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Indians Indians Archive Indians, Jays Set to Kick Off Second Half
Written by Adam Burke

Adam Burke

hafner trotIt may not be the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, but the second half of the season starts in the Canadian province of Ontario as the Indians head north to open up the second half with a three-game series at Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto. Not much has changed for the Blue Jays or the Indians since their Opening Weekend series at Progressive Field way back in April. Neither team has been able to sustain long enough periods of success to stand out in their respective divisions and they both continue to try and operate under the overwhelming payrolls of the division favorites.

For the Blue Jays, at 43-43 in the league’s best division, they are tied with the Red Sox, who have had more problems than a colony of hypochondriacs this season, but sit 9.5 games behind the Yankees. Despite being .500, the Jays are just two games back in the hunt for the wild card. As for the Indians, under the shadow of the pricey White Sox and Tigers, they enter this series 44-41, three games back in the division and one game back in the wild card.

It’s a big series for both teams because getting off to a good start in the second half is so important. The Indians entered the break playing some of their best ball of the season, winning seven of their final 11 games, made more impressive by the fact that they beat four left handed starters in the process. They were a Chris Perez blown save away from winning three straight series against playoff contenders, but had to settle for a split against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Jays, meanwhile, limped into the break after losing five of eight to start July, salvaging the final game of the first half on Sunday, outlasting the White Sox 11-9. Most of the Jays’ struggles stemmed from losing the majority of their starting rotation over the last few weeks. Brandon Morrow went to the DL with an oblique injury, Kyle Drabek needs Tommy John surgery again, Drew Hutchison left a start clutching his elbow, and Henderson Alvarez had an injury scare when he came awkwardly off the mound.

It’ll be good to have baseball back on a nightly basis and here are this weekend’s pitching matchups for the Indians first trip north of the border since May 30-June 1, 2011.

masterson throwFriday July 13, 7:07 p.m. ET; Justin Masterson (5-8, 4.40) v. Ricky Romero (8-4, 5.22)

Normally, this would be the marquee matchup of the series, but both pitchers have had prolonged periods of hardship this season. Masterson, who was terrible in April and May and spectacular in June, kicked off July by shutting down Baltimore to help the Indians win the four-game series and then getting bombed by the Rays in his last start. The Rays tagged Masterson for eight runs in 4.1 innings. One thing for Masterson to build on is his Opening Day start against Toronto where he was downright dominant. Masterson went eight innings of two-hit ball, striking out 10, and allowing just one run. His performance was erased by Chris Perez’s ninth inning implosion that we all remember so fondly.

Ricky Romero’s peripheral stats from 2011 said he would struggle in 2012 and they have not lied. After overachieving in 2011, Romero hung a 5.22 ERA in the first half of the season and gave up at least four runs in 11 of his 18 starts, including eight of his last nine. The problem for Romero has been walks, as he walked 58 batters in 110 innings after walking just 80 in 225 innings last season and 82 in 210 innings in 2010. However, before we get all excited, let’s remember than Ricky Romero is left handed, so those numbers may not matter when talking about the Indians. Romero did struggle in his Opening Day start against the Tribe, giving up four runs in five innings.

As has been documented in these previews before, Masterson has struggled on the road this season. He’s 2-4 with a 5.93 ERA away from the friendly confines of Progressive Field. In 11 career appearances, three starts, against the Jays, Masterson is 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA. Romero, proving that pitcher wins aren’t a very good measuring stick, is 5-1 at Rogers Centre on the season, but that comes with a 4.95 ERA. Incredibly, the Indians have knocked Romero around in his four starts against the Tribe, where he’s 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA.

jimenezhoustonSaturday July 14, 1:07 p.m. ET; Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7, 4.50) v. Aaron Laffey (0-1, 2.67)

Don’t these :07 times piss you off? Yeah, me too. Anyway, the Indians will hope that Ubaldo Jimenez continues pitching well as they face another lefty in the middle game of this series. The enigmatic Jimenez may have turned a corner. From the eye test, he’s still scarier than Freddy Krueger, but from the statistics, he’s been significantly better. Since the calendar rolled over to June, Jimenez is 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA. That includes starts against good lineups like Detroit, St. Louis, New York, and Anaheim. He’s still battling with his control, with 13 walks in his last four starts, but his swing-and-miss stuff may be coming back as he’s struck out 40 hitters in his last six starts.

Our old friend Aaron Laffey, thrust into the Jays rotation with all of their injuries, will oppose Jimenez on Saturday. Laffey has gone six innings in all three of his starts, doing what he does best – minimize damage and give his team a chance to win. The Jays are 0-3 in Laffey’s three starts, but they have come against Boston, Anaheim, and Chicago. Laffey has reached the qualifications for a quality start (6+ IP, three or less ER) in all three outings.

