Tribe bats, Axford waste McAllister’s great start

John AxfordIf the Cleveland Indians offense doesn’t figure something out soon, this season will be off the rails before it ever gets started. I know we are just 36 games in, but the team has been in a collective slump since the season began. At certain points, neither the starting pitching nor the hitting performed up to snuff. Now, the starters have come around and solid performances are being wasted left and right because the bats remain asleep.

It was after Friday night’s 12-run explosion that team leader Nick Swisher told the media that his team is aware that “a lot of bad things (have been) written about us in the papers.”  The team had just broken a six-game losing streak in which they scored 13 total runs. In their split of the final two games against the White Sox, the offense produced just five runs. Throw in last night’s extra inning shutout by that fabled ace Minnesota ace Kyle Gibson, and the Indians have those five runs in 28 innings. Two of the five came on a dropped popup and a sacrifice fly.

Are we allowed to criticize now Swish?

The Indians are in last place with a 13-19 record. They have looked bad most of the time, but last night’s offensive performance was—well—downright offensive. On a cold night at Progressive Field, the bats were colder than the breeze coming off of Lake Erie. Gibson is a nice young pitcher, but the guy is hardly the second coming of Roger Clemens. For seven innings, all the Tribe could muster were two hits. Two—a first inning double by Michael Brantley and a single in the fifth from Mike Aviles. They literally never gave themselves a real chance to score after the first when Carlos Santana walked after Brantley’s single. Lonnie Chisenhall popped out to third and that was the last time the Indians had two runners on base at once.

Meanwhile, Zach McAllister was pitching his behind off, matching Gibson zero for zero. The Zach Attack was terrific, giving the Indians six and two-thirds innings of scoreless ball on just five Twins hits. He struck out eight and walked one.

The Indians starters over the last three games have given up a combined one earned run in 22 innings and the team has lost twice. That’s what happens when you only score five runs total. Making matters worse for the Wahoos is the timing of closer John Axford’s implosions.

When the front office acquired Axford to be the closer, giving him a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, they thought they were getting a once-dominant closer that they could fix for a good value. Early on it looked like a steal as Axford saved eight of his first nine chances. I get that blown saves are going to happen, but what occurred these last two games has been a killer.

A night after walking two and then giving up a three-run homer to Chicago’s Dayan Viciedo, ruining Corey Kluber’s gem, Francona sent Axford back out to the mound for a third straight game—this time in a tie game. Against the first batter he saw, Eduardo Escobar, Axford immediately fell behind and then fed him a flat fastball which was deposited deep into the right field seats on a night where the ball wasn’t carrying. Axford would leave with two on and two out after he walked Brian Dozier and gave up a single to Sam Fuld but was bailed out on a Trevor Plouffe groundball to third that nailed Dozier at the plate. Marc Rzepcyznski cleaned up Axford’s mess.

Said Axford after his second straight poor performance: “I want to go out there the next day, the next game, and get the job done. Erase the slate. Get a clean slate and erase what happened the day before. Unfortunately, second pitch, it didn’t work out. It’s a shame my performance in the back end the last two days have taken precedence over a great hitting performance by George (Kottaras) and two outstanding starting pitching performances from Kluber and McAllister.”

I am still shaking my head as to why Francona made the decision to go to Axford in the first place. He had pitched in the last two games and could have used a night off.

The Tribe bats had no chance against Twins closer Glen Perkins. This was their second straight demorilizing loss at home. If the hitters could just do anything, things would feel a lot different right now.

Said Francona after the game, “We just are fairly inconsistent right now. Even in hitter’s counts, we’re not getting really good swings. I think when it’s team-wide, everybody is trying to do [too much]. It’s a good quality, but we have to fight through it together and keep the line moving. Right now, we’re not doing that.”

WTAM’s Nick Camino tweeted last night that help could be on the way.

It is easy to use the injury excuse. Michael Bourn’s hamstring has him on the shelf. Jason Kipnis is on the DL. But even when fully healthy, the bats weren’t producing. Something has got to give. Maybe that is why Aguilar, a power hitting first baseman, could be on his way up I-71. It is close to impossible to win games with the offense going the way it has.

