April 23, 2014

Tribe Weekend Wrapup: Progressive Field Magic, Starting Pitching, and The Sun

It was another odd weekend of baseball down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In case you hadn’t heard (and judging by the attendance, you haven’t – ha ha) the Indians offense has just a tad bit of trouble scoring these days. This weekend was no exception. It certainly didn’t help matters when the Los Angeles Angels sent Jeff Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana out to the mound.

It is no secret how the Indians win games; good pitching and timely hitting. Well, the first part of that equation showed up and the Indians used a little help from the elements in taking two of three from the reeling Angels. This was a good time to catch them. They have a loaded rotation and a great lineup, but they happen to be struggling mightily. When they return again in July, I can guarantee they will be a much improved club.

So how exactly did the Indians take this series? What all went right? What are we going to do about this stagnant offense? As we do every Monday morning during the season, let us take a look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.

Three starts, three solid performances. Justin Masterson got things going on Friday night, Jeanmar Gomez followed on Saturday, and Derek Lowe was superb in Sunday’s series finale. This was the kind of stuff the Indians brass envisioned when they told us all they would contend.

Masterson came in looking to right himself after three consecutive poor starts in which he never lasted longer than five innings. His strikeouts were down, his walks were up. This was a big start for him and needless to say, he came through. Matching Weaver pitch for pitch, Masterson went eight and a third strong innings, allowing just two runs on four hits. Yes, he walked five men again, but he worked his way out of any jam he got into.

“We made a hair of an adjustment (in his delivery),” he said. “That allowed me to be in the zone more often.”

Gomez in the meantime continues to show his Spring was no fluke. He was terrific again Saturday, though he ended up a hard-luck 2-1 loser to Haren who was even better. The Venezuelan right-hander allowed two earned runs on five hits in six innings, while striking out a career-high seven on a blustery cold day in Cleveland. Had the Indians offense been able to come through with just one more timely hit, Gomez would have received a different fate.

“Jeanmar pitched ahead the whole day and threw that slider for strikes whenever he wanted,” said Acta. If you hit Manny with some truth serum, he’d have to admit he’d be better off handing the ball to Gomez than Ubaldo Jimenez if he needed one game to win. I know I would.

Then there’s Lowe. This offseason acquisition flew right under the radar, but has proven to be thus far Chris Antonetti best move by a mile. On Sunday, the 38-year old veteran pitched seven and two-thirds of scoreless, three hit ball against the Angels. Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez held the lead up in the Tribe’s 4-0 series clinching victory. Angel hitters couldn’t touch Lowe all day as his sinker pounded them into submission. Not only is he now 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA, but Lowe is also a quote machine and he “gets it.” After suffering his worst season as a pro in Atlanta last year, Derek is pitching like a man with something to prove.

“I’ve never let one season flow over into the next,” Lowe said. “I know the only way to be successful and win over six months is to have strong starting pitching. It’s a fun gang to be part of.”

For the weekend, the Tribe starters pitched 22 innings, and allowed just four earned runs. That is impressive. Now lets see if Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin can keep this train rolling in Chicago this week.

What is it about Friday nights at Progressive Field that brings out the best in the Indians? Remember last year in April and May when the Indians were last at-bat winning machines? It seemed like they always were on Friday nights. The Carlos Santana grand slam? A Friday night. One of the two Travis Hafner walk-off blasts? A Friday night. The Ezequiel Carrera bunt RBI single vs Cincinnati? A Friday night.

So here we were again, score tied 2-2, one out and two on in the bottom of the ninth, and Asdrubal Cabrera stepped to the plate. Even with the Indians completely deficient in coming up with that one big hit on this homestand, the Friday night Magic returned as AC ripped a line shot down the right-field line for a walk-off 3-2 winner. It couldn’t have come a better time with the team needing this one badly after leaving 11 more runners on base.

“Last year, we had a lot of fun with some walkoffs,” Acta said. “It’s nice to be able to go out and do that again.” This also came on a night where the Indians score three runs on 15 hits. Seems impossible right? Nothing is impossible when you are talking about the Tribe’s offense these days.

The offense has been so stale, they needed the sun to secure them Sunday’s 4-0 win. This one started out the same way the other two games had. The Indians looked like they would have real trouble scoring against Santana, who no-hit them last year. It was 0-0 in the fifth when Cabrera came to the plate with two on and two out (Tribe baserunners reached on an infield single and a walk, Wahoo!). Asdrubal sent one high in the air to shallow right where Torii Hunter stood under it. The sun was high without a cloud in the sky and luckily for the Tribe, Hunter lost it at the last second, allowing both runners to score.

It turned out to be the biggest play of the game.

“You can’t beat the sun. You battle, you battle, but no matter what kind of glasses you’re wearing, you can’t see it. It almost hit me in the head.”

The error came from a guy who has the least amount of outfield errors (36) of anyone in baseball history with at least 4,500 chances.

