, and the Twins host the Milwaukee Beermakers.


One Last Thing...:

Michael Brantley left Cincinnati with his hit streak in tact, now up to 21 games. Brantley is hitting just .265 at home compared to .303 on the road. In his career, he has never faced James McDonald or Brad Lincoln and is just 1-for-7 against A.J. Burnett.

Great seats still remain. Get out to the ballpark this weekend and support your Tribe. Happy Fathers’ Day weekend to all the dads out there!

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