The weekend that wasn’t: Tigers sweep the Tribe

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It is such a shame. How many times do the Indians draw over 100,000 fans in a weekend? I’ll tell you how many: Zero in the past three seasons. Its the first time this has happened since August of 2011. I don’t know what it is about the Indians and big crowds at Progressive Field, but it seems as though they are allergic to winning in these situations.

I know, I know, that might be overstating it a bit, but again, it is such a shame. How many more chances do you get to capture the live attention of over 100,000 people? I wish that Indians fans weren’t this fickle, but they are what they are and it is what it is. The Tribe HAD to come up with a better performance this weekend that the egg that they laid in a place they have been great all year long.

I’ve say this almost every Opening Day and I said it last season when the Tigers came to town July 4 weekend and smoked the Indians in front of a sell out crowd: When you get this opportunity, one that doesn’t come nearly enough at Progressive Field, you must take advantage of it. Winning at least one of these games would have been good enough. Instead, the Tigers came into Cleveland with thousands of their fans and swept the Tribe in their own house.

It was too little too late with the bats on Friday night, a comeback that pushed the Tigers to extras before a questionable managerial decision ended their evening with a loss Saturday night, and a complete and utter meltdown Sunday afternoon. Call it a lost weekend, but don’t say the season is over. That’s what many of you thought after Oakland swept the Indians by a combined score of 30-7 May 16th through May 18th. Two and a half weeks later, the Wahoos were two and a half games out. The aforementioned July 4th series with the Tigers a season ago left the Indians fans thinking the season was over. How did that all end up?

There is still so much baseball left to be played, so do not give up on this team. With that said, there are some disturbing trends on this team that have not been reversed to this point. Certain players are not just under-performing, but not performing at all. Even the manager has not been living up to his high standards. It has all added up to a streaky team that can get hot in a hurry and then immediately freeze.

The Tigers showed once again that to be the man, you have to beat the man (WOO) and the Indians couldn’t knock down Goliath at all.

So how exactly did this happen to the Tribe? Time to do a little finger pointing.

***

QUOTEI love Jason Kipnis. The guy gives his all every single day. The effort is never an issue for Jason. But you know something, the guy flat out is not doing the job.

Kipnis received a big contract extension in the offseason that locked him up long term with the Tribe for years to come. He stumbled out of the gate, hitting .236/.361/.404 with three homers and 12 RBIs. Almost the whole month of May was lost to that strained oblique muscle he hurt in a game in Anaheim on April 29th. Kipnis came back early on May 28th and went 2-8 in two home wins against the Colorado Rockies. The hope was that a newly re-energized Kipnis would spur a sputtering offense. Thus far in June, the results have not been what anyone had hoped for. A slash line of .263/.306/.300 without a home run and just nine RBIs in 80 ABs is just not cutting it.

This is a cornerstone player for the Indians who is young and on the rise. A gigantic regression from him would essentially sink an already below average offense lacking in consistent run producers in the middle of the order. Kipnis is supposed to be the guy. Instead, he is floundering. Kip hasn’t hit a big fly since April 21st. Jason spent his weekend stranding runners. Going 1-14 against your biggest rival from the cleanup spot is just not good enough.

Saturday night was the most egregious. In the eighth inning with the Indians trailing 4-3 and the tying run 90 feet way, all Kipnis need to do was hit a fly ball. Instead, he weakly grounded to third and that run never scored. In extra innings again trailing by a run, he let the below average Phil Coke dominate him on a strikeout. These two at-bats were a microcosm of his season. Yesterday afternoon he was even worse, going 0-5 with three strikeouts. In the first he had two on and one out and struck out. A two-on, two-out situation arose again in the third and he grounded out to end the inning. He once again struck out with two on and two out in the fifth. If you are scoring at home, that is six left on in his first three at-bats.

Kipnis is lucky that Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana have been as bad as they have to start the season, because it has masked how awful he has been. It it time for Jason to step up his game. He knows it too.

***

Speaking of Swisher, despite his two game-winning homers since coming off the DL, he has fallen right back into the hole he put himself in. On this home stand, The Bro is 2-24 with 14 strikeouts. In every game except for the series opener with the Angels, Swisher has struck out at least twice. In three of the last four games he has K’d three times in a game. These at-bats have been downright awful. At a certain point, Terry Francona is going to have to start looking into cutting some of his playing time. Its late July and Swish is still under the Mendoza line at .194/.282/.320.

