Tribe Weekend Recap: Poor fundamentals, RISP problems, Carrasco watch, and an Easter gift

Michael BrantleyThe weekend at Progressive Field did not go as planned for the home team. The visiting Toronto Blue Jays, with hordes of their fans on hand after making the four-plus-hour trek down from Ontario, took of three from your Cleveland Indians and may have come away with the sweep if not for a managerial blunder and one big hit from one of the few Wahoos who is actually hitting in the clutch. It was more of the the same from the team who has sputtered out of the gate. But as the Tribe’s most outspoken player, Nick Swisher, reminded us “We started last season 5-10. Lets not all jump off the bridge just yet.”

Manager Terry Francona held a team meeting before Sunday’s come from behind 6-4 win to refocus his group. “Nobody likes coming to the ballpark and having to look at your record when it’s not what you want it to be,” he told his team. “That’s just plain and simple. Saying that, I don’t want them dragging in here. It’s a new day. We need to make it be a better day. And then also, not look too far in the future. Just take care of today. If you do that enough, man, it always seems to work out.”

Whether or not it will light a fire under his team is up for debate, but Francona is as good as it gets inside that clubhouse. It was the right move at the right time. The Tribe’s fundamentals have been subpar for three weeks and it has clearly affected them. The good news is that we are 18 games into a 162-game season. Yes, they lost a home series, but the season is a marathon, not a sprint.

So how did it all go down? Let us look back at the good and the bad in the weekend that was in Wahooland.

The lack fundamentals are killing this team

Terry Francona often talked last season about “playing a clean game.” Physical mistakes are one thing. But the mental mistakes along with missing out on the little things have really played a big role in the Tribe’s slow start. We have seen this to many times over the first three weeks. This weekend was no different.

The Indians handed Toronto Friday night’s 3-2 loss on a silver platter. With the score tied at two in the seventh, Catcher Yan Gomes, a rock defensively behind the plate a season ago, made his fifth error on the season while attempting a snap pickoff throw. This allowed two runners to advance to scoring position, one of whom would score the winning run on an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single. Twice this weekend I watched Michael Bourn missed the cutoff man badly, which negatively affected how those innings played out directly. Jason Kipnis was picked off trying to steal second in a two run game with one out in the sixth inning yesterday. There was no reason for him to be going in that spot. In addition, runners aren’t being moved over when they need to be.

Easily the worst case of this came in Friday night’s ninth inning. Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been tearing the cover off the ball thus far, doubled to lead off the frame against Jays interim closer Sergio Santos. Francona called for Bourn, his leadoff hitter, to lay down a sacrifice bunt. He couldn’t. Not only were his first two bunt attempts weak, but he struck out on the third pitch he saw; just an awful at-bat from one of your supposed better hitters. Nick Swisher was next and he struck out looking. The game would end with the bases loaded on a Michael Brantley line shot that happened to be right at Encarnacion at first.

The defense has been poor. The situation hitting has been worse. The guys who are supposed to be producing runs not nicknamed Dr. Smooth aren’t delivering. Other than that, things are going great!

Now, about that Bourn bunt attempt…

In the past few years, I have warmed up to the “kill the bunt” crowd. I do think in certain situations with certain guys, bunting is a useful tool. But to me, for the most part it is nothing more than handing the other team an out, especially when you consider the fact that nobody seems to be comfortable bunting these days.

During the doubleheader against the San Diego Padres two weeks ago, Francona elected to send up utility man Elliot Johnson to attempt a bunt trailing by a run with nobody out in the eighth inning. Joaquin Benoit, the right-handed set up man, was on the mound. Tito had left-handed hitting Lonnie Chisenhall and Nyjer Morgan on the bench, but stuck with Johnson. He tried three time to put a bunt down and failed. The Tribe lost that game 2-1.

Fast forward to Friday in a similar situation and once again the bunt attempt was a loser. To me, you have three chances with Chisenhall on second to tie the game with a hit with the top three hitters in your lineup. At worst Bourn should be able to hit a ground ball to the right side, right? Instead, Santos was bailed out.

Of all managers to not have the faith in his players to deliver a hit in that situation, Francona shouldn’t be that guy. Let your guys swing the bat, Tito. Don’t give your opponent an easy out they didn’t earn.

The lack of hitting in runners in scoring position was, well, disturbing

Now maybe Francona chose to bunt Friday night in the ninth because he sees his team scuffling so badly at the plate, especially with runners in scoring position. As I said earlier, Friday’s loss was handed to the Jays. The Tribe scored their two runs on 10 hits and four walks. They were 0-9 with runners in scoring position and left a whopping 12 men on base. The certainly had their chances, they just could not come up with the big hit all night long. It seems as though we’ve been saying that a lot over the past three weeks.

