Baseball has a long, grueling and agitating season. Life might be especially annoying as a baseball fan of a .500 team.
When you’re a bad team, almost every game is bad. It’s like being a Cubs fan. When things are good, yes the expectations are high, but again, you’re winning. The ‘90s were so much fun. But the 2014 Cleveland Indians are the epitome of what can make baseball a frustrating sport.
Just after a four-game winning streak filled with drama and excitement, they fell back down to earth with a 9-2 loss on Tuesday to the Cincinnati Reds. It was the second game of this four-game Ohio Cup series. The two teams square off for the final two in Cincinnati starting tonight.
Johnny Cueto, one of the game’s best, silenced the Tribe’s bats and Josh Tomlin had a very disappointing kind of Josh Tomlin game. It’s an understandable loss. But at the same time, still maddeningly frustrating.
The double-ball trick
Great line from my dad while we watched this unfold from our spectacular season-ticket view in section 454: “I’ve seen the hidden-ball trick before, but never the double-ball trick.”
The situation: 6-1 Reds led in the bottom of the seventh. The game was mostly out of hand. Cueto was straight dealing and had retired 16 of 18 entering the frame.
Lonnie Chisenhall drew a lead-off walk. David Murphy skipped a solid single to right, pushing Chiz to third. Then Yan Gomes smacked a ball to deep right. Chisenhall scored easily. Jay Bruce fielded the correct ball and threw it into second. Two balls flew in though, including a surprise one from the Reds bullpen. Murphy got caught hanging off third base by looking at the wrong ball.
Murphy’s comment: “Everything was crazy.” Terry Francona’s comment: “It was unfortunate and kind of fluky, but that’s the way it goes.” C. Trent Rosencrans had a fantastic oral history.
If the umpires decided the play was still live, then they can’t retroactively decide to call it dead. That’s why Francona couldn’t really do much when he went out to argue the call. There was nothing to be done.
Right on cue, of course, Chris Dickerson grounded out and Jose Ramirez flew out. What could have easily been at least two runs became only one and an already-over game was pronounced dead.
The Cowboy’s little problem
Josh Tomlin has almost always been one of those quietly effective pitchers with one significant flaw. Back in 2009 in Double-A Akron, his first full-time year as a starter, he battled and battled his way to a 14-9 record with a 4.16 ERA. He dueled against some top prospects. He had a very nice 4.63 K/BB ratio. But he also allowed 21 homers in 26 games.
Tomlin burst onto the major league scene in 2010 and, after a bad 2012 and missing 2013 for Tommy John surgery, he’s kind of back to the same pitcher he was before. So none of this is new by any means.
For fun, let’s skip around to some comments by our very own Jon Steiner. In July 2010, “the flyballs will eventually become home runs at a pretty consistent rate.” In May 2011, “he lets up more home runs than is normal.” In March 2012, “Tomlin saw a jump in his HR-rate in 2011, which could present a significant problem going forward … nearly 40% over the league average.”
Jon again defined the word TOMLINY in June of this year. Yes, this is a pitcher with an insane ratio of 82 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 91 innings. But this is also a pitcher that now has allowed 17 home runs in 16 games.
The latest dinger: light-hitting Ramon Santiago’s three-run no-doubter in Tuesday’s second inning. It was his first homer of the season and first in 336 career plate appearances against Cleveland1.
Tomlin has now allowed an astonishing 17 homers against only 19 doubles and only 11 walks this season. His opposing line is actually somewhat humorous: .274/.294/.485. His HR/FB ratio of 16.3% is a new career-worst and the third-highest for anyone with 90 innings. The problem isn’t necessarily going away anytime soon.
Assorted hitting notes
— Chris Dickerson is a great story, man. He’s the new Nyjer Morgan, literally. With Dickerson’s emergence, the Indians were able to part ways with the other sparkplug journeyman outfielder yesterday. There just weren’t likely to be any potentially available at-bats the rest of the season even if Morgan was healthy enough to return to action. But Dickerson … let’s not get too carried away. He arrived in Cleveland last month as a 32-year-old having a nice Triple-A season. He’s now 4-for-27 with four walks and 11 strikeouts in his last 11 games.
— Carlos Santana drew his 80th walk of the season last night in just his 103rd game. He’s well on pace to shatter his career best of 97 walks in the final seven-plus weeks of this season. Santana became just the sixth player in Indians history to secure four seasons of 80-plus walks. The list is a pretty legendary crew: Tris Speaker, Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Andre Thornton and Jim Thome. Again, it’s worth repeating that the 28-year-old is nearly having a career offensive season despite batting sub-.160 through May.
— Jason Kipnis is now batting .235/.305/.322 in 63 games since April 26. He has only 15 extra-base hits in 282 plate appearances. He’s really struggling this year and the Indians offense – especially against right-handed pitching – has suffered as a result. It’s almost the complete opposite of last season when he had a 72-game stretch from April 29 to July 21 with a .331/.415/.595 line. Then, he had 38 extra-base hits in 318 plate appearances. Where has the power gone? Is he just maybe unluckier? It’s getting kind of ugly.
— When can we consider Yan Gomes an elite catcher? Last season, I was pessimistic. I didn’t think it’d be possible for a throw-in Triple-A catcher to suddenly produce 4.2 rWAR in 88 games. I certainly didn’t think he’d repeat it2. But here we are and Gomes entered last night with 3.3 rWAR in 97 games. Yes, it’s worse. But it’s still elite. Combine it together and you have 7.5 rWAR in 185 Cleveland games. His defense is regarded as very good (pitch framing!) and his OPS+ of 128 is insane for a catcher. Between Gomes and Kluber, dang, those are two sensational surprises.
And … Johnny Beisbol
Johnny Cueto is one of baseball’s best pitchers. That’s really all that needs to be said about Tuesday’s game, technically. Just like Indians fans were confident when the bats gave Corey Kluber a 5-0 lead on Monday, the Reds headed their manager’s angry call and showed some swagger once Cueto got a lead. He never really needed it.
Entering last night, Cueto had the second-best ERA+ (160) of any MLB pitcher since 2011 with 350 innings pitched. Only the immaculate Clayton Kershaw (171) was better. Cueto is a dominant star for Cincinnati. He is in the midst of a career season, his fourth straight with a sub-2.85 ERA.
And that led to this post-game tweet from the Reds. Nothing better than some spunky team Twitter fights.
REDS WIN!!!!! Reds 9, Indians 2 Johnny Beisbol > Johnny Football
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 6, 2014
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)