The Cleveland Indians took two of three from the San Diego Padres and headed to Chicago for a four-game set with the team they owned last year, the White Sox. A 17-2 season-series was never going to happen again, especially with the off-season improvements the South Siders have made. We saw a lot of that this weekend with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu looking like potential thorns in the side of the Indians for years to come.
After losing the first two, the Tribe took a see-saw affair Saturday 12-6 and looked to leave Chicago with a split Sunday. Corey Kluber gave the Indians a solid performance, but was touched up for an eighth inning solo homer to Marcus Semien which broke a 1-1 tie. But this Tribe team doesn’t quit. They came right back to get two off of closer Matt Lindstrom with the key hit by the hot-hitting David Murphy. But you have to get 27 outs to win a game, and the Tribe couldn’t close.
John Axford walked the light-hitting Jordan Danks which was followed by a walkoff homer from Tribe killer Alexi Ramirez to give the Sox the game and the series. Ramirez was 7-12 in the series with six RBIs. Closers are going to blow saves, but Axford has that look we have seen before from Bob Wickman, Joe Borowski, and Chris Perez. He seems to put runners on base in every appearance.
It was a disappointing series to say the least. So how did it all go down? Lets take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ridiculous for the weekend that was in Wahooland.
What to do about Justin Masterson
The Indians made serious waves — mostly negative — when contract extension talks with their best starter were broken off. Masterson was said to be offering himself up on both two and three year deals, with an average annual value around $17 million. Many national baseball writers, including the one who first reported the story, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, could not understand either side of the deal. Why would Masterson, who could hit the open market at the end of the season and assuredly find himself a long term lucrative contract if he pitches like he did in 2013, offer himself up to the Indians at such a club friendly manner? Why would the Indians, who have Masterson essentially throwing himself at them to stay, pass up the opportunity to keep their top starter on a short-term deal at the fair market value of pitchers of his ability?
Save your “The Dolan’s are cheap” commentary for someone who would actually buy that garbage. I have two theories. One on each side.
1. The Indians aren’t nearly as enamored with Masterson as they claim to be. He has yet to put together back to back quality seasons and his mechanics can often be a mess at times. I am of the belief that they would rather play this year out, see how Masterson pitches and the give him the qualifying offer of $14 million for one year.
2. Masterson is a tad on the flaky side. After a loss two seasons ago where he pitched poorly against the Detroit Tigers, he deflected all criticisms in his postgame interviews, choosing to say he was happy because his wife’s cookie business was thriving. Justin enjoys Cleveland and the small market atmosphere. It suits him. There is little pressure and the media is not exactly tough on anyone here. In addition, Masterson knows that he has a lot of moving parts in his delivery. Repeating his arm slot is not something that comes easy to him. That is why at times he is dominant and others a mess. I think he knows this and wants to make sure he is taken care of and kept in a place where he is comfortable, playing for a manager he knows well and trusts implicitly. Justin seems unwilling to bet on himself, so he went to the Indians, hat in hand, and gave them every chance to keep him on a short term deal at money he and his agents figured the Tribe front office would jump at.
They didn’t. It is very possible that starts like the one he had on Saturday were the reason they didn’t. After two straight losses to the White Sox where neither starter could go five innings, the Tribe desperately needed length from Masterson. This is what a stopper is supposed to do. Come in, pitch deep into the ballgame and end any losing streak the team is on. The Indians offense did their part to help their top dog, scoring three in the top of the first to stake Justin with a nice cushion.
Instead of keeping the Sox down, Masterson was all over the place. He walked the first man he faced, Eaton. A botched potential double play by by third baseman Mike Aviles definitely hurt him, but Masterson could have easily minimized the damage. That did not happen as Conner Gillaspie singled home Eaton. Jose Abreu then walked as Masterson’s command was nowhere to be found. Adam Dunn followed with a single to right-center scoring two to tie the game. They took a 4-3 lead two batters later on a Alejandro De Aza RBI single.
