Indians 3, Red Sox 2: Tribe climbs out of last place with Masterson’s great start

Asdrubal Cabrera, David Ortiz

Asdrubal Cabrera, David OrtizTeam Streak Midwest outdueled Team Streak East on Monday night in Cleveland.

The Indians won their fourth straight in a fast-paced 3-2 game against the Boston Red Sox, and in process, climbed out of the cellar of the AL Central. The loss snapped Boston’s seven-game winning streak.

Justin Masterson recaptured his 2013 form with seven shutout innings, battling the Boston lineup after a laborious start to the game. The three Cleveland runs all came early against red-hot starter John Lackey and proved to be barely enough, despite an eighth-inning scare.

Overall, this was another one of those fun wins that should remind fans of last year. This series is an intriguing test to see if the Indians might be for real … and if they can perhaps climb back to .500.

About the game

Michael Bourn again ignited the key offense in this game. He remains sensational of late, now batting .365/.437/.540 in his last 15 games since May 18. He scored two of the three Indians runs in this one after his walk-off homer on Sunday.

Bourn began the first with a walk and stole second. Michael Brantley drew a one-out walk as well, then after a groundout, Lonnie Chisenhall remained hot with a two-out, two-run single. In the third, Bourn tripled to begin the frame and Asdrubal Cabrera brought him home.

It seemed that Boston was destined to score early too. Masterson had 49 pitches in just the first two innings against his former team; he loaded the bases in the first, struggled to find the strike zone in the second and let up two more base runners in the third. But from then on, he cruised, retiring 12 of his final 13 batters. He once had 25 straight strikes.

Bryan Shaw allowed an eighth-inning homer to Xander Boegarts to make it a one-run game. But Cody Allen closed the door in the ninth for his third save in four days, getting beloved former Indian star Grady Sizemore to pop out to end the game.

About the Sox

They’re the defending champions. Yes, they were nine games under .500 just last week, but this is still a loaded baseball club. Last night’s win felt important. That’s because the Sox are still sensationally good and will continue to get better as multiple key players return from injuries. Any win over the Red Sox is a big deal.

In 2013, they became the first team in MLB history to have eight batters with at least 450 plate appearances and 110 OPS+ marks. That’s a remarkable feat. Only two of those eight – Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia – are no longer in the organization.

Their initial starting rotation – Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront – entered the season with a combined 452 major league wins. The latter two are now on the DL after slow starts. This remains one of the most experienced staffs in the game. It’s a huge challenge to face Lackey and Peavy twice each in two weeks with a series looming at Fenway next week.

About the pace of game

The game time of 2:21 marked the shortest Boston Red Sox game this season. That’s fairly unbelievable after the way that Masterson started this game, no?

In fact, Boston only had played one game shorter than 2:40 all season prior to last night: 2:28 against Toronto on April 27. That’s insane.

Masterson’s worth

Yesterday was Masterson’s 15th career game with the Indians of no earned-run-baseball in seven-plus innings. That broke a tie with Charles Nagy, Cliff Lee, Wes Ferrell and Bert Blyleven on the all-time franchise leaderboard. One certainly didn’t expect the big Texan to break that tie after the first two innings.

More depressingly, the fine performance stopped a long skid for the team’s supposed ace. He last had a quality start on May 8. He had allowed 22 runs (20 earned) in 24.2 innings in his last five games with a .299 batting average against and .910 OPS allowed.

I’ve written about Masterson many times before. He turned 29 in March. He’s been a mostly average MLB starter. He certainly isn’t worth a multi-year deal in excess of $14 million per year on the open market, which is likely what he’ll get from another team this offseason. The Indians can’t afford a mistake like that.

You just have to hope that he can continue to heat up in the final few months of his Cleveland career. Corey Kluber is having the far better season and is a likely All-Star. Masterson’s pitching just hopefully won’t get any worse and this could maybe be a turning point.

