August 26, 2014

Red Sox 6. Indians 3: Sox Plan Baffles Masterson

Asdrubal CabreraThere was rain in the forecast the last two nights in Cleveland. It is too bad it never arrived.

I sound like a broken record and we are only two weeks plus into the season, but the Tribe’s starting pitching is obviously a big concern. The thought was that with their best on the mound, Justin Masterson, the bleeding could be stopped. Actually the Indians starters pitched well in the Chicago series over the weekend, but what’s most fresh in our minds was Tuesday night’s comedy show starring Ubaldo Jimenez. The over-taxed Indians bullpen figured to get some relief with the Tribe’s ace on the mound. Just in case, Corey Kluber was called up as a long man, taking the place of CF Michael Bourn who was placed on the 15-day DL earlier in the day.

Masterson entered the game with a 19-inning scoreless streak in tow. The Red Sox came to the plate in the first inning with the perfect approach. They were patient with Masterson and took almost everything the other way right from the jump.  Four of the first five Red Sox singled the other way. The one who didn’t, Shane Victorino, was hit by a pitch. It was 3-0 before you could open your bag of peanuts. Justin managed to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the Red Sox knew they were on to something.

In the second, the Sox once again loaded the bases with nobody out on a Mike Carp double, a Jacoby Ellsbury infield single, and a Shane Victorino single. Somehow, Masterson dug deep to get out of the jam without giving up a run. He struck out Dustin Pedroia, got Mike Napoli to pop out to first, and Daniel Nava on a fly out to left. But again, the damage was being done and The Big Nasty wasn’t long for this game.

After a 1-2-3 third, the Sox loaded the sacks for a third time in four innings on a another Carp double and singles from Ellsbury and Victorino. Again, Masterson dug deep and kept the Sox scoreless by striking out Napoli and getting Nava on a ground out. The fifth inning would be his last one way or another with his pitch count up near the century mark. Justin retired the first two with relative ease, but made the mistake of walking the light-hitting eighth place hitter Stephen Drew. Carp, who had already gotten Masterson for two doubles in his first two at-bats, tripled off the wall in center scoring Drew. Masterson’s night ended with a K of Ellsbury.

“I made some good pitches, but early on, they were able to put some balls where guys weren’t,” Masterson said. “We battled through five. I really didn’t want to give up that last run.”

I will give him this, he fought through five innings, but the Sox had his number with their approach. He threw 101 pitches, allowed five  runs on 11 hits, walking just one and striking out five.

“They made him work really hard,” manager Terry Francona said. “Their approach to him was very good. They all stayed in the middle of the field or went the opposite way. … There’s a lot of trust in him. That’s what I told him when I took him out. He didn’t give in and it was a hard five innings, but when he left, we had a chance to win the game.”

The problem was the deficit. The offense, save for Saturday’s nine run explosion, hasn’t been able to string much together since the opening week, and is now without Bourn and Jason Kipnis, who hasn’t played since Saturday with a sore elbow. Take away that 9-4 win, and they’ve scored five runs in four games heading into Wednesday.

Through the first five innings, nothing had changed. The Wahoo attack was being shut out by Alfredo Aceves, who makes Rafael Betancourt seem like a quick worker. Their best chance came in the sixth when the Indians loaded the bases with two outs on a Lonnie Chisenhall single, a Drew Stubbs double, and a Michael Brantley walk. Up stepped Asdrubal Cabrera, who has been colder than Minneapolis in January. It seemed like the perfect time for Asdrubal to break out. He smoked a 1-2 Aceves pitch to right, but Victorino ran it down for the third out. Cabrera slammed his helmet down in disgust.

“I knew I hit it good. I felt I hit it really good,” Cabrera said, “but they’ve got a good outfield out there, too. Fast.”

The Red Sox got a fifth run in the top of the sixth off of Kluber who gave up three hits in his one inning of work. In the bottom of the frame, the Tribe flexed their muscles.

With Carlos Santana on first after a leadoff walk, Nick Swisher crushed his second homer of the young season to the Indians bullpen in center. Jason Giambi, making just his second start as the Tribe’s DH, tattooed an Aceves pitch deep to right-center for his first homer as an Indian. The back to back jacks put some life into the Progressive Field crowd. Aceves was teetering, yet Sox manager John Farrell left him in. Mark Reynolds laced a double down the left field line to bring the trying run to the plate. Farrell had finally seen enough and called for right-hander Junichi Tazawa. Cord Phelps failed to do his job of moving Reynolds to third with a ground out to the left side. Chisenhall followed with a deep fly ball to the wall in center, which would have easily driven in Reynolds. Instead, he would be stranded at third as Tazawa K’d Stubbs to end the inning.

