Another week and another huge series came upon our Cleveland Indians. This time, it wasn’t a division foe, but rather one of the teams they were facing for one of the two AL Wild Card spots in the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are a lot like the Indians in that their offense leaves a lot to be desired and when you look at the lineup. It doesn’t wow you, but they hit you with quality starting pitching and one of the league’s best bullpens. The Tribe had a huge opportunity in front of them: Take two of three and you gain nice ground; lose the series and not only do you lose ground in the standings, but it is a momentum killer.
Friday night’s series opener was a completely blown chance, which turned Sunday’s rubber match must win. Sunday’s 7-3 loss wasn’t a season killer by any means, but it really puts the Indians behind the eight-ball. They now sit four and a half games back of the two wild card spots with Baltimore a game and a half in front of them.
Losing two of three from the A’s came at an inopportune time, but there are 38 games remaining. I know I sound like a broken record, but that soft September schedule awaits. Damage can be done against the likes of the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and Chicago White Sox. But this team needs to start winning series against the good teams.
So what happened this weekend and how did the Tribe lose a series it probably should have won? As we do every Monday morning, let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Ubaldo is Ubaldo and we need to be happy with that
I will be the first one to admit it here – Ubaldo Jimenez frustrates me about as much as any Tribe pitcher since Fausto Carmona circa 2008. Every time you think he may have turned the corner, he implodes. Then when you are about to completely write him off, he either a spins a gem or strings together a three or four quality starts that makes you sit up and take notice. He is a mechanical mess with about a thousand moving parts and many an Indians pitching coach has tried to figure out the enigma that is Ubaldo.
Saturday night’s performance was the quintessential Ubaldo Jimenez start. He held the A’s hitless into the sixth inning with eight strikeouts. Yet he was completely on the ropes and over 100 pitches at that point, because he walked five and hit a batter. With two outs in the sixth, he gave up his first hit, an RBI single by Josh Donaldson and his night was over. It would have been great to see him get through that point to see exactly how long Terry Francona would have stuck with him. After all, there were still nine more outs to get and Ubaldo was being Ubaldo.
Maybe at this point we need to stop talking about what Ubaldo should be or was supposed to be when the Indians traded two former number one draft picks to get him. Let us just appreciate him for what he is – a back end of the rotation guy who can give you six innings.
“However he gets there, he finds a way,” Francona said. “When he gets to that sixth inning, that’s the inning that’s been tough for him to get through. Regardless of how many pitches he has or doesn’t have, he seems to kind of run into a little bit of a wall there. But, if it happens, and he’s given up one run, we’ll take it.”
In his last 15 starts, Jimenez has an ERA of 2.90, which is incredible, considering the fact that he is walking a whopping 5.2 hitters per nine innings. The Indians are going to need more of that from Ubaldo with the current state of the rotation.
Is Kazmir completely out of gas?
In his last start now 10 days ago, lefty Scott Kazmir admitted he tried to gut his way through, but his arm felt like it was going through a “dead period.” The original plan was from Danny Salazar to come up and be a part of a six-man rotation. With two off days coming in the mix, it would allow extra rest for whoever would need them, Kazmir in particular. But that plan fell apart when Corey Kluber went down for 4-6 weeks with a finger injury. Kluber and Kazmir had been ridden so hard and unfortunately both of them have suffered physically.
The Tribe’s lone lefty had been so good and seemed to be getting stronger as the year went on, that it was hard to put the breaks on him. Unfortunately, the lack of innings he logged over the past two years looks like it is starting to catch up to him.
Yesterday, Kazmir took his first start in nine days and said he came in feeling fresh. It was a pivotal game and a superb start from Scott would be needed. However, the Tribe’s reclamation project didn’t fool anyone.
He lasted just five innings and Oakland’s no-name offense teed off on his for five runs on 10 hits. After the game, Kazmir said physically he was more than ready.
“My arm felt fine,” said Kazmir. “It just wasn’t my day. I felt good. I left a lot of pitches up and right over the middle of the plate.”
“He’s fine. He just didn’t command real well today,” the manager said of Kazmir. “I think the layoff was good for his arm strength, but it looked like he didn’t have his best changeup and he didn’t command his fastball. He had a lot of deep counts, especially early in the game.”
It may be the case that he is fine physically and that this was an ill-timed poor start, but with Kluber down, Salazar still completely green, Ubaldo being Ubaldo, Zach McAllister still trying to get himself completely back to 100%, and Masterson doing what he can do, Kazmir has to find himself and fast.
The Asdrubal awakening…will it last?
Terry Francona finally put us all out of our misery. For the last couple of weeks, I felt as if he was trolling Tribe fans by continuing to hit slumping shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the cleanup spot. Then Friday, Tito made the move, sending Asdrubal to the sixth spot in the lineup, switching spots with Carlos Santana.