About the home/road oddities

Yes, at 19-11, the Indians have the best home record in the American League. They’ve won seven straight at Progressive Field. Oddly enough, they’ve only outscored opponents by only two runs in those 30 games.

That obviously means the team is 9-19 on the road, second-worst in the AL. Away from Progressive, they’ve been outscored by 20 runs in 28 games, a combination of terrible starting pitching and inconsistent offense.

I shared the run totals just to note that this appears to be a mere fluke so far. There’s no likely way the Indians will continue to have one of the oddest home/road splits in recent memory. In general, this is mostly a mediocre team; streaks happen in both the positive and negative direction and sometimes they apply to peculiar narratives.

Carlos Santana’s return

The Indians struggling “third baseman” was placed on the 7-day concussion list last Tuesday. That means it’s possible he could return to the team today in the battle of Peavy (1-2, 4.50 ERA) and T.J. House (0-1, 4.05 ERA).

Likely, I’d imagine Santana will fill in for Jason Giambi in the designated hitter slot immediately and will rotate defensive positions with Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles. There’s no way you don’t find a lineup spot consistently for Santana, even with his slow start to this season.

I heard a post-game radio broadcaster suggesting that the Indians couldn’t bench the red-hot Aviles for Santana upon his return. That’s an insane comment. Even while hot, Aviles only has a .690 OPS for the year (his .280 batting average is a little skinny). Even while cold, Santana still has a .628 OPS for the year (his .159 batting average has a lot of meat).

Then, you consider the historical evidence: Santana had a .808 OPS (128 OPS+) while averaging 150 game the past three seasons. Aviles is best served as a platoon guy: From 2011-13, he averaged a .667 OPS (82 OPS+) in an average of 117 games.

I still don’t get it, but everyone loves to hate on Carlos Santana. He’s an elite offensive player. The Indians will undoubtedly find a lineup spot for him every day when he’s back.

And of course

How could I write about this game without writing briefly about Grady?

How can these lines not be perfect? Cody Allen is the man. But more importantly, it was just bittersweet to see Grady back playing baseball in Cleveland.

Looking back, he had such a great four-year stretch from 2005-08. The averages: 6.2 WAR, a .281/.372/.496 hitting line, 41 doubles, 27 homers and 29 steals per season. That’s insane.

He’ll never get close to that again. But it’s so, so easy to recognize that familiar, joyful swing from the left side. He’s only 31, so it’s certainly possible he can have a few more decent years left in the tank. I wish those years could’ve been with the Tribe, but I’m just happy to see him back.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  • boomhauertjs

    Francona needs to get some more trust in other guys in the bullpen or Shaw and Allen will be done by August. Pitching Shaw last night was not a smart idea.

    I find it hard to call anyone with a .159 BA over the first 2 months of the season an “elite offensive player”, no matter how many walks he has. He’s been killing rallies all season with GIDP’s, while Aviles has been getting lots of clutch hits. I don’t think it’s ridiculous for Santana to lose playing time in favor of Handsome Mike.

  • mgbode

    I think Cody Allen meant to say: Holy Smokes, that used to be Grady Sizemore!

    Wish we had him 2 years ago.
    We did.
    4 years ago then.

  • mgbode

    No talk of the immaculate inning Jacob? I don’t do twitter, but was twitter not blowing up on it? I don’t think it happens very often, right?

    1 inning, 9 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 strike-outs. I do not think I have watched another game where that has happened.

  • mgbode

    I understand that it’s tough and Santana has had terrible ABs. But, take a look at those stats from Jacob. Even in this terrible mire, Santana’s OPS is not that far below the best you could possibly suspect from Aviles.

    I would put both in the lineup over Giambi, of course.

  • Hopwin

    You don’t get the Santana “hate”? How many hits & plate appearances does he need to draw his abyssmal average up to the Mendoza-line? Are there even enough games left this season for him to do so?

  • c3j1v62

    the daisy fuentes

  • mgbode

    no, that’s 3 strike-outs and a save. no pitch limit to it. as opposed to the Brian Fuentes where you give up a HR (or at least a run) and still get the save.

    and yeah, I’m wondering why I know that too.

