One thing that should become clear in the next six days is how the Indians would look in a playoff series. For it is in a playoff that a team sees the best pitching an opponent has to offer, and whoever cannot get the job down from the mound generally does not see much -- if any -- action when every game is crucial.
Cleveland goes to the West Coast for six games against some of the best early-season pitching in the American League, beginning tonight at 10:05, when Fausto Carmona (2-3, 5.15 ERA) takes on the Athletics' Tyson Ross (1-2, 2.76 ERA).
The Tribe has won only two of their last eight games away from Progressive Field, but is fortunate, because of their home success, to have built a 4 1/2 game lead over the Kansas City Royals, with Detroit in third but now eight games back. So if the Indians encounter trouble on this trip, they should still be okay. But it will be psychologically important to show that they can beat a quality starter or two on this journey to the Western time-zone.
Carmona is coming off of a victory over the Royals in which he went seven innings and allowed just two runs in an 8-2 Tribe victory last Thursday. But Carmona has had very limited success against Oakland in his career.
In ten appearances, nine of which have been starts, Carmona has a career ERA of 5.54 versus the A's to go with a 3-5 record, and has allowed 89 baserunners in only 52 innings pitched. That is the kind of stat that can get you into trouble, even in the Athletics' spacious park.
Ross will be making only his second career appearance against Cleveland, after pitching two scoreless innings against the Tribe in April, 2010. Ross will be making only the fifth start of his career tonight, but is coming off of a splendid performance against the Angels last Wednesday in which he worked seven innings and allowed no runs on only four hits in a 2-1 Oakland win.
For his career, in 31 games, Ross is 2-6 with a 4.69 ERA, but -- again -- he showed he has what it takes to be a starter in his last appearance, and the Tribe needs to come out ready to hit.
Oakland is hitting .242 as a team in 2011. Ex-Indian Coco Crisp leads among hitters with at least 50 at-bats with a .292 mark. Josh Willingham leads the Athletics with five homers and 16 RBI, with Hideki Matsui checking in with 15 runs driven in.
It is in pitching where the A's have truly excelled, and it is pitching which has their record at 15-14, for third place in the West but only a game behind Texas and Los Angeles.
Oakland is first in the majors with a team ERA of 2.66. That, folks, is an astonishing number in the hitter-friendly American League. Needless to say, with unbeaten Trevor Cahill going tomorrow, it would be nice to get a win behind Carmona and for 19-8 Cleveland to get this trip off on the right foot.
The Indians come in with a team ERA of 3.48, good for tenth in the majors, and a team batting average of .272, tied for third in the bigs.
This series continues through Thursday, before the Indians move down the coast and make their second appearance of the year in Anaheim...where Jered Weaver (6-1) and Dan Haren (4-1) await. And of course, we all know that Haren has already one-hit the Tribe in 2011.
The moral of the story is -- let's bear down and put on the hitting shoes, because we will need them this week.