Jimenez is 4-4 with a 5.36 ERA away from home while Laffey has a 3.48 ERA at home with no decisions this season in limited work. Jimenez’s last start against the Jays came in the second game of the season when he carried a no hitter into the seventh inning, lost it, and then lost the 2-0 lead the Indians gave him en route to a 7-4 Indians loss. Jimenez wound up allowing two runs on just one hit, but he walked three. In his only other start against Toronto, Jimenez got the win allowing three runs in six innings. Laffey has one scoreless relief appearance against the Tribe in his career.

lowe verticalSunday July 15, 1:07 p.m. ET; Derek Lowe (8-6, 4.48) v. Carlos Villanueva (3-0, 3.05)

Rejoice! A right hander! It was basically a tail of two halves for Derek Lowe in the first half of the season. Lowe made 17 starts in the first half of the season, posting a 6-2 record and a 2.15 ERA in his first nine. In the final eight, Lowe was 2-4 with a 7.53 ERA. It would appear, at least on the surface, that Lowe started to tire out as summer approached. The Indians are hopeful that the additional rest from the All-Star Break will be beneficial to Lowe, who will have 11 days off between Sunday’s start and his last start on July 4. Lowe did beat the Blue Jays this season, in one of the most important games of the first half for the Indians, as it gave them their first win of the season and kept them from a very demoralizing Opening Weekend sweep at home.

For the first time in the series, the Indians will face a right handed starter in Carlos Villanueva. Like Laffey, Villanueva was moved to the rotation as a result of injuries and he’ll be making just his third start of the season. He was very effective on July 4 against Kansas City, going six shutout innings with seven punchouts. Villanueva made 13 starts for Toronto last season en route to a 6-4 season with a  4.04 ERA.

Like Masterson and Jimenez, Lowe has not been very good on the road. In fact, he’s been terrible. If history is any indication, the fast Astroturf surface in Toronto may not help Lowe this week. In 65 career appearances on an Astroturf surface, Lowe has a 6.26 ERA. This season, on the road, Lowe has a 5.96 ERA. Against the Jays in his career, he’s 7-9 in 42 appearances, 11 starts, with an ERA of 4.37. Villanueva has a 3.60 ERA in 25 innings at home this season and a career 1.59 ERA against the Indians in four appearances.


Keys to the Series:

1. Start Right, End Right – The Indians, Chris Perez specifically, bookended the first half with blown save losses. In one game, Opening Day, they played pretty well. In the finale, Asdrubal Cabrera made two critical errors and then Perez blew the save in a game that shouldn’t have been that close. It’s imperative to start the second half well. Get a good start from Masterson, beat a lefty, and carry the momentum over.

2. Wipe the Slate Clean – Some players have a lot to build on and others have next to nothing to build on. With 77 games to go, the first half is done and over with. It’s almost like starting the season all over again. Unfortunately, the Indians start the season three games back in the division, but essentially even in the wild card. Nothing that happened before today matters. Play like it.

3. Bring the Energy – For everyone except Asdrubal Cabrera, it’s been five days since they played the game. Some guys, namely Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, desperately needed the break. The Indians have to flip that switch and turn the intensity on right away. They got a chance to catch their collective breath. It’s time to play like they want it. That starts on Friday and ends whenever their season does.


Player to Watch:

The player to watch for this series is Carlos Santana. As Tallahassee said in Zombieland (underrated movie), “It’s time to nut up or shut up.” Santana finally realized over the last couple of weeks that he’s not going to fix things on his own and needs to start listening to input and making adjustments. He rode a modest four-game hit streak into the break, but also hasn’t hit a home run since May 15, a span of 35 games. The way Santana’s hit so far, getting him to produce now would be like trading for a player.


Wishful Thinking:

Be in first place, or cut it down to a one-game deficit, by the end of July. As I broke down in my article yesterday, nobody has an easy schedule out of the break. Turn it into a two-month dash to the finish line and hopefully control your own destiny in September.


Central Focus:

Chicago travels to Kansas City for three at Kauffman Stadium, Detroit heads to Camden Yards to face the Orioles, and Minnesota hosts Oakland.


One Last Thing...:

Well, two last things this week:

1. Thanks to Tom Moore for taking over for me while I was on vacation. Terrific job, Tom.

2. Please, somebody send me back to Las Vegas. The Indians went 6-2 while I was away. The first game I watched in a week was Sunday’s game. I assume full responsibility and am willing to sacrifice for the good of the team if somebody will send me back on vacation. Remember, the Indians are 38-39 this season when I’m in Cleveland. It’s in your best interest, as well as mine.

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