Cleveland Indians Host Chicago in Final Home Series of 2016

Sep 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) hits a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the last series of the season at Progressive Field for the Cleveland Indians. Here’s what you need to know about their opponent, the Chicago White Sox.

It doesn’t seem possible that the regular season in Major League Baseball is winding down. Wasn’t it only a week or two ago that pitchers and catchers were reporting to Spring Training in Goodyear, that the promise of a new season was upon us, that anything could happen for our Cleveland Indians?

Hard as it may be to believe, there are just three home games remaining for the Tribe, the first of which will take place on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox. At 89-63, Cleveland has a seven-game lead in the American League Central Division and a magic number of just four to clinch its first title since 2007.

The Indians are fresh off a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, a series that in many ways was a microcosm of how 2016 has gone for the club. Despite adversity, the Tribe used late-inning heroics, solid starting pitching, timely hitting, and a dominant bullpen to wipe out the defending world champs.

Now Cleveland has a chance, if things break the right way, to clinch the division at home, make a run at the best record in the AL and by extension home field advantage in the postseason, and clarify which players will be a part of the roster when the playoffs get underway in just under two weeks.

Chicago comes to town 72-80, 17 games behind the Indians in the Central, and mired in a five-game losing streak. The White Sox have gotten the short end of the stick in this season’s head-to-head matchup with the Tribe, losing 10 of the 16 games played thus far, and being outscored 76-64.

So the Sox are already waiting for next year, and looking to play the role of spoiler as the season approaches the finish line. The Indians would like to continue their dominance over the southsiders, and see their magic number whittled down to zero.

Here’s what you need to know about games 79, 80, and 81 at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Numbers to Know

Sep 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (21) breaks his bat against the Detroit Tigers during the eight inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

-40

While run differential is not perfectly predictive of a team’s success or failure (see: the 2016 Texas Rangers), it does have some value in understanding how a club has gotten to where it is in the standings, and for Chicago, it’s not pretty.

The White Sox have a run differential of -40 (meaning they’ve been outscored by 40 runs over the course of the season), which is the third-worst mark in the AL. Robin Ventura’s squad is third from last in the league in runs scored, despite being middle-of-the-pack in most offensive categories. The Sox have simply struggled to score runs when the opportunities have presented themselves.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has a run differential of +108, second only to the Boston Red Sox in the AL, and is near the top of the league in most statistical categories, including runs scored and OPS.

The Indians are +12 in 16 games against Chicago this season, which shows that most games between the two sides have been closely contested. Much the same should be expected this weekend, as all logic generally gets thrown out the window when rivals meet up with something on the line.

88

While 2016 has been a disappointment for the White Sox, and there is plenty of blame to be assigned, it’s difficult to place too much on the team’s pitching. Chicago is sixth in the AL in team earned run average and second in the number of quality starts it has received.

The starting rotation boasts two players – Chris Sale and Jose Quintana – that are among the top seven in the league in quality starts, and a third in Carlos Rodon who is in the top 30. The Sox, though, are 14th out of 15 American League teams in run support average, so a number of those outings have gone to waste, losing 29 of 51 one-run games.

74

Chicago and Cleveland have played six games at Progressive Field this season entering play on Friday night, and those matchups have not been kind to the White Sox offensively. Sox hitters have combined to compile a .228/.288/.391 against the Indians on the road, good for just a .679 OPS and an OPS+ of 74.

The Tribe has had one of the top pitching staffs in the AL this season, so it’s understandable that a team might struggle when facing them. But the entirety of the American League has been exactly average with a 100 OPS+ at Progressive Field this season, suggesting that perhaps Chicago’s difficulties at the plate there are more than just the product of the guy they’re facing on the mound.

Names to Know

Sep 10, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton (1) hits a single during the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Eaton

The Ohio native they call Spanky has put together a solid season against the Indians in 2016. In 15 games against the Tribe, Eaton has a .262/.297/.525 slash line with three doubles, two triples, three home runs, nine runs batted in, and an OPS+ of 128. Those numbers are even better at Progressive Field, where he has slashed .333/.360/.625 in six games this year, with a 148 OPS+.

The last time Eaton set foot in Cleveland, he hit a game-winning grand slam to cap a five-run ninth inning off Indians’ closer Cody Allen, blowing a bubble with his gum as he swung.

Needless to say, the Tribe knows how well Eaton, a Springfield native and Miami University alum, has performed against them in his home state this season, and will take care when he steps into the batter’s box.

Carlos Rodon

It’s been an up-and-down year for Rodon in his second big league season. The former first round draft pick is 7-10 in 2016, with a 4.29 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and ERA+ of 93 in 151 innings of work for the White Sox.

The inconsistency that Rodon has experienced this season has also extended to his outings against Cleveland. As a rookie in 2015, the lefty went 3-0 against the Indians, with a 1.52 ERA, holding the team to a .221/.294/.269 slash line and an OPS+ of just 57 in five appearances that included four starts and covered 29.2 innings.

In three games against the Tribe this year, Rodon is 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA. Cleveland hitters have knocked him around to the tune of a .352/.390/.549 slash line and 145 OPS+, scoring 10 runs in his 17.1 innings pitched.

With Sale and Quintana ensconced in the No. 1 and 2 spots in Chicago’s rotation, Rodon still has time to grow and develop as a pitcher without an overly intense amount of pressure. However, as rumors of one or both of them potentially being dealt in the offseason have been swirling for months, his window to take a leap forward may be closing quickly.

Probable Pitching Matchups

May 16, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA;Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Cody Anderson (56) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night’s series opener will get underway at 7:10 p.m. ET in downtown Cleveland, and will pit the Indians’ Trevor Bauer against Miguel Gonzalez of the Sox. Bauer, now the Tribe’s No. 2 starter behind Corey Kluber, is coming off two truly bizarre outings. Ten days ago in Chicago, the right-hander looked as good as he’s looked all season through five innings against the White Sox before imploding in the sixth, allowing six runs, and taking the loss. Last time out, Bauer hit three Detroit Tigers, including beaning Ian Kinsler in the head, and again gave up six runs in a loss.

Gonzalez has been solid for Chicago since being returning from a groin injury earlier this month, sporting a 2.70 ERA in three starts covering 20 innings. One of those outings was an 11-4 win over Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field 11 days ago, in which he gave up three runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts in 6.2 innings of work.

Quintana will take the ball on Saturday night for the Sox against the Indians’ Cody Anderson. In four starts against the Tribe in 2016, he is 1-2, though that isn’t indicative of his performance. He’s yielded just eight runs in 27.2 innings (2.60 ERA) and limited Cleveland batters to an OPS+ of just 68.

Anderson will be making his first start since June 7th as a result of the injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, and just the 18th appearance in the big leagues this season. The big righty has had success against Chicago this season, going 1-0 in three appearances that include two starts, limiting the White Sox to a slash line of .224/.262/.310 and an OPS+ of 59 in 15 innings pitched.

The final home game of the season for the Indians will take place on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET and feature Rodon squaring off against Josh Tomlin. Tomlin has been much improved in his last two outings after initially losing his spot in the starting rotation. He’s tossed 12.2 innings in three appearances in the month of September, posting a 1.42 ERA and not allowing a walk or a home run.

If you’ve been waiting for a time to get down to the ballpark and see the Indians in person, this is your last chance. It’s rushed by so quickly this summer, you may not have noticed. There’s plenty of meaningful baseball left to be played, of course, but for many of us, this is the final opportunity to take in a game in 2016, so let’s make it count.

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