Oh what should have been. All of the momentum of ending the first half of the baseball season on a high crashed down on Sunday. Ironically, it was the Indians two All Stars – shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez – who were the culprits in the 7-6 defeat. But fear not, Tribe fans, this team still split the series with the Tampa Bay Rays and head into the much needed All Star break at 44-41, just three games out of first place in the AL Central. Starting tomorrow I will have a four-part series, recapping what we saw from the Indians infield, outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen during this up and down first half.
Over the weekend, two starters continued their ascension towards consistency and reliability, an offense did what it needed to do to win, and the bullpen showed its lack of depth and its first true chink in the armor since opening day. As we do every Monday morning at this time, lets take the weekend pulse of what went down in Wahooland.
Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach McAllister pitched well yet again. The game wasn’t televised and only 20,000 plus were there to see it, but Ubaldo continued to show that the mechanical tinkering that he and pitching coach Scott Radinsky have done over the past month and a half has worked. The growth in his game has been next to astounding and Jimenez spent June and now July pitching like the guy the Indians hoped he would be.
In the 90 degree heat, Ubaldo allowed two runs on five hits in six innings, striking out five and walking just one in the process. The difference in him has come with his command. The walk to strike out numbers have completely turned since June 1st, he has 44 strikeouts to 17 walks. This from a guy who had more walks then K’s after his May 27th seven run debacle start in Chicago.
“Ubaldo continues to give us good outings, that’s seven in a row,” Manager Manny Acta said.
These are the kind of starts the Indians must get from Jimenez to stay near the top of the division.
Zach McAllister in the meantime has pitched like a guy who wants to stay with the big club for a long time. He had a no-hitter going into the fifth Sunday while striking out eight Rays. His fastball was consistently at 94-95 and if not for Asdrubal Cabrera’s killer two-out error, The Zach Attack would have been a winner yesterday. However, two doubles and a walk later, a 5-0 lead suddenly became a one run game and McAllister was done for the day.
“It’s part of the game,” McAllister said. “As a pitcher, you want to pick up your guys, get outs, and not let the runs score. I was able to do that today.”
Regardless, Tribe fans should be excited about the second half with McAllister.
The offensive awakening continued into the weekend, but how long will it last? Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the weekend was the Saturday seven run output with a lineup that had Jose Lopez hitting third, Michael Brantley hitting fourth, and a six through nine that read “Duncan, Marson, Hannahan, Cunningham.” That bottom four combined for four hits and five RBIs, including new daddy Shelley Duncan’s two-run eighth inning blast that provided key insurance runs.
Did I mention they also beat a tough lefty in Matt Moore?
“I looked at the card and said, ‘We’ve got an All-Star lineup on the bench,’” said Cunningham. “All the scrubs were in there. It gives us confidence knowing that Manny believes we can help win games.”
Speaking of Cunningham, I know I am beating a dead horse, but Acta used him as a defensive replacement yesterday with the Tribe nursing a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning. I know he does this often, but more times than not, Cunningham ends up getting a late inning at-bat that becomes important. Yesterday he struck out in the eighth in front of Shin-Soo Choo’s solo homer. If he gets on, its a different ball game. But Cunningham is far from the reason they lost.
Back to the offense, Casey Kotchman had a nice week, going 10 for 20 with two homers and six RBIs. Travis Hafner’s re-appearance in the lineup, even if he is rusty, gives the lineup more depth and an added dimension. In July, the Indians averaged 5.75 runs per game, which for how they are built (to win with pitching and defense) should be good enough to win any game.
Chris Perez ended his first half like he started it, with a poorly timed blown save. Before everyone freaks out on Pure Rage, the guy had a string of 24 consecutive saves heading into yesterday. The Indians were 37-1 with a lead after seven innings. Vinnie Pestano, who has been so good all first half, worked through a 30-pitch eighth inning and handed the ball off to his closer. Choo’s homer gave Perez the extra cushion at 6-4.
Rage just wasn’t on his game.
Journeyman Will Rhymes got him with a solo shot to push the Rays to within one with one out. Elliot Johnson followed with a single. Carlos Pena, hitting .198 with 110 strikeouts, then hit a liner to shallow center. Brantley was charging hard from his “no-doubles defense” deep position and had to make up his mind to dive and go for the out, or let it drop in front of him. He dove and the ball got past him. When the dust settled, Pena had a triple and the game was tied. Ben Zobrist’s single won it for the Rays.
As always, Perez was there in front of his locker to answer all the questions.
“Obviously, I would have liked [the streak] to continue, but that’s not baseball,” Perez said. “I made some bad pitches, and they hit them. Just going back to the streak . . . whatever, that’s my job. I’m supposed to do that. I don’t look at it as anything other than that. The first day and the last day of the first half stunk, but I’ll definitely take everything in between.”
Blown saves are going to happen. This one was just ill-timed. Perez will be back strong and will no doubt put this behind him. Really he shouldn’t have even been in this situation. Cabrera’s fifth inning error was the biggest play of the game. But as Acta said, the Tribe wouldn’t be in this position if not for its two All Stars.
“You can’t expect every single one of these guys to be on top of their game every single day. They have carried us for a lot of games. So when they don’t have a good one, hang with them,” he said.
In other bullpen news, you won’t be seeing Nick Hagadone anytime soon, and it is not just because of his performance. Its amazing to think that a month ago, we were touting this guy as a possible left-handed Vinnie Pestano the rest of the way. Instead, he blew up in June allowing 12 earned runs in seven and a third innings of work. In Friday night’s 10-3 loss, he was touched up four two runs in two thirds of an inning. After he was lifted from the game, Hagadone went into the clubhouse and punched something with his pitching hand, causing a yet to be disclosed injury. He was demoted to the minors after the game in favor lefty Scott Barnes, but has since been placed on the Minor League disqualified list, where he won’t be paid.
Said GM Chris Antonetti: “We’re certainly disappointed with the reaction to it. He was certainly very frustrated coming out of the game. We certainly would have wished he would have handled it a little differently.”
Tony Sipp now becomes the late inning situational lefty and Barnes slides into the long/middle relief role. The bullpen, once thought to be the strength, now has two iffy lefties, Jeremy Accardo and Esmil Rogers along with the three big guns in Joe Smith, Pestano, and Perez.
The All Star Break is here and the Indians will sit back and allow themselves to relax and recharge their batteries for a second half that starts with a weekend trip to Toronto for a three-game set. The rotation has been re-shuffled and will start with Justin Masterson, followed by Jimenez, Derek Lowe, McAllister, and Josh Tomlin.
(photo via Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)