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Indians Indians Archive Indians Shuttle Off to Houston to Start 10-Game Trip
Written by Adam Burke

Adam Burke

acwalkoffFresh off a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, the Indians hit the friendly skies to travel to sweltering Houston, Texas to open up a three-game series against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Though it started out pretty, the Indians lost two out of three to the Pirates before sweeping the Reds to polish off a 4-2 homestand and climb back in to first place in the American League’s Central Division.

The Indians head out on the road feeling pretty good about themselves, having scored 21 runs in three games and watching Justin Masterson turn back into the ace of the staff. Masterson was 2-0 on the homestand, allowing zero earned runs in his 16 innings of work. Even better was that the Indians managed to win the series finale without the services of Jason Kipnis, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez, who get the luxury of back-to-back days off with the scheduled off day on Thursday.

Houston has lost seven of ten and is just 28-41 on the season. They’ve played well at home, winning 19 of 35 home contests, but have lost 25 of 34 on the road. The Astros feature one of the best middle infielders nobody talks about, Jose Altuve, and have gotten 13 home runs from former Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie. One player that the Indians may be keeping a close eye on in this series is Astros left fielder Carlos Lee. Johnny Damon is coming around with the bat for the Indians, but Lee, a big-salaried player on a bad team, could be available leading up to the trade deadline. He’s a right-handed bat with decent power and could be an ideal rental player.

As far as the Indians go, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera really turned it on for the Indians in the Reds series, combining to go 10-for-25 with three home runs and seven RBI. Choo also had four doubles in the series. Lonnie Chisenhall also had a big series for the Indians, racking up five hits and six runs batted in. Hopefully, the offense continues producing because the Astros have given up the second-most runs of any team in the National League.

Here are the pitching matchups for this weekend’s three-game set at The Juice Box.

ubaldo02Friday June 22, 8:05 p.m. ET; Ubaldo Jimenez (6-5, 5.00) v. Lucas Harrell (6-5, 5.07)

The Indians are still trying to figure out which Ubaldo Jimenez will show up from start-to-start, but this is a big outing for Jimenez. Pitching on an extra day’s rest, the Indians will expect Jimenez to carry the torch of what Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson did in their last two starts against the Reds. In his last three starts, Jimenez has gone 19 innings, allowing just six runs on 17 hits and lowered his season ERA from 5.79 to an even 5.00.

Harrell has gone the other way. The 6’2” right hander has struggled in the month of June, going 2-1 in three starts, but with an ERA of 6.27. Harrell is not a strikeout pitcher, as he has just 40 punchouts in over 80 innings of work. Harrell, who just turned 27 earlier this month, is 4-0 with a 2.76 ERA at home. He has actually fared better against lefties, holding them to a .262 average against as opposed to .278 against righties.

Jimenez is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five career starts against the Astros while Harrell has faced the Indians just one time in a relief appearance, allowing a run on three hits in one inning of work.

This will be an important game for the Indians. They definitely want to start the 10-game, three-city road trip off on the right foot and putting themselves in the driver’s seat to win the series would be a good start.

jeanmarSaturday June 23, 4:05 pm ET; Jeanmar Gomez (4-6, 4.95) v. Dallas Keuchel (0-0, 1.80)

Jeanmar Gomez needs a good start badly. Gomez started the season with a 2.35 ERA in April. Since that time, he’s been battered. Over nine May and June starts, Gomez posted an ERA of 5.71 and has failed to get through their sixth in each of his last five starts. Frankly, it could be Gomez’s last shot to maintain a spot in the rotation. Zack McAllister pitched impressively during his time filling in for Josh Tomlin and a bad start from Gomez could mean another chance for McAllister.

For the Astros, Dallas Keuchel will make his second career start. Keuchel, a seventh-round pick in the 2009 draft, made his Major League debut on June 17 against the Texas Rangers. He pitched admirably, going five innings and allowing just one run, but he did issue four walks. Keuchel is a 6’3” left hander who the Indians have never seen, so it’s reasonable to expect the Tribe to struggle against him.

