The past seven days were well on their way to being the worst week of Tribe baseball since the days of 2009 The Bullpen From Hell Part 2. The Tigers stomped all over them for four nights and all but ended any shot the Wahoos had at overtaking them for AL Central division supremacy. There is still a Wild Card spot to contend with and plenty of baseball left to be played. The flailing Los Angeles Angels arrived in town, losers of four straight and 10 of 13. Seemed like the perfect elixir for the Indians to find themselves and get back on the winning track, right?
As we have seen all season from this group, you just don’t know which way they will turn. The post game players only meeting called by Jason Giambi after the four-game sweep was supposed to refocus them. Instead, Friday and Saturday spawned sloppy play and two bad losses sent the team spiraling to six straight losses. With the Browns preseason opener on Thursday night deemed a success, People were jumping off the Tribe bandwagon faster than you could say “Bernie Kosar is the Lord.” Nice guy manager Terry Francona was forced to go to the card he doesn’t like to play; the angry skipper.
“Basically, I was telling them how we want to play the game,” he said. “It’s not always going to be perfect, but we have to fight through frustration. That’s the kind of team we need to be. We can’t just show up. We’ve got to bring the lunch pail and find a way to be the better team.”
Center fielder Michael Bourn had a different take: “Sometimes he’s got to let us know what time it is. He told us what was on his mind. I’ll leave it at that.”
Five and a half innings into the Sunday afternoon tilt, the Angels were making easy work a seemingly dead Indians team with a 5-0 lead. And it is not as if it was Jered Weaver shutting them out on one hit, it was journeyman Jerome Williams. With two outs and nobody on, a four-run rally started which may be the moment that changed the course of the stretch run, the same way the Chris Perez blown save a week ago changed the course of the division race.
The Tribe finished the comeback for a 6-5 win, sending everyone into Sunday night feeling just a tad better. An 0-7 week would have been completely devastating and the way this team continued to fight yesterday was huge. It doesn’t erase the sting of the ill-timed six-game losing streak, but it soften the blow a tad. Team Streak will once again have to find a way to turn things around.
So as we do every Monday morning, let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Asdrubal and the missed window
I’ve feel like I have seen this somewhere before. An All-Star middle infielder who goes from hitting machine with a solid glove to an average ballplayer with diminished range and an effort level that leaves something to be desired. Back in 1995, Carlos Baerga was arguably the most popular of all of the Indians. But he began to eat and party his way out of being that smiling, happy ballplayer everyone loved so much. Then-Tribe GM John Hart could see the handwriting on the wall and got out before the rest of the league could figure it out for themselves. He sent a heart-broken Baerga to the Mets for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino a year later.
I’ve now watched essentially two second halves and a 75 percent of a third season where Asdrubal Cabrera has fallen apart, gotten heavy, and completely wore down. Save for one hot month, the first-half All-Star version of Asdrubal has failed to show in 2013. The cleanup spot experiment just is not working. His .204/.266/.296 July turned into a .167/.184/.361 August. And it is not just the overall numbers, it is the failures in clutch spots that have been killing the Indians. For the season, Asdrubal is hitting .206/.231/.278 with runners in scoring position and a putrid .163/.200/.186 with two-out and runners in scoring position.
To make matters worse, Cabrera has looked like a lazy statue with the glove. Over the weekend he made yet another brutal error on an easy double play ball Saturday night which completely changed the complexion of the game. The Tribe trailed 3-2 in the eighth. With a man on and nobody out, Mark Trumbo hit a tailor-made double play ball towards Cabrera and he just booted it. It was a simple lack of concentration. The error opened the flood gates to four-run inning for Los Angeles (which was aided by another Tribe error).
Sunday afternoon I hit the end of my rope with Asdrubal. With two out and the bases full of Angels, Mike Trout hit a ground ball between short and second base. Cabrera’s jump on the ball was comical. It looked like he was moving with a refrigerator on his back and he didn’t even make a diving attempt for it. Any average defensive shortstop gets to this ball and at least knocks it down. Cabrera wasn’t close and it got through for a two-run single, giving Los Angeles a 4-0 lead. He stepped to the plate to start the bottom of the inning to a chorus of boos. Asdrubal didn’t like the called second strike from home plate umpire Vic Carapazza (which was a bad call by the way) and he stepped away in disbelief. He struck out swinging and walked away screaming at Carapazza, causing his ejection. It is clear Asdrubal is frustrated with his performance and it boiled over yesterday. Meanwhile, the ejection was the best thing that could have happened to the Tribe, as his replacement, Mike Aviles, hit a two-run homer later in the game.