I am talking about two guys that are central to this team’s offensive success who are badly under-performing. At least Santana has started his turnaround. Over his last 16 games, Carlos is raking. He is 18-53 (.340) with an OPS of 1.153. It is not fair to continue to count on just Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall to deliver every time they come up with runners on base. Asdrubal Cabrera has had his moments as well, but for every big hit he has come up with, I can give you numerous examples of his horrific first pitch swinging ground out rally killers.

This stat, courtesy of our own Jacob Rosen, really says it all about the Indians offense:

Between that and the continued poor defensive teams, I just don’t know how the Indians can stay in the hunt. We know they are capable of doing it, but the constant shots in the proverbial foot make things a lot tougher on them.

Sunday’s 10-4 blowout was a prime example by how defensive mistakes can change the course of a game. The Tigers nursed a 2-0 lead in the fifth and had two on with nobody out. Miguel Cabrera sent a double play ball to Kipnis at second. He quickly fired to Cabrera at short and once again, Asdrubal dropped it. This certainly isn’t the first time he has done this. The error was his league leading 14th on the season. I know I won’t miss Asdrubal when the Indians let him walk after the season. His defense continues to KILL the Indians. The drop opened the flood gates. Instead of trailing 3-0 with two out and nobody on, there was still none out.

***

Victor Martinez, who killed the Indians all weekend, hit a liner to center which Michael Bourn saw pop out of his glove. The second Tribe error of the inning certainly didn’t help Josh Tomlin, who was teetering. The next two Tigers, J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos both doubled, knocking Tomlin from the game. By the time the frame was done, the Kitties had dropped a seven spot on the Tribe on six hits.

“They put up a seven spot that basically took the game out of our hands,” Francona said. “We’re hanging in there at that point. If we can score a couple, we’re back in it. But they just blew it open, and we helped them. They don’t need any help.”

The Indians lead all of baseball with 67 errors.

Nobody should be safe from criticism this week, including the manager. Everyone knows how great Francona is at his job. He is renowned around baseball as one of the best in the game. But when it comes to 2014, he has been off. Tito has stuck with his veterans in certain spots too long, overused the same four relievers most of the year, and has made some head-scratching in-game decisions. This weekend was no different.

At least Victor left this fan happy.

At least Victor left this fan happy.

I understand how good Victor Martinez is. I watched it for years here in Cleveland. Francona’s affinity for guys who have played for him in the past can sometimes cloud his judgement. Victor played for Tito in Boston. In his second at-bat on Friday night, Martinez took Corey Kluber deep for a two-run homer. Almost from that point forward, Francona decided anyone other than Vic the Stick was going to have to beat him.

Saturday night as the game headed into extra innings, Victor had already had two hits including a homer and had been intentionally walked. The lead run was on third with one out. Miguel Cabrera was coming to the plate. This is Miguel Cabrera we are talking about here. I don’t care who is on deck, you absolutely do not pitch to him under any circumstances. In addition, with just one down, walking the slow footed Cabrera sets up the double play that would get you out of the inning. Its a complete no-brainer. Francona deeply respects and fears Victor and he let that overrule the obvious play. Naturally Cabrera doubled off the high wall in left-center, scoring the winning run.

“It seemed liked everytime we came through the middle of their lineup we got nicked up,” said Francona when asked about why he didn’t walk Cabrera. “If there’s one guy where you’re going to take a shot with it’s Cody (Allen) with his stuff. He just misfired.”

In the third inning of Sunday’s 10-4 loss, Miggy came to the plate with a man on second and one out. He let Tomlin pitch to him and once again he came through with an RBI single. Why would he possibly pitch to him again after getting burned a night before? Tomlin would end up striking out Victor and getting J.D. Martinez on a ground out that ended the inning.

Just like his team at times, Francona has been off his “A” game.

More quick thoughts:

• The vibe down at Progressive Field on Friday and Saturday nights was fantastic. It felt like the good old days again. Big crowds, exciting games, lots of Tribe gear. It felt great to be a Tribe fan. It is just too bad the Indians could’t pull out at least one of these two.

“It was awesome,” Saturday’s starter Trevor Bauer said. “There was this energy you kind of could sense throughout the whole game.”