Gomez has never faced the Astros and Keuchel has obviously never faced the Indians. Gomez has won just one of his last five decisions, posting a 7.92 ERA in those five outings.

lowe verticalSunday June 24, 2:05 pm ET; Derek Lowe (7-5, 4.30) v. J.A. Happ (5-7, 5.15)

The Derek Lowe Regression Train has made several stops in road ballparks this season as Lowe carries a 6.18 road ERA into Sunday’s series finale start against the Astros. Lowe is coming off his worst home start of the season last Tuesday night against the Reds where he allowed seven runs on 11 hits in five innings. If we take away Lowe’s complete game shutout against the Minnesota Twins on May 15, in his other six road starts, Lowe has an 8.01 ERA. In the three road starts since that shutout, Lowe’s ERA is 12.15.

J.A. Happ has not lived up to expectations since being the centerpiece of the Phillies-Astros deal that included the Astros best player, Hunter Pence. In 55 career starts for Houston, Happ is just 16-26 with a 4.93 ERA. This season, Happ has been up and down with a 4.70 ERA in April, a 4.15 in May, and a terrible June with a 7.20 ERA. Like Reuchel, however, he’s a left handed pitcher so expect the Indians to have some trouble with him. Lefties are hitting .291 off Happ, but just two of the 13 home runs Happ has allowed have been hit by left handed batters.

Lowe has faced the Astros 12 times in his career, going 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA. However, Lowe hasn’t really faced many of the current Astros hitters, except for Carlos Lee who is 16-for-44 in his career against Lowe. Happ has never faced the Indians in interleague play.

Keys to the Series:

1. Use the whole ballpark – Minute Maid Park is definitely one of the more unique ballparks in baseball. The left field porch is short with a high wall. The wall abruptly stops near left center field and goes straight back into a brick wall that forms the left center field fence. Straightaway center has a hill and a flagpole, while right field is more in line with other ballparks. It can be a tricky place to field and with the Indians facing two lefties they’ve never seen before, they’ll need to stay on the baseball and take good swings.

2. Ride the Momentum – Thanks to a sweep over the Reds, the Indians built some momentum entering this 10-game, three-city road trip. Manny Acta always likes to say that “Momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher.” With Jimenez being that guy in the series opener on Friday night, the Indians need a strong start out of him.

3. Get Ahead, Stay Ahead – One of the things that the Astros do have is a solid bullpen. Their primary relievers, Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, Wesley Wright, and Brandon Lyon have all been effective and all have ERAs under 3.92. That said, the Astros bullpen has a 7.92 ERA over its last 24 games. The recipe for Indians wins has been to get a good start, score just enough to be ahead, and turn it over to Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez. That’ll still be the case here.

Player to Watch:

The player to watch for this series is Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was the table-setter for the Tribe in the series against the Reds. Choo led off Friday night’s game with a home run, had a leadoff double and singled in front of Asdrubal Cabrera in the tenth inning on Saturday, and had two leadoff doubles on Sunday. He went 7-for-13 in the series with five extra base hits and three runs scored.

Wishful Thinking:

There are some players to pay attention to for the Astros that will be attractive trade options within the next 30-45 days. First, there’s left fielder Carlos Lee, who the Indians should get an up-close look at. Second, there’s Brandon Lyon, a former closer having a strong year and could be a reliable, trustworthy third right hander for the Indians bullpen ahead of Chris Perez. Third, though the Indians won’t see him, left handed starter Wandy Rodriguez is getting quite a bit of trade buzz for the second straight year.

Central Focus:

The White Sox will host the Milwaukee Brewers, the Tigers will head to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates, the Royals will entertain the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Twins will fall in the woods and nobody will hear a sound (actually, they go to Cincinnati and play the Reds).

One last thing...:

If it seems like it’s been forever since we played the Houston Astros, that’s because it has.  The Indians last played the Astros in July 2001, a really strange Sunday-Tuesday series at Minute Maid Park. In case you can’t fathom how long ago that was, the Indians starting lineup for the series opener was: Omar Vizquel, Ellis Burks, Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, Jim Thome, Einar Diaz, Kenny Lofton, Russell Branyan, Jake Westbrook. Wil Cordero and Jolbert Cabrera pinch hit. Danys Baez and Steve Woodard appeared in relief.

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