OK, so heading into Friday’s series opener with the Cincinnati Reds in the Battle of Ohio, the Indians had Grady Sizemore already on the disabled list and were forced to place smokin-hot DH Travis Hafner on the DL as well with an oblique strain. Early indications were that Pronk would miss four to six weeks. Travis Buck, who had just come up to replace Sizemore and has been hitting the ball well, was a late scratch Friday night with turf toe. Things looked blique for our fair Wahoo Warriors and as I wrote on Friday for Cleveland.com, this felt like a real dangerous time for them. The schedule is a murderers row of teams through the first week in June and the injuries were piling up.
So what did the Indians do this weekend?
They swept the Reds right out of Progressive Field, winning all three games in different fashion. This was truly the most unlikely of sweep in this most unlikely of seasons.
It is said one of the marks of a great team is when everyone contributes one through 25 and a new hero emerges seemingly every night. This weekend was certainly a test of that theory.
Take Friday night for example. The Indians flat out couldn’t touch Travis Wood for the first five innings. He was perfect headed into the sixth inning and facing a Tribe lineup that was once again depleted. Then in the sixth back to back one out singles from that vaunted duo of Austin Kearns and Jack Hannahan not only awakened the offense, but got a crowd of 33,000 plus back into the game. The next thing you know, the Tribe scratched and clawed their way back to tie it at four.
Two innings later, Manny Acta, the man with the midas touch in 2011, pulled back DH Shelley Duncan when Reds skipper Dusty Baker called for right-handed reliever Nick Masset. Who do he call for? Rookie Ezequial Carrera, called up earlier in the day to replace Travis Hafner. The speedy Carrera was about to take his first Major League at-bat with the lead run on third in the bottom of the eighth. According to the kid, Acta said to him ” ‘If you know you can bunt, go ahead. That’s your game.'”
So he did. And of course, like seemingly every move Acta has made this season, it worked. Carrera beat out the drag bunt, scoring the game-winning run and making himself a cult hero after just one AB. “Ezequiel has the ability to bunt at any time,” Acta said. “We were just looking for an infield hit; the bunt probably was the best chance to do it. The execution was not perfect, but perfect enough.” Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Indians lost starter Alex White to a finger injury three innings into the game AND they made three errors which cost them three of the four Reds runs?
Frank Herrmann, another member of the I-71 shuttle squad did a terrific job keeping the Indians in the game until the bats woke up. As did Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, and Vinnie Pestano. They cannot be overlooked in this one.
Literally Friday night’s game was a stolen victory. The Tribe was all but dead for the first five and a half innings. They then came alive without any sort of real “big” hit. In fact, the five runs they scored were on just five hits. They took that momentum into Saturday’s late afternoon tilt. In front of a sell-out crowd on Shin-Soo Choo jersey day, the offense again struggled out of the gate. The difference in this one was Indians starter Josh Tomlin.
Once again, Tomlin was spectacular, shutting down the Reds for seven innings. Like a night before, his defense let him down in a big spot in the seventh. A failed double-play ball mishandled by Orlando Cabrera allowed the lone run of the game at that point to score and the way Homer Bailey was pitching, JT looked like he’d be a hard-luck loser for the second time this month. Instead, another unlikely source saved the Tribe’s bacon.
Readers of this site know how high I have been on Travis Buck. The former ASU Sun Devil and A’s first round pick was brought back up when Sizemore went on the DL after driving in 21 runs in 18 AAA games. He is a major leaguer and should be getting at-bats. With the rash of injuries, Buck is not only getting those AB’s, but he is hitting fifth, protecting Carlos Santana. With the wind blowing in all day, no hitter on either team was able to drive the ball deep. That was until Buck came up in the seventh. With Asdrubal Cabrera on first, Buck put one into the right-center field bleachers to put the Indians ahead 2-1.
Once again, Acta had a hand in the biggest play of the game. According to Buck, Acta pulled him aside and called him out. “He told me that I need to start being able to pick spots and put good, hard swings on the ball. He basically said, ‘You’ve got to be able to attack pitches where you think you can really do some damage, rather than just trying to put a pitcher’s pitch in play.’ I’ve never had a manager come to me like that.”
Again, does Acta do anything wrong these days?
Even when he pulled Tomlin, who had given up just one run on three hits in 85 pitches after the seventh, it worked. Pestano and Chris Perez closed out the 2-1 win. A win that once again came with just five hits.
Yesterday, Actaball looked for a sweep of the Reds and hoped to get some more offense to protect the shakiest of the starters, Carlos Carrasco. Naturally, they obliged with 12 runs on 13 hits in a blowout series sweeping victory in front 26,833 fans.
The star of this day was Asdrubal Cabrera. The Indians shortstop is an All-Star this year unless he gets hit by a truck. Next to Jose Bautista in Toronto, I defy you to find me anyone playing better the AC. All he did on Sunday was collect five hits and five RBIs, including two homers, extending his career high to nine. Everyone loves Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and looks at him as one of the best hitters in the game. Consider this. Miggy has eight homers and 30 RBIs. AC has nine homers and 32 RBIs AND he is hitting .309. In his last 13 games, Cabrera is hitting .396 with four homers and 11 RBIs. He is a serious AL MVP candidate right now.
While this game belonged to the Tribe shortstop, the contributions of Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the order. Brantley, who MUST STAY IN THE LEADOFF SPOT, was 3-4 scoring twice and driving in two runs. Choo was 2-3 and drove in two runs of his own and is starting to show more signs of coming out of his early season swoon. He hit .381 this week (8-21). Both Choo and Santana have got to come strong while Hafner is on the DL.
If I’m Acta, knowing that Sizemore could be back for next weekend’s series in Tampa, I strongly consider putting Grady in the five hole where Hafner normally resides. Right now, he’s been going with Buck or Duncan, and as much as I like them, they are not suited for such a key spot in the lineup. Grady however is, and he is not needed in the leadoff spot the way he is in the middle of the order right now. Moving Brantley back in the seventh spot in the order at this juncture doesn’t make the team better. Putting Grady in the five hole while Hafner is out, does.
Again, these are nice problems to have. Despite all of the injuries (Alex White joined Hafner and Sizemore on the DL and will miss 8-12 weeks with a finger injury) the Indians swept a team that entered the weekend a half game out of first in their division. They are now an insanely good 18-4 at home and have six series sweeps on the season already. They had just four all of last year. The best part is the fans are finally starting to show. The Indians drew 99,086 this weekend, their largest three game attendance figure since September of 2008.
Up next for the Tribe is a three-game set with the Boston Red Sox. Justin Masterson (5-2, 2.52 ERA) starts things off for the Tribe against righty Clay Buckholz (4-3, 3.42 ERA). Over the next five games, the Indians have to face Buckholz, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, David Price, and James Shields. If there is ever a week to expect a swoon, its this one.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)