After Murphy’s solo homer re-tied the game at four, Masterson gave the run right back when he was taking deep by Eaton. He was in trouble again in the fourth inning when he loaded the bases on a single, a wild pitch, and two more walks with one out, but was bailed out by a double play ball.
By the fifth, Terry Francona has seen enough. Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis hit back to back jacks to put the Tribe on top 6-5. Masterson once again gave the lead away. He loaded the bases, this time with nobody out by hitting Dunn in front of back to back singles by Alexei Ramirez and De Aza. A Jordan Danks RBI groundout tied the game and that was all for Masterson. He departed giving up six runs (five earned) on seven hits and five walks in four and two-thirds.
“I finally found my slider again, the sinker was moving a lot and the four seamer was just average,” said Masterson. “I just didn’t catch any breaks. What’s been incredible is the offense we’ve been showing.”
I like Masterson, but it is starts like this one that make you want to question his credentials as a front line starter. He has now made three starts, two of which have been disasters. It is still so early, but if Justin is more 2012 than 2013, this team won’t contend for anything.
The Carrasco Conundrum
Part of the reason the Indians needed Masterson to come through Saturday was because fifth starter Carlos Carrasco once again failed to prove he can be counted on when his regular turn comes around. On a balmy Friday evening on the South Side, Carrasco looked the part when he struck out the side in the first and pitched a 1-2-3 second inning. After that, Carlos came apart. Two singles and an Eaton double scored the first of two Sox runs in the third. Two more singles and a wild pitch gave them a 3-0 lead an inning later.
In the fifth after the Indians had battled back to tie the game at three against their ace Chris Sale, Carrasco couldn’t deliver the shut down inning. Two more walks, a second wild pitch, and an RBI single from Gillaspie was enough for Francona to pull the rip cord.
“My first two innings, I had my (left arm) up,” said Carrasco. “For the next two, it was down. I really don’t know what happened from throwing 94 to 97 to 90 to 92. I can’t explain that. I was still hitting my spots, but I don’t know what happened.”
Carrasco deserves more than two starts to show the work he has done all winter has paid off, but honestly, at what point do the Indians throw in the towel and start to realize that after four years in the organization, the guy may be a bust as a starter? I have long called for him to be put in the pen. The power stuff can really translate out there. Many a quality reliever have come from being a failed starting pitcher.
Making matters worse for Carrasco was the poise and killer stuff shown by Trevor Bauer last Wednesday in his spot start against the Padres. Yesterday, the team announced that Carlos will be skipped in the rotation with today’s day off, so he will be put in the pen until Saturday in a home start against Toronto. Carrasco also admitted to being “tired” after Saturday’s 9-6 loss.
“I work hard,” he said. “I do everything. Really, I’m trying to find out what’s going on. I’m trying to do my best. I need to do something because I can’t do this anymore. These guys have given me an opportunity to start. They’re waiting for me to show them something. The trusted me. They put me in the fifth spot in the rotation. So I need to do something.”
I won’t go all 2012 April Ubaldo Jimenez on him; there is a difference there. Ubaldo had a track record at one point of being a quality Major League starting pitcher. The same cannot be said for Carrasco. Meanwhile, have you seen Ubaldo’s numbers after three starts with Baltimore? In 16 innings, he has given up 13 earned runs on 23 hits, including four homers. He’s walked 10 with 13 K’s and has lost all three.
A word about Asdrubal
With the Indians having to face five lefties in the past six games, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been vaulted into the leadoff spot. Francona has thus far refused to budge on using fill in center fielder Nyjer Morgan against lefties, despite Morgan’s hot start at the plate. Again, Tito certainly knows more than I do, but watching Cabrera continuously swing at the first pitch has been beyond frustrating.
