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.
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:
#Indians entered today batting .165/.270/.261 with runners in scoring position and 2 outs. Wow. In 291 ABs.
— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) June 22, 2014
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.
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 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)