Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Cleveland Indians - First Place Battle

If I had told you in November that the Rangers would be playing a June series against another first place team you would have probably correctly guessed the June 14-16 series against the New York Yankees, or perhaps you would have assumed that the series against the Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins or Detroit Tigers could be a division leading battle as those teams were considered contenders in the offseason. Instead, it's the Rangers versus not only the AL Central leading Cleveland Indians, but the best home field team in the American League Cleveland Indians, and the Major's best record into June Cleveland Indians. Huh. I did not see that coming.

Since starting the season 0-2 the Indians are 15 games above .500. And while they're out-performing their Pythagorean W-L by two games, that's still amazing considering this was a team that that was 69-93 and their offseason additions included Orlando Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, Chad Durbin, and Travis Buck. So, essentially, castoffs and also-rans. So how are they not only winning but winning at a better rate than any team in baseball? It's hard to say, actually. They just are. It's practically Major League with thankfully less Charlie Sheen.

The Indians are middle of the pack in the American League in hits, home runs, stolen bases and walk rate, while being third in the AL in OBP and fifth in wOBA which sort of explains why they're fourth in runs scored (just ahead of the Rangers). So does, perhaps, their AL best .305 BABIP. So offensive sustainability comes into question especially when their best hitter so far this season, Asdrubal Cabrera, has a BABIP of .326. As far as pitching goes, they have a below average K/9 rate, and are in the middle of the pack in team FIP and xFIP, but they are second in the American League at inducing ground balls, and third best in walks allowed. Along with not giving up free bases and are getting ground balls, the Indians also have a rotation with several guys with FIPs in the 3.50-4.20 range but they don't really have that one Ace stopper to front the rotation like most teams that win seem to have, although Justin Masterson could be on his way to being that guy. They've just been, along with the bullpen, collectively good.

In terms of winning because of schedule, that doesn't really seem to play into it. The Indians are 13-9 against teams under .500, sure, but they're 20-11 against teams .500 or better. They've won more often against better teams while playing them more. The Indians are 13-0 against the Orioles, Reds, Tigers, and Mariners, but 1-6 against the White Sox and Twins. They've been shut out four times but have scored at least ten runs five times. So, essentially, none of it makes sense. But dang if it isn't fascinating. The Indians are an interesting early season story and one that is still developing. And interesting/developing stories are what makes baseball great. It will be fun to watch them as an early season's sample sizes begin to normalize and we get a better idea as to which players are for real and which teams are in it for the long haul. But that day is coming very soon, and for now, the Indians are one of the best teams in baseball and the Rangers should try to play them as such.

Thursday, June 2 6:05: RHP Dave Bush vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco

Friday, June 3 6:05: RHP Alexi Ogando vs. RHP Justin Masterson

Saturday, June 4 6:05: LHP Derek Holland vs. RHP Fausto Carmona

Sunday, June 5 12:05: LHP C.J. Wilson vs. RHP Mitch Talbot

Top 5 pitchers I always think are lefties in my head but are actually righties:

Ic6uks_medium

Cleveland Indians (33-20, 1st Place AL Central)

Rangers 2011 Record vs. Cleveland: Theoretical

Cleveland's Recent Results: 2-1 Series win against the Toronto Blue Jays

Cleveland's Home Record: 19-6

Progressive Field Park Factors (LHB/RHB): HR: 97/88 - wOBA: 99/100

SB Nation Indians Blog: Let's Go Tribe


Match-up: (as of 6/01)        Rangers  Indians Advantage
Batting
(RAR)
             26.4
            (5th)
23.0
(6th)
Rangers
Starters
(RAR)
32.1 30.1 Rangers
Bullpen
(RAR)
-15.8
(30th)
13.5
(8th)
Never the Rangers
Defense
UZR
11.2
(5th)
-4.5
(19th)
Rangers
Overall RAR + UZR 53.9 62.1 Indians :(

Questions to Answer:

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