I feel like every Monday morning, I open with the same theme: The Indians are streaking. I dubbed them “Team Streak” about a month ago and nothing they do is making me change that moniker any time soon. Lets review:
From April 28th to to May 20th, the Tribe won 19 of 23 and played like one of the best team’s in baseball.
From May 21st to June 10th, they lost 16 of 20 and couldn’t do anything right.
From June 11th to yesterday, our Wahoos have won 14 of 19 and once again looked like the team nobody wants to face.
And here we are with the Indians in a virtual first place tie with the big money Detroit Tigers atop the AL Central division. This group is special. They battle day in and day out and it is easy to see why they have come together so quickly both on the field and in the clubhouse. This weekend’s four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago was a microcosm of what Terry Francona’s crew is all about.
The Indians won all four games in a multitude of ways. Seemingly every single member of the 25-man roster (26 if you include the Matt Langwell/Joe Martinez combo) contributed the the four-game sweep; the first in Chicago since 1948. Our boys are riding high again and are enjoying every minute of it. So how exactly did they do it? Let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
You asked….I delivered….Then Nick Swisher followed
Back in April, after his absolutely brutal start, I called for the Tribe to cut Ubaldo Jimenez loose. In his next start, he threw seven shutout innings which jump-started his season. I ‘ve been reminded many, many times of this on Twitter and with the struggles of Nick Swisher, I felt as if it was my duty to write a piece last Thursday asking Swish to wake up from his season-long slumber. We call it “The reverse Ubaldo jinx” around here.
So how did Swisher respond over the weekend?
In the ridiculously long doubleheader Friday night, the Tribe’s big ticket free agent had three hits and drove in three runs as his team won both ends. There was no bigger hit than his two-out, two-strike, game-winning solo homer off of White Sox closer Addison Reed, capping a four-run Tribe ninth. It was close to two in the morning in Cleveland when Swish’s dramatics went down. But it was just the start of a big weekend for Nick.
Saturday afternoon, a weary Tribe team sat in a three all tie in the eighth inning, facing a pitcher who hadn’t allowed an earned run since April 12th. Jesse Crain has been dominant all season, but that didn’t stop Swish. With Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis on base thanks to back to back singles, Swisher made it three straight, lacing one up the middle to break the tie. It proved to be the Bro’s second consecutive game-winning RBI as the Tribe closed out another W.
The ever-clowning Swisher told the media after the game “The sun shines on some dog’s rear end every day, bro.”
Tito knows that this could be the start of something extremely important with the Tribe’s middle of the order big bat.
“That’s the Swish that we are going to rely on the rest of the year,” said Francona. “We’re going to have to take care of him a little bit. He won’t play Sunday, but he’s starting to feel good about himself.”
That is huge. The hope is that Swisher takes this big weekend and launches himself back into being the performer the Indians signed him to be. But he certainly wasn’t the weekend’s only hitting star.
Broken record time – Jason Kipnis owns his hometown
In all seriousness, since the days of Albert Belle and his ridiculous hot streaks in the mid-90’s, have we ever seen a month like the one Kipnis is having? Just when you think he can’t get any better, Kipnis sizzles to a new level. He also always loved hitting in his home town of Chicago, and this weekend was no different.
In the three games he played (Francona rested him Sunday against lefty Chris Sale) all Kipnis did was torture White Sox pitching. It didn’t matter if it was a lefty he was facing or a righty, Jason went to town. He had six hits, scored six runs, drove in six runs, and walked five times. It seemed like each and every one of those hits was timely and big. His two-RBI double in the second of the 19-10 Friday win came with the Indians starting their comeback from a five run deficit. A day later, his two-run homer tied things up in the sixth inning of a game in which his team looked dead at the plate.
Now in his short career, Kipnis is 25-59 (.459) in Chicago with four homers and 18 RBIs.
“I have a little track record here,” said Kipnis, who grew up in Northbrook, Ill. “I kind of like hitting at the place. It’s always nice to hit and do well in front of your family and friends.”
His month of June has been nothing short of incredible: .419 (39-93)/.517/.699. The OPS is a ridiculous 1.216 with 17 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in27 games. You can’t forget his nine stolen bases and 20 walks. According to our own “Jakey Stats” Jacob Rosen, this kind of month – .400 average, at least 18 walks, and at least eight steals, has only happened five previous time, the last coming in 1996 (Chuck Knoblauch).
“I don’t want the month to end,” he said. “You guys know I can slump with the best of them. So I’m enjoying this hot ride right now and trying not to change anything.”
Trevor Bauer’s mechanical issues
Our boys in Red, White, and Blue almost were completely screwed early in Friday’s doubleheader. After one inning of the first of two games, they trailed 5-0 and their starting pitcher, rookie Trevor Bauer, had been yanked. Bauer opened the game pitching out of the stretch because his mechanics have been a work in progress of late in Columbus. According to reports, Bauer didn’t tell the Indians that he was for sure going to start from the stretch. Pitching coach Mickey Calloway knew it could be trouble.
“Trevor kind of has his own thoughts on some things,” said Francona. “I know when he took the mound, Mickey told me don’t be surprised if he pitches out of the stretch.”
Bauer gave up six hits and a walk in two-thirds on an inning.
“He felt horrible Friday,” said Francona. “He knew we had doubleheader and we were thin. … He was kind of sheepish. He knew he’d put a tax on the bullpen.