“I actually think Cabby hit a lot of balls hard,” Francona said before Friday’s 3-2 loss. “When you hit in the middle or the order, you’re going to get pitched different. That’s why I like a veteran hitting there. … I just think it works better. Right now I’m just looking for a little balance. I really think Cabby has hit a lot of balls hard, but hasn’t gotten rewarded for it.”
With his average dipping to .234 and locked in a 4-46 skid, the move was long overdue. Friday night, Francona was prescient, as Cabrera took another 0-fer. But in his final at-bat, with the tying and lead runs on base in the ninth, he smoked a ball the other way that looked like a hit off the bat. The problem was the ball went right to the third baseman Donaldson who then doubled off pinch runner Mike Aviles to end the game.
Something looked like it clicked for Cabrera as he put up back to back 2-4 games Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s RBI single snapped an 0-20 skid and his teammates jokingly asked him if he wanted to keep the ball. To his credit, he never blamed anyone or made any excuses about his poor play.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” said Cabrera. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and good things will happen.”
Hopefully it is the start of getting Asdrubal back on track, because as Masterson said “as he goes, we go.”
“We have an offense where we have to keep the line moving,” said Francona. “Asdrubal, being a switch-hitter, is so important to that. We don’t have the big guy in the middle who is going to hit 30 homers so we have to keep the line moving. When Asdrubal and Nick Swisher get hot our lineup fits together so much better.”
About Friday night…..
It is just too bad the Cabrera didn’t awaken a night earlier. The A’s did everything they could to hand the Indians Friday night’s game. The Tribe just never wanted to take it for some odd reason. Justin Masterson did his part pitching into the eighth and should have received a better fate. Oakland starter A.J. Griffin and four relievers walked a whopping nine Indians while giving up eight hits. That’s 17 baserunners (see, I can do math!). Yet the Indians offense could only push across two runs.
They loaded the bases in the fifth and didn’t score. After tying the game in the seventh on a Nick Swisher RBI single, they loaded the bases again, yet couldn’t take the lead. They put two on with two out in the eighth and couldn’t score, but the ninth was the most frustrating. Facing closer Grant Balfour, Santana walked and Brantley singled with one out, putting the Tribe in business. But the game would end there on the Cabrera double-play lineout to Donaldson. They finished the evening a 3-2 loser and went just 1-9 with runners in scoring position, stranding a season-high 13.
“Early on, their starter (Griffin) was having a tough time finding the strike zone,” said Francona after the hard luck loss. “But besides driving his pitch count up, we didn’t have much to show for it on the scoreboard.
Put this in the column of games we will lament should the Tribe fall just short of the playoffs.
Other oddities of the weekend
- Was anyone shocked that in his first at-bat as a New York Yankee, the swing and miss king Mark Reynolds hit a home run? How about his three RBI-game Friday night? Reynolds hadn’t driven in three runs combined from June 28th to August 4th. Don’t lament his loss. We’ve seen the best of him already. That hot streak wasn’t going to arrive in time.
- I am starting to run out of patience with Lonnie Chisenhall, even though I have said for weeks the Indians need to stick with him. He continues to look lost at the plate and is now mired in a 3-35 slump. He still cannot hit left-handed pitching is has become a complete platoon player at third. You have to wonder how much longer of a leash he will have with the current regime. I know that they drafted and developed him, but Chisenhall has still yet to prove his is a Major Leaguer. He has mastered AAA pitching and his time is now. I know he is only 24, but his clock is ticking.
- Yes, Masterson pitched the Indians into the eighth inning Friday night, but getting beaten by back to back two-out hits to Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard to break a 2-2 tie in the seventh is something that just cannot happen. The A’s eighth and ninth place hitters are not exactly like facing Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
- Ryan Raburn homered again in Sunday’s 7-3 loss. It was his 15th on the year, which is now tied for the team lead with Jason Kipnis. One huge difference – Raburn’s 15 have come in 195 ABs. Kipnis’s have come in 428. Raburn also now has more homers, more RBIs, a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage than Swisher and has done so in less than half of the at-bats (405 to 195). Incredible.
The Indians stay out west and start a three-game series in Anaheim with the Los Angeles Angels tomorrow night. They will face the same three pitchers they did here in Cleveland last weekend, starting with ace Jered Weaver (7-6, 3.49 ERA). C.J. Wilson (13-6, 3.40 ERA) and Jerome Williams (5-9, 4.90 ERA) will follow. The Tribe will send out Salazar (1-1, 4.08 ERA), followed by McAllister (5-7, 3.74 ERA), and Masterson (13-9, 3.59 ERA)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)