The shame of it all? The Indians missed their Hart/Baerga window to trade Asdrubal while he still had high value. Heading into this offseason, the Tribe will have a $10 million shortstop on the last year of his deal with skills that have been diminishing each of the past three seasons. You think the Cardinals, who were said to be hot for Cabrera at one time, are going to want to send one of their top pitching prospects and/or first baseman Matt Adams for a poor defensive range, declining bat shortstop on a one-year deal, knowing the Indians will gladly let him walk after 2014 with Francisco Lindor set to take over a year later?
(Side note – Jeff Ellis over at IBI deserves credit for the original Asdrubal/Baerga comparisons).
All of a sudden, is there a starting pitching worry?
What a difference a week makes. Corey Kluber was looking like an easy #2 behind Justin Masterson. Scott Kazmir would slot into that third spot, after his last dominating performance in Miami, and rookie sensation Danny Salazar was being recalled to finish the season in a six-man rotation to keep necessary arms fresh.
Seven days later, Kluber is out 4-6 weeks with a finger issue, Kazmir has admitted to a “dead arm,” Zach McAllister still isn’t close to being all the way back from his finger problem, and Ubaldo Jimenez is, well, Ubaldo Jimenez. You hope he can pitch you into the sixth. At least Salazar looks like the real deal and the Indians loosened the restrictions on him.
From the opening pitch Friday night, it was clear something was up with Kazmir. “It didn’t look like he had his best stuff to start,” Francona said. “But some little things led to some bigger things and I think he’s a little bit tired.”
The first five Angels he faced went single, single, walk, single. After striking out Chris Nelson, Kazmir gave up a three-run bomb to Josh Hamilton, who came in hitting under .165 against lefties. It was 5-0 in a blink and the way the Indians offense had been going, it was more than enough for Jered Weaver.
After the game, Kazmir admitted he just wasn’t himself.
“I thought I could gut it out, but it was tough getting good extension and being accurate with my pitches,” he said. “At the same time, I said I wanted the ball. I wanted to go out there and come up big, especially after the Detroit series. It just didn’t happen.”
In something of a rarity, especially this season, the Indians pen was nails the rest of the way. Replacing Kazmir and Matt Albers in the fifth was Carlos Carrasco. Yes, we had a Carlos Carrasco sighting people! Once again, the power-throwing right-handed provided us with the ultimate tease. His electric fastball was consistently hitting 97 and most importantly, he wasn’t afraid to come inside. Carrasco held the Angels scoreless for five innings on just one hit.
“Carlos pitched great,” Francona said. “We’ve seen him have some pretty good games. We know it’s in there.”
With Kazmir in dire need of some extra rest, Francona announced Carrasco will make his next scheduled start, Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota.
No need to discuss Ubaldo’s night in depth. He did what he usually does, bobbed and weaved his way into the seventh, allowing five hits, walking three and striking out five. Only two of the three runs he allowed were earned, but the unearned run came courtesy of his own throwing error in the fifth. It was one of four Tribe errors Saturday.
The hope was that Masterson would come out Sunday and stop the bleeding, but for a second straight outing, he was far from sharp. Cabrera’s dog effort on the two-out RBI single in the second certainly didn’t help his cause, but the Tribe’s top dog was hurt most by his lack of command. Walks kill starting pitchers, and this was no different. Masterson walked two in the first, both of which would come around to score. A two-out, second inning walk to Kole Calhoun loaded the bases for Trout. You just don’t walk Kole Calhoun with Mike Trout in the on-deck circle.
Masterson would exit after just four and a third, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks. Had the bullpen and offense not picked him up, the “he’s not an ace” whispers would be a lot louder this morning.
“Masty said he felt kind of blah,” Francona said. “There was nothing wrong with him; he just didn’t feel like the ball was coming out well.”
Meanwhile, the bullpen pitched four and two-thirds scoreless yesterday and six scoreless on Friday. Overall it was a nice weekend for this maligned group. Oh, and in case you wanted to know, closer Chris Perez looked great Sunday pitching a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
Will Sunday’s big comeback awaken the sleeping offense?