The hope was that Bauer would spend most of the year in AAA, developing his repertoire of pitches and working on his control. But he seems to be a mechanical mess right now and most likely won’t be someone the Indians will be looking to if they need a starter down the stretch. Zach McAllister will be back at some point. Scott Kazmir has looked very good his last two times out. Corey Kluber continues to be a surprise. Carlos Carrasco is ahead of Bauer at this point as well. Not to mention, it wouldn’t shock anyone if the Indians traded for a veteran starting pitcher at the trading deadline.
The doubleheader that would never end
The Indians for some odd reason love them some doubleheader action. They are now 16-4 with six sweeps in the past four seasons. However, this one took the cake. The first game started just past four PM CST Friday afternoon. When both games mercifully came to an end, it was 1:06 AM local time.
Said Kipnis: “It was one of my longest days in baseball. I’m tired. We’re dehydrated. I’m not going to lie.”
The starting pitching was brutal with Carrasco and Bauer combining to pitch just six and a third, giving up 11 runs, but the offense was hotter than the brunette Fox Sports Ohio girl. They scored 28 runs in 18 innings – 28! – and went an absolutely insane 15-31 with runners in scoring position.
The four-run ninth inning comeback in Game Two had to be completely demoralizing to the White Sox and carried over into the next two games. It was bad enough they had blown a 5-0 first inning lead in the opener.
“That was one of the most rewarding days I’ve ever been a part of,” said Francona. “We held it together. We battled and to have the results to show for it is exciting.”
The unsung hero of the weekend
Let us give props to the little guys who pitched in big to help the Tribe sweep the White Sox. With the pen all but dead, GM Chris Antonetti called for reinforcements Saturday morning. Friday’s Game Two winner, Matt Langwell, recalled after game one, was shipped back to Columbus. Journeyman Joe Martinez arrived in his place and would make his Tribe debut a few hours later.
Ubaldo Jimenez could only muster five innings (again), giving up three earned runs on nine hits and four walks. After 112 pitches, Francona couldn’t send him out for the sixth. The Indians were trailing 3-1 in the sixth and this game was far from over, but Francona really had one fresh arm to use in this spot, so Martinez stepped up.
The 30-year old right-hander has bounced around with four different organizations, including the Indians twice, but is probably best known for getting drilled in the head by a line drive while pitching for the San Francisco Giants in 2009. Tribe fans may now remember him because of his one “Bill Selby moment” that came Saturday.
Martinez pitched two scoreless innings of relief while the Indians tied the game on Kipnis’s two-run homer. Swisher’s RBI single in the eighth made him a winner for the first time in four years. It may be the one appearance he gets to make with the Tribe given their current situation (carrying nine relievers and someone will have to go when Michael Bourn returns from the paternity list on Wednesday), but it was a big one.
“I thought he really clutched up,” Francona said. “That’s not the easiest situation to be put into. And I know it’s not his first time in the big leagues, but he’s been starting every five days. He comes in with the game on the line and he knows he’s going to have to pitch. It’s not like there was a safety net there. He did really well.”
Justin Masterson owed his team one and he delivered
The last time we saw the Tribe’s number one starter, he pitched six solid innings before completely falling apart in the seventh of a 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Masterson is and has always been all about his team first. The guys in the clubhouse all love him. He is as easy going as they come with the media. By definition, Justin is “one of the good guys.” That loss in Baltimore stuck with him and Masterson pitched like a guy seeking redemption yesterday.
Knowing the sweep was on the line, Justin was simply masterful. His bullpen was taxed. His team was tired. Yet he came out and did what aces are supposed to do; completely shut down his opponent. For the third time this year, Masterson went the distance for a complete game, six-hit shutout. He struck out eight with just one walk, but best of all, the ground ball specialist induced a whopping four double play balls.
“They hit the ball on the ground and with me that means they either hit it at someone or not at someone. Today they hit it at someone,” he said.
Everytime the White Sox thought they could mount a rally, a double play soon followed. In the meantime, the length he gave to a taxed pitching staff came at the perfect time. With today’s off day, the bullpen now has two consecutive days of rest before heading to Kansas City.
“I think that’s the challenge for us as starters — try to go out there and get as much as we can and go as far as we can,” Masterson said. “And it helped out the bullpen. They’ve been working hard these last couple of days. It was just really good because it was a solid effort for the whole team. Now, we get a day off tomorrow to relax.”
If Masterson can pitch like this the rest of the way with only a hiccup here or there, it is going to help the team immensely. While we can all appreciate the improvement of the starters throughout the campaign, this group still isn’t exactly the ’95 Atlanta Braves. Having a true stopper every fifth day is essential to this team’s drive for a division title. Don’t forget, Friday’s doubleheader, the Tribe trotted out two guys – Bauer and Carrasco – who combined to give up 11 runs on 16 hits in six and a third innings of work. Plus, they are still without arguably their second best starter in McAllister.
With a much needed day off coming today, the Indians will fly to Kansas City to start a three-game set with the struggling Royals, losers of seven of their last 11. The off day also gives the Tribe the ability to shuffle the rotation a tad. Scott Kazmir, who left Wednesday’s start in the eighth inning because of back spasms, will be pushed back a day to Wednesday, meaning Corey Kluber will open the series Tuesday on regular rest.