The worst case scenario for your Cleveland Indians heading into the toughest nine-game stretch of their season was a slow start in Atlanta. I said beforehand I would take 5-4. After last night’s 3-1 loss to the Braves, it will take a sweep and another series win against the Tigers and the Orioles to even get to that five-win number. The way this offense continues to flounder and the way the Tigers and Orioles mash, there are serious concerns that by the time next week rolls around, the Indians could possibly bury themselves completely.
Terry Francona knows it. The front office knows it. The players know it. Something has to change. The month long offensive slump is killing this team. They are dead last in the AL in almost every hitting category for the month of August. Throwing extra salt in the wound is the fact that the Tribe starters are keeping the team in the game seemingly each and every time out and this kind of strong pitching is getting completely wasted.
“The whole series came down to their ability to get big hits and we didn’t,” said Francona. “They were low scoring games and they found a way to get a big hit and we didn’t.”
Think about all the years they would have killed for this kind of pitching. Now they are getting it and can’t do anything with it.
Ubaldo Jimenez continued his run of solid outings, but like in the first two games of this series, the Braves came up with one big hit that was the difference. Monday night, it was the Elliott Johnson two-run triple in the second that accounted for all of the Atlanta runs in a 2-1 win. Tuesday it was the Jordan Schafer’s second inning two-run single after Justin Masterson walked the pitcher that killed the Tribe. Last night, it was a three-run Brian McCann homer in the third that was Ubaldo’s lone mistake.
Jimenez did his job, working seven strong innings with 10 strikeouts. Best of all, he didn’t walk anyone. I give both he and pitching coach Mickey Calloway a ton of credit. They have worked so hard to get Ubaldo back to this point and the Indians have been reaping the benefits, especially of late. Jimenez has been consistent, which is something you never thought he would be after what we saw of him during his first year and a half in Cleveland. The shame of last night’s performance was he didn’t get any sort of run support.
“For whatever reason, this late in the season, he’s found another gear,” said Francona. “He’s getting the strikeouts on his fastball and using the deception in his delivery to set-up his breaking ball.”
Think about it – the Braves essentially came up with four big hits in a three-game series; the aforementioned three and the Chris Johnson ninth inning walkoff single which won Tuesday night’s tilt. All four of those hits came with two out and accounted for every Atlanta run in their sweep of the Tribe. It is not as if their offense was on fire.
The other end of the spectrum was the Wahoo attack, who’s only run came on an eighth inning, pinch hit solo homer from Lonnie Chisenhall, who earlier in the day showed a true moment of candor with the media when asked about his cut in playing time in favor of veteran Mike Aviles.
“He’s (Aviles) been swinging the bat well,” Chisenhall said. “He’s starting today and he deserves to start right now. I’m not playing well and he is. If you look at it, he gives us the best chance to win right now. I’m going through some stuff offensively.”
This is about trying any sort of combination that works at this point. I have no doubt that if he had been healthy, we’d have seen more of Ryan Raburn over these past 10 days. Nobody is swinging the bat well. Every time the Indians get a runner on base, it seems as if they want to pull through so badly to break the slump that they press too hard. Last night was just more of the same.
For the series, the Indians were 0-18 with runners in scoring position and scored three runs on two solo homers and a sacrifice fly. During the month of August they have scored two runs or less in 12 of 25 games. All of this is going on while they are trying to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
“When this team is red hot, the whole team is red hot, said DH Jason Giambi. “And, unfortunately, when we’re not red hot, we don’t swing the bat. We have a tougher time manufacturing, which is kind of weird with the speed that we have and the agility players that we have. You’d think we could overcome some of that and kind of steal a few wins here and there. For some reason, we just don’t push it over the top. I think that’s a team coming together and learning.”
I respect Giambi’s opinion, but at this point the “coming together” and “learning” needs to be over. They need to be “producing.” August has two days left. We all wanted meaningful games in September and if the Tribe doesn’t right the offensive ship fast, that dream will die.
With that said, I still can’t help but look forward to that soft September schedule and hope that things turn around. You know how “Team Streak” is. They could go 2-7 during this nine-game stretch, and then rattle off 12 of 14. Anything is possible.
The Indians now turn their attention to Detroit for the weekend series with the Tigers. The Motor City Kitties were almost swept four straight by the Oakland A’s and were saved by Torii Hunter’s three-run walkoff homer yesterday afternoon. The Indians loss in Atlanta pushed the Tigers lead in the Central to six and a half games. Tonight’s series opening matchup will pit Zach McAllister (7-7, 3.51 ERA) against Rick Porcello (10-7, 4.49 ERA). The Tribe won’t have to face Max Scherzer in this series as he pitched yesterday.
(AP Photo/John Amis)