8:06 PM – We pick this one up in the bottom of the fourth, because that’s what time my daughter goes to sleep now. She usually wakes up in the thirteenth inning or so, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Anyway, the game is scoreless, as both Ubaldo and the Orioles’ starter Chris Tillman have looked sharp so far.
8:12 PM – After Kipnis and Santana draw back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, Michael Brantley drops a sacrifice bunt to move them over. Normally, I HATE this play. It’s early in the game and you’ve got the middle of your lineup coming up. But with the way this offense has been stumbling around these days? I guess I can live with it. Still, it seems either remarkably optimistic or incredibly sad to be playing for one run in the fourth inning. Equal parts optimism and sadness….yep, THAT’S US!!
8:18 PM – And one run is exactly what they get. Cabrera lifts a sacrifice fly to score Kipnis, but after an intentional walk to Kubel, Gomes goes down swinging to end the inning.
8:25 PM – Ubaldo cruises through the top of the fifth. He’s allowed three hits, struck out four and (most importantly) hasn’t walked a batter.
His impending free agency is going to be FASCINATING to watch. I think I could make a pretty compelling case that: (1) he’s been the worst pitcher in baseball over the last three years—a smoldering wreck of a dumpster fire, and (2) he should get between $7 and $10 million AAV on a multi-year deal. I tend to think that either way, the Indians will be staying away from Ubaldo given their newfound starting pitching depth, but I’ll still be mighty curious as to how the market will value a guy who never gets hurt, throws in the mid-90s, and appears to have Nuke LaLoosh-esque control of his fastball.
8:48 PM – Yesterday I wrote my annual I’m-giving-up-on-the-Indians-because-everything-is-hopeless-and-we’re-all-gonna-die post. It’s become quite the tradition for me. Anyway, buried in that piece I talked about how the Indians’ rotation has been surprisingly effective this season—that the pitching (and defense) has been responsible for 75% of team’s improvement over their embarrassing 2012 campaign—an improvement of nearly 200 runs that has been powered largely by the team’s ability to prevent opponents from scoring.
This should be somewhat surprising to us. Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs combined have contributed fewer Wins+ for the 2013 Indians than Kazmir, Kluber and McAllister. We got the last three guys for next to nothing, and the first four cost about $34 million this year.
Ubaldo Jimenez is now through six scoreless innings and the Indians are still ahead 1-0. Up is down. Dogs walking people.
8:53 PM – I have an ongoing debate with myself as to whether it’s possible for a player to have repeatedly been identified by multiple observers as “under-rated” or “under-appreciated”. On the one hand, simply by being lauded for under-appreciated skills, isn’t the player being properly appreciated? On the other hand, people still just don’t seem to realize how important Carlos Santana is to this offense.
To wit, Santana leads off the bottom of the sixth with his second walk of the evening, and in so doing raises his OBP over .370 for the season. For reference, the other Cleveland Indians who’ve had a season of at least 500 plate appearances and better than a .370 OBP since 2003 are: Milton Bradley, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, and Shin-Soo Choo. Do we realize that Santana is that type of hitter yet? I’m not always so sure.
9:06 PM – I’m not sure if that counts as an offensive explosion, but the Indians managed to scratch across three runs and knock Tillman out of the game.
After Santana’s walk, Brantley doubles down the left field line, leaving runners at second and third. Asdrubal pops a sac fly to center to score Santana and move Brantley to third. Kubel receives an intentional walk (let’s see how that plays out) and gets immediately lifted for pinch runner and whitest-guy-on-the-team-other-than-Joe-Smith Matt Carson. Yan Gomes then drills a double to left scoring both Brantley and Carson. Good guys up 4-0, heading to the seventh.
9:20 PM – Interestingly, Ubaldo’s night is done after six innings pitched and only 90 pitches. Perhaps this is the responsible move, given the abundance of available bullpen arms in the wake of the roster expansions. Disirregardless, Cody Allen comes on for the seventh and retires the side on flyballs, despite a walk to J.J. Hardy.
9:37 PM – After the Indians go in order in the bottom of the seventh, Joe Smith comes on for the eighth to face Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters.
Now, I think I’ve made myself pretty clear on how I feel about Joe Smith: he’s a fine guy with a perfectly unobjectionable and generic name, but he should not be brought in to face left handed batters. Like, EVER.
For his career, Smith has limited right handed batters to a .606 OPS against, while lefties have put up a .726 line. That 120 points of OPS is effectively the difference between Matt LaPorta’s career and Carlos Santana’s. The ONLY reason to let Joe Smith face left handed batters in a close game is if your left-handed options are so terrible, so ridiculously awful that [remembers something called a Blake Wood, douses self in gasoline, lights match…]
Needless to say, Smith walks Chris Davis to lead off the inning and I pour myself some scotch. Luckily, Jones and Wieters both strike out and Betemit flies out to left. Still 4-0 Indians, heading to the bottom of the eighth.
9:50 PM – Perez is on for non-save situation, which means my buddy Kirk is furiously sweating it out.
9:53 PM – Perhaps Kirk is on to something. Perez lets up back-to-back singles to start the ninth, and all of a sudden the tying run is in the on-deck circle with nobody out. QUICK, BRING IN THE CLOSER!! IT’S A SAVE SITUATION!
9:54 PM – Welp. Perez just let up a three-run homer to Nate McLouth and it’s a 4-3 game that feels like it’s about to slip away. Maybe Perez needs to feel the tension of a close game before he can get locked in or maybe he likes the pressure of competGOOD GOD JUST NON-TENDER HIM NEXT SEASON BECAUSE IT’S RIDICULOUS TO DEDICATE ONE-SEVENTH OF YOUR PAYROLL TO A HAIRY MASCOT WHO HATES YOUR TEAM AND YOUR CITY AND IS A MASTER SABOTEUR MASQUERADING AS A HAPPY-GO-LUCKY POT SMOKING DOG.
OK. I’m better now.
9:58 PM –Chris Perez has no shame. He manages to strike out Brian Roberts and Manny Machado, pumping his fist in celebration after each. This man has giant, brass balls.
10:00 PM – Before I even have time to worry about the matchup, Chris Davis hits a laser directly into the teeth of the shift where Jason Kipnis is waiting. BALLGAME.
This one had the possibility of going REALLY badly there at the end. The relationship between the city and this team has already become so corrosive, and if Perez—who’s been particularly unhelpful in that relationship—had blown this one I wonder if the team wouldn’t have had five more years of attendance problems ahead of them.
But somehow, we’re left talking about a win and a strong Ubaldo Jimenez performance instead. Despite losing six of their last eight games, the Indians still sit only three games out of the Wild Card as of this writing, and still have a pennant pulse. As Terry Francona says, the most important game from here on out will always be the next one. Tomorrow’s (today’s) series finale against Baltimore is the first step. It’s a Zach-Attack, with Britton facing off against McAllister at 7:05 EST. Every time I’m out….