Opposite dugout: Despite what record and stats say, Indians can pose serious threat

indians-logo.jpgManager: Terry Francona (3rd season)

Record: 26-27

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 2B Jason Kipnis (.330/.402/.509 with 5 HR, 26 RBIs), LF Michael Brantley (.303/.384/.469 with 4 HR, 32 RBIs), RF Brandon Moss (.253 with 10 HR, 32 RBIs), RHP Danny Salazar (5-1, 3.79 ERA), RHP Cody Allen (12 saves, 34 strikeouts)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (4-3 in 2014)

Pitching probables:

June 5: RHP Chris Tillman vs. RHP Shaun Marcum, 7:10 p.m., MASN2
June 6: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez vs. RHP Danny Salazar, 4:10 p.m., MASN2
June 7: TBA vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco, 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Indians:

Terry Francona as made quite an impact in Cleveland. A World Series champion with the Red Sox in 2004, Francona has brought a winning mindset to the Indians clubhouse. He led the Indians to a combined 177-147 (.546) in his first two years with the club, including a 92-70 campaign in his first season that resulted in an appearance in the American League wild card game and an AL Manager of the Year award.

This year, Francona has been able to maintain a somewhat level of success without a standout All-Star player. Left fielder Michael Brantley is the only Indian in the latest AL All-Star ballot update, ranking ninth among outfielders. Yet the team is doing fairly well considering it is in the same division as the defending AL champion Kansas City Royals. Don't be fooled by their fourth-place standing in the AL Central: Things aren't great for the Indians, but they aren't terrible, either. In fact, they were able to close out the month of May by winning 10 of the last 13 games.

The Tribe is in the middle of the pack or better in the American League offensive standings. While they rank sixth in runs, hits and with slugging percentage of .404, they rank in the top five in the league in RBIs and batting average, while their .329 on-base percentage is second. So they still pose a threat, even without that big name hitter in the lineup.

The pitching is much of the same. Indians pitchers rank a little closer to the bottom in the AL with a 3.95 ERA, and only eighth in quality starts (26) and batting average against (.250). They do fair a little better with earned runs and walks, ranking sixth. However, the Tribe loves to strike batters out, topping the majors with 511 whiffs.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis, the AL Player of the Month for May, does an excellent job at the leadoff spot for Cleveland. He's leading the team by slashing .330/.402/.509, and has added five homers and 26 RBIs. First baseman Carlos Santana cannot say much of the same by only hitting .236, but he has added six home runs and 27 RBIs. Brantley's line is something to keep an eye on, with him slashing .303/.384/.469 and tied for the team lead in RBIs with right fielder Brandon Moss at 32. But while Moss also leads the team with 10 homers, he's only hitting .253. So it's hard to tell what you will get from the Indians on a given night, with some players in the lineup doing well, while others are not.

Right-hander Shaun Marcum will pitch the series opener at Progressive Field. The 33-year-old is 2-0 in four appearances this season with a 5.49 ERA. His two wins have come on the road, but he has a 9.39 ERA in 7 2/3 innings pitched over two appearances (one start) at home. With a variety of pitches, Marcum mixes an 86 mph fastball and an 84 mph cut fastball with curveballs, sliders and changeups. He is 4-2 in 12 career starts against the Orioles, including going 3-0 in 2010, and has a 4.33 ERA in 14 appearances against the Birds.

Righty Danny Salazar starts Saturday, and although he posts a 5-1 record, he hasn't earned the decision in three of his last four starts after winning four of his first five this season. Decisions aside, the Indians have won seven of his nine starts in 2015. Mostly a fastball and split-finger thrower, Salazar has faced the O's only once before, taking the 4-1 loss last Aug. 17 at Progressive Field. Despite that loss, Salazar is 7-4 with a 3.84 ERA at home in his career.

Carlos Carrasco gets the ball for Sunday's series finale matinee. Carrasco has had an eventful 2015 so far. Since being hit in the face by a line drive in the first inning of his season debut against the White Sox, he has taken a decision in each of his 11 starts. He leads the rotation in wins with a 7-4 record and a 3.92 ERA. Although Carrasco is 1-1 in only three appearances (two starts) against Baltimore, he holds a 1.80 ERA, which is his third-best against any club he has faced more than once.

The Indians won the only series against the Birds in Cleveland last season 2-1. The Tribe fares slightly better in batting than Baltimore, but that might mostly be due to the O's recent slump. In pitching, however, the two teams rank relatively close to each other in most of the major statistical categories. Depending on whether or not the Orioles shake their recent struggles off before arriving in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, this should be an even series throughout.

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