Remember back just eight short days ago heading into the night-cap of the double-header in Kansas City, the Indians looked completely lost. They were sunk. They couldn’t hit. The couldn’t get any semblance of quality starting pitching outside of Justin Masterson. They were banged up and sitting in the basement of the AL Central. And then, with one big win, the light switch just turned on.
A four-game winning streak (two against Kansas City and two against Philadelphia) had energized the club and had them riding high into the weekend, primed to go over .500 for the first time since the first week of the season. The Indians welcomed the Minnesota Twins to town, who look like a shell of the team that spent close to a decade at or near the top of the division. While Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are still there, there isn’t much else to speak of outside of these two and Josh Willingham. With the way the Tribe has been playing, you had to like their chances to take the series and potentially keep the winning streak going.
The Wahoos ended up taking the first two games of the series behind more big time offense and stellar starting pitching, but the six-game winning streak came to an end yesterday as Minnesota’s Mike Pelphrey of all people finally shut them 4-2. But it is all about winning the series, and that is exactly what the Tribe did. But how did they do so? As we always do, let us take a look back on the weekend that was in Wahooland.
The offensive side of the streak. During the six-game winning streak, the Indians scored 53 runs. This coming from a team without its All-Star leadoff man Michael Bourn, who is still on the disabled list with the gash on his finger. The stars during this past week included Ryan Raburn (.481/.481/.963/4 HR/9 RBIs), Asdrubal Cabrera (.370/.452/.593/8 RBIs), Jason Kipnis (.320/.393/.720/2 HR/7 RBIs), and Mark Reynolds (.345/.387/.552/2 HR/6 RBIs).
But it is not as if these four were the only ones raking. Drew Stubbs (.357/.345/.607/1 HR/4 RBIs) upped his batting average 62 points in a week and had four hits, including a walkoff single in Friday night’s win. Carlos Santana (.423/.531/.615/1 HR/4 RBIs) just never seems to stop hitting and is putting together solid at-bats seemingly every single time he steps to the plate. Michael Brantley (.344/.382/.500/1 HR/3 RBIs) may have found his missing stroke and has shaken off his modest start.
The home run power hasn’t subsided either. 13 homers came this week by nine different players. One through nine, the offense has begun to look like the group we all hoped they would be. Adding Bourn back in the mix when he is ready will only improve things. Plus, there is no drop off when Francona chooses to go to his bench with Raburn, Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, and Yan Gomes.
Speaking of Bourn…. The Indians speedy center fielder has defintely been missed since he picked up that nasty finger injury more than two weeks ago. The thought was that he would be ready to be activated this past week, but the healing hasn’t come as quickly as the Indians would like. News broke yesterday that Bourn would be making a minor league rehab stint in Columbus starting tonight. He is expected to play about three games before a re-evaluation is made.
The rotation stabilization? Perhaps the biggest revelation during the past week was the sudden about-face that the starting rotation has taken. Now before we get too excited, it was just one week, but boy what a week it was. With bookend starts from Corey Kluber, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister, Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, and Justin Masterson posted an ERA of 2.84. Kazmir’s Saturday start was extremely encouraging. Other than a shaky second inning where three Twins reached base, the lefty reclamation project was fantastic. The biggest issue with Kazmir when he lost himself over the past three years was his velocity. However, since this spring, he has continued to build himself back up and was hitting 93 mph with his fastball, coupled with a nasty slider.
“The second inning was a grind for him,” said Francona. “Then he started throwing his fastball inside and it opened up the rest of the plate for him. He was only two over the minimum in his other five innings.”
Kazmir’s first win since 2010 came with seven strikeouts in six innings. For the second consecutive start, the Tribe’s lone lefty starter gave up two runs on five hits. This time, he did it in six innings. I will take two runs on six hits in six innings out of what is supposed to be the Indians fifth starter all day. Although with the ever changing state of the Tribe rotation, Kazmir is probably slotted anywhere between third and fifth.
The real question is whether or not they can keep this up. It is not a coincidence that the six-game winning streak arrived around the same time the starting pitching improved.
And about that bullpen…. On Friday night Masterson gave up back to back two out hits inching the Twins to within one run at 5-4. Francona called to the pen and summoned not regular seventh inning guy Joe Smith, but Cody Allen instead. Allen has been solid over the first month, but at the time, it seemed like an odd move. Lefty Chris Parmalee tagged him for a two-run homer which put the Twins ahead. The Indians went on to win in extras and after the game, nobody seemed to get a straight answer on why Francona didn’t go to Smith.
We found out a day later that ace set up man Vinnie Pestano has been nursing a sore elbow and was not available to pitch Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Francona and the medical staff were taking a cautious approach and they hope was that a few extra days rest would do the trick. So after Kazmir went six innings Saturday, Tito called on Bryan Shaw for the seventh and Smith for the eighth, in front of closer Chris Perez, who got the final three outs in a non-save situation (7-3).
“I felt better than I thought I would,” Pestano said Saturday, “after not throwing five of the last six days, and throwing long toss and in the bullpen. I’ve done everything I can to try to get as healthy as I can as soon as possible. It’s just day-to-day right now.”
Said his manager: “He should be available Monday. He threw this morning (Sunday) and had a really good session. Everything points toward him being OK.”
Lefty Scott Barnes was recalled yesterday, replacing Ezequiel Carrera who was designated for assignment, to give the pen an extra arm with Pestano resting another day. Barnes pitched two scoreless innings during the streak-ending 4-2 loss. For those wondering why Nick Hagadone was not recalled, he has to wait 10 days to be brought back unless someone goes on the disabled list.
Up Next: The Oakland Athletics. The 18-14 A’s currently sit in second place in the AL West and are in the middle of a 10-game road trip. They took two of three in New York from the Yankees and come to Cleveland for a four-game set. Things get started tonight with Oakland sending struggling righty Jarrod Parker (1-4, 7.36 ERA) to the mound. He will face off against Jimenez (1-2, 7.13 ERA) who is coming of of his Indians masterpiece a week ago in KC where he pitched seven scoreless innings.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)