Baseball

VS

 

RECORDS: White Sox 60-76 / Indians 79-58

START TIMES: Monday-Wednesday 6:10, Thursday 12:10

TV: Mon/Wed/Thurs NBCSN, Tuesday WGN

Too High? What Do You Mean Too High?:   Let’s Go Tribe

 

 

So this is kind of a big series for the Tribe. If they have any deigns on the postseason, they’re going to have to start now. Cleveland (much like in real life) is currently hanging onto the final wild card spot by the last millimeters of their fingernails, only .5 games ahead of Oakland. Unless something wacky happens in Boston, it’s a 3 horse race for the 2 wild card spots, and Cleveland has not fared well against the other two remaining teams. Last Friday they had a decent lead heading into their series against Tampa Bay, but that floated away on the wind after the Rays took 3 straight.  The Tribe muddled their way through August, going one game over .500 in the month (which is not what you’d want out of a team with playoff aspirations).

For a bit there, things were looking up for them as it seemed Cory Kluber was ready to come back and Jose Ramirez had finally broken out of his year long slump. Then Klubot strained his oblique during a rehab start and hasn’t pitched since, and Ramirez broke his hand while swinging a bat a week ago. Whoops. One cool thing, however, is the return yesterday of Carlos Carrasco who pitched in relief for the first time since being diagnosed a few months ago with leukemia. It’s an awesome story, and I’m glad he’s doing well.

With Kluber going down and Carrasco having to take time off, the starting rotation has had some big holes to fill. Luckily for the Tribe some rookies have stepped up to fill in the gap. Monday’s starter Zach Plesac (nephew of journeyman and most famous person to escape Gary, IN Dan Plesac) has acquitted himself nicely in the number 4 starter slot. He’s gone 7-5 since being called up with a 3.61 ERA, and 1.21 WHIP. He’s primarily a fastball/changeup kinda guy, with a decent slider and a solid curveball rounding out his arsenal. Plesac has had quite a bit of batted ball luck so far this season, with a .244 BABIP and an over 80% strand rate, so at some point the regression monster is going to come for the guy. It hasn’t yet, and the Sox are going to have to contend with his luck tonight. Shane Bieber continues his ascent towards the top of the Tribe’s rotation with another excellent year so far, posting a 3.27 ERA and a crazily low 1.01 WHIP thus far. His 30% K rate against his 5% walk rate is something to behold, and with a .285 BABIP there’s not much room for regression. Between those two and adding in Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco the Tribe’s rotation is gonna be set for a long while.

Offensively this team still has it’s table set by superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. He’s having another atypical season for himself, slashing .296/.347/.878 with 26 HR. The more impressive thing about that is he missed almost the entire month of April after messing up his ankle preparing for spring training. Carlos Santana has been able to dial back the clock to his early days in Cleveland by hitting a very solid .290/.411/.954 so far, well on his way to a 40 HR, 100 RBI campaign. He’s a switch hitter that absolutely murders right handed pitching, so the Sox rotation is going to need to tread lightly around him (and maybe Moncada can take some notes). Yasiel Puig is also here, the main piece of the deal that sent starting pitcher and Professional Twitter Edgelord Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati. The Tribe filled their need of OF help by dealing from a position of strength as they also got HR machine Franmil Reyes from the Padres as part of the deal.

For our White Sox, the story remains the same. The starters need to go 5-6 innings a piece to give a badly taxed bullpen some relief. The return of Carson Fulmer and Manny Banuelos should help, but it would be nice to see the rotation carry it’s weight after getting scorched by the Braves this past weekend. Eloy Jimenez seems to be getting the timing of his swing back after his 23rd stint on the IL this season, but needs to hit for power as it’s been 11 games now since he’s had an extra base hit. Whatever other September call ups are not here yet, as Charlotte is trying to get into the postseason down in AAA, so it’ll be a bit before Zack Collins heads North. With Jon Jay fucking back off to the IL with hip surgery you can plan on seeing more of Adam Engel and Ryan Cordell wandering around the outfield grass and flailing around the batters box like a used car inflatable air dancer.

It would be nice for the Sox to play spoiler this series and help Cleveland screw themselves out of a postseason appearance, since they can’t do the same to the Twins. That way the depression in Cleveland can roll right into the NFL season when the Browns inevitably crush everyone’s hopes when Baker Mayfield turns back into a pumpkin.

Lets Go Sox

 

Baseball

Mike Clevinger isn’t what you see when you think of the top starters in baseball. They’re usually of the Johnny Unitas type, a haircut you can set your watch to. But here is Clevinger, looking like he fell off the Allman Brothers bus, and since he returned from injury in late June, there hasn’t been a better pitcher.

The numbers pop right out at you. Since July 1st, Clevinger has the best WAR of any pitcher, the fourth best ERA, the best FIP, sixth-best K/9, and they third-best ERA-. He’s a huge reason, along with Shane Bieber, that the Tribe have been able to surge to the top of the wildcard standings and still keep some hot breath on the neck of the Twins atop the Central. And they’ll need all their pitchers to be on top of their game with the resurgence of Jose Ramirez now over thanks to a broken hand.

How did Clevinger get here? A couple of different answers. One, he has one of the best sliders in the game. According to FanGraphs, his slider ranks behind only Max Scherzer’s and Patrick Corbin’s as far as value. That’s always a nice place to be. Clevinger’s slider doesn’t have a huge amount of tilt but it does have a hue amount of sweep, moving nearly 10 inches across the zone and out of it. Which is a big reason that hitters from the right side whiff at over half the ones at which they swing.

Another reason is that hitters can’t do much with his fastball, either. He throws pretty hard, averaging 96 MPH on it, which is top-1o in the game. Clevinger gets a fair amount of run on his four-seam, which moves it on the hands of righties and away from lefties. And it’s the fastball that’s been the big difference from last year, gaining nearly two MPH of average velocity and going from a good pitch to a great one. Clevinger credited better mechanics coming into this season, getting away from using only his arm to produce it.

But it’s in the past two years that the slider became the main weapon, especially this year when he was able to really increase the tilt it got and the sweep.  Raising his arm slot appears to have been a key, as you can see here:

So with the greater velocity, and the already-damaging slider, hitters don’t have much of cushion to diagnose either, and you get what you have so far this season.

Clevinger’s return to health and entrance into dominance, as well as Shane Bieber’s, made Cleveland comfortable dealing All-World Tool Trevor Bauer across the state, and probably will make it easier for them to lose Cory Kluber in the winter (they almost did this past one). Carlos Carrasco returning is also a boon to that. Kluber has two years of club options at a pretty reasonable rate left, so his value probably won’t be much higher than this for the always cost-conscious Indians.

But both Clevinger and Bieber are going to be around a while, and the base for the next great Tribe team (if that has Lindor, of course). As for this year, they’ve got six game left with the Twins that will probably decide the Central. And they have the one thing, thanks to Clevinger in part, that the Twins don’t. And that’s dominating starting pitching.