It will be interesting to see how they respond tonight in game two of the four-game set. Newly minted fifth starter Josh Tomlin will make his season debut tonight. In his last two starts for Columbus, Tomlin pitched 17 scoreless innings, striking out 16 without a single walk. He will face off with righthander Sam Deduno.

(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • Pat Leonard

    The Indians’ hitters may be better off destroying any recordings of that game. Mike Aviles was the only one who came to play last night.

  • boomhauertjs

    Francona has been struggling as much as his hitters as his decision-making has been shaky at best for most of the season. Has anyone spotted beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse?

  • JNeids

    Once again, I prove what a walking curse I am. I spend all morning yesterday defending Axford…To be fair, there was ZERO reason to put him in that spot, but still…

  • Harv 21

    Classic reaction to blown save in a low-scoring game the previous night: batters try to jack balls to instantly ease the pressure. Francona needs two guys to heat up and then most everyone will relax. The question is who, and exactly when. If not soon this could be a demoralizing stretch of games. After the Twins the May schedule is no picnic: Rays, Blue Jays, Tigers, A’s … yikes.

  • big z

    The Indians aren’t doing so hot? “Who’d have believed it!?”

  • saggy

    Cody Allen has to step into the closer’s role at some point, right? i know Francona said he pitched the 9th because he was already up, but if that’s the case, why even throw Axford at all?

  • LaundroMat

    Perhaps Jesus will be their savior.

  • BenRM

    This one’s on the offense. MISERABLE!

  • nj0

    Last three games, starting pitching has given up one run in 22 IPs. And we’re 1-2. Sounds about right.

  • Steve

    Because there would be no save situation once you get to extras. Once you use Shaw and Allen, Axford may be your next best reliever.

  • left out

    using axford 3 days in a row might be alright if it were a save situation. but since it wasn’t, the move was beyond terrible and there’s no way to defend making it unless he was the last guy in the pen.

  • mgbode

    I heard Giambi to the DL though, so there’s that going for us, which is nice.

  • Steve

    The three days in a row is certainly a noteworthy issue. But if you think Axford should be the last guy out of the pen in non-save situations, maybe you need to reconsider using him in save situations.

  • The Other Tim

    You cannot build a team with .250 hitters and then wonder where the offense has gone.

  • cmm13

    You said it…

  • Steve

    And yet you can build a team that is 5th in the majors in runs scored with a .255 team average.

  • Achilles

    Those quotes by Swisher came at an inopportune moment considering he is hitting below the Mendoza line and has been sporadically terrible in the field as well. If Aguilar is on his way, I would not mind if it came at the expense of Swisher who has been just plain awful so far this year.

    Although, he has not been as bad as Santana, who continues to scuffle. Lastly, Asdrubel Cabrera looks even worse than he did last year, proving the whole “Let’s stand pat and hope some of our underperforming players get better” plan has predictably failed.

    I’m angry but it will soon fade into apathy as it has for what remains of this once-proud fan base that has been systematically eroded by inept management. The front office better hope the team turns it around soon or people will stay away in droves and it will be hard to blame them.

  • a_foreign_film

    given his mystifying refusal to try altering the lineup in any meaningful way, i’d suggest francona may be back on “Mr. Holland’s Opiates”.

  • cmm13

    And what spot does that earn us in the playoffs?

  • left out

    they should have avoided using him at all costs considering he pitched the previous 2 days. and using him for the third day in a row would most certainly keep him out the next day. and if a save situation came up the next day you don’t have your closer available. just doesn’t make sense to me using him in a non-save sit on his third appearance in a row.

  • Steve

    Obviously depends on your pitching and defense, but it got your hat in the ring last year, and that’s all you can ask for.

  • Steve

    Tie game in extra innings is about as high a leverage situation as you get. I don’t see how you don’t use your best option there and bet that you’ll never see as high a leverage situation the next night.

    Use your best pitchers at the most important moments.