If I told you the Tribe would lose two of three in Oakland to start the year and then come home to take two of three from Minnesota, I am sure many of you would have taken it. Though the opposite actually happened, the record is still the same: 3-3. The weekend series with the Twins should have turned out differently, but we witnessed lots of sloppy play and even sloppier pitching, particular from the starters. Opening Day was a success on the field once the bad weather passed. Saturday and Sunday, however, left a lot to be desired.
It is easy to jump to early conclusions. That would be irresponsible as an Indians fan. Do not forget that this was just one week; six games to be exact. There are 156 games left to be played. Things will get better, things will get worse, but one thing is for certain: A season is not shaped by April 6.
As we have done for WFNY each of the past four seasons, Monday mornings at 10 a.m. will be a look back at the good and the bad of the Tribe’s weekend series. This particular one had plenty to discuss.
The pageantry of opening day
A sellout crowd came to watch the follow up act to the 92-win, Wild Card season. The threat of rain held the start time two plus extra hours to 5:15 p.m. The crowd was restless, cold, and inebriated by the time first pitch rolled around. After the storm blew through downtown Cleveland, the temperature dropped over 20 degrees and the winds picked up fiercely towards the right field seats. By the time the fourth inning came around and the Indians had fallen behind 2-0, the majority of the upper deck (especially in right) had cleared out.
While it was clearly disappointing to see so many fans head to the exits1 that early in the game, I get it. Here is the truth: Opening Day is for the fair weather fan. People love to come out for that first game and turn the day into a holiday. There’s a festive atmosphere and many use it as an excuse to day drink. The outcome of the game matters little to them — they are just there to soak it all in. I am not here to judge. Not everyone is as big of a baseball fan as I am. I go to the Home Opener, and every other Indians game for that matter, to root for the team I love the most. The people that show up to games two and three, they are the real invested fans. You get 41,000 plus for the opener, and a total of 27,000 for the next two. I abhor the Tribe attendance conversation, so I will just leave it right there.
On the field Friday, the Tribe sputtered out of the gates, but exploded with seven runs in two innings, capped by a two-run, sixth inning jack by Nick Swisher, who tattooed a Mike Pelfrey pitch into the seats to give the Wahoos their first lead of the day. Swish sat back and watched this one with the bat in his hand, then tossed it in the air. As he came to the dugout, he busted into the O-H-I-O. It was quite the Cadillac job — the crowd loved every second of it. An inning later, Nyjer Morgan, Swisher and Michael Brantley came through with clutch RBIs breaking a one run game open and turning it into a 7-2 laugher.
“We had a great crowd,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “People braved the weather. I think when you’re losing, it feels cold. And when you’re up, it’s balmy. A lot of people weathered it. Even to the end, some people stayed. That was pretty neat. For us, it’s a win. That’s what we showed up for.”
The starting pitching: An early concern
We watched as Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister struggle with their command in Oakland, but the Indians still came away with a series win. Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Justin Masterson would get the ball for the first three home games of this campaign. Luckily, the bullpen was well rested with Thursday’s off day, because they were heavily used this weekend.
Salazar was given the ball for the opener, partly because he had already been in a big spot like this. The last time we saw Danny was the Wild Card playoff game with Tampa Bay. He wasn’t at his best that night, and he wasn’t much better Friday. Four batters into the game, the Twins had a 2-0 lead on a double, a home run, and two deep shots to the outfield. An inning later, Salazar continued to pitch from behind in the count and was bailed out when Brantley gunned down Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki at the plate with two down. In the fifth, the Tribe phenom loaded the bases on two hits and an intentional walk with one out. He would work out of the jam unscathed, but was eventually lifted with one out in the sixth. Salazar did not have his best stuff working, but give him credit, he battled.
A day later, it was Carrasco’s turn. As you know by know, the last man standing from the Cliff Lee trade is out of options. He was most likely outpitched in Spring by Josh Tomlin, but politics had a lot to do with the decision to go with Carrasco. His power arm is so tantalizing, but he has never been able to put it together. This is his last chance to do so in Cleveland as a starter. Carlos’s first time out did nothing to enhance his reputation of a guy who just cannot get it all to click.
The first batter he faced, Brian Dozier, took him deep. Josh Willingham ripped him for a double to deep center and then with two out, Carrasco gave up back to back singles to Jason Kubel and Yosmil Pinto. This was not the kind of start Carrasco and the Tribe needed. The third inning was not much better. He hit Chris Collabello, the Twins hitting star of the weekend, and then was touched by for an RBI double by Trevor Plouffe. Stop me if you have seen a hitter who scares you in this paragraph. Plouffe eventually came around to score on a Yan Gomes passed ball. It was 5-0 in the third and Carrasco looked like the same guy we’ve seen in parts of the last four seasons.
“Those are things we’re trying to break through with him,” Francona said of Carrasco’s up and down tendencies. “It’s there. And we know it’s there.”
Give him credit though, despite the rocky start, Carlos essentially gave the Indians six innings (5.2 IP). In 100 pitches, he gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits, two walks, and two hit batters. He also struck out seven.
“I threw a lot of strikes, but I missed my spots, too,” Carrasco said. “From the first inning, I started a little bit slow. That’s what happened.”
The 7-3 loss brought the Tribe to Sunday looking to take the series rubber match with their ace, Justin Masterson taking the ball. It seemed as though the Indians were in a good spot, considering Masterson was so impressive on Opening Day in Oakland. However, what we saw yesterday from Justin is something that keeps him from being that true “ace” that is reserved for the likes of Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, etc.