It was only one game and into the sixth inning of it, the Tribe bats had produced just one hit. “We were kind of dead out there,” Stubbs said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy. Things weren’t clicking for us.”
After back to back strikeouts by Lonnie Chisenhall and Drew Stubbs, leadoff man and offensive catalyst Michael Bourn singled. None of us who were in the park thought much of it, considering how the great Jerome Williams was making the Indians look silly. But then Nick Swisher homered and a five-run deficit was quickly three. Williams seemed a little rattled as he walked Jason Kipnis and now faced Aviles, who you remember was replacing the ejected Cabrera. The man they call Handsome Mike reached out and crushed the second pitch he saw over the high wall in left and all of a sudden we had ourselves a ballgame at 5-4. There was life inside of Progressive Field and life on the Indians bench.
The Wahoos still trailed by a run in the seventh, but Carlos Santana tied the game with the team’s third homer of the game, a solo blast off of J.C. Guiterrez. With one out, Lonnie Chisenhall worked a walk and was moved to second on Stubbs’s single. Left-handed reliever Nick Maronde was summoned from the pen to face Bourn, who knew how important finishing off the comeback was. He went the other way with his single which brought home Chisenhall and the Indians fought all the way back to take a 6-5 lead, which they would not relinquish.
Said Bourn: “Certain games are key games in a season. This could have been one of them. We’ll see in the future. We’ll go back and look at it when everything is said and done, and see where we’re at.”
After the first six days of this past week, you will take baby steps. More importantly, it was the first time in ages the Indians offense had any sort of mini-explosion. Coming into yesterday’s game, they had scored just 21 runs in their previous nine games. Five of those came in Wednesday night’s 14-inning loss to the Tigers. I still think something in the lineup has to change.
The obvious move is to take Cabrera and move him down in the order. I think Francona is being stubborn with this move, thinking Asdrubal will work his way out of his funk. However, wouldn’t this team be served better with Brantley and Santana moving up and possibly getting an additional late inning at-bat that Cabrera may be getting? Yan Gomes should also be playing at least five times a week. This team is much better served with Gomes’s defense behind the plate than Santana’s, not to mention the fact that he has been a hitting machine in August (9-20/.450/.542/.650) after a stellear July (.313/.371/.500). Santana can either DH or play first.
Hopefully Sunday’s game jarred something loose. Without Kluber and a slowed down Kazmir, the offense is going to have to do more than average 2.3 runs per game or else this bad week could turn even worse.
A quick word about Mark Reynolds
It was no secret that the guy was struggling. Francona said all the right things about how he would snap out of his funk, but in the end, the team got tired of waiting and he was finally cut loose by the Tribe on Thursday. I saw a lot of hand-wringing over this, including from our own prodigy Jacob Rosen who makes his valid points about the Indians whiffing on two of their flyer free agent signings (the other being Brett Myers).
I will be the first to admit I was on board with the Reynolds signing, which came before both Swisher and Bourn. I saw a guy capable of hitting 30 homers coming off of a smokin’ hot last month of the season and hoping to take that into the next campaign. I also saw a Tribe lineup completely devoid of right-handed power scuffle through 2012. At one-year and $6 million I saw very little risk. Mega Mark’s hot April got the Indians going and at the time, he was a valuable piece to the lineup. Then his game completely fell off the table.
Jacob’s main point was that the Indians cannot afford to swing and miss on their free agent signings and that their margin for error on these deals is slim. I agree with that, however, it was still a one-year deal. Without Reynolds starting off the way he did, maybe the Indians aren’t even close to contention for a Wild Card spot right now. It is not as if it was a $12 million failure either. The money is off the books in 2014, so that doesn’t hurt you either. Sometimes you take shots and they turn out like Reynolds, other times you turn $1 million into Scott Kazmir. It is just too bad that Mark couldn’t turn things around at the plate because even a semi-hot version of him could really help this offense right now.
Now, about that seven million given to Myers……
The Indians hit the road for a nine-game trip that starts in Minnesota tonight. The Twins will send rookie left-hander Andrew Albers to the mound for his second career start. The first time around he went eight and a third scoreless against the Chicago White Sox, allowing just four hits. The Tribe will counter with Danny Salazar, who is making his third career start.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)