This Cleveland Indians team is amazing. There is no pegging them. Hasn’t been since the first month of the season and their certainly isn’t as we change the calendar to August this week. Just think, back in April the starting pitching was a serious question mark after Justin Masterson, the bullpen was still strong, and Mark Reynolds was being mentioned as an AL MVP candidate. How times have changed. All of a sudden it has become bizarro world. The starting pitching is essentially carrying the club, the bullpen is a roll of the dice on a nightly basis, and the offense is super streaky.
This weekend the Tribe caught the Texas Rangers on a slide, which was perfect timing. The Rangers have owned the Tribe for the better part of a decade. However, they won two of three in Arlington in June and were welcoming a team into Progressive Field that had lost nine of 11. With the Browns opening up training camp in Berea this past week, this was a huge series for the Indians. Lose and/or get swept, and the city’s collective eyes could move elsewhere. Win and not only stay in the playoff hunt, but keep everyone talking Tribe instead of backup offensive linemen (which people will talk about anyways).
So what did the Tribe do? Oh, just sweep the Rangers right out of town with three exciting wins, highlighted by two incredible pitching performances and a walkoff homer. So as we do every Monday morning, let us break down the weekend that was in Wahooland.
The weekend begins and ends with more quality starting pitching
I still cannot believe how this group has come together. Three more games, three more quality starts. Yes, Corey Kluber didn’t have his best stuff Friday, but his six innings of three earned run ball counts as he left his game with a big lead. The performances in the other two games were special.
On Saturday night, Justin Masterson and Texas’ Yu Darvish put on an absolute pitching clinic. Other than Michael Bourn’s leadoff homer, it was zero after zero. Darvish went six innings, striking out 11. Meanwhile, Masterson was keeping his ball down and killing Rangers one by one with his sinker/slider mix.
“His slider was perfect,” said his catcher Carlos Santana. “He threw it for strikes no matter what the count. With his sinker going into right-handers, the slider was a great pitch for him.”
The command was there all night. When Masterson isn’t on his game, he tends to walk too many hitters. In this one, he walked just one while striking out seven. Nursing a one-run lead, Francona sent his ace out for the eighth inning and rightfully so. After retiring the first two, Nelson Cruz got him for a single. At 113 pitches, Tito came out for the dugout and called for Joe Smith, which was a risky move (we will get into that in a bit). Smitty got Adrian Beltre on a loud out to left, preserving Masterson’s shutout evening. In Justin’s two post-break starts, he has allowed just one earned run in 15.2 innings pitched. That my friends, is what an ace is supposed to do.
Oh but there was more. My favorite starter (ha ha) Ubaldo Jiménez took the ball Sunday hoping to close out a sweep of the Rangers on an absolutely perfect day for baseball. Mirroring his best start of the year back on June 1st against Tampa Bay, Jiménez pitched eight shutout innings. That is not a typo. Ubaldo went not five, not six, not seven, but eight innings, allowing just two hits. His only real jam came in the fifth when the first two Rangers reached base on a single and a walk. After a Jurickson Profar sacrifice bunt, Ubaldo calmly retired Mitch Moreland on a popup and Leonys Martin’s hard grounder was picked nicely by Nick Swisher for the third out. Other than that, Jiménez cruised.
“I think it was the fastball, and the other thing was staying aggressive,” Jiménez said. “I’ve been aggressive in prior games, but I wasn’t able to stay aggressive. I would get hitters in 0-2 counts, and I’ve been walking them. But today, we were able just to go after hitters and stay ahead.”
Want some numbers that will amaze you (courtesy of #JakeyStats himself Jacob Rosen)?
Indians starters over last 17 games since July 7th:
The 1.85 ERA is best for Indians starters in a 17-game stretch since May 2008 (1.58).
The .183 AVG is best for Indians starters in a 17-game stretch since at least 2000.
The .540 OPS is best for Indians starters in a 17-game stretch since at least 2000.
Oh, and did I mention that yesterday, for the Columbus Clippers, Danny Salazar threw five scoreless innings on 75 pitches, and struck out 11 with just one walk? Wow.
This must be the bizarro world, right?
And about that bullpen…..
Thank goodness for Masterson and Jiménez, because Tito Francona couldn’t have been too excited at the prospect of handing a lead over to anyone in his pen this weekend not named Chris Perez.
Friday night Kluber handed the pen an 8-4 lead heading into the seventh. The usually dependable Cody Allen got shelled for two runs on four hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Normally Allen is a K machine, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. Rich Hill was summoned to face A.J. Pierzynski with the tying runs on base and got him on a sharp liner to first. Luckily the ball was hit right at someone or Hill would be facing some wrath as well.
The eighth has been turned over to Smith since Vinnie Pestano has been unable to right himself. While I have always been a Smitty fan, he is at his best facing tough right-handed batters in the seventh. He has been miscast in the eighth and has been brutal in July. Joe hadn’t pitched since giving up the lead in Minnesota a week earlier and faced with a similar scenario, he left an 0-2 pitch right in the middle of the plate to a quality hitter in Ian Kinsler, who delivered a two-run, game-tying single as the Rangers stormed back from a 7-1 deficit. It was extremely deflating and Smith said so after the game.
“I feel good,” he said. “Some of them are just stupid pitches. There’s been some times where I’m letting guys get on base early in the inning from getting behind in the count. And it seems like, when they get on base, I’ve been getting ahead in the count, but then getting beat on 1-2, 0-2 counts. I just haven’t been able to put anybody away.”