I’ve said this many times before and it was more than true on Sunday; you can tell the way the game will go for Masterson within the first two innings. With his quirky delivery, he can have command issues from time to time. Here it was once again yesterday. In the first, Joe Mauer singled and Willingham was hit by a pitch. Masterson was bailed out by his best friend, the double play ball. But it was just a stay of execution. He hit his second batter of the game, Plouffe, to lead off the second. Kubel doubled to right and Suzuki singled to put the Twins up 1-0. Another double play ball, this time from Aaron Hicks, put a band aid over the gushing wound, but a run still scored. More trouble arrived an inning later after a two-run homer from Gomes tied the game.
Dozier walked and Mauer singled. Masterson was teetering. A K of Jason Bartlett came at a big time, but it was all for naught. A defensive blunder by Gomes – he went to second without looking on a tapper in front of the mound and the throw ended up in center field, opened the flood gates. Plouffe and Kubel singled and a 2-2 tie became a 5-2 Twins lead in a blink of an eye. Masterson was yanked with two outs in the fourth after Collabello’s RBI single scored Dozier.
His final line: 3.2 IP, six runs (five earned), seven hits, three walks, two hit batters, and four strikeouts in 97 pitches. Like Salazar and Carrasco before him, Masterson spent his day pitching behind in the count.
Thus far, the Tribe’s rotation has a 5.83 ERA, giving up 19 runs on 38 hits while averaging less than five innings per start. And that includes Masterson’s Opening Day gem. Take that away, and the rotation’s ERA is 7.66. The starters have had the Tribe playing from behind essentially the entire first two series.
“I don’t think we get discouraged that easily,” Francona said. “We’re always trying to get better, that’s for sure. I don’t think that you start to give up on your guys on April 6. I’m not saying that we don’t want to do better, regardless of when in the year. But I think you can rush to judgment and miss out on some really good players.”
The bullpen looks primed, except for one old friend
Save for Blake Wood’s sixth inning yesterday where he allowed three runs on two hits and a walk, the Tribe’s bullpen continued its rock solid work. The late inning trio of Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Marc Rzepcysnski have been nails in front of new closer John Axford. Unsung second lefty Josh Outman made two scoreless appearances this weekend, including Friday’s opener where he was the winning pitcher. Even long man Scott Atchison gave two and two-thirds of scoreless work.
And then there’s Vinnie Pestano.
A year ago at this time, Pestano was viewed as one of the best right-handed set up men in the game. Now, as he told the media after Saturday’s 7-3 loss, he’s “pitching for (his) life.” Francona isn’t able to trust him in high leverage spots, so he has to take his work where he can get it. In his first appearance in Oakland, Pestano’s velocity was down and his stuff was up. The A’s got him for a run on two hits. It was OK, only one outing, Pestano had pitched well this Spring. Then came Saturday’s performance. With the Tribe down 5-1 in the ninth, Francona gave Vinnie a chance. It wasn’t pretty.
While he struck out two of the first three batters he faced, the Twins lit him up for two runs on three hits and a walk. Things would have been even worse had Plouffe not been throw out at third trying to advance on Kubel’s two-out RBI single. Once again, Vinnie’s fastball was 87-89 and flat. If 2013 Pestano is back for another year, he is not long for this roster.
“I felt really good (Saturday), which is probably the most discouraging thing because the results weren’t there,” said Pestano. “It’s probably the best I’ve felt since I started playing catch. These opportunities right now are almost now more pressure on me than trying to get a hold in the eighth or seventh inning because I’m pitching for my livelihood right now. We’ve got a lot of guys in the pen.”
Listening to those quotes is troubling. The confidence is clearly low. With roster decisions to be made soon on Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi, two players are going to have to be sent down. Pestano has options and clearly looks to be the shakiest member of the pen. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if Vinnie was back in Columbus in the coming days.
A brief word about Wahoo
The only topic I despise more than Tribe attendance is the battle for Chief Wahoo. I’ve stayed completely out of this conversation. I grew up loving the mascot as a symbol of the team I love so much. Its now easy for me to see why it can be viewed by many as a racist caricature. An annual occurance for all of us who attend Opening Day each year is walking past the anti-Wahoo protesters. In addition there are always a few fans who paint their faces and put on an Indian headdress. Again this year, both contingents were out, except its 2014 and everyone has a camera on their phone.
You’ve all seen the infamous photo by now of the clown, in full face paint and headdress, who decided it was a good idea to get in the face of one of the American Indian protesters. It was absolutely detestable and deplorable. Would this guy put on black face and walk up to say, Michael Brantley, and act like it is not a big deal? I bet you there is NO CHANCE he would. It is the same exact thing and you cannot tell me otherwise.
Of course this became national fodder; one moronic fan making an entire city look bad. It was a black eye we didn’t need. The Opening Day moron story will go away, but one way or another, the Indians organization can’t keep burying their heads in the sand, keeping quiet while slowly trying to phase the Chief out. Either stick with it or get rid of it. The Indians have tried to play the middle ground for a long time, but I believe we have reached the point where a decision has to be made.
Craig will have more on this story later today.
Hot weekend hitters:
- Lonnie Chisenhall 5-9, 4 runs
- Nyjer Morgan 4-9, 4 walks, 2 runs, 1 RBI
- Michael Brantley 5-13, 2 runs, 3 RBIs
Ready for a turn of the series:
- Asdrubal Cabrera 1-9, 1 RBI (3-19 to start the season)
- Jason Kipnis 2-9, 4 walks, 3 RBIs
- Mike Aviles 0-6
photo via Chuck Crow/PD
- Bars. [↩]