I made my initial beef on Thursday when I saw Cabrera’s name at the top of the lineup card again, and naturally he doubled and homered in his first two at-bats. However over the weekend, it was more of the same; frustrating at-bats from Asdrubal. For some odd reason during this the first two weeks, the biggest spots seem to always find him. Take yesterday for example.
The Tribe trailed the White Sox 2-1 in the ninth. Murphy, who has been on absolute fire, came through with an RBI single to tie the game with one out. Murphy and Yan Gomes were bunted into scoring position by Mike Aviles, giving the Tribe two chances to take the lead. Of course, Cabrera was the first guy with a shot. Facing closer Matt Lindstrom, Asdrubal once again swung at the first pitch he saw and weakly grounded out to first. In 15 weekend plate appearances, Cabrera swung at the first pitch of an at-bat seven times. How may hits did he have out of those seven swing? Zero.
Asdrubal’s start has not been pretty. He is hitting .188/.264/.618, and is a putrid 2-24 (.083) as a left-handed batter. I will give him credit for his .917 OPS hitting right-handed.
I am not calling for Francisco Lindor by any means. The kid needs to spend more than two weeks above A-ball before he comes up to the big leagues and there is no need to rush him. Cabrera is here for 2014 and should move on afterwards, but putting him at the top of the order – meaning he will be guaranteed the most at-bats of anyone in the lineup – just makes no sense to me. This will become a moot point once regular leadoff man Michael Bourn makes his debut hopefully this week.
Roster shakeup coming with the return of Michael Bourn
With Salazar, Carrasco, and Masterson giving the Indians less than five innings before Kluber’s solid seven and a third outing on Sunday, the Tribe’s bullpen has already been taxed. Vinnie Pestano has already been replaced by CC Lee and Carrasco will be shifted to a pen role for this week. There is no need for a nine-man bullpen, unless you are the Indians and your starters aren’t getting deep into games nearly enough.
“We just haven’t been able to get deep into the ballgame,” Masterson said. “I think we’ve all had glimpses of great things, and then we’ve kind of gotten unraveled ever so slightly as we’ve gone along. Again, and you look at it, too, been some tough breaks for other guys. You look at certain plays that go this way or that way and it could be a lot different story.
“There’s no one to blame but ourselves, because then we continue to hurt ourselves and get in trouble. But I think after getting a couple starts under our belts, getting our feet wet, I think you’re going to continue to see better things. As the weather heats up, I think we’re going to heat up, too.”
A nine-man pen isn’t realistic and someone will have to go, especially with Carrasco giving the Indians an extra arm down there for the three-game set with the Detroit Tigers that starts on Tuesday. According to reports, Bourn may be set to return tomorrow. The candidates to be sent down really boil down to Lee and Blake Wood.
Lee pitched Friday and Saturday, allowing one run in two and a third. He struck out two and didn’t walk anyone. Wood can dial it up with his fastball, but command has always been the question with him. His last three performances have been shaky, including Friday night when he walked the bases loaded and then walked in a run. He’s walked seven batters in his last two and two-thirds while giving up five earned runs.
Meanwhile, Jason Giambi continues to work towards a return as well. Both he and Bourn were in Akron this weekend playing for the RubberDucks. The 43-year old DH is behind Bourn in terms of being ready, but the Indians will have to send someone else out upon his activation from the DL. One would think that utility man Elliot Johnson would be the odd man out, but we have seen stranger things happen. Lonnie Chisenhall (6-15 with three doubles) is swinging a hot bat, but the Tribe could be inclined to send him to Columbus to play everyday. I am hoping that is not the case.
Hot weekend hitters:
David Murphy 3-9, HR, five RBIs
Mike Aviles 6-12, two RBIs
Jason Kipnis 4-12, HR
Ready for a turn of the series:
Asdrubal Cabrera 2-13
Carlos Santana 1-11, three walks
Ryan Raburn 2-13, three RBIs
The Indians get today off before starting a three-game set with the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.