August 18, 2014

Indians 3, Tigers 2: What a Real, Live Baseball Team Looks Like

It’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these, so, if for no other earthly reason than to prove that someone is watching these games, let’s get off a live-blog.

7:38 PM – Getting started late, which, if you’re new to these things, is nothing new for me. But believe it or not, the Indians have the early lead in this one. In the top of the second, Santana leads off with a single and scores on a hit-and-run double from Brantley, who then scored himself on a line drive single from Hannahan. Early, but the Tribe is up 2-0 on the Kitties and Rick Porcello.

7:56 PM – We’ll touch on some detail below, but I wanted to make note of this: Michael Brantley, our clean up hitter, was just intentionally walked.

7:57 PM – The intentional walk paid off, as Russ Canzler bats fifth tonight. But not before the Tribe strikes for another run in the third inning on Choo and Cabrera doubles off Porcello. 3-0 good guys.

In some ways, we should be rooting for the likes of Rick Porcello. He’s a groundball specialist who doesn’t miss bats. In other words, he is our rotation.

And he was plenty hyped coming through the Tigers’ system. After being drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2007 draft, he flew through the minors debuting less than two years later in April of 2009. Everyone thought he’d slot in behind Justin Verlander as a dependable #2 starter for years to come.

The problem is, he kinda stinks. For his career, Porcello has struck out only five batters per nine innings pitched. That’s Josh Tomlin territory, and to go with it he has a Tomlinesque ERA of 4.55 (94 ERA+) and a WHIP of 1.41.

I don’t know if there’s a lesson to this little aside or not, but I guess I’m starting to reconsider the philosophy of building one’s rotation around groundball specialists. Have we ever really seen this work? Has there ever been a team with a championship caliber rotation that doesn’t have a single starter with a strikeout rate north of 8.00? I understand the budgetary constraints. I also understand that Ubaldo is supposed to be missing some bats.

But I’m just not sure you can win with a team of Rick Porcellos.

8:11 PM – The Tigers get a base runner on against Masterson via an Alex Avila leadoff double, but fail to score in the bottom of the third after consecutive foreboding lineouts.

The Tribe follows suit going 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth.

8:16 PM – For someone as fat and alcoholic as Miguel Cabrera, he’s remarkably durable, at least in the baseball sense of the word. Since 2004—his first full season—the fewest games he’s played was 150 in 2010 and four times he’s played at least 160 games. Can his ankles and knees maintain this pace? Can his liver? Who knows? The Tigers have obviously been lucky to have reaped such consistency from him, but then again, he has three years and $65 million left on his deal after this year. Lots of things can happen to ACLs in three years….

I mention this only because Cabrera is quite obviously limping.

Also the Tigers went down in order in the bottom of the fourth. Masterson is through the heart of the Tiger lineup for the second time and has allowed only two hits. He’s not allowed a walk either, which seems a sound strategy to me.

8:37 PM – The game is still 3-0 going to the bottom of the sixth. But because this game is meaningless, I decided to do some research on Justin Masterson.

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Masterson has made 90 starts. In 55 of those starts, he’s walked two or fewer batters. In those games, he has averaged nearly seven innings per start with a 3.41 ERA and a 4.48 K/BB ratio.

In the other 35 starts where he walked 3 or more, he’s averaged less than five and two thirds innings per start with an ERA of 5.71 and a K/BB ratio of 0.90.

Which is to say: walks really stink.

8:56 PM – With one out in the top of the sixth, Masterson walks his first batter. The Tigers have the second highest on base percentage in the American League, so we’ll take one walk every 5.1 innings against them.

9:00 PM – While we’ll take a walk every 5.1 innings against this team, we don’t have to celebrate it. The fat alcoholic takes a hanging slider from Masterson over the left field wall and scores two. Tribe is hanging on 3-2, but Prince Fielder awaits. While he is having a down year, he still has slightly more home runs (23) than our cleanup hitter (6).

9:03 PM – Prince goes down swinging. Masterson is now through six innings. His line: 4Ks, 1BB, 4H, 2ER. In other words, it’s looking like it belongs to the first group of starts discussed above, which is good. Barring something unforeseen in the seventh….

9:16 PM – Drew Smyly, who was removed from the Tigers’ rotation earlier this season, strikes out three consecutive Indians before walking his next two and being pulled for Al Albuquerque.

Smyly pitches with his left arm. Against those types of pitchers, the Indians have batted .226/.305/.348 (.653 OPS) this season. Would you believe me if I said that sounds high?

9:20 PM – Albuquerque strikes out Canzler, who looks….well, he looks like the sort of hitter who couldn’t make the 25 man roster on a team who desperately needed a right-handed corner bat for the entirety of its season.

On that note, I find it entirely perplexing that the Indians have not been able to fill one of the most fungible roles in all of baseball: the right-hand hitting corner outfielder. In fact, such players are second only to right-handed-bullpen-pitchers-with-platoon-split-issues in decreasing order of fungibility. These players are everywhere. I simply do not understand how a front office can consistently fail to find something that appears so readily available in MLB.

9:27 PM – Uggghhh. There are reasons to enjoy the expanded rosters that accompany September callups. You get to see some young talent. You can give your everyday guys a breather in an otherwise lost season. You can even dream on the future, if you have a prospect or two.