The Indians were long overdue for a break, and they most certainly got it there. Their other two runs yesterday came via a second Angels error and a sacrifice fly. So it is not as if the offense woke up in any way, shape, or form this weekend. They only scored eight runs in three games after scoring eight runs in three games against the Royals earlier in the week.

So what do we do about this offense? First and foremost, I really could not understand why Acta didn’t sit Shelley Duncan at all this weekend. The guy is flat out struggling, particularly against right-handed pitching (.179 BA with 15 K’s in 39 AB). His average has dropped 60 points in the last ten days, and has become a windmill (11 Ks in his last 20 AB). The guy needed a mental health day off, yet Acta never gave him one.

With Shin-Soo Choo missing the entire series due to a hamstring strain, Manny had just three outfielders to chose from. Aaron Cunningham played the last four games in right field. But didn’t we here all winter how the Indians were letting Jason Donald take some fly balls in Center? He couldn’t have been given one single start with Duncan looking completely lost at the plate? I can understand playing Casey Kotchman through a slump because he is a Gold Glove caliber first baseman, but Duncan is a below average defender. He should have played Donald Sunday at a minimum.

All of this leads to the depth question. If you are going to keep Jose Lopez (who I like by the way) on the roster, than use him. If not, than its a waste to have him here and someone like a Matt LaPorta (gasp) or even an Ezequiel Carrera should have been brought up while Choo was on the mend and until Johnny Damon is ready. But alas, they chose to keep and not use Lopez and Jason Donald at all this weekend.

And speaking of Damon, isn’t it funny how things work? A week into the season when the Indians looked like they would be the worst offensive team in baseball, Acta told us all that he isn’t going to panic and they’d be fine, yet a day later the brass went out and added Damon? Oh, but Damon was going to need time in extended spring training in Arizona, then a stint with the AAA Columbus Clippers before bringing his act up I-71 to Cleveland.

Well just as they said they wouldn’t panic and then signed Damon, the offense once again went into the tank and the reports came across last night that Damon could indeed join the Indians Tuesday when they start a three-game set in Chicago. So much for that Columbus trip, eh?

I can’t say that I blame them one bit. Without Choo, they have really looked horrific offensively. The bottom of the order has become a black hole and depending on Jack Hannahan in the sixth spot all of a sudden doesn’t make him sound as appealing. So if you rush Damon up here a week earlier than expected so what, he can’t do any worse than Duncan and/or Cunningham has been doing, right?

Might as well roll the dice and bring him here now. The sooner the better.

So onto the Windy City we go as the 11-9 Indians meet the Chicago White Sox for a three-game set on the south side. The Sox sit a game back of the Indians at 11-11 and will throw two lefties at them in this series. Up first will be Chris Sale (2-1, 3.12 ERA), who completely stymied over six and two-thirds on April 9th. He will face the enigma that is Ubaldo Jimenez (2-1, 4.50 ERA) on Tuesday night at 8:10 ET.

photo via Chuck Crow/PD

  • Boomhauertjs

    I’m surprised at how little coverage the Indians epically small crowds have been getting. I think they are like 5000 per game below the next lowest team. I recall seeing that they were projecting around 2 million this year, so I’m really worried we’ll see another Dolan Discount fire sale come July.

  • JNeids

    Harry Doyle would appreciate a reference.

  • EyesAbove

    We need Choo back and we need him to hit, badly. The offense looks very weak right now. Maybe Damon can help, he certainly couldnt hurt at this point. The bright side is we’re 11-9 and really havent even played that well. 

  • cmm13

    TD Really?  Several paragraphs on the anemic offense and no mention of the absolute hole that is Casey Kotchman??

    This must be coming in a completely seperate write up.  ;)

    Seriously though, Kotchman is going to need to be addressed soon.  There is no way we can contend with our first baseman holding this line:  BA .140 / OBP .254 / OPS .494

  • mgbode

    “After suffering his worst season as a pro in Atlanta last year, Derek is pitching like a man with something to prove.”

    except if you go by the peripherals, he technically is pitching much worse than last year:

    2011 xFIP  3.65
    2012 xFIP  4.56

    Why the disparity?

    82% LOB – this will be hard to keep up
    2.56K/9 & 2.84BB/9 – if that ratio continues, then he is making life hard on himself
    .57 HR/9 – he is good at keeping the ball in the park historically (so he could keep this one up)

    the good news is that his BABIP is just below .300 at .289 (so he’s not really getting lucky there) and his GB% is actually lower this year than recent history (he’ll need to get it back to career norms to keep that HR/9 number down, but he should).

    Gotta love that he’s won 4 games so far though and that the Braves paid him $10mil this year for him to do it for us (and we pay $5mil)

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Anyone notice how unlucky Tomlin has been? I still believe he’s pitching even better this year. His FIP is 3.22. Let’s hope we see that this series.