Indians 1, Royals 2: Bullpen and Defense Spoil Carrasco’s Gem

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Chuck Crowe/PD8:02 PM – The way Carlos Carrasco has been pitching of late, I figured starting a liveblog recap an hour into the game would put us roughly in the bottom of the first inning.  But you know what they say about assumptions in the Bible, don’t you? (It’s against it.)

Anyway, Carrasco is working on a perfect game into the fifth inning, while his counterpart James Shields is looking pretty good himself. This game is approaching its halfway point and we’re scoreless.

8:05 PM – Welp. There goes the perfecto.  After retiring the first 13 Royals he faced, Carrasco gives up a hard-hit single to Lorenzo Cain to right.  Jinxety-Jinxy-Do.

That said, Carrasco is looking sharp—pitching on both sides of the plate with good separation and command.  I mentioned this to Craig on Sunday, but I find it odd how quickly the rotation seemingly has been converted from contact-groundball types to power-strikeout-flyball guys.  Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister are all guys who get it up in there in the mid-90s and induce lots of swings and misses.  We’ve come a long way from 2009, when Jeremy Sowers had the single worst swinging-strike rate of any pitcher in Major League baseball.  In fact, let’s look a quick chart of the Indians starting pitchers over the last five years.

SEASON Swinging Strike %
2009

6.8%

2010

6.9%

2011

7.4%

2012

7.5%

2013

8.6%

That’s a 26% improvement.  Granted, everybody is swinging and missing more than they used to, but not to that degree.  I think it’s pretty clear the organization has shifted its philosophy toward power arms with the ability to miss bats.  We can talk about why I like this so much some other day, but given the choice between worm-burner contact guys and high strikeout power guys, I take the latter.

Meanwhile, Carrasco strands Cain and he’s through five scoreless innings with only 56 pitches.

8:29 PM – Yuck. For the second time tonight, the Indians load the bases and do not score.  There are at least three things that are worth noting about the bottom of the fifth inning:

  • With Jason Giambi on first and one out, John McDonald worked the count full (I know, right?). Because McDonald is a fairly good contact hitter (scrappy, old, etc.), Francona decided to send Giambi to avoid a GIDP.  Unfortunately, it would seem that good contact hitters do not always hit the ball into fair territory.  To wit: Giambi was sent four times on foul balls into the stands, which meant he had run more than any 84 year old man should ever have to.  Anyway, the strategy ended up working, as McDonald grounded out third moving Giambi to second.
  • Despite the scoreboard, it’s pretty clear that James Shields is getting worked over pretty good by the Indians lineup.  He’s now walked four through five innings and has thrown 100 pitches, or roughly twice as many as Carrasco.  This likely means the Indians will get a shot at the soft underbelly of the Kansas City bullpen at some point this evening, which can only be a good thing.
  • Mike Aviles drilled a single to left field, way too hard for Jason Giambi to even think about scoring on.  But still, I think it’s worth mentioning how well Aviles has played in Asdrubal’s stead.  His defense has been good, he’s driving the ball hard at least once a night, and the lineup has churned along roughly as before.  He’s no Cabrera for sure, but he’s a wonderful bench  player to have, one for whom I’m sure Manny Acta would’ve traded a few fedoras.  Throw in Yan Gomes and it’s hard to believe the bounty Cleveland received for a somewhat fungible bullpen arm like Esmil Rogers. 1

8:48 PM – You kinda had this feeling, but after Carrasco worked out of a bit of trouble in the top of the sixth, Santana leads off the bottom half by taking Shields deep to right for a 1-0 lead.  On the one hand, it feels like we should be up four or five, but on the other, ‘Los home runs make everything feel so good.

8:55 PM – I feel like I owe you more commentary on Carrasco, but he’s just going too quickly for me to keep up.  He’s now through seven scoreless innings with 84 pitches, four strikeouts to only one walk, and three hits allowed.  Yes, there’s some good BABiP luck in that line, but he’s also had quite a hand in controlling the game: he continues to work quickly and in the strikezone.  Amazing how things like that tend to work out over the long run, especially for guys with his raw stuff.  So far this evening he’s lowered his ERA from 15.26 to 7.98.

9:08 PM – After 90 pitches, Carrasco is done for the night in a move that feels…well…a bit premature to me.  Carrasco allowed a hard hit single to Chris Getz to lead off the eighth, followed by a sacrifice bunt to put Getz on second with one out.  Francona is going to Bryan Shaw to work to the lefties Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer.  Platoon splits be damned.

9:16 PM – Damned indeed. Gordon lines out to third, but Hosmer dumps a weak flyball into shallow center that scores Getz from second.  The run gets charged to Carrasco, and his pitcher win goes out the window.

