Remember back two short years ago when the recipe for Tribe success was solid starting pitching, timely hitting, and solid relief to slam the door? Man, does that seem like a long time ago.
We are seven games into the season and I feel like I am watching the same opening credits to the same movie I’ve seen the past five years. Take last night’s 4-2 loss in Kansas City for example. Shin-Soo Choo hits a one out double in the first inning that was followed by a Victor Martinez single. Nice right? First and third with one out. Could the Indians actually jump out early on KC starter Zack Greinke and out some pressure on the Royals? Nope. Travis Hafner, who we are all talking about as being “back,” K’d swinging and Jhonny Peralta grounded out to short.
No big deal I guess, since the Indians have eight more innings to get on the board. The hope was that Fausto Carmona could keep the Royals in check early, especially considering the way teams have gotten on the Indians in the first and second innings this year. Naturally, Fausto walks two Royals in the first inning, four of the first five hitters go to full counts on him, and Mark Teahen, Billy Butler, and Alberto Callaspo all drive in runs on hits. End of one, the Tribe is already in a 3-0 hole and Carmona has thrown over 40 pitches.
“I had trouble getting the first pitch over for a strike,” Carmona said. “I threw way too many pitches in the first. My ball was moving too much.”
Another Tribe rally was foiled in the third inning by Hafner and Peralta. Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore led off with back to back walks. After a Shin-Soo Choo strike out, Victor Martinez singled sharply to right and Cabrera had to be held. Here was Hafner again in a big spot. Bases loaded one out. Greinke refused to throw him anything resembling a fastball and Pronk K’d again. It was up to Peralta. Like Hafner before him, he was punched out. This time on three pitches.
As dominating as Greinke looked, the Indians still managed to work the counts patiently and get on base. That said, they also couldn’t lay off of his wicked backdoor sliders when runners were on base. Greinke threw 104 pitches in five scoreless innings, striking out nine.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s two out double in the fourth would have scored anyone on the team not named Hafner or Ryan Garko, and of course it was Garko who was on first. Sizemore, who has started the season hitting just .207, struck out swinging to end yet another Tribe threat.
Noticing a pattern here?
Fausto settled down a bit, allowing only a Mike Jacobs solo homer in the 4th (on a 3-2 room service fastball). He departed after five innings, throwing 106 pitches and once again walking more guys (four) than he struck out (three). Even with close to perfect relief pitching from Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi over the final four innings (no hits, one walk, three K’s), the lack of hitting in the clutch paralyzed the Red, White, and Blue.
The offense managed just two walks in three innings pitched by noted gas cans Jamey Wright and Kyle Farnsworth. Lefty Ron Mahay started the ninth for Kansas City, since it was a non-save situation. Rookie Trevor Crowe led off with a single. Cabrera, working a 3-2 count and looking much more patient at the plate, singled to right. In came Royals Closer Joakim Soria. Sizemore greeted him with a single to right to load the bases with nobody out. Choo singled home Crowe and a monster comeback rally was right there for the taking.
Victor Martinez stepped to the plate. Soria’s second pitch to Victor got away from catcher Miguel Olivo allowing Cabrera to score and moved Sizemore to third and Choo to second.
It was now 4-2 KC, but the tying run was on second with nobody out after Indians had just pieced together four consecutive singles coupled with Soria’s wild pitch. They had the heart of the order – Martinez, Hafner, and Peralta – stepping to the plate. The Royals seemed on the ropes.
But almost as if they looked down and remembered “Cleveland” was on the front of their jerseys, Martinez struck out swinging. Hafner, (who entered his eighth inning at bat with six strike outs in his last eight at-bats) hit a weak grounder back to Soria for the second out. Peralta ended the game being frozen by a knee-buckling breaking ball from Soria.
Final Score: Kansas City 4 Cleveland 2
Manager Eric Wedge, stating the obvious after the game: “”We squandered too many opportunities.”
If you are scoring at home, Hafner and Peralta each stranded eight runners for the game. As a team, they left 12 men on and struck out 11 more times. They now sit at 11-59 with runners in scoring position, good enough for a robust .186 average.
The Indians are now 1-6, losing all four game started by their #1 (Cliff Lee) and #2 (Carmona) starters. Didn’t we all think that the concerns were with the back-end of the rotation?
So essentially the starting pitching is in shambles and they can’t hit in the clutch. Quite the way to start the 09 campaign! I know it’s still very early, but the alarms are going off within the Indians clubhouse. As King Diesel of Dump David Dellucci put it ” It is not like the Tribe is playing Boston or Anaheim or Tampa Bay, its Texas, Toronto, and KC folks.” The only good news right now is that they reside in the AL Central.
The Wahoos try to get back on track tonight at 8:10 with Carl Pavano taking the hill for his second start. Let’s hope this one works out better than his first start. Kyle Davies, who pitched seven innings of three hit shutout ball in his first start, goes for Kansas City.