A night later he got the one man he faced with the tying run on board in the eighth, but Beltre’s fly out to the track seemed like a rocket off the bat that would at a minimum tie the game.
“It seems like there’s always one month in the year where I’m terrible,” Smith said. “This month, it’s been tough. It’s been a grind. I’ve just got to throw strikes, get ahead and I know good things will happen. I’ve been in the league long enough. I know I can get outs.
Joe is definitely ready for August to arrive. He has allowed seven earned runs on 11 hits and five walks in eight July innings (7.88 ERA). He hasn’t recorded a strikeout since July 2nd.
The only player who showed up (and did so big time might I add) out of the pen this weekend was none other than Perez. The media isn’t hearing from him anymore, so CP is letting his pitching speak for itself. He came on in relief of Smith in an 8-8 tie Friday and made such quick ninth inning work of the Rangers – five pitches – that Francona sent him back out for the 10th. This is something Perez has not done since May 29th of 2010 in a 13-11 win against the Yankees in the Bronx. These were two perfect innings in a tidy 18 pitches for the Tribe closer in a game they eventually won in the 11th on Ryan Raburn’s walkoff three-run homer.
Saturday night he was ready again to take the ball and was magnificent, needing just six pitches to dispose of the Rangers 1-2-3 to save Masterson’s 1-0 masterpiece. Francona raved about him afterwards.
“I thought that was the best C.P. has thrown all year,” he said. “He came out with velocity, command. Again, I thought that was the best he’s thrown the ball all year.”
Since coming back off the DL with his shoulder issue, Perez is eight for right in save opportunities with an 0.64 ERA. Imagine if he had been imploding right along with the guys in front of him.
The non-waiver trade deadline is approaching this week and the Indians need to figure something out for this pen, because the way it is currently constructed, I can’t see them making it into October. Whether it is bringing up Salazar and putting him in the pen to throw gas or making a trade for a veteran reliever (lefties Joe Thatcher, Josh Outman, Javy Lopez, Scott Downs, and Oliver Perez along with right-hander Luke Gregorson are said to be on their radar), something has to be done.
Mark Reynolds PT drop has officially begun
Most have called for it, and you have gotten your wish. The uber-cold whiff machine Reynolds seems to have finally lost his job as a Tribe regular and for good reason. You have seen the numbers by now, since his incredible April where he hit .301/.368/.651 with right homers and 22 RBIs, he has been historically bad, ranking dead last in batting average and slugging percentage of all MLB players who qualify. Reynolds has two extra base hits since May 29th – both solo homers, and is five for his last 52. So this weekend, Francona, without making a statement about it to the media, sat Mega Mark all three games.
Luckily the Tribe is very versatile with their position players. Various combinations of Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, and Lonnie Chisenhall all kind of rotated around to take Reynolds at-bats and other than being shutdown by one of the best pitchers in the AL in Darvish on Saturday, the offense rebooted.
Raburn got starts Friday night at DH and in right field Sunday afternoon and delivered the goods. His walkoff three-run jack in the 11th Friday was his 11th on the season, which ties him for third on the team. Raburn has his 11 jacks in 164 ABs – the four players either tied or in front of him all have at least 322 ABs. Compare his numbers to Swisher’s and you will be astounded how similar they are in every category, except Swisher has 329 at-bats to Raburn’s 164.
Swisher – 329 AB – .246/.346/.401/11 HR/33 RBI/.220 with RISP in 91 AB/.179 with RISP and two out in 39 AB
Raburn – 164 AB – .268/.368/.543/11 HR/31 RBI/.300 with RISP in 50 AB/.440 with RISP and two out in 25 AB
The former Tiger also made a terrific double-saving catch in the eighth inning Sunday. Now I am not suggesting Raburn should take Swisher’s playing time by any means. However, Ryan is playing as well off the bench as any manager could ask for.
Speaking of which, Reynolds benching will also give an uptick to the playing time of Gomes, who again is showing that he can be a reliable every day guy if need be. He caught Ubaldo’s gem Sunday while going 3-4 with a double and a big two-out RBI single in the sixth that gave extended the Tribe’s lead to 2-0. The Yanimal is seven for his last 12 and hitting .283/.314/.510 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 145 ABs. The 26-year old rookie continues to impress defensively and is forcing his way into the lineup.
It is a nice problem for Francona to have. With that said, the Indians would love to add another power bat via trade if they could. I wrote on Friday that the Indians should pursue Seattle’s Kendrys Morales, but the Mariners may be in hold mode. They also have Michael Morse who could be available who is a guy the Indians were said to have liked this past winter. There aren’t many other big bats available now that the Cubs have dealt Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees. The Phillies could be willing to move a “professional hitter” type in Michael Young who could both DH and platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall at third. You can be sure GM Chris Antonetti is searching.
After sweeping Texas, giving them four wins in a row, the Indians will see the Chicago White Sox come to town for a four game series. The Sox are a team in the midst of a possible fire sale with their veteran righty Jake Peavy said to be on his way somewhere before Wednesday’s deadline. Outfielder Alex Rios, second baseman Gordon Beckham, and shortstop Alexei Ramirez may follow him out the door. The Indians were unable to gain any ground on Detroit this weekend as the Tigers swept the Phillies, but getting the last place Sox at home could help them. Zach McAllister (4-6, 3.57 ERA) will get things started, making his second start since coming off the DL. He will face lefty John Danks (2-8. 4.81 ERA).