I swear I will never be able to figure out this particular Indians club. They entered Baltimore on a five-game losing streak, looking as bad as they have all season. The offense couldn’t score in Amsterdam’s Red Light District with a fist full of hundreds, and the pitching had become extremely suspect. It was (and still is) danger time for our Wahoos. Scheduled to face three lefties in four days, things seemed really bleak. The White Sox were streaking. The Tigers were charging. It seemed like the Tribe was starting their fade.
A team meeting was held before Thursday night’s game where Manny Acta cleared the air, got everyone to re-focus, and told his team to just relax and get back to having fun.
Again, I know I felt extremely concerned that this series could be a make or break situation for them. I thought the Tribe had to come away with three of four at a minimum to keep pace in the AL Central and to weather the storm of this brutal portion of the schedule. After this ten-game trip, The Angels and Rays come to Cleveland. So doing well in Baltimore was a must.
Just when you think you have this team pegged, they go out and light it up offensively in the sweltering heat and take three out of four games from the Orioles. They again sit just a game and a half back of first place. How exactly did they do it? As we do each Monday morning, let us go back and take a look at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Wait, the Indians faced three left-handed starters and beat all three? What world am I in exactly? The oddity of all oddities occurred this weekend. A team that was 5-16 with the worst batting average and on-base percentage in the American League against lefties won not one, not two, but three times against Southpaws.
Acta decided to go with his right-handed heavy lineup most of the weekend and it worked. The offense went 19-59 (.327) against lefty starters Wei-Yin Chen, Dana Eveland, and Brian Matusz. The much maligned Shelley Duncan got three starts in the series and went 6-12 with two homers and four RBIs (I promised not to mention that he left nine men on base Saturday. That was not a misprint). You could tell he was really seeing the ball well all weekend. Jose Lopez, who has been a savior of sorts for Acta, was 7-13 with three RBIs. Included in the line was Saturday’s five-hit game. Its a scary notion that Lopez hit cleanup three times in this series and has essentially made that his home since Travis Hafner went to the DL, but he has done about as well as Tribe fans could have hoped for.
And then there is Lou Marson. Laser Lou. Sweet Lou. Lou Freaking Marson. Call him whatever you want, but all weekend, the Orioles were “Lou Marred.”
The Tribe’s backup catcher has always been known as a solid backstop with a cannon for an arm. His bat? Not so much. With Carlos Santana on board, Marson just wasn’t going to get a lot of playing time, especially against right-handed pitching. But with Santana’s DL stint and subsequent slump, Lou has seen more and more at-bats.
During April and May, Marson looked like a serious liability with the bat. He hit .111 in April and .160 in May. But in June, Laser Lou has transformed into a hitting machine. He raised his average from .162 to .286 after an incredible 19-50 run. During Saturday’s 11-5 beat down of the Orioles, Marson had a career-high four hits and had two chances to go for the cycle. He loves going to that right-center gap with his line drive hits. Like Duncan and Lopez, Marson had seven hits in the series.
With Casey Kotchman continuing to produce little with the bat (20 for his last 87) coupled with Marson’s emergence, I for one would like to see more of Santana at first base with Marson getting more time behind the plate. Why not ride out the hot streak?
And how about Shin-Soo Choo? Remember back in April and early May when we were all worried that Choo wasn’t the guy we knew him to be? That seems like years ago now. We may look back on the 2012 season and say that Acta’s decision to move his right-fielder to the leadoff spot was the thing that changed the entire dynamic of the team.
Acta made the move on May 14th in order to get not only Choo started, but the get the offense as a whole back on track. Since then, Choo has been a completely different guy. He is hitting .316 (57-180) with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Over the last week, Choo has really turned it on, going 11-24. Saturday, while Marson and Lopez were the stars, Choo did his thing as well, adding four hits including a homer, three RBIs, and four runs scored. He has truly been the catalyst for the up and down Tribe offense.
“We’re not going anywhere unless he’s the player we know [he can be],” Acta said. “We need him bad. He’s the key to our lineup and I’m glad he’s back to it. It’s that simple. We just don’t have a powerhouse here not to have guys like Choo on top of their game.”
