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Series Preview: Indians Bring Baseball's Best Record To Anaheim

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The Angels start a 6-game home stand Friday night with 3 games against the AL Central division-leading Cleveland Indians.  This will be the second time the Indians visit Anaheim this season.  In their previous meeting on April 11-13th,  the Angels took two-of-three.  The Indians, having started the season 21-9, are tied with the Phillies with the best record in baseball, which has a lot of people putting an eye on the youthful Tribe.  

They may be young (Cleveland has the second-lowest average age in the AL), but inexperience hasn't been a problem as they have already swept 3-game series' against the Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles, Royals, and Tigers in 2011.  The Indian hitters are in the top three in runs, home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage, while their pitchers are among the leaders in ERA.

I was curious about what was going on with the Indians, so I asked Ryan Richards from SBN's Indian site "Let's Go Tribe" a few questions:

Halos Heaven:  So what happened?  The Indians have the best record in baseball, what's changed since last season?

Ryan Richards:  Several of Cleveland's key position players (Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore) are healthy now, and the young players who struggled last season are starting to get comfortable at the major-league level. The infield defense is also much better, which has also helped the pitching staff. Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson took gigantic steps forward, turning the starting rotation into a strength so far. Same with Michael Brantley on the offensive side.

HH:  I think the biggest question people have is; Can they keep it up? 

RR:  They aren't going to continue to win at a .690 clip, though even if they go .500 the rest of the season, they'll win 86 or 87 games thanks to the hot start. If the rotation stays healthy, I think they'll at least stay in the race.

HH:  The entire Cleveland pitching staff, with the exception of Chad Durbin, is under 30 years-old.  Any worries their young age might have an effect, both mental and physical, on them as the season progresses?

RR:  I'm not necessarily concerned about lack of experience, but whether all those young pitchers can make 30 starts. After Carmona and Masterson, none of the top eight starters on the depth chart has thrown over 160 innings in a major-league season. And five of the top eight haven't thrown over 80 innings in a season. 

HH:  Looking forward, what are the Indians biggest strengths and weaknesses?

RR:  Their main strength thus far is their lack of weaknesses. The infield defense, which was a huge problem, has actually been a strength. The Indians are in the top three in the league in just about every major offensive category, and are at the top of the leaderboard in many team pitching categories. I am concerned about the starting pitching depth, as stated above, and whether Sizemore and Hafner can play a full season.

 

The pitching match-ups for this weekend's series:
Friday (7:05) - Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.25 ERA) vs Tyler Chatwood (2-1, 4.94 ERA)
Saturday (6:05) - Alex White (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs Jered Weaver (6-1, 1.39 ERA)
Sunday (12:35) - Fausto Carmona (3-3, 4.43 ERA) vs Dan Haren (4-2, 1.76 ERA)