Your Cleveland Indians, aka Team Streak, are at it again. They started off the season 8-13, then went on an 18-4 tear. They were the toast of baseball before dropping like a stone, losing 16 of 20. But the schedule softened up and the Wahoos ran off six wins in eight games before heading into a weekend series with the Minnesota Twins. The back end of the Tribe’s rotation was due up, but the team was on the uptick. With the Detroit Tigers still not able to run away with the AL Central (thanks to a shoddy back end of their bullpen) and a trip to Boston in their weekend plans, this seemed like a good time to make up a little ground.
I’ve said many times that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Tigers are four games up on the second place Tribe. There were times not that long ago that people had thought the Indians were dead and buried, but this is not the 2012 crew. It is a much deeper team, but one that is prone to these hot and cold streaks. You just have to be patient with them and ride them out – the good and the bad.
The Wahoos took the series from the Twins, which is all that you can ask for. Despite the wins, there were things that were both exciting and concerning. So as we do every Monday morning, let us jump right in and talk about the weekend that was in Wahooland.
The bullpen issues won’t go away and the possible odd man out of the rotation makes a statement
Yes, they won two of three, but the bullpen certainly didn’t assist in these matters. Lets start at the back. As you know, Vinnie Pestano has assumed the closer’s role with Chris Perez on the disabled list. Pestano took the ninth inning fresh off of a DL stint of his own thanks to elbow problems. Vinnie has yet to regain his masterful touch and it has become a major concern, though the Indians brass won’t admit it.
Since his activation, Pestano has made 14 appearances and allowed nine earned runs on 15 hits and seven walks. He has 13 K’s, but the rest of those numbers are not pretty. His last two saves have not exactly built a lot of confidence. Saturday night he was handed a three run lead and ended up with the tying run on base with two outs before recovering to strike out Josh Willingham to end the game.
“The season hasn’t been anything but challenging for me so far,” said Pestano. “I’ve taken my lumps and my bruises. It’s been the most difficult that I can recall in quite some time.”
They aren’t saying it, but I still think Vinnie is not right physically.
Meanwhile, Perez is working out the kinks on a rehab assignment. The hope was that he would be activated over the weekend, but that was before he was destroyed in a AA appearance for five runs and three homers in an inning of work. Pitching coach Mickey Calloway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash detected a mechanical issue that Perez is currently trying to work out.
“He (Perez) understands when he comes in, pitches the ninth inning, game’s on the line, he’s got to be in top form or pretty [darn] close to it,” Manager Terry Francona said. “And so, we’re going to make sure we get him there.”
If CP bounces back physically from his simulated game Sunday, he could be activated at some point this week.
The lefty problem is still there. Rich Hill and Nick Hagadone both made two appearances this weekend and didn’t wow anyone, though Hill came through with two big eighth inning strikeouts in Saturday night’s win. I still am of the belief that GM Chris Antonetti and Francona are biding their time, hoping that Hagadone can come around. They always have that trump card to play should they chose; moving lefty Scott Kazmir to the bullpen when Zach McAllister is activated.
Kazmir did everything he could and more to keep himself in that rotation with best start since later May, stifling the Twins Friday night on one run and five hits in seven innings. Most importantly, Kazmir had seven strikeouts and no walks.
“I’m happy for him,” 1B/3B Mark Reynolds said. “Being out of baseball, being in independent ball and finding his way back, it’s just a great story. I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s been able to throw strikes all year. He may get hit around a little bit, but just keeps pounding the zone.”
Carlos Carrasco, Sunday’s starter who was tagged for the loss, and Kazmir will essentially be pitching for their spot until McAllister’s return. They are both up and down, but Carrasco’s power stuff can be tantalizing if he can just aggressively stay in the zone. Two days after Kazmir’s gem matched his from earlier in the week, Carlos couldn’t get out of the fifth inning, giving up three runs on six hits, walking four in four and two-thirds.
“They squared up a lot of balls and made him work really hard,” Francona said. “To his credit, he limited the damage. He pitched. We left him in in the fifth because we thought he deserved a chance to get out of that inning.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. This morning, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Carrasco was seen in the Columbus clubhouse after their game last night. No official announcement has been made and for all we know, Carlos was back in Columbus getting clothes for the road trip. Why the Indians would be sending him back to AAA with a doubleheader coming Friday seems odd, especially with what Francona said this weekend about McAllister’s progress:
“This is not something to mess around with. He has to be symptom-free when he starts to throw without the tape on his finger,” he said. This came in the same piece that the PD’s Paul Hoynes claimed McAllister “still isn’t close to being activated.”