But gosh if this doesn’t grind games to a complete halt. After Barnes relieves Masterson and strikes out Brennan Boesch, Leyland counters by pinch hitting Avisail Garcia, a right handed bat. So Manny Acta brings in Joe Smith, the aforementioned right-handed-bullpen-pitcher-with-platoon-split-issues. So Jim Leyland pinch hits Quinton Berry, a left hander.

And so it goes, this meaningless chess game we call September baseball in Cleveland….

9:31 PM – As if to comment on the inanity of it all, Jhonny Peralta reaches base on an infield single before Smith gets out of the inning on a ground out. Heading to the eighth inning, Tribe still on top 3-2.

9:40 PM – I’ve just made the mistake of looking at the standings, which I’ve not done in quite some time. The Indians have—by a not insignificant margin—the worst run differential in the American League, having been outscored on the season by 157 runs so far this season. They are worsted in all of MLB only by the Astros, at an astronomical negative 197 run differential.

I don’t know what to do with this information, other than weep for the future. Perhaps there are reasons to think next year will be different. But, really, I can’t think of any good ones. Sure, there should be some bounce back from a few players and maybe a few small signings to improve the periphery of the roster, but how is a team that is so terribly overmatched this year suddenly going to be competent next?

This is, by and large, why I feel rather dead-ended by the team these days. We’ve now seen the fruit of the latest rebuild, and at the risk of extending my metaphor too far, it’s rotten. This is what we’ve been waiting these last four years for. We don’t have any prospects left to call up. We don’t have any final pieces to push us over the edge. This team is what the braintrust built over four carefully-crafted years of assemby.

And they sit squarely in the middle of any conversation about the worst team in baseball. So it goes.

9:47 PM – Chris Perez is back from paternity leave, which means Vinnie Pestano is back in his eighth inning role. He goes 1-2-3 through the top of the Tigers’ lineup, including a four-pitch strikeout of Miguel Cabrera. Despite his recent rough patch, Pestano still boasts an ERA that starts with a 1, holds the highest WAR in our bullpen, and has struck out nearly 40% of the right handed batters he’s faced this season.

9:59 PM – Santana strikes out against Benoit to end the top of the ninth, which means Perez will have to protect a one-run lead against Prince Fielder, Brennan Boesch and Danny Worth, who came in for Dan Kelly, because Miguel Cabrera moved to first and…Gosh, I hate September call-ups.

10:02 PM – After starting off Fielder with a slider off the plate, Perez strikes him out on the next three pitches—two fastballs and a nasty breaking ball in the dirt that got Prince swinging. His fastball is sitting at 96, which sounds fast. Then again, Masterson was sitting at 95 on the gun tonight, so I wonder if it might be a tad fast.

10:03 PM – Methinks Perez has enjoyed his time off. He strikes out Boesch on three pitches. Delmon Young comes on to pinch hit.

10:05 PM – Delmon grounds out to Kipnis to end the game. 3-2 Good guys. According to Matt Underwood, that is the team’s first consecutive wins against the same team since July 4th, which is patently absurd.

Nights like tonight—with solid starting pitching, a few timely hits and dominant bullpen—this looks like a real, live baseball team. We just haven’t seen enough of these nights this season, and it’s no wonder: the Indians are the only team in the American League (and the only team in MLB who doesn’t play its home games in Denver) to have allowed more than 700 runs so far this season. Every way I slice it, I keep coming back to the same conclusion: left fielders are great, but starting pitching gets you in the playoffs. And two nights out of three, we just haven’t had it.

  • Harv 21

    Ya know, Jon, I was gonna excoriate you for deeming to finally relieve poor TD during a win “streak.” Then I read your 8:16 entry and my pissiness dissipated. See you’re bringing the A game, friend.

    9:16, 2nd paragraph: bless you. I say this to myself, I say this here frequently, I say this to the sweaty street corner hot dog vendor who speaks little English and no baseball. Makes me nuts. Maybe John Hart didn’t know young pitchers so well, but he could chase a bottle of xanax with a night of tequila-drinking and still spot a meat-heady pro stick, cancer-gloved corner. I don’t understand this either.

    Finally, something to get off my chest. Clevelanders assume Sandy Alomar is the next best managing option. Sandy has other teams interested and he knows first hand how weak this org’s future looks. Why on earth would he choose a team with a lack of talent and lack of resources to obtain talent such contending for a season requires all the stars aligning? If I’m Sandy, this is not an option, I’m outta here.

  • boomhauertjs

    In the post-steroids (for most guys) era, RH power hitting players are at more of a premium. Since they are not cheap, the Indians will struggle to acquire them.

  • mgbode

    hmm, Miggy and Fielder are both obese athletes and durable. perhaps we should have had Sizemore and Hafner gain 50-100lbs each? maybe it’s something about being a baseball player and not being able to move fast that helps with health?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    When was Hafner ever fast?

  • mgbode

    he has 2 triples this year!!!

    no, he’s not fast nor has been. but, he’s not obese either. hmm, new hypothesis, the lard layer on Miggy and Fielder provides a cushion-effect from injuries.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’d rather have an obese MVP caliber player heck two obese MVP caliber players then a DH who spends more time on the DL then the field. It’s player evaluations like that which have led to 58-78 just two games away from owning the worst record in the AL.

  • mgbode

    ah, so you think Hafner would be an obese MVP candidate if he had gained the weight.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Give ‘em back his PEDs dispenser maybe that’ll rejuevante his broken down body and career.

  • mgbode

    do no delineate from the conversation. we are discussing the merits of fat content to the durability of MLBers.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That reminds me, I’m hungry!