I really don’t even know what to say about this team right now. I have been searching for positives from this horrific weekend series where the Oakland Athletics did their best Harlem Globetrotters impression while the Cleveland Indians donned the uniforms of the Washington Generals. They didn’t hit. They committed more errors (7) than runs scored (6). The pitching was for the most part awful. If it is possible to hit rock bottom in the middle of May, the Tribe certainly was attempting it with this series.
Said manager Terry Francona, who has been as off of his game as his players this season: “What we’re doing, right now is not good enough. We’ve got to play better, and we’ve got to have these guys more prepared.”
The A’s swept the Indians with complete and utter ease, outscoring the Wahoos 30-6. By Sunday, Francona was left searching for answers, so he reluctantly did what he didn’t want to do — moved things around in the batting order. It didn’t work.
In theory, Francona is trying anything to get his slumbering offense going, but it is still grasping at straws. He’s missing All-Star Jason Kipnis and this lineup has never been good enough to sustain that kind of major loss. Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana have been complete no-shows for close to two months now. Without those three producing, the team has to hope they can string together just enough runs to couple with their strong pitching, then hope for the best.
“This is not a lineup that is going to be in place for the rest of the year,” Francona said. “But the hope is that it can help, maybe, jump-start us a little bit and make it a little easier for the guys who are struggling a little bit. When they get going, they’re going to be guys who really help us. In the meantime, we’ve got to piece it together a little bit better.”
But here is the thing: No matter where Santana and Swisher are hitting these days, the at-bats are going to find them.
Sunday’s 13-3 blowout was a prime example. Francona moved Swisher and Santana to sixth and seventh, respectively. The two still combined to go 0-9. Swisher had three chances with runners in scoring position and failed in all three attempts, dropping his average to .196. Carlos was no better and continues to flounder at .152. It is clearly mental with the both of them, but Swish may be even worse. His horrific error on a slow grounder which went right under his glove in Sunday’s loss was his sixth. By every defensive metric, The Bro is the worst at his position in the American League. Santana may have wanted to make him feel better, committing errors in the three games prior to Sunday.
“We’re at a point where the way we’re playing, there’s not a lot of wiggle room,” said Francona, “and when you make errors or (allow) extra opportunities, it’s been very costly.”
Whether it was Swisher booting groundballs, Lonnie Chisenhall throwing the ball into the camera bay, or Santana chucking balls up the first base line, the defensive issues just continue to pile up. This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill bad week of defense, it is some of the worst team defense we have seen here in more than a decade. Many of these errors have been game-changers.
On Saturday night with the Indians trailing Oakland 3-2 with two on and one out, lefty reliever Marc Rzcepczynski induced a double play groundball, but rookie first baseman Jesus Aguilar dropped the throw which would have been the third out. Instead, the A’s took advantage of the extended inning when Bryan Shaw relieved Rzepcyznski and was gotten by Josh Donaldson’s triple and Brandon Moss’s double. Suddenly a one-run deficit became four, all because Aguilar couldn’t squeeze a throw from second.
With the way this offense is going, four runs might as well be forty.
Francona’s tinkering Sunday included putting Ryan Raburn in the cleanup spot against righty Jesse Chavez. A night earlier with lefty Scott Kazmir on the mound for Oakland, Francona hit Raburn fifth. We knew a regression from Raburn had to be coming, but his dropoff has been just as steep as Santana’s. Here was a guy who’s OPS against left-handed pitching was over .900 in ’13 and in 2014 cannot hit his weight. But this is what Raburn was before his resurrection a year ago. I said it then and was wrong but I still believe it to be true — Raburn should NEVER be hitting anywhere in the middle of the lineup. Like Santana and Swisher, he is under .200 (.177) and striking out a ton.
Don’t expect some magic cure-all to come from the minors to help this offense. The guys that are here are the guys that are going to have to turn things around. I tried to explain to anyone that would listen that while Aguilar was off to a hot start in Columbus, he was not the answer. He has never been considered a top prospect in all of baseball or even with the Indians for that matter. The big strapping right-handed first baseman has hit at all levels of the minors, but he is more than a complimentary piece than anything. Thus far in his brief appearance, Aguilar is 0-4 with two walks and two strikeouts. With Jason Giambi supposedly headed back Tuesday, Jesus could be back in Columbus.
Then there was the pitching…
Zach McAllister started the season as hot as any Tribe pitcher, but in four of his last five starts, Zach has been attacked. Friday’s outing was the worst of them all. He started the game by striking out the side which was crazy to think about after the fact. In the second the A’s beat him like a pinata. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Josh Reddick grand slam got it started. That was followed by two more walks and a Donaldson three-run bomb that still hasn’t landed yet. In a blink, it was 8-1 and Zach was done.
Since beating the Royals on April 26th, McAllister’s ERA has ballooned from 2.28 to 5.36 and the Indians have lost each of the last five starts.
“I know I haven’t pitched my best,” McAllister said. “Obviously, you’re going to have some peaks and valleys. Right now, I’m down, as far as the way I’ve been pitching lately. I know I’ve got to get back up to that middle ground and pitch better.”
It wouldn’t matter as much if the rest of the team was doing their part. Now Danny Salazar has been sent to the minors to work out his issues, Carlos Carrasco has already been replaced by Josh Tomlin, and Justin Masterson seems to be wilting under the pressure of free agency. Masterson had another chance to prove himself worthy of being the rotation stopper and failed miserably on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
I wrote this last week but it bears repeating, we all have to lower our expectations on Masterson because he just isn’t a top of the rotation guy. He is more of a number three. The velocity is down and his command issues have reappeared, not to mention the fact that lefties are knocking him around at a .310 clip. Four plus innings into his latest start, Masterson was yanked after giving up seven runs on seven hits and five walks. The patient A’s worked him over before he finally tapped out. It was unimpressive and frankly unacceptable with his team facing a sweep at home.
“He had a hard time with his slider,” Francona said. “So he was kind of relying on one pitch, and there was a lot of traffic.”
Haven’t we heard this bit before?
“The next one will be good,” Masterson said. “Don’t worry. This is the anomaly. … Next time we’ll slice and dice again.”
How can we even trust that the way he has pitched this season? Certainly his 5.06 ERA isn’t evidence of a great turnaround. Put Masterson in the Santana and Swisher category of gigantic disappointments that have caused this team to look like what they are currently; a cellar dweller.
Leave it to center fielder Michael Bourn to put things succinctly: “We got beat in every facet of the game: pitching, defense, timely hitting. They beat us in every facet of the game. We got embarrassed on our home field. It doesn’t get any easier. We have Detroit coming to town. They’re not going to take it easy on us. We have to find a way to fix it and fix it fast.”
Photo via Chuck Crow/PD