The Reynolds double was the last hit the Indians would get on the night.

At least it became a ball game again, but the Tribe still trailed. The Sox would answer in the eighth. Rich Hill was masterful in the seventh and stayed on to face the left-handed Ellsbury in the eighth. With two strikes, Ellsbury threw his bat at a ball off the plate and blooped it to shallow center. Cabrera charged out to make the play but the ball popped out of his glove for a fluke single. Hill was replaced by Joe Smith, who hadn’t pitched in four days. Ellsbury moved to second on a Smith wild pitch. Victorino then layed down a bunt to the third base, which Smith fielded. His throw to first was up the line and Phelps dropped it. Smith was charged with the error and Ellsbury came around to score an insurance run.

The Tribe went quietly against Koji Uehara and Andrew Bailey in their last at-bats. Sox relievers retired the final 12 batters they with eight strikeouts.

It is up to Zach McAllister (1-1, 2.19 ERA) to help the Tribe avoid a sweep at the hands of Boston, who have won five straight and are 10-4. The offense will try to get it going against lefty Jon Lester (2-10, 1.42 ERA) who is off to a great start.

(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

 

  • boomhauertjs

    Even though he’s killing it so far, I’d still rather have Swisher and/or Bourn over Victorino.

  • Harv 21

    The pitching is obviously rocky, but way too early to figure out how rocky or to discern patterns, positive or negative. You don’t flush guys in mid-April or call them all-stars.

    Hopefully the steadiness of new vets like Swisher, Bourn and Giambi will help them hang around and avoid a dismal month until they can get some traction. If the Tribe wins 5 of the next 7 we’ll all be giddy again.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    We can talk about the pitching all day long. I’m more concerned with the offensive production so far.

    With a seemingly much improved lineup these guys are throwing a lot of zeros up against average pitching. I know it’s a long season but if the offense hits ruts like this consistently it’s going to be really tough to watch when coupled with the problems on the mound.

  • Garry_Owen

    This year’s version of Indians “baseball” is thus far even harder to watch than last year’s – and last year’s version included BOTH Damon and Duncan.

    Tito? Are you there? You’re supposed to be, like, a savior, or something. Hello?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    My might BoSox made Masterson’s achilles heel apparent once again and that is he struggles against left handed hitting. If Masterson reverts back to being ordinary the Indians will have a hard time overcoming the starting rotation.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I disagree last years team was one of the worst ever compiled. I haven’t seen many instances where strategic errors have been made by Francona. He’s already had to deal with injuries to Kazmir, Marson, Santana, Bourn, Kipnis and of course the brain fart by Carrasco. Add in the conundrum that is Ubaldo and there you go.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s April 18th as well the hitting will come around I’m still more concerned with the starting pitching. You have already seen in two weeks that it can wreak havoc on the teams strength of the bullpen.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I agree but I like what Victorino brings and was glad Boston signed him.

  • Garry_Owen

    I don’t disagree with those factors that you’ve identified, but it’s still harder to watch, IMO (sure, because of those factors). And it’s not Tito’s strategic errors that concern me (agree – there haven’t been any) as much as the apparent strategic non-influence. The absence of negatives is certainly good, but the presence of positives is just not (yet) evident. Just one example is the offense, which is something we attributed last year to a horrible line-up. This year I believe the arrows necessarily point to managing and coaching. The approach these guys have taken at the plate has often been questionable, which is a function of coaching. But . . . the season is young!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Lets not get the new lineup confused with the best in baseball but compared to last year at least it’s professional. I think there will always be issues with some of the finer elements like moving runners along. Phelps had a perfect opportunity last night with the score 5-3 to move a runner to third with one out and failed. The next batter, Reynolds I believe, hit what would have been a sacrifice fly. It happens.

    Perfect example look at the current Rays lineup. I believe they are averaging three runs a game this season scoring something like just 39 runs on the year. They do the little things but those aren’t enough. You still need mashers.

    The bigger question is will the offense be able to hit enough to overcome the pitching. Obviously thus far it hasn’t but thankfully it’s only April 18th.

