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Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ Milwaukee Brewers

One of the expected favorites in the American League limp into Milwaukee at .500 with plenty of disappointment, but the starting pitching to still pose a big challenge

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees
Bradley Zimmer and the Cleveland offense has hit a wall early in the year.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing weekend, the Brewers wrap up their homestand with a pair of games against what was supposed to be one of the better teams in the American League.

If you buy into the idea that the Brewers somehow can’t win against winning teams, the good thing is that Cleveland isn’t a winning team, at least heading into this series. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games and come in with a record of 17-17. That is still good enough for first place in the sorry AL Central, where everyone else is at least 4 games below .500. This is the second leg of a road trip for them after getting swept by the Yankees in New York.

The offense is supposed to be one of the team’s strengths, but it’s been inconsistent at best to start the year. Jose Ramirez (.285/.376/.562) and Francisco Lindor (.283/.350/.517) have been studs so far, but expected big contributors Bradley Zimmer (.234/.294/.351), Yonder Alonso (.210/.269/.429), Edwin Encarnacion (.198/.273/.429) and Jason Kipnis (.184/.258/.272) have all been disappointing.

We’ll be robbed of seeing a Josh Hader vs. Andrew Miller showdown, at least for now -- Miller has been on the DL with a hamstring strain and isn’t expected back until the end of the week. Miller hadn’t allowed a run all year before his injury, but the rest of the bullpen -- another expected strength -- has been shaky. Closer Cody Allen is carrying a 3.60 ERA in his first 15 appearances, but all of the runs he’s allowed have come in his past 5 outings. That includes a total meltdown on Sunday in which he allowed 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk while recording just two outs. Even before he started giving up runs, he’s struggled with giving batters a free pass with 8 walks in 15 innings.

Elsewhere in the pen, Dan Otero (5.52 ERA), Zach McAllister (9.00 ERA) and Tyler Olson (7.15 ERA) all have been varying levels of bad so far, too.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, 6:40 p.m. CDT
Corey Kluber vs. Wade Miley

Wednesday, 12:10 p.m. CDT
Carlos Carrasco vs. Junior Guerra

The struggles of the pen have meant Cleveland’s starters have had to do a lot on their own to keep the team competitive. Kluber is back to looking like his old Cy Young self, coming into Tuesday night’s start with a 2.41 ERA and 190 ERA+. He’s struck out 53 batters in 52.1 innings and has walked 9 batters all season, which isn’t exactly what you want to see when coming off a game in which the Brewers struggled to get baserunners against Chad Kuhl. If there’s been a weakness in Kluber’s game so far this year, it’s that living in the zone so much has led to him allowing 8 home runs in his first 7 starts, including 3 in his last outing -- although all three were solo shots and Cleveland still won that game against the Rangers easily.

Carrasco got roughed up in his last outing -- 6 runs off of 9 hits in 5.1 innings -- but he still carries a solid 3.95 ERA in his first 7 starts. Like Kluber, Carrasco also carries a good strikeout rate (39 punchouts in 43.1 innings) and has only walked 10. That’s a common thread with Cleveland starters: they’re capable of putting up impressive strikeout numbers without driving up pitch counts and working themselves into jams with walks.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference