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Series Preview 6/25-27: Indians vs. Cardinals

The one where the Tribe visits the Gateway City for three games

MLB: All-Star Game Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2015, the Cardinals and Indians are meeting for a three-game series. The Indians completed a sweep of the Tigers this weekend in Cleveland to improve to 43-33, while St. Louis opens up their six-game home stand at 40-36 after a four-game series split in Milwaukee.

Entering play Monday, the Brewers lead the National League Central by two games over the 42-33 Cubs, who were swept by the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend. The Cardinals sit 4 12 back of Milwaukee, while the Indians lead the American League Central by eight games over the Tigers and Twins. The Indians are riding a seven-game win streak.

In the series opener Monday evening, John Gant will make his fourth start of the year against Mike Clevinger. This contest is set to begin at 7:15 PM Central time, as are all games in this set. Gant had been in Triple-A about three weeks, being sent down on May 31 and returning when Michael Wacha went on the disabled list on June 21. In eight total starts for the Memphis this season, Gant had a 1.65 ERA in 49 innings. At the big-league level in 2018 (eight games and three starts), Gant has a 28:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Clevinger has a 3.21 FIP in 99 innings across 15 starts for the Indians. With seven home runs allowed, Clevinger has the lowest HR/9 rate (0.64) of his career thus far and the fewest number of long balls allowed among starters in his rotation. In seven road starts this season, Clevinger has a 2.27 ERA with a .185 opponent’s batting average.

The middle game of this series on Tuesday will feature Carlos Martinez and Corey Kluber: a pitcher looking to get on the right track and one who is looking to stay on the track he is on. Martinez has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list. In four starts off the DL, Martinez has logged a total of 16 23 innings with 15 earned runs allowed on 23 hits and 20 walks.

Kluber is keeping pace in the running for the American League Cy Young Award, an honor he earned in 2014 and 2017. In 111 23 frames, the most for any one pitcher in the game entering Monday, Kluber has a 2.10 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP - both the lowest marks of his career. Kluber’s strikeout rate is down to 9.11 per nine innings after a personal high of 11.71 last year; nonetheless, his walk rate is notably lower - down to 0.97: the lowest BB/9 rate he has ever had, eclipsing last season’s mark of 1.57. When the Cardinals visited Cleveland in May of 2015, Kluber struck out 18 batters in eight innings.

Wednesday’s series finale is set to include Jack Flaherty and Shane Bieber on the mound. Flaherty held the Brewers to one run in seven innings in his last start and tied a career high with 13 strikeouts. In four starts in the month of June, Flaherty has a 2.31 ERA with 32 punchouts and seven walks in 23 13 innings. The Cardinals are hopeful Flaherty can continue pitching as he has to help alleviate the loss of Wacha, who was one of the team’s most consistent arms before his oblique injury.

If you haven’t heard of Bieber, it’s likely because he is relatively new to the league with a limited amount of experience. The right-handed Bieber out of California made his debut on May 31, his 23rd birthday, with a spot start. Bieber was recalled from Triple-A Columbus when Carlos Carrasco was placed on the shelf a little over a week ago and has since started two games for the Indians. Bieber’s last start (6/22) was a gem over the Tigers, who whiffed nine times across the starter’s seven scoreless innings.