Sloppy baseball doesn’t usually produce a winning weekend. Then again, you also don’t always have the luxury of playing a team devoid of offense who was already without its best player. They say it is better to be lucky than good and your Cleveland Indians most certainly would agree with that statement. They didn’t hit well most of the weekend and played some of the worst defense you will ever want to see at times, yet somehow they scratched and clawed their way to a series win over the Minnesota Twins.
The ragged weekend performance looked like it would come to a head Sunday, when four Tribe errors and a big mental mistake should have cost them the game. However thanks to some stellar pitching and a late inning blast, the Indians pulled out a game they had no business winning. “We know we’ve got to do better,” Terry Francona said. “But I’d rather talk about it after a win.”
Its been said many times late last week, but taking this series was of the utmost importance to the Tribe with what is coming up after Monday’s day off. While the A’s and Orioles were beating each other, the Rays were beating down the Yankees. All the Indians needed to do was take care of their own business against an inferior team.
So how did they do it? As we do every Monday morning, let us take a look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Thank goodness for the starting pitching
Did you ever imagine reading that sentence with this group? In all seriousness, this team would be completely and utterly sunk without the continued quality of the starting rotation. The offense just has not been doing their part, putting a heavy burden on the shoulders of the guys who pitch every fifth day. Over the weekend, the three pitchers who took the ball from Francona all took care of business and then some.
On Friday night, Ubaldo Jimenez got things started in such a Ubaldo Jimenez type way. The first three batters he faced went walk, double, walk. But then, as Ubaldo likes to do all of a sudden, he bailed himself out by striking out Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, and Trevor Plouffe. In the second inning, the Twins hit three doubles, scoring two runs with the help of a wild pitch. Yet somehow, Jimenez struck out three Twins for the second straight inning. From that point on, it was smooth sailing for the 29-year old Dominican.
He retired the next 10 straight and left after the sixth inning, giving up just those two runs while striking out a season-high 10. He did walk three and gave up five hits, but it was another solid start for Jimenez, who yours truly had left for dead back in late April.
“I thought tonight was the best stuff he’s had all year,” Francona said. “Early, he didn’t command real well, and he didn’t come in, especially to left-handers. They were kind of leaning out over the plate and they hit those doubles. But then he started coming in and mixing up his pitches and he was really good.”
It wasn’t the Tribe’s night in a 5-1 loss, but it certainly had nothing to do with Ubaldo’s performance.
Zach McAllister took his turn Saturday in efforts to even the series. His last two times out, McAllister looked like the guy who essentially became the number two starter earlier in the year. These are all must-win games at this point, but this one in particular had a real important feel to it. McAllister pitched like a guy whose team needed a stopper type performance. His full arsenal was on display and Minnesota had no answers. Through seven innings, he held down the Twins to one run on three hits. He departed in the eighth after giving up a one out solo homer to Brian Dozier.
“He just pounded the strike zone, used his breaking ball and attacked us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He went right at us and made us chase early. Had some quick innings. But he had a nice changeup, whether it was a forkball or just a straight change, we couldn’t figure it out.”
In his last three starts spanning 19.2 innings of work, The Zach Attack has allowed just four earned runs, striking out 17.
The 7-2 win got the Tribe’s momentum back and passed things over to Scott Kazmir. The Tribe’s lefty reclamation project has really struggled since his six innings of shutout baseball on August 4th in Miami. He went through a self proclaimed “dead arm period” and the Tribe brass gave him extra days of rest in attempts to get him through. Heading into yesterday, Kazmir was on a two-game losing skid where he pitched a total of eight innings, giving up 10 runs on 16 hits. In a monster spot Sunday, the southpaw found himself.
In a performance reminiscent of his mid-season work, Kazmir pitched six innings of one-run ball, striking out eight and walking just one in 99 pitches. He scattered seven hits, but the Twins could never take advantage as Kazmir wiggled his way out of one jam after another.
“I felt fresh out there, I did,” Kazmir said. “Especially with runners in scoring position, I felt like I was able to kick it up a little bit and just throw quality pitches. That was my main goal.”
So in three games the Indians starters allowed just five earned runs in 19.1 innings. The depth kept the Tribe in the games and saved the bullpen from overuse. When the pen was needed in the two wins, they came in and did their jobs.
Sunday’s defense was indefensible
Some call it the error flu. I call it a lack of concentration. Had Drew Stubbs not saved the day with an eighth inning, game-winning home run, everyone would be lamenting the critical mistakes made by the Tribe defense on Sunday. They made not one, not two, not three, but four errors and some how, none of them came back to cost the Indians a run. The mental mistake made by Nick Swisher was, at the time a killer.