On Saturday, lefty Mark Buehrle dominated the Indians as he and former Wahoo Esmil Rogers combined on a four hit shutout. Yesterday had the look of another one of those days where the offense – save for Brantley – wasn’t going to come through. It was 4-2 Jays in the sixth with the bases loaded and two out, when David Murphy came to the plate. Those of us who thought Murphy would come in here and be David Dellucci 2.0 have been proven wrong tome and time again thus far. I know it’s early, but Murph came through with a turning point kind of clutch hit when he laced a bases clearing double down the line to left that gave the Indians a 5-4 lead. Strangely enough, it was the only hit with runners in scoring position the Tribe had all weekend. They are hitting just .149 (7-48) in those spots in the last six games.

“We’re not really clicking on all cylinders,” Murphy said. “We know we’re going to at some point. We have that sense of urgency to get to the point where we’re clicking on all cylinders. A day like today is one of those days that can get you rolling.”

Francona held that team meeting before Sunday’s 6-4 win to try and get his team back in a more relaxed and positive frame of mind.

 “I just felt like I want to help. I care about them a lot, and I really like this team a lot, and I just felt like maybe half reassuring and kind of explaining. (It was about), ‘Remember who we are and how we go about things.’ You get tested a little bit — that’s part of it — and we’ve been tested before. The message was just to continue to fight through things together. It’s easy for me to believe in this group,” he said.

Imagine where this offense would be right now if not for Brantley and Murphy. These two have really carried the group.

And now onto the weekly Carlos Carrasco watch…

The Tribe were staring a sweep in the face as they came to Progressive Field on Easter Sunday. Making things more difficult on them was the fact that Carlos Carrasco was making his first start in over a week. The last time was saw him was in Chicago where he started off well and then couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Francona and his team needed something positive from their mercurial fifth starter who seems to be pitching on borrowed time even this early in the season.

For the first three innings, Carrasco looked sharp, retiring the first nine Blue Jays he faced. But the second time through the order, Toronto began to tee off. Four hits and an RBI groundout later, the Jays led 3-1. Now Carrasco was not helped when Bourn missed his cutoff man on Juan Francisco’s RBI single, but you could see him start to lose it a bit. The stuff is there, but something continues to be missing. After the Tribe chipped away at Toronto’s lead thanks to a Michael Brantley RBI double, Carrasco really needed to step up with a shutdown inning. Instead, he gave up a leadoff single to backup catcher Josh Thole and watched him score an a single by Reyes.

Carrasco’s day was done after five and two-thirds and 88 pitches. He wasn’t horrible, but he wasn’t good. Carlos probably earned himself at least another start by getting the Indians into the sixth, but still, four runs on six hits and three walks in less than six innings is nothing to write home about.

 “I think they knew the second time through the lineup what pitch was coming,” Carrasco said, “because that’s what I did from the first inning through the third. I think I missed my spot twice. … I think that’s the big difference in what I did.”

With Trevor Bauer dominating AAA in his first two starts (0.75 ERA/0.83 WHIP/18 K/3 BB) plus his lasting impression in the spot start against the Padres, Carrasco’s leash has to be very short. I’ve been saying this now for two years, I think he could be a real asset in the pen for an inning or two with his power stuff. It is only a matter of time before we see it.

Side Note – I know how Aaron Harang has started in Atlanta (four starts, 0.70 ERA/0.81 WHIP). The Indians were not going to keep him. You can tell me all you want that they may have missed out on another Scott Kazmir, but the situations are not the same. Kazmir was a former All-Star who was still just 29 years old at the time, trying to regain his career. Harang will be 36 May 9th and is now on his seventh team since 2010. He is a NL back end of the rotation guy. The only time Harang pitched for an AL team in the past nine years was last season in Seattle when he was a disaster (22 starts, 5.76 ERA) and eventually released.

Thanks so much, John Gibbons

I was in attendance Sunday. Like everyone else in the stadium or watching at home, I saw how the Indians could get nothing going against the power armed-righty Brandon Morrow. Take away Brantley, and the Wahoos had no hits heading into the sixth. The ice cold Swisher led off with a single to open the inning. Out of the dugout came Toronto manager John Gibbons and he called for a lefty. I was stunned. I can only imagine how Morrow must have felt. The Tribe had just three hits at this point and hadn’t been able to get a read on Morrow. But Gibbons called on lefty Aaron Loup. After getting Kipnis to ground into a fielder’s choice, he then picked Kipnis off for out number two. Then something happened. Loup stopped throwing strikes.

The southpaw walked Carlos Santana, Brantley, and Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases for Murphy, who then greeted him with that back-breaking, bases-clearing double. How Gibbons could yank a pitcher who was so in control for a lefty specialist in the sixth inning was beyond comprehension to me.

“Walks hurt you,” Gibbons said. “These guys laid off it pretty good. And of course Murphy ends up getting the big hit there.”