  • mgbode

    we knew we needed our hitters to carry the team. they haven’t been able to just yet. let’s hope that part is coming soon.

  • Garry_Owen

    Last night’s game was, for me, a shocking contrast between Tito’s former team and his current team in terms of the hitters’ approaches at the plate. It was clear that the Red Sox had a disciplined game plan and strategy that focused on line drives and base hits, while the Tribe appeared to be comprised of individual hitters attempting to reverse the course of the game with one swing. This has been the trend for the past week. I know it’s frustrating to be perpetually down by multiple runs in game after game due to terrible pitching, but the team as a whole really needs a more disciplined approach. It’s a 9 inning game, and small run production over the course of those 9 innings can overcome a lot of bad individual innings of pitching.

  • Garry_Owen

    I think they really need a more disciplined overall team approach, but I know there are a lot of factors. We’ve been down early in nearly every game the past week by multiple runs, which makes a team tend to overly “strive” when patience and discipline can be more effective. We also have more than one player (Cabrera especially) struggling through really tough slumps (if you can call it a slump when the season never got off the ground). This understandably tends to make a guy think more about his own performance than the overall team approach at the plate.

    I’m sure Tito is working hard to reverse the course, but we’d better see some improvement fast! I’m sure it will turn around, somewhat, but even a 162-game season can get out of hand before you know it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Oh well Boston has a better team period. The lineup is versatile especially at the top and still packs a punch despite missing Ortiz. The starting pitching despite Aceves is better then the Indians have been in years and the Red Sox bullpen is as deep and versatile as the Indians.

    The Indians current lineup is more of an all or nothing which is still better when compared to last years pop gun. Antonetti knew that though. I honestly don’t know if the current lineup will ever be able to play like what you are asking it really isn’t in the makeup. The positive is there are at least guys around (Bourn, Kipnis, Brantley) who can do more of the little things the problem is two of them are hurt. The other problem is you then have holes like Chisenhall and Stubbs to contend with while still hoping Santana, Swisher and Reynolds provide the thunder.

    In other words it’s still a work in process. I’m just hoping Kipnis doesn’t have a bigger issue and that he and Bourn can return because the lineup needs them. Especially when Asdrubal Cabrera is in a complete funk.

  • Garry_Owen

    I don’t know. Do you really think our lineup is an “all or nothing” lineup? I don’t see it that way. Sure, Reynolds is an “all or nothing” hitter, but I’d say Cabrera, Santana, Brantley, Kipnis, Swisher, and Bourn are all really versatile hitters. Granted, we don’t have Kipnis and Bourn right now, but Rayburn and Aviles seem to be more “versatile” than “all or nothing,” too. Chisenhall is still a bit of a mystery (Phelps appears to be LaPorta v.2) and Stubbs is an enigma, but given this line-up, I see a whole lot of potential versatility. In fact, I don’t see a lot of difference between this line-up and the one that Boston put out there last night.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    All or nothing as in power or no power yes I do but I agree that they do have players who can at the least do other things. Santana got off to a red hot start before being hurt but we have to see what he does the rest of the season because his career has been up and down thus far. I don’t know what’s going on with Cabrera. I thought playing in the WBC would help and it looked like it did game #1 but since, ugh! I still like Brantley but being shuffled around in the order due to injuries is effecting him. Kipnis like I said I hope he’s not hurt bad enough to require a DL stint. Swisher is exposed now because he’s the primary power/do everything guy unlike when he was with NY where he could just disappear into the background and play a supporting role. Bourn is the stud. He’s the one guy who will be the obvious presence throughout the season unfortunately he suffered a freaky injury. Hacksaw Reynolds is boom or bust. The bust part is starting to work it’s way into games but he’ll deliver some booms too. I like Chisenhall don’t get me wrong but he still needs more baking time. Aviles and Raburn are nice bench pieces who provide great flexibility for sure but that’s it. Phelps is a random replacement due to injury and Stubbs, well thank goodness he’s a physical specimen who can run like a deer because he can’t hit a lick.

    As far as the Indians lineup and Red Sox lineup last night it’s night and day. Now if Bourn and Kipnis were playing then I would agree especially in the first three spots in the order. But overall between the lineup, starting pitching and bullpen Boston is better IMO. Btw I liked Napoli for the Indians but they did ok when they missed out only to add Reynolds. Reynolds will provide more HRs but Napoli is a better overall hitter.