With the Tribe nursing a 1-0 lead in the fifth, the Twins put runners on the corners with one out. Doug Bernier (no relation to Andre) put down what looked to be a squeeze bunt. Swisher was charging from first and fielded the ball cleanly. He clearly had a play at home, yet for some reason didn’t even attempt a throw. He turned around to make the play at first and Jason Kipnis hadn’t gotten over in time. Everyone was safe.
Luckily Kazmir was able to hold the Twins right there.
The lazy defense and the mental errors seem to be cropping up more and more lately (I am looking at you, Asdrubal Cabrera). It hasn’t cost them a game as of yet, but when and if it does, it could mean the difference between a playoff spot and staying at home.
Who is hot, who is not
Jason Kipnis has been the Tribe’s best hitter all year, but he came into the weekend really scuffling. After taking an 0-4 Friday night, Jason was in a 3-23 skid. Michael Brantley, the Indians most clutch performer in 2013 was in the same boat. He entered Saturday in a 0-19 slide. Talk about the worst possible time for these two to catch a cold.
While Brantley added just one hit in eight at-bats the last two days, Kipnis broke out of his funk in a major way. He homered and singled Saturday night and drove in the first run of the game yesterday with a third inning RBI single. “It’s a long season,” Kipnis said Saturday. “Welcome to the game of baseball, where you’re feeling great one day and the next day you don’t know how to hold your hands up at the plate.”
Meanwhile another important cog in the Tribe’s offensive wheel continues to wake up. Nick Swisher seems to be finding his groove, hitting safely in nine of the last 10 games with five RBIs in his last four games. Sunday he came up with a huge insurance run in the eighth. After Stubbs’s two-out homer put the Tribe ahead 2-1, Michael Bourn doubled and Swish knocked him in. You can see the confidence starting to rebuild with him at the plate. (I promise I won’t mention his base-running blunder in the seventh when he tried to stretch a single into a double and was thrown out).
With all of this said, the offense as a whole is still a mess. Saturday night they may have put seven on the board, but Friday and Sunday night’s they blew a ton of scoring chances by failing to come up with the big hit. Samuel Deduno came into Friday’s start against the Indians having allowed 13 runs on 25 hits in his last three starts – all losses. So naturally he held the Tribe to one run on three hits in six innings. Sunday the great Mike Pelfrey walked six Indians in five innings, but held the Tribe to just a run on two hits. Three of the Wahoos seven hits came in that two-run eighth which won the game for them.
I don’t know what more the Indians can do at this point, but the offense has got to wake up and go on an extended run here and fast. Not every team they face is going to be the Minnesota Twins, though it seems like it when you read the September schedule. The waiver trade deadline is five days away and while I am sure GM Chris Antonetti is searching for ways to improve the offense, I just don’t see an additional big bat arriving to save the day. The in-house group is going to have to all step up and do it together.
One thing is for sure, they can’t continue to play sloppy baseball, not come through in the clutch, and fail to put up an sort of real offensive attack if they expect to win day in and day out.
Brett Myers rehab stint…..why? Tomlin back…..soon?
I understand that the guy the Indians gave $7 million to is itching to come back to the big leagues. Brett Myers made a rehab appearance over the weekend in Akron. He gave up three runs (one earned) on three hits and a wild pitch in one-third of an inning. He is currently on the 60-day DL because of his elbow issues. My question is this, if somehow Myers gets himself back in shape and ready to be activated, why would the Indians even bother? Being on the 60-day DL means Myers is not on the 40-man roster. Therefore if the Tribe activates him, they would have to boot someone off the 40-man. Is a few weeks of an average Myers even worth it?
At best, he will be a mop up reliever. You aren’t going to put him out there in a key situation when he hasn’t pitched since April. Not to mention, Myers has never been the most popular guy in the clubhouse. For the sake of everyone involved, the Tribe should just cut their losses and let him go.
Meanwhile the other rehabbing veteran, Josh Tomlin, looks like he will be a September call up after he was activated from the 60-day DL and put on the 40-man roster, which had a spot open for his return. The plan is to have him make one or two more starts for AAA Columbus before coming up to Cleveland for the final month of the season.
The Tribe gets today off and will need to be fully rested, because the next nine games could make or break them. Tuesday starts the three-game series in Atlanta with the AL East leading Braves. They follow that with a three-gamer in Detroit before coming home for three with the Baltimore Orioles. You hope for a 5-4 or 6-3 stretch here, but that could be a tall task.
AP photo/Mark Duncan