You were the one who put the Tribe in that position, skip. I’m sure Francona would like to send you flowers for making that move.

A word about John Axford

I want to like him. I really do. Thus far, the new Tribe close has only blown the one save in Chicago last Sunday. However, the way he is going about his business is not exactly confidence inspiring. All that should matter is that he gets the final three outs and takes a Tribe lead into the winners circle. But this putting runners on base every single time out is getting tiresome, and it’s only April 21.

On Sunday with a 6-4 lead, he gave up two hits and a walk and had to face the dangerous Encarnacion with the bases loaded and two down. He threw three straight balls to the Jays first baseman before eventually working a full count. The Tribe coaching staff had positioned Kipnis almost directly up the middle, which turned out to be brilliant as Encarnacion’s sharp grounder went right to him for the final out.

“I was glad (third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh) spends as much time as he does looking at the defense,” Francona said, “because we had them swung around with a pretty drastic shift. Kip was sitting right there.”

Now we have seen this from seemingly every Tribe closer of the past 15 years. Whether it be Bob Wickman, Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood, or Chris Perez, nothing seems to come easy in the ninth. But credit to Axford, he got the outs he needed for the save. He’s made nine appearances and only three of them have been clean. One of those three was a one-out, one- batter save against the Padres. I’m still not sold on Axford (which I wasn’t when the Indians signed him) and hope that things get better (and cleaner) in he coming days.

Stat of the week via Jakey Stats (@WFNYJacob)

Tribe starters are 3-7 with a 5.11 ERA in 98.2 innings pitched. Opposing batters are hitting .291 against them.

Tribe relievers are 5-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 58.2 innings pitched. Opposing batters are hitting .216 against them.

Up Next

The Indians welcome Central division foe Kansas City for a four game set starting tonight. Jeremy Guthrie (2-0, 4.34) takes on Zach McAllister (2-0, 2.04 ERA) who has been great in his last two starts, allowing just one earned run in 13.2 innings of work.

  • boomhauertjs

    Went to Saturday’s game, which was just awful, but had a great time nonetheless because we were in the Family Social Suite. My 2 year old son, who can’t sit still in the seats, actually sat for about 2 innings in one of the seats outside and generally enjoyed himself. If you have kids, I highly recommend applying for a spot in the Family Social Suite.
    I also got to share an elevator with Mrs. Swisher and what I presume was the rest of the Swisher clan. She’s not hard on the eyes, that’s for sure.

  • Garry_Owen

    Francona also discussed, in some detail, the importance of “grinding” through the long season. Sometimes, you just have to “grind the best you can.”

    Eric Wedge is vindicated.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/murphy-delivers-indians-6-4-201337022–mlb.html?.tsrc=inmtnl

  • CB Everett

    Fundamentals are indeed lacking such as Bourn failing to bunt. No excuses. For 13.5 million per year Bourn should be able to bunt and make the team lunch.

    Not to beat a dead horse from another thread, but these fundamentals should be honed at this point and recently polished up in Spring training. Saying we should do away with it because we’re not good at it is wrong. It’s like saying Gomes shouldn’t try to throw runners out anymore. No, we just need to work on it and other weaknesses.

  • Natedawg86

    Swish and Bourn need to step up and start producing to at least career averages. Sickening.

  • Natedawg86

    Move Carrasco to closer

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Instead of the Carrasco watch I like to think of it as the Harang watch especially after another great start by him for Atlanta. So glad the Indians gave Carrasco something like the umteenth time to show he’s not a starter.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is where I had thought he might end up once he pitched in the bullpen for awhile. Why I thought starting him as a long man only to work his way to more crucial spots like perhaps setup man. But nah instead they cut a veteran innings eater like Harang who has been pitching out of his mind and Indians fans get to watch another failed Carrasco as a SP experiment.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Swisher needs that day off I suggested bad. And he needs to be moved down in the lineup too.

  • Steve

    Saying not to bunt is not at all like saying Gomes shouldn’t try to throw out runners. The bunt should be eschewed in the vast majority of circumstances because it’s a bad play for the offense.

  • tsm

    Could not disagree more with this obervation as well as Hoynes about Harang. There was no downside to keeping him as the 5th starter and putting Carrasco in the bullpen to start the season. Worst case, Harang is terrible, and we cut him and bring up Tomlin or Bauer. It was obvious last season that Carrasco is a bullpen guy – effective for an inning or two when he can just bring it. Major bad decision by the front office

  • CB Everett

    When he goes to the club, do you think Wedge bumps too or just grinds?

  • Natedawg86

    Bourne
    Kip
    Santana
    Brantley
    Swisher
    Gomes
    Cabrera
    Chis
    Murphy

  • Steve

    Harang has gotten to face the Mets twice, and is living of a .150 BABIP and 90.5% strand rate, neither of which are remotely sustainable, even if he was pitching in the dead ball era. I’m also not sure how long a guy who has always had issues keeping the ball in the park is going to go unhomered against. The underlying numbers suggest that Harang isn’t all that much better than the guy who couldn’t get AL hitters out last year.

