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Indians at Kansas City Royals Series Preview

April 18, 2011
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The American League Central has been seemingly turned almost upside down through the first 15 games of the 2011 regular season. The Minnesota Twins, winners of the division the last two seasons are sitting in last place with a 5-10 record. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, also trendy picks to win the Central, are in fourth and third place with records of 7-8 and 7-9 respectively.

That leaves the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians, almost consensus picks for the the bottom two spots in the division, holding down the top two spots. The Indians have cruised through their first 15 games with a 11-4 record, including winning 11 of the past 13 ball games. The Royals have been almost equally hot, winning six of their last eight contests. Who would have thought that a showdown at this point would determine the top spot in the division?

The Starters

Game One: CLE Carlos Carrasco (1-1, 5.03 ERA) v. KC Kyle Davies (1-1, 9.00 ERA)
Game Two: CLE Jeanmar Gomez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) v. KC Bruce Chen (2-0, 2.37 ERA)
Game Three: CLE Justin Masterson (3-0, 1.33 ERA) v. KC Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.21 ERA)
Game Four: CLE Josh Tomlin (3-0, 2.75 ERA) v. KC Sean O'Sullivan (1-1, 5.00 ERA)

After a very poor outing his first start against the White Sox (6.2 innings, 10 hits, 7 earned runs), Carrasco has settled down immensely, only allowing four runs over his last two starts, spanning 13 innings. He has struck out 11 over that same span. Davies has been knocked around pretty good his first three starts, allowing 14 runs over his 14 innings, his longest outing has been 5.1 innings, and he has not given up fewer than four earned runs in all three of his starts.

With Mitch Talbot on the DL, the Indians made Jeanmar Gomez their first minor league call-up (except for the expected Grady Sizemore). Gomez is still somewhat of a question mark, with inconsistency being an issue for him last season. His first five starts were great (an ERA of 1.84), but he was spotty his last six, raising his ERA to 4.68. He will have his work cut out for him against a tough Bruce Chen the second game. Chen has been throwing well through his first three starts of the season, and the veteran will certainly push Gomez in his first start of the season.

A pleasant surprise for the big league club this season thus far has been Justin Masterson. He has earned the win his first three starts with his stifling sinker ball. Over 20.1 strong innings, Masterson has only allowed three runs, and has induced 41 ground balls. Luke Hochevar has also been relatively effective, but look for Masterson to continue the great April he is having.

Josh Tomlin has also been a pleasant surprise thus far. His three wins are tied for the team lead with Masterson. The match-up between himself and Sean O'Sullivan should also be a good one, as the teams round out the series.

Take Five: Cleveland X-Factors

1. Grady Sizemore: With a healthy Sizemore back in the lineup (2-4 with a HR and 2B in his first game back) look for the Tribe lineup to continue hitting the ball well. With Sizemore atop the batting order, also look for the away team to stick with their formula that has worked well thus far; gain an early lead and keep the opponent at an arms-length the rest of the game. Sizemore gives the Indians explosive play-making ability at the top of the order, and if Michael Brantley gets moved down to the nine-hole, it should create an interesting dynamic in the Indians lineup.

2. Shin-Soo Choo: Although Choo has struggled in the early goings of the season, he has begun to heat up a little bit (10 hits in the last nine games). The good news? Choo hit .377 with four homers, six doubles, 20 RBIs and a .488 on-base percentage last season against the Royals (the Tribe went 10-8 against them).

3. Travis Hafner: Can "Pronk" continue to piece together a great season? So far this season, he has hit .354, with four HRs, nine RBI, and has an OBP of .407. The Tribe will continue to win ballgames if Hafner can continue to produce in the middle of the order.

4. The 'Pen: The Tribe bullpen has been stellar this year through 15 games, save a few sporadic performances. Tony Sipp is emerging as one of the better eighth inning guys in the league with no runs allowed in eight outings spanning 8.1 innings. Chris Perez has converted on all five of his save chances. His WHIP is an impressive 0.55. Healthy doses of Rafael Perez and Vinny Pestano have kept opposing bats at-bay all season long in the late innings. If the bullpen continues to perform well, expect the Indians to hold onto the early leads they have been getting, as well as allowing them comeback chances in late innings.

5. Timely Hitting: It can be a point of emphasis on this season so far. The Indians are hitting .313 with runners on base. This has allowed them to manufacture runs at a very decent clip. Taking advantage of opportunities has been a strength for them, and the continuance of this will allow them to be successful.

The Verdict:

I predict that the Wahoo's will take three of the four from the Royals, and gain another two games in the standings. While I do not expect the starting pitching to continue its dominance, I still think the Tribe should get strong starts from Masterson and Carrasco. Gomez is the wild card here, I can't wait to see how he performs in game two. The Indians have a AL Central-heavy schedule coming up, with a series on the road against the Twins after this, then the Royals again and the Tigers at home.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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