Omar Vizquel• Omar Vizquel is a legend. I would argue that of all the guys who played during the “Era of Champions,” Omar was the most popular. His defense was the best I’ve ever seen at his position in my lifetime and he knew how to handle the bat. It was a great pleasure to see him get rightfully inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame Saturday night and as usual, Little O didn’t disappoint.

He was always an eccentric dresser to say the least, and the white shirt he sported for the ceremony was, well, unique. While Michael Bourn’s game-tying single in the ninth brought the crowd to a fever pitch, the best moment of the night was watching old mates Vizquel and Carlos Baerga work a double-play ball one last time. Omar even gave the crowd his signature leap over an imaginary runner. Fantastic stuff at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

• Haven’t we seen enough of John Axford at this point? How many more times do we need to witness his lack of command? I know he had been better of late, but the guy just cannot be trusted. Francona turned to him in the eighth Friday night with the Indians trailing 2-0. They were still very much in the game and about to get into the soft Tigers pen. Ax had nothing and it was evident right off the bat.

After struggling to get two of the first three batters he faced out, the deposed closer fired an insanely wild pitch which moved Austin Jackson to second base. He then intentionally walked Victor to face J.D. Martinez, who took Axford’s get-me-over fastball deep for a three-run bomb.

Twenty-three walks and 27 hits in 30 innings is not exactly awe-inspiring stuff, especially when the Indians gave him $4.5 million to be their closer. I’d much rather take my chances with Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee, or any of the Indians younger, cheaper arms. Axford has an option remaining and when a fifth starter is needed again eight days from now, a reliever is going to have to go. At this point, it should be Axford.

• Speaking of Pestano, it was great to see him get called back up after working so hard to rediscover himself in AAA Columbus. Vinnie had been humbled over the past two seasons, and he was not too big to admit it. He went down to the minors and didn’t sulk. He worked hard and it paid off.

“I got in a little bit of a groove down there,” he said. “I found some mechanics that were consistent and repeatable, and just tried to keep doing that.”

Pestano had made 13 straight scoreless appearances in Columbus before being called up. He saw action with the Indians both Friday and Saturday night, including a high-leverage situation the second time around. He retired both batters he faced in the ninth, setting the stage for the Tribe’s comeback. The best part? His velocity was back up to 91-92 MPH. Vinnie’s performance was one of the few bright spots this weekend.

The Indians now receive a much needed day off before heading out west. Tuesday will bring a two-game series in Arizona with the Diamondbacks.

——–

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

  • MrCleaveland

    Excellent article, TD. You said it all, so there’s nothing left to say but I agree. Now people should stop complaining about attendance. And I too am so done with Asdrubal.

  • MrCleaveland

    Excellent article, TD. You said it all, so there’s nothing left to say but I agree. Now people should stop complaining about attendance. And I too am so done with Asdrubal.

  • Natedawg86

    A. Cabrera- I was at a few games in Bos and watched BP and warmups down on the field. He has his son out there (probably 6-7 YO) running around and playing catch with him and doing things a 6-7 YO will do. I don’t know if this is the case all the time, or just for the game that I was at, but it seems like he should be focusing more during warmups leading up to the game. I think his problems are mostly centered around his inability to focus. I think he can turn things around and play like he did at one point in his career, but he has to want to do it. I can see him leaving after the year and doing well on another team. He may just need a shakeup in his life to get back to focusing on baseball.

  • Natedawg86

    I was suprised to hear Tom call Vinny’s name this weekend. Hope he has found it. Axford is awful. I feel like we are conceding games when he is pitching.

  • mgbode

    Omar was the most popular. His defense was the best I’ve ever seen at his position in my lifetime

    Omar or Ozzie….Ozzie or Omar. Both incredibly gifted, both incredible entertainers as well. I do not think you go wrong with either.

    http://38.media.tumblr.com/e600bafe7ad558e49d7285cb8aa24335/tumblr_mna3us6Bbl1r3k8ffo1_500.gif

  • mgbode

    I wouldn’t blame his issues on playing with his kid. Hitting is as much relaxing at the plate as it is focus. You need to do things to prepare for both sides of it. As long as he’s doing a focused BP earlier in the day, then I’m completely okay with him having his kid take the edge off right beforehand. Healthier than doing dip (RIP Tony Gwynn).