If you were worried about Brett Myers and how he would play into this mix once he is activated off the DL, Francona put the questions to bed after Sunday’s 5-3 loss.
“He [Myers] is going to prepare in a bullpen role,” Francona said. “I think we all felt with the down time he’s had, his best way to contribute is probably to go to the bullpen. To try to get him ramped up to 100 pitches, if there’s any hiccup at all in that process, we’d probably lose him for the rest of the year.”
The question is how Myers fits into the pen. He has closing experience and set-up experience, though nobody, me included, thinks he is the answer. I’d much rather see Cody Allen get a shot if Chris Perez can’t get it together upon his return.
Jason Kipnis is smokin’ hot.
Want to look for an All-Star on this team? Go no further than second base where Kipnis has been a hitting machine in June. I remember in April when people were freaking out that the Tribe’s second baseman was in a real regression. Calls for him to be dropped down in the order were made. But through it all, Francona stuck with the program, knowing his stud would turn things around. And he certainly has.
His .200/.269/.555/1 HR/4 RBI April is now a distant memory and Kipnis is flat out raking. “That’s what happens,” Francona said. “We talked about that in April. We said, ‘Hey, just let him play, and he’ll get to his level.'”
With Asdrubal Cabrera out, Kipnis has moved back into the three hole and hasn’t stopped hitting. Over the weekend, he had seven hits in 14 at-bats, including three doubles and a triple, while driving in six runs. In the month of June, Kipnis is hitting .379/.463/.545 with 14 RBIs in 20 games.
“He’s definitely a catalyst,” Pestano said of Kipnis. “When guys like Kip get hot, they can carry a team. And he’s definitely been a guy we’ve looked toward for that, for that big hit and that big at-bat.”
His resurgence has come at the right time. The Indians have won eight of 11 and Kipnis has hit safely in 10 of those 11 games, five of the multi-hit variety. Of all of the numbers, perhaps the most impressive comes against lefties, where the left-handed Kipnis is hitting .292.
Swish is back, but will he find his bat?
Last week at this time we discussed Nick Swisher’s sore shoulder. He sat out a week and made his triumphant return to the lineup Sunday afternoon. In the field, he made a couple of slick plays, but with the bat he looked rusty. Swish took an 0-5 day, extending his miserable June swoon to a 6-48 (.125).
Swisher is a pro’s pro, and a bro’s bro for that matter. He has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons. I expect a strong second half out of him, assuming he is healthy. Luckily for Swisher, his struggles have not been magnified as the team is winning again and his honeymoon period is still in full swing. Kipnis has picked things up in the middle of the order, Michael Bourn (.301 in June), Carlos Santana (.288/.390/.455) and strong starting pitching have masked the issues of Swisher and Reynolds (.168). But only one guy is here on a four-year deal to be the face of the franchise.
Attendance….my least favorite discussion topic
I vowed that I wouldn’t talk about it, but I have to. The Tribe is playing good baseball and hanging around in the AL Central. Tito Francona is the skipper. Ownership ponied up and delivered with Swisher, Bourn, Reynolds, etc. The team is better in almost every facet of the game than they were during the Manny Acta era. Yet people still aren’t coming out to watch this team.
The “kids are in school” and “bad weather” excuses are gone. So where exactly are the fans?
Friday night had Dollar Dogs, fireworks, and 77 degree weather, yet the Indians only drew 26,442 people. Saturday night was a warm evening, but it was Hall of Fame night with fan favorite Carlos Baerga and GM John Hart getting inducted. All that showed up were 21,417. Sunday afternoon was a scorcher, but still, the Indians were going for a sweep. The attendance? 17,143.
Where are you people? Why are you not coming out to see this team? There aren’t any excuses any more. The team is playing well and has a lineup full of guys you can get behind. Baseball is the most affordable of tickets. Take it from me, a guy with two young children, Tribe games are as kid friendly an activity as you will find. Its the summer. Yet for the weekend they barely drew 65,000 TOTAL?
I am at my wits end.
The Indians are headed out on an 11-game road trip that starts tonight with the tough Baltimore Orioles. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-4, 4,66 ERA) will go for the Tribe against Baltimore lefty Zach Britton (1-1, 5.56 ERA). A spot start will be needed with a doubleheader coming on Friday in Chicago. Trevor Bauer will probably get the call. His control issues haven’t subsided in Columbus as he has walked 20 in his last five starts, spanning 27 innings, but he is still the best option.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)