Acta is spot on there, especially without Hafner available (though he is expected to be activated in the next couple of days) and Santana in the midst of a brutal slump.
I know they took three of four in Baltimore, but outside of Justin Masterson on Sunday, the starting pitching pitching was again subpar. When Shin-Soo Choo was hitting .220 with almost no power production in April and early May, Derek Lowe was the hottest pitcher wearing Wahoo Red, White, and Blue. My how things have changed. He got the call Friday night and certainly wasn’t helped by his defense, who let him down for three first inning unearned runs. However, Lowe had plenty of time to stop the bleeding. He didn’t.
Handed a 5-3 lead into the fifth, Lowe again imploded, the capper being a sixth inning three-run jack from Matt Wieters in a 9-8 loss. Acta probably left him in a little too long, but the veteran has a longer leash than most others. The bottom line is that Lowe once again wasn’t sharp and he hasn’t been for about six weeks. But as always, there he was, being a stand-up guy with the media after the game.
“I take full responsibility for this game,” Lowe said. “That was the dumbest pitch that I’ve thrown in a long time — to Wieters — and it was my call. You just can’t get beat in. Even though it wasn’t technically late in the game, obviously, I think everybody is fatigued on both sides because of the heat. It was my call to throw a sinker inside. You’ve got to make the guy hit the ball the other way. It was probably the single most frustrating pitch that I’ve thrown all year. You think you would know better, but it was very maddening.”
After his first eight starts, Lowe was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In his last eight starts, the 38-year old is 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA. He has to get it together for the Tribe to succeed. Josh Tomlin wasn’t much better on Saturday, despite the fact that he got the win. He went six innings, giving up five runs on seven hits, but the Tribe’s offense was all over Eveland and the Orioles bullpen to the tune of 11 runs on 19 hits. Tomlin has only made it past six innings three times in his 13 appearances. His ERA in June was 6.89 (six starts).
That just isn’t going to cut it.
The big disappointment over the weekend was the broken forearm sustained by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The Tribe’s top prospect was most likely going to be sent back down to Columbus with Hafner’s imminent return, but to see him lost now for 10-12 weeks of prime development time is a real shame. The Chiz Kid was hitting .278 (20-72) with three homers and nine RBIs. He only drew one walk, but was getting pretty regular playing time.
“He was having better at-bats,” Acta said. “He handled himself well this time around. It’s always tough to see a young guy getting his feet wet, doing better and then all of a sudden, having an injury like that.”
For the final two games of the weekend, Chisenhall’s roster spot was taken by Jason Donald, who started Sunday at shortstop. JD will probably be sent down with Hafner expected to be activated this week.
The guy I’d really like to see sent out is Aaron Cunningham. I know he homered on Sunday (a Festivus Miracle!), but while the Indians were tattooing Baltimore pitching for 19 hits Saturday, Cunningham was 0-6. He does nothing well. Other than the fact that he can play center field, there is no reason for him to still be here. He has become my 2012 Austin Kearns. Acta continues to go to the well with him too, which boggles my mind. Maybe it is a reverse psychology thing he is trying to pull on GM Chris Antonetti.
On Friday night, Manny put Cunningham in left field as a defensive replacement late in a tie game. Naturally, the Orioles took a lead and his spot came around in the eighth, down one run and he lined out. I’ve seen this one too many times.
The Red Sox just designated OF Darnell McDonald for assignment. He can play all three outfield positions well, has speed, and has five years experience in the majors. McDonald was a clubhouse and fan favorite in Boston and couldn’t do any worse than what Cunningham is offering. Just a suggestion.
Then again, I tweeted out my disgust for seeing Cunningham’s name in the lineup Sunday before the game, and then he homered in his first AB. As one of my Twitter followers said “Acta 1, TD 0.”
A quick congratulations go out to Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera for being named to the AL All-Star team. Both will be making their second consecutive appearance in the Midsummer Classic, played next week in Kansas City.
Up next for the Tribe is a visit from the red hot Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, the Angels have lined up aces Jered Weaver (8-1, 2.31 ERA) and Dan Haren (6-7, 4.53 ERA) for the first two games of the series. Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6, 4.69 ERA) will take the ball tonight and will try to match the All-Star Weaver pitch for pitch.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)