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View from the other side: Cleveland questions for Matt Lyons of Covering the Corner

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MLB: Wild Card-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Our Blue Jays start a three-game series with the Cleveland TBDs. Cleveland is second in the AL Central, 1.5 games back of the White Sox, at 27-21. They are eleventh in the AL in runs scored per game at 3.98 (Jays are fifth at 4.92). They are third in runs allowed per game at 3.90 (Jays are seventh at 4.29).

I sent off questions to Matt Lyons of Covering the Bases, SB Nation’s Cleveland Baseball Team blog (Wouldn’t it be cool to get to talk about what to re-name your team? Not that I would what anything other than the Blue Jays, but how much more fun would it be to argue about what we should be called than who should be the ninth guy in the bullpen?). And he was kind enough to send answers back overnight.

Can we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see? We are getting to see the debut of a prospect in the first game.

This is a weird year for Cleveland pitching with all the injuries and depth traded away in recent. Luckily, Cleveland is essentially nine starting pitchers deep and they are still pumping out intriguing arms. Friday night will be Eli Morgan, a 5-foot-10 righty who throws a low-90s fastball and changeup with ridiculous movement. His change is one of the best pitches in Cleveland’s organization, easily. The question has always been if he can get by with a sluggish fastball and without a dominating breaking pitch.

Sam Hentges, who is slated to start game two, is the exact opposite. He’s a 6-foot-6 lefty who hits the upper 90s with his four-seamer with a curveball, slider, and a changeup that he’s still trying to get the feel for and hasn’t used much. He can blow fastballs by guys but isn’t fooling anyone with his breaking stuff. He’s been utterly hittable so far, and it might result in some heavy bullpen usage on Saturday.

Sunday will be Aaron Civale, who was already a decent pitcher last year, but decided to overhaul everything and is now looking like one of Cleveland’s best in 2021. Over the offseason, he made his arm circle smaller (think 2019 Lucas Giolito) and shifted from a circle change to a split-change. He also mostly abandoned his sinker in favor of a four-seamer that plays much better off his cutter and change. He can throw six pitches with ease.

Do you have a favorite in the battle to be the new team name? I kind of like the Spiders. Any best guesses on what it will be?

It was kind of a joke that someone brought up, but I would still love Owlbears. It’s so cool. But realistically, I like Spiders, Guardians, or Municipals just fine. Those three seem like the front-runners, but I would be happy with anything that isn’t guitar or rock and roll related because it’s so played out in relation to Cleveland. I also hope they don’t do something lame like “Cleveland Baseball Club” or something.

What are your thoughts on the Lindor trade? Do you have high hopes for the players you got back?

Honestly, the Lindor aspect of the trade was completely expected. We knew he was leaving, we knew that Cleveland blew their chance to sign him cheap early on and they would never pay him what he wanted (and was worth), so it was whatever. Tacking on Carlos Carrasco hurt, though. He debuted with Cleveland, grew with Cleveland, fought back from cancer not even two years ago, and was the heart and soul of the team. And he was tacked onto the deal to save some money.

As for the return, I think Josh Wolf is the part I’m most excited about. He’s had an up-and-down first season in Cleveland’s organization, but he looks like he will be yet another excellent pitcher in their pipeline. Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario feel like little more than placeholders for the slew of middle infielders they have coming up over the next couple of years. Rosario has at least been a decent utility player, but Giménez has already been sent down to Triple-A after struggling in April.

You guys have a couple of Canadians, so I have to ask about them or they take away my citizenship. How are Cal Quantrill (son of former Blue Jays reliever Paul) and Josh Naylor (son of someone from Mississauga) doing?

We absolutely love Josh Naylor over here. He’s such a big, fun personality, and now that he’s actually hitting it’s even better. He also has an extensive collection of jerseys (including hockey sweaters) that he always breaks out. Just a lot of fun with the media and on the field.

I had high hopes for Cal Quantill as a starter coming into the season, but right now he seems to be settling into a long-relief role. Given how many starting pitcher injuries Cleveland has had, he’s been invaluable in eating up innings after the rookies go through growing pains. He may still start a few times before the season is over with how things are going.

You are just a 1.5 back of the White Sox for first in the AL Central. What do you think of your odds of beating them out for first place this year? Maybe there will be a team revolt against Tony La Russa when he benches someone for a bat flip or for refusing to drink and drive.

I feel pretty good about it, to be honest. At least better than I did at the start of the season. Unfortunately, I think the White Sox are talented enough to overcome their incompetent ownership and manager and they’ll probably still win the Central. I will thoroughly enjoy watching them tear themselves apart down the stretch, though.

Who is your favorite player to watch?

For talent purposes? Definitely Shane Bieber or José‌ ‌Ramírez‌. I always say that if I was picking a pitcher to show to someone who is new to baseball it would be Bieber. His sequencing is always so good, and when he’s on, he can dot corners and paint edges like no one else. That little strut he does after a strikeout is great, too. And, I mean, Ramírez‌, come on. He’s the best. Just a ton of fun and full of swagger.

Now, for pure fun? Again, I have to come back to Naylor. He does not look like an athlete out there (despite the fact that he’s clearly an immense athlete) and that makes it more fun. We joke in the Covering the Corner Slack channel that he always has an “I don’t get paid enough for this shit” look on his face. Like he’s always disgusted with everything going on, whether he’s making an absurd catch in the outfield or hitting a double. He’s just so focused and his face shows it. He might stumble around second base, or he might fly around the bases and lose his helmet on the way to a diving score at home plate. You just never know what will happen with that dude.

Anything else we should know about Cleveland baseball?

The bullpen is really good. If either Eli Morgan or Sam Hentges can hold it together for five or six innings, they’ll be fresh for Civale’s start and can close things out really effectively. James Karinchak is a maniac back there, Bryan Shaw is an ageless wonder, and Emmanuel Clase can throw 101 mph with movement. It’s really an embarrassment of riches they have coming out of the ‘pen every night.

Thank you, Matt.