  • mgbode
  • Harv 21

    Too lazy to research the Tribe home record the last 3-4 years in front of 30,000+. But it cannot be good.

    Re Swisher, what happened to his great asset – patience and ability to take a walk? Two possibilities would be worrisome: 1) He’s again feeling the contract pressure, and is trying to jack everything. But this is a guy celebrated for playing loose; 2) The classic bat-is-starting-to-slow-so-better-start-my-swing-early. And if that’s the case that contract anchor might swamp the boat unless some minor league hitters with pop blossom quickly.

    Like all you guys, hard to watch much more of Astrubal. Seemed like such a clutch player on the rise a few years ago. Since he supposedly came to this spring training in fighting trim, the defensive deterioration and inability to stay out of prolonged slumps seem to point to something real bad.

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t really take issue with what he was doing, more his performance. If you are lights out, and eat a bucket of chicken before the game, nothing is said, it is when you are not lights out…

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t remember him ever using his glove

  • Natedawg86

    Coming into the season in “fighting trim” or something of that nature doesn’t always translate in baseball. I will never forget CC Sabathia and his diet change going into the 2007 playoffs. IF A BOX OF CRUNCHBERRIES GOT YOU THERE, ORDER ANOTHER CASE!!!!

  • mgbode

    I think it helped balance him on those jumps.

  • mgbode

    we should have gotten him the live chicken

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Over 100,000 get treated to a sweep by Detroit. The Indians can’t play in front of large crowds which might explain their road record.

  • Harv 21

    Agree. That’s always the writer’s cliche: Looks ripped = ready for break out year, looks pudgy = drank beer all off-season.

  • cmm13

    “I can give you numerous examples of his horrific first pitch swinging ground out rally killers.”

    Saturday night being the most recent…. he handed that game over to the Tigers in the 9th.

    Gomes and Bourn worked Nathan into deep, DEEP counts before finally prevailing off him. They stayed patient and showed great discipline.

    What does Cab do? first pitch ground out stranding the winning run.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Love O but man that shirt, what was up wit dat?

  • Petefranklin

    The Mexican grocers in Phoenix sell them, maybe we still can.

  • mgbode
  • Petefranklin

    AWESOME!!!!!

  • nj0

    ACAB: .260/.320/.419
    ACAB on 0-0 count: .302/.302/.465

    He has done demonstrably better when swinging at the first pitch.

  • Steve

    So because Tiger fans filled our stadium for a weekend, the attendance discussion should be settled?

    I’m not going to fight about it, but one weekend doesn’t change a multi-year trend.

  • nj0

    I’m apparently the only one who thinks ACab is having a solid year. OPS+ of 112, another 15-20 HR season, not completely horrible defensive metrics… But CLUTCH?!?! RISP!?!? Yeah, yeah, yeah. The all important clutch and will to win and eye of the tiger. No, he’s not a worldbeater, but he’s been fairly solid. If I was dividing the roster into HELPING US and HURTING US columns, ACab would be one of the few helping. Our pitching is slowly becoming the worst in all of baseball. Texas is ahead of us but they play in tough place to pitch.

  • nj0

    That’s what I was going to say. I bet the majority of the people at the ballpark were glad to see their Tigers win.

  • MrCleaveland

    Sorry, that’s not what I meant. I meant that on average, the Indians seem to play worse in front of big crowds.

  • Steve

    Fair enough. I do wonder how true that actually is. I’m sure it was last year as they continuously lost to Detroit, and the stadium was full only because of Detroit fans.

  • mgbode

    I will maintain that while RISP numbers may not reflect what will happen in the future, they are incredibly important to the team’s success in the past (=current record) and, luck or skill, the players who achieve the results that help the team will get the associated praise/scorn.

    Now, I agree with you that he has been okay at the plate (really above average since he’s a SS). The problem is that when you lack his range and make as many bad defensive plays as he does that ‘okay to above average’ isn’t good enough for a player making 1/8 the team’s payroll.

  • mgbode

    and on our pitchers, it is amazing how bad our young pitchers are at limiting HRs. if the xFIP disciples are correct, then this will self-correct over time, but it certainly seems as if it is a young pitcher issue presently.

    Bauer, House, Salazar (and Tomlin) all have struggled in this regard, while Kluber, Masterson, and even Carrasco are more even with it. Something to watch at least.