I understand that the bullpen options are limited right now, especially the left-handed ones.  But to me that’s all the more reason to have let Carrasco battle through the eighth inning.  I really like Terry Francona as a manager, but I will simply say that his bullpen usage often confuses me.  It’s not that I think he’s wrong; it’s that I just don’t get what he’s doing.  I suppose that’s what post-game press conferences are for, but once again I’m sort of scratching my head here.

Anyway, Carrasco’s great start is for naught: we’re tied 1-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth.

9:41 PM – Real life intervened, and while I was crooning my six-month old to sleep, it appears the Tribe bullpen has gotten itself into a spot of bother. Again.  This time, Shaw lets up a double to Butler and a walk to Cain.  Rich Hill induced a bunt, but couldn’t field it cleanly and all of a sudden the bases are loaded with no one out.  Matt Albers, who kind of seems like he’s just Bryan Shaw but without stirrups, is coming on to face Miguel Tejada.

9:46 PM – Carlos Santana’s defense is approaching unacceptable levels.  After SPECIFICALLY CALLING FOR A TWO-STRIKE PITCH IN THE DIRT, he fails to block it and lets the go-ahead run score from the third.  As Rick would say, I have negative emotions right now.

9:51 PM – And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the only run that scores.  After Santana’s error, Albers gets Tejada to line out, then a weird squeeze that didn’t work, and Gordon flyout ends the inning.

The problem is that now I’m even madder at Santana than I was when I just assumed they’d score five runs that inning.

Heading to the bottom of the ninth the Tribe trails 2-1. McDonald is set to lead off, which I guess means a Drew Stubbs pinch hit appearance?

9:53 PM – OK. Johnny Mac is batting for himself against Derek Holland.  Serenity now. Insanity….now.

9:55 PM – Underwood is explaining that the bench is short: you really only have Stubbs and Gomes, and you don’t want to use your backup catcher.  OK. Two things.  First, you don’t need eleventy thousand bullpen arms who suck: seven will do just fine.  Second, a short bench is not the same as a non-existent bench.  It’s the ninth inning of a one-run game.  If not now, when?  What are we preparing for, nuclear winter?

9:57 PM – McDonald flies out.  I HAVE NEGATIVE EMOTIONS.

9:58 PM – On a first pitch fastball, Michael Bourn drills a double off the base of the wall in left center. Bourn thought about third, but wisely pulls back to second.  Aviles coming up with a chance to tie the game.

10:00 PM – Bourn to third on a wild pitch. 2-2 count to Aviles with one out.  This game is trying desperately to rip my heart out now.

10:03 PM – Aviles strikes out on a 99-mph fastball.  Kipnis coming up.

10:04 PM – Kipnis grounds out to Getz to end the game.  That was very frustrating.

I’m reticent to react too quickly to games like these, as my Momma said there’d be etc.  On the other hand, this game felt particularly….squandered.  Did Carrasco have to go just then?  Couldn’t somebody…anybody…teach Carlos Santana how to block balls in the dirt?  Why does Terry Francona seem to make decisions that are designed specifically to make me twitch?  And for the love of God, no more John McDonald in back-to-back games—I have a delicate constitution.

Look, you don’t win a lot of games when you strand eleven runners and score only once.  I get that.  The Indians have been pretty lucky so far this season (nine shutouts? really?) and it was great to see Carlos Carrasco look good again.  But because we did so poorly over the last month against good teams, it becomes imperative that we win against the middling sections of the schedule.  This was one of those winnable games, and pissing it away like this leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth—especially as it slid the Indians down to third place in the division.

But tomorrow’s a new day and Ubaldo’s a new pitcher and even a non-gymnast like Derek Zoolander learned that sometimes you just have to get back on the horse.

Photo: Chuck Crow/PD

  1. Full disclosure: of all the silly things I’ve thought about the Indians over the years—loving the Kerry Wood signing; Grady Sizemore apologist to the bitter end; David Dellucci…well no, I never went there—my questioning of the Esmil Rogers’ trade remains one of my worst calls.  I thought Aviles was a replacement level player and Yan Gomes wouldn’t sniff our roster. So yeah, I should probably stop calling it the “Esmil Rogers Trade” now. []
  • boomhauertjs

    The amount of Johnny Mac we’ve seen lately makes me think that Shapiro is really managing the team.

  • CB Everett

    Agreed on all accounts. Francona has been beyond reproach, but there have been some head scratchers with the bullpen.

    Time to make some lineup moves/adjustments. Reynolds has to have a seat and then eventually DH again. Santana should be behind the plate only sparingly and should be our regular stumpy 1b. Thank God for Swisher taking himself out w the phantom shoulder—Francona wasn’t going to pull him otherwise despite a horrendous slump. PS. Johnny Mac should not even be a lineup option (he should be managing A ball somewhere).

    Final thought–they say for every frustrating wasted opportunity, it’s “just one game” or “it’s a long season” etc. So sick of that BS. These games are not meaningless just because they’re in June. These games can’t afford to be blown.

  • Adam Copeland

    Very frustrating game made all the more frustrating by some vexing decisions by Tito. I agree he should have let Carrasco try to finish the 8th given how he was pitching. Rich Hill should have never sniffed the mound in a tie game in the 9th either, even if Smith and Allen weren’t available. That decision alone could have cost the Indians the game if KC hadn’t been bunting. Also, not pinch hitting for McDonald makes absolutely no sense. After the game, Tito said that he didn’t pinch hit Gomes because if McDonald got on, he was going to pinch run Stubbs for him, but if Gomes reached Gomes would have had to run since he would have had to have stayed in the game to catch. Two problems with this: 1) I’d rather have Gomes at the plate with his .288 OBP and take the risk that he’s going to need to run than McDonald and his .167 OBP at the plate with the virtually non-existent chance that he’s going to run; and 2) if you’re admitting that you’re going to pinch run Stubbs (.286 OBP) if McDonald reaches, why not pinch hit Stubbs, who’s a better hitter anyway? It just made no sense. Not only should McDonald not be at the plate in that situation, he shouldn’t even be on this team with Chiz raking down in Columbus.

    Now, despite all of those gripes, this loss is ultimately on the players. I agree with your overall assessment of Aviles, but 2 times he came to the plate with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs and he failed to drive in the run both times. Also, Santana not blocking that “wild pitch” was inexcusable.

    Also the bullpen is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. In the last 2 losses, the pen has coughed up the lead late in games (granted it was only a 1 run lead, but still). In so doing, they wasted an incredible comeback from 5 runs down on Saturday and a fantastic start from Carrasco on Monday.

    The Indians should be riding a 6 game winning streak, but instead have lost 2 of 3. This team is not good enough to continue giving away these types of games.

  • mgbode

    only another week until I’m back watching these games.

    I did pull up the last inning on MLB.TV to see Bourn’s near heroics. Really good to see him do that the same day I was touting him as our 2nd best base-runner (to Stubbs whose main problem is actually being on a base in which to run).

  • mgbode

    also, really good to see that Carrasco had a good start despite the outcome. If he can become our 5th starter, then we really have something potentially special lining up:

    Masterson
    McAllister
    Kluber
    Bauer
    Carrasco

    Add-in: Ubaldo, Kazmir, etc. as cheap-filler options when injuries require and that’s the makings of a decent rotation moving forward (likely not for this year, sadly).

  • Seed

    Take out Mac, pinch hit Stubbs. If the game is tied after nine, move Reynolds to third, Santana to first and put Gomes in at catcher. Doesn’t anyone else notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    All kinds of ironies to discussions yesterday not only Bourn but Santana’s atrocious play behind the plate. He did account for all of the offense which speaks to him playing elsewhere while Gomez mans the dish.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Damn you Fat Albers!

    On the bright side Carrasco didn’t hit anyone leading to suspension.

    On an even brighter side the mighty Bruins took a 2-1 series lead over the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Rask was da man in a 2-0 shutout win!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Makes sense only possible problem is Reynolds playing 3B for extras. Of course if they don’t tie it the point is mute. Santana’s defense has been slipping.

  • Natedawg86

    Exactly. You get to Oct and are 3-4 games out of first place, but those 5-6 games in May June don’t matter as much

  • Brendan

    What would be the amount of value lost if Santana’s offense moves from catcher to 1B on a full-time or majority-time basis?

  • EyesAbove

    Santana does have an .851 career OPS while playing 1st. Then again, hes not very good at 1st either.

  • EyesAbove

    Good question. I have to admit, the thought of a Raburn, Bourn, Swisher outfield with Santana playing 1st has crossed my mind. Not sure if that would be a good idea, but….

  • Harv 21

    Francona’s decision to pull Carrasco was predictable; he feels about struggling starters as Holmgren felt about struggling head coaches. He wants them to feel good. Francona has pulled other starters early while they’re pitching well to let the good vibes wash over them for a few days. I think he’s done it with Ubaldo twice already, had had nothing to do with Ubaldo’s mad pitch counts. This is a good strategy early in the season when your ability to compete hinges on shaky starters building confidence. It was really important for Carrasco to walk off the mound strutting a little.

    It’s really hard to keep watching Carlos behind the dish. I know they want the competitive advantage of offensive impact from that position so bad their teeth hurt. I know they waive their sabermetrics around to prove defense isn’t very high impact. But you need a solid defensive catcher, a general, because that affects the pitcher and the whole defense. [Noticed that Gomes now seems be Kluber’s regular guy]. And three years into hearing how Carlos is working to improve, working with Alomar, this is starting to feel like turd polishing.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Raburn over Brantley I’ll pass.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s the lesser of two evils at this point.