  • Garry_Owen
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You say it so it must be true Steve Dolan!

  • markn95

    Harang has all the makings of Derek Lowe circa 2012. That said, Lowe really gave the Tribe a boost in the first 2 months that year–they were actually above .500 most of the first half and contending for 1st before the All-Star break, amazing considering where they wound up. A month or two of great starting pitching is nothing to sneeze at; look at Ubaldo and Kazmir’s second halves last year.

  • CB Everett

    Thank you! I’ll be here all night. That gif also seems apropos in honor of the return of Giambi.

  • Steve

    Well, I will sneeze at getting to face the Mets in half your starts. Just like we saw with Ubaldo and Kazmir’s second half of 2013, getting to face some crappy teams can make pitchers looks really good.

  • markn95

    Great article. It’s a pretty good rundown of why this team is 2 games under .500. The only thing I would add is that the Tribe is really struggling against LH starting pitching again. Buehrle was just the latest this Saturday, and Chicago killed us the weekend before with their lefties. It’s nothing like 2012 (thank God), but it is noticeable. Last year, the Indians had a winning record against LHP’s and the lineup is pretty much the same so there’s some hope they’ll turn it around. Raburn really needs to get going, not to mention our struggling switch hitters like Swisher, Cabrera, and Santana. If 3 of those 4 really turn it around from the right side, I think we’ll be fine going forward. KC at home will be a good test, as they throw a hot Vargas and Chen at us the last 2 games of the series.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s way to early I would tend to believe as Steven says that Harang will eventually self destruct but so far the guy has been money. I don’t see why he couldn’t have remained with the Indians as a #5 because clearly Carrasco still has no clue.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s way to early I would tend to believe as Steven says that Harang will eventually self destruct but so far the guy has been money. I don’t see why he couldn’t have remained with the Indians as a #5 because clearly Carrasco still has no clue.

  • markn95

    Point taken, as I agree the Mets really, really stink (and he’ll get to face the Marlins a bunch too!). But Carrasco and Salazar have really been scuffling against teams like the Padres, Twins, and Blue Jays. Not to say Harang would have taken no-hitters into the 7th inning against any of those teams, but it may have helped to have a veteran around for the first few months of the year. I guess my point is that some starting pitchers can be really valuable for 1-2 months at a time; not everyone (especially your 4 and 5 starters) have to pitch 200 innings a year to help a team. I go back to my Lowe example from 2 years ago; what really killed us is how long Manny Acta stuck with him (although you could argue the alternatives were non-existent). I think Tito would have had a much quicker hook with Harang, especially with Bauer and Tomlin as options in Cbus.

  • markn95

    Point taken, as I agree the Mets really, really stink (and he’ll get to face the Marlins a bunch too!). But Carrasco and Salazar have really been scuffling against teams like the Padres, Twins, and Blue Jays. Not to say Harang would have taken no-hitters into the 7th inning against any of those teams, but it may have helped to have a veteran around for the first few months of the year. I guess my point is that some starting pitchers can be really valuable for 1-2 months at a time; not everyone (especially your 4 and 5 starters) have to pitch 200 innings a year to help a team. I go back to my Lowe example from 2 years ago; what really killed us is how long Manny Acta stuck with him (although you could argue the alternatives were non-existent). I think Tito would have had a much quicker hook with Harang, especially with Bauer and Tomlin as options in Cbus.

  • Steve

    Carrasco and Salazar both got the Twins, who should have been more easily disposed of, but Salazar had a good enough performance against them. Otherwise they’ve both faced the White Sox, who lead the AL in runs scored, and Toronto/Detroit which both have good lineups.

    Against the Padres, our starters gave up 4 ER in 19.2 IP.

  • markn95

    Yeah, the Sox have been hot, hopefully the AL catches up to Eaton and Abreu sooner rather than later. Those two (Abreu especially) push average guys like Viciedo, De Aza, and Ramirez much further down in the order.

    But hey, I think everyone can agree that not signing Ubaldo for 4 years was the right move! He’s 0-3 with a 6+ ERA for Baltimore. Ugh!

  • PlymouthDawg

    Tribe fan stuck in the middle of Detroit. My only saving grace is being able to listen to TD’s big bro, Matt “The Diesel” Dery. You hit the nail on the head,TD. Fundamentals, timely hitting and putting Carrasco in a limited role where he doesn’t have to face a batter more than once per outing might make him serviceable. It’s early in the season, and I remain optimistic the Tribe can turn things around and make this interesting.

  • Tsm

    I did indicate that if he pitched poorly he could be cut. No reason to give him away. We simply eliminated a choice.