In all of my years watching the Indians, I can’t ever remember a week in which the defense was worse. During the three-game sweep administered by the Mets, the Wahoos kicked the ball around like little leaguers. Then this weekend in Pittsburgh, the defense was a huge part of losing the series to a Pirates ball club that came in on an 11-game losing streak.
Yesterday’s 5-3 loss was extremely painful to watch. Justin Masterson, who once again put up a quality start in a month that has seen vast improvement with his pitching, could have had a better fate; if he had a first baseman who could move and/or catch the ball.
Russell Branyan. The guy’s power is tantalizing and he truly has a beautiful swing. But to me, the love of the longball is the sole reason he remains in the majors. Yes, Saturday night he hit a three-run homer – his team leading ninth of the season – but the rest of his game is just putrid. The guy is a DH, pure and simple, but since the Indians were so desperate for power, they signed him to play first base this season, a year after he did so for Seattle and hit 31 homers in what was his last chance to salvage an underachieving career.
Watching him at first base, however, makes you appreciate Ryan Garko’s defense. He was not given any errors in the first inning Sunday, but should have been charged with two that gift-wrapped two runs for the Pirates. On Jose Tabata’s leadoff grounder to Jhonny Peralta at third, he barely moved off the bag and let the ball get by him. Peralta was given an error for his poor throw, but an average first baseman makes the scoop.
Two batters later, Andrew McCutchen – an absolute man already for the young Pirates – hit a high tapper that Masterson fielded behind the mound. He fired to first and Branyan flat out dropped the ball. Even the worst first baseman in the league make this play. Oddly, Masterson was charged with an error and took the blame afterwards.
“I knew I didn’t have a chance to get him,” said Masterson, “but I was so frustrated, I just picked it up and threw the ball as hard as I could.”
The miscues laid waste to the 2-0 lead given to them by uber-stud Carlos Santana who crushed a two-run shot to the bleachers in right field. Santana would again strike in the third, lacing an RBI double to right scoring Shin-Soo Choo and giving the Indians a 3-2 lead. More on him later.
Because of Masterson’s shaky first inning he only could go six innings, forcing Manny Acta to go to his pen. With a 3-2 lead in the seventh, who would you turn to? Easy – Chris Perez. With Frank Herrmann unavailable after pitching both Friday and Saturday, nobody else you can count on, and an off day Monday, you go to your best set up guy for two innings. Not Acta. I’ve been on his case about mismanaging the bullpen all year, but Sunday’s moves may have been the most egregious.
Acta turned to Rafael Perez. That’s right. The same Rafael Perez who has been allergic to close games for almost two full years. The same Rafael Perez who pitched Friday and Saturday and has a WHIP of 1.93. Naturally, the first man he faced, noted slugger (ha ha) Jason Jaramillo, singled. Bobby Crosby attempted a sacrifice bunt which Perez fielded, and like so many of his pitches, threw high and wide of first base for the Tribe’s third error of the game. After another sacrifice bunt and a groundout, you thought maybe he would get out of it.
Then you remembered who you was on the mound. Perez, facing rookie Neil Walker, uncorked a slider wide of Santana allowing Jaramillo to score and tie the game.
It would only get uglier for the Tribe.
They opened the top of eighth with an Austin Kearns single. Branyan then spanked a liner down the right field line that was clearly foul, yet inexplicably was ruled fair. This brought Buccos manager John Russell out of the dugout to argue. He was tossed. So the Tribe actually caught a break and were in business with second and third and nobody out. But remember, this is the Indians we are talking about here.
They had three chances to take the lead. First Jhonny Peralta hit a fly ball to shallow center, not deep enough to send Kearns home. Anderson Hernandez hit a ground ball towards second base. Walker fielded and looked to first, but nobody was there. If Kearns was going on contact, he would have scored. But he was held by Steve Smith and Walker ran to first to get Hernandez. Jason Donald was the last hope for the Tribe and he grounded out to short, just missing an infield hit by a half step. “I thought I was safe,” Donald said.
If you are scoring at home, the Tribe failed to score with runners on second and third and nobody out a half inning after giving up the tying run on an error, two bunts, and a wild pitch.
Once again, Acta had a chance to do the right thing in a close game by going to Chris Perez. Instead, tied 3-3, he turned to Jensen Lewis. The first two men he faced reached base – McCutchen walked and Garrett Jones singled. Lastings Milledge’s sac bunt moved McCutchen and Jones into scoring position which brought Acta out of the dugout to call for lefty struggling lefty Tony Sipp. Interestingly, Acta did not call for the intentional walk to rookie Pedro Alvarez to set up the double play. Sipp went right at Alvarez, getting ahead in the count 0-2. Then he hung a slider right down the middle of the plate which Alvarez hit to the warning tracking, scoring McCutchen easily to put the Buccos ahead for good.
Crosby’s single gave the Pirates an insurance run as the Wahoo offense went weakly 1-2-3 in the ninth against Octavio Dotel. Nothing like losing two of three to a team who has lost 18 of 22.
So what did we learn this weekend?
Lost in the weekend debacle is the stellar play of Santana. Thus far, he has hit at every level in his career. The majors have been no different. The Big Smooth reached base eight consecutive times before striking out in the seventh. He was a triple short of the cycle in his first three at bats Sunday and has reached base safely in all nine games he has played in. The guy is such a natural hitter, the game seems to come so easy to him. A week and a half in, the kid is batting third in the order and is hitting .393 with two homers and eight RBI’s in 28 AB’s.
Its not to early to say that this kid is the real deal.
Broken Record Time. I’m so tired of saying this. ENOUGH WITH RAFAEL PEREZ. Manny Acta’s love affair with this guy is beyond aggravating. You can tell me he has no other options and you’d be right, especially with Tony Sipp struggling. But Sunday proved to me once again that Acta’s handling of the bullpen leaves a lot to be desired.
Going to Rafael Perez with a 3-2 lead in the seventh is a minor league move. No two ways about it. And you know something, if the bullpen doesn’t have more than three guys you can count on, then get someone in here who can. That is on Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. We’ve all seen plenty of Raffy Perez and Jenny Lewis to know we’ve seen too much.
Enough With Huff. That’s the new slogan sweeping Cleveland baseball fans. How much longer can the Indians brass go with a guy who is 2-9, has an ERA over six, a WHIP of 1.69, and hasn’t won in 11 starts?
David Huff just doesn’t have it right now. Can we please give someone else a shot? The issue is the Indians have zero starting pitching depth right now and this is a serious indictment of the organizations lack of arms. In AAA right now, you have an average Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 4.22 ERA), Aaron Laffey (0-1, 3.98) who we’ve seen before, Yohan Pino (6-3, 4.36 ERA), and soft-tosser Josh Tomlin (6-2, 2.81). None of these guys seems appealing.
Hector Rondon, the guy we all thought would be on the come this year, is injured and when he was healthy, he struggled mightily (1-3, 8.53 ERA). Jeanmar Gomez dominated AA last year, but has not been good in Columbus (4-7, 6.28). Now you know why Huff has had such a long leash.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar