There are multiple reasons why the Cleveland Indians are riding an 11-game winning streak, have a 46-30 record that’s tied with Baltimore for second-best in the American League, and sit atop the AL Central standing with a six-game lead over the reigning World Series champion Royals.
But start with the pitching. When the Braves face right-hander Danny Salazar (9-3, 2.40 ERA) tonight in the finale of a three-game series, it will be the third starter they’ve faced in the series who ranks among the top AL’s top eight in opponents’ batting average.
Salazar’s .184 OA is even better than the two pitchers the Braves faced the past two nights, Trevor Bauer (.226) and Corey Kluber (.210), who took a no-hitter to the sixth inning Tuesday in a 5-3 Indians win. Salazar ranks second in the AL in both ERA (2.40) and opponents’ average, and an even more eye-opening stat regarding his OA is what he’s done against lefty batters.
Lefties are hitting just .150 (20-for-133) against the guy, with one homer, a .247 OBP and .233 slugging percentage. Righties haven’t exactly lit him up, either, with a .211/.315/.327 slash line against Salazar.
The only active Braves with as many as five official at-bats against him are Erick Aybar (2-for-7), Emilio Bonifacio (1-for-5) and Tyler Flowers (0-for-5).
And like Cleveland as a whole, Salazar comes in on a winning streak. The 26-year-old righty is 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and .189 OA in his past five starts, with 32 strikeouts and 17 walks in 32 innings. He’s put some runners on via walks, but Salazar this season has limited opponents to a .158 average (9-for-57) with runners in scoring position.
And get this stat: With bases loaded, opponents are 1-for-10 with no walks and six strikeouts against him.
Did we mention that the Indians and Salazar will be facing a pitcher, Joel De La Cruz, who’s older than Salazar but will be making his major league debut tonight?
De La Cruz, 27, moved Triple-A Gwinnett bullpen to the rotation three weeks ago and had a 3.38 ERA in five starts, including a 2.16 ERA in his past four starts and eight innings of eight-hit, three-run ball in his last start Friday against Charlotte.
This after posting a 5.81 ERA in 16 relief appearances. For the season, as a starter and reliever, De La Cruz has allowed a .333 average vs. lefty batters and .252 against righties.
He’s been up with the big-league team twice this season, in April and May, but De La Cruz didn’t get into a game in either of those stints before being optioned back to the minors. He needn’t worry about getting in a game this time. He’ll take the ball to start against the hottest team in baseball.
De La Cruz made his pro debut in rookie ball with the Brewers a decade ago in 2006, and has pitched in nine minor league seasons for four organizations, including one year with the Nationals and six with the Yankees before this, his first season with the Braves.
Talk about a long and winding road.
Now he’s reached the long sought-after destination. The Show.
I don’t know if facing a power-laden Cleveland team riding an 11-game winning streak is quite what he had in mind, but I’m certain that De La Cruz won’t be complaining about the assignment.
• Indians surge: They are 20-6 with a 2.57 ERA, .271 batting average and 41 homers in 26 games this month, and during their current 11-game winning streak the Indians have posted 1.98 ERA while batting .317 with 21 homers and 73 runs.
• Freeman resurgence: Freddie Freeman had another triple Tuesday night, missing a homer by a few feet. For the month of June he's batting .351 with 17 extra-base hits (three triples, five homers), a .425 OBP and .660 slugging percentage. And in his past 15 games, Freeman has scorched at a .443 clip (27-for-61) with 13 extra-base hits (two triples, four homers), a .493 OBP and .820 slugging percentage.
• They beat The Viz: When Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino gave up two hits, three runs (one earned) and two walks in the ninth inning Tuesday after entering a tied game, it gave him his third loss in his past 12 appearances and 10 walks in 9 2/3 innings during that stretch.
Vizcaino, after missing the first half of the 2015 season serving an 80-game PED suspension, posted a 1.49 ERA and .204 opponents’ average over 56 appearances from his return in early July through May 29, going 4-1, converting 15 of 17 saves and totaling 67 strikeouts with 20 walks in 54 1/3 innings.
In 15 appearances since May 29, Vizcaino is 0-3 with a 3.55 ERA and .250 opponents’ average, going 0-3 with three saves in four chances and totaling 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 12 2/3 innings. As mentioned above, all those 10 walks have come in 9 2/3 innings over his past 12 appearances.
• I'll close with this beauty from an icon, Mr. Neil Young, here accompanied by Pearl Jam.
"CORTEZ THE KILLER" by Neil Young
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun. On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls he often wondered
With the secrets of the worlds. And his subjects
gathered 'round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colors
For the angry gods to see. And the women all were beautiful
And the men stood
straight and strong
They offered life in sacrifice
So that others could go on. Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones.
They carried them
to the flatlands
And they died along the way
But they built up
with their bare hands
What we still can't do today.
And I know she's living there
And she loves me to this day
I still can't remember when
Or how I lost my way.
He came dancing across the water
What a killer.