  • cmm13

    Even with the OPS you have to concede that “elite offensive player” is taking it way, way, way too far.

  • c3j1v62

    thumbs up

  • cmm13

    Los has been far my favorite player since his debut with us a few years back.

    His first call up he was lacing doubles every which way showing he knew how to handle an MLB bat.

    Then, the walk off grand slam happened… i thought for sure that was it, we found our Manny Ramirez.

    Unfortunately the bottom fell out immediately after that and Santana has been looking for that fastball homerun ever since.

  • mgbode

    historical elite offensive player.

    this year, not so much. yeah, I agree.

  • Harv 21

    – I’m very much enjoying this little respite from Santana. And the team seems to feel the same. Maybe Carlos himself will benefit from it.

    – So Chiz is suddenly freakin’ Rod Carew, dumping outside pitches into left field. Totally different hitter from last year. Not sure how anyone can claim Tito was too protective. Manager as bonzai tree trimmer.

    – Get the feeling that if 2-3 players, hitters or pitchers, really heat up the tribe will make their move up the division. Masty, Kipnis and Carlos would be 3 good ones to start simmering. The team somehow survived a brutal May schedule less than 6 games back of Detroit, so it’s not too late. That sweep of Detroit could be huge in retrospect.

    – I like noogies. I don’t like Cabrera. Your photo leaves me in a state of perfect ambivalence.

  • nj0

    There’s a lot to dislike about Carlos, but he leads the league in BB%. “Waiting for the fastball homerun” doesn’t seem to be a good summation of his issues. This year he’s got a .177 BABIP and a terrible LD rate. Cause and effect are blurry there, but it seems to be a lot of bad luck along with some bigger issues with his swing. Anyway, my point being: his problem has never been his approach at the plate. If anything, that’s what makes him still somewhat valuable.

    I don’t get the hate either. He’s got Joey Votto disease. People think he should stop “taking walks” (as if they’re given to him) and “hit more dingers” (while making more outs). As though it’s just that easy.

  • cmm13

    “historical elite offensive player”

  • cmm13

    Last I checked a walk and a single amount to the same result.

  • nj0

    June 2, 2009 – David Ortiz: .186/.282/.284
    June 2, 2014 – Carlos Santana: .159/.327/.301

    They’re very different players, but the point remains – players go through struggles. They have to adapt. Their bodies have to heal. Stuff happens in their personal life. We know the type of player Santana is: average AVG., walk inflated OBP, some power. I don’t see why two bad months should change our opinions after three+ years of consistent performance.

  • nj0

    Elite offensive catcher is more like it

  • nj0

    I don’t get your point.

    Lets say CS was hitting .300 but hardly walking so he still had a .327 OBP. Do you think people criticize him as much? Or do you think they consider him one of our better hitters? He’s hitting .300!!!

    People still love AVG and undervalue the walk. The fact that people hate Santana (and Votto) so much are proof enough for me.

  • cmm13

    “People think he should stop “taking walks”

    These people should not think this…. a walk and a single still equal him on first base UNLESS…… there is a runner in scoring position.

    The complaint on Carlos should focus more on his inability to score runners.

    As a 3-4-5 hitter it is your responsibility to not only advance a runner, but score him.

    He’s not doing that by walking.

  • nj0

    So I shouldn’t have said “hit more dingers”. I should have said – “swing more, take less pitches, make more contact”. Basically abandon an approach that has resulted in an 129 OPS+ from 2010-2013 and made him the 4th best hitting catcher over that time. All because of two bad months.

  • cmm13

    Call me stupid or lazy but what’s the saber metric that measures the amount of times he has had a RISP and instead of singled the runner home, walked?

    That’s the frustrating stat for him .

    Also, please recall back to my original comment that even in his slump Los is still my favorite player on this team.

    I still think he has it in him to become the “elite” offensive player mentioned in the article.