Win four straight. Lose four straight. Get everyone thinking that, once again, you are sunk. Lose two more veterans to the disabled list. Go to New York and visit Yankee Stadium, your personal house of horrors, and take the series for the first time since 2008 while throwing 20 straight scoreless innings. Yep, just your ordinary average week with your Cleveland Indians, where inconsistency is the one constant.
It is truly amazing to watch this team week in and week out. They can look so good and knock the stuffing out of the ball, then go three games where they score four runs. They can have a week where every starter not named Corey Kluber gets lit up like a Christmas tree, then follow it with a stretch of eight straight quality starts. Certain guys get ridiculously hot with the bat while others are simultaneously colder than my dog’s nose. This particular Tribe team is one that nobody can figure out, certainly not me.
After looking awful the last three games of the home and home series with the Cincinnati Reds, the Tribe boarded a plane for the Big Apple looking once again like a beaten group. The way the series started, there was zero positives going down in the Bronx. Things got even worse in Friday’s opener when teams in the Little League World Series would say their defense was putrid. Trevor Bauer had command issues early, but was killed by a horrifically bad defensive effort in a five run Yankee first. A Jason Kipnis throwing error and a Carlos Santana dropped throw (which for some reason, he wasn’t charged with an error) rattled Bauer’s cage and let the Pinstripes pounce. It wasn’t pretty and it was all over but the shouting after one frame.
“The field was a little wet,” Santana said after the game. “I don’t know what happened, but I tried to catch the ball and I slipped a little bit when I tried to [find] the base. The ball came and I dropped it. I know it was hard. It was a long inning. I feel bad, because I want to play good defense.”
The sad thing is Carlos has been one of the better Indian defenders this season. The rest of the infield you certainly cannot say the same for. Bauer has scuffled lately after establishing himself as the defacto number two after ace Corey Kluber. Getting acclimated to the surroundings early – especially on the road where his ERA is more than two runs higher than it is at home – has been a problem for the 23-year old. His first trip to New York was not a memorable one as he departed after just three and a third where he gave up six hits and four walks with those five runs.
“I start off kind of slow sometimes,” said Bauer. “I have flashes where I just can’t really come close and I can’t really locate anything. I threw some pitches that I thought were strikes that weren’t, and I threw some pitches that clearly were nowhere close. I ended up walking some people. That’s a tough way to start the game off. You make a couple good pitches and are in a good spot, and then you’re not all of a sudden.”
Throwing salt in the wound was Esmil Rogers completely shutting the Indians down in his spot start on one run and four hits. Two-more ex-Indians would follow him in David Huff and Rich Hill, but the Tribe at least went down swinging in the 10-6 loss. If not for John Axford’s three-walk-and-a-grand-slam appearance, the game may have been different. The good news was that the bats caught a little momentum and Kluber was set to take the bump on Saturday.
I am seriously running out of things to say about the Tribe’s ace. He is in the Cy Young race, chasing Felix Hernandez who he out-dueled more than a week ago. But King Felix has been a known entity since he was 18 years old. Kluber has come out of nowhere to shock the baseball world. Respected voices like MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe, Grantland’s Jonah Keri and even Sports Illustrated NFL guru Peter King continue to fawn all over him. Driving back from my vacation this weekend, I listened to Yankees radio Play by Play man John Sterling call Sunday afternoon’s series finale. During the broadcast, Sterling literally reference Kluber’s Saturday afternoon, six inning, 10 K, no runs on four hits gem five different times. Twice he said it was easily the best performance he has seen all year and that the Yankees walked away amazed by just how dominant Corey was. Don’t believe me? Just ask the most respected guy on the field.
“He’s nasty, man,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He’s got control, didn’t walk guys. He’s a handful. I think he’s had a lot of success throughout the entire year, not just today. If he continues to pitch like this, he’ll have an extremely long and successful career.”
The run Kluber is on is like the one Cliff Lee had during his 2008 Cy Young season. What is most striking about both is that neither walked anyone. Time and time again, Corey is striking out 10. Since the All-Star break, Kluber has made five starts. He’s pitched 40 innings – that’s an average of eight innings a start – and has given up just three earned runs on 22 hits. That’s an 0.68 ERA. Most impressively? Kluber has 45 strikeouts and just four walks. That is just flat out sickening. If he could only pitch every single game!
Said closer Cody Allen who closed out Kluber’s W with his 15th save: “Think about his last, probably, seven or eight starts—he’s been unbelievable. Every time he toes the rubber, that’s a win. No matter if he’s getting the decision or not, every time he toes the rubber, that’s a win. And we need every one we can get right now.”
Imagine where they would be if they didn’t have a true stopper like Kluber. Then imagine where they would be if the since departed Justin Masterson had shown up this season and pitched like a guy worth of the $17 million per year he had asked for.
It wasn’t all smiles though after Saturday’s win. There was still another game to win and they Indians would have to do so without the services of two of their regulars. DH Nick Swisher and RF David Murphy both were placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday morning.
Strangely, the story out of Cleveland Wednesday was that the Indians brass want The Bro to play more outfield in 2015. To me, that just makes no sense, considering his body breaking down and his bat speed looking severely diminished. Swisher’s bad knees just haven’t allowed him to do much of anything and if you saw him dragging around the bases Saturday afternoon, you knew something had to give. Swish has tried to play through the pain, but he has been brutal. It probably didn’t help matters that manager Terry Francona decided to play him in the outfield twice in Cincinnati this week where he showed the range of a Jhonny Peralta/Asdrubal Cabrera hybrid. He couldn’t score from second on a Chris Dickerson gapper in the sixth and that may have been the last straw. Swish was lifted for Ryan Raburn in the bottom of the frame and we probably won’t see him again until rosters expand in September.
“I think it’s going to be something he’s going to have to manage,” said Francona of Swisher. “And, when he feels good, he’s going to have to continue to manage it. As you start to get, whether it’s arthritic changes or with some wear and tear, he’s going to have to take care of it. He’s never had to deal with that before.”
As for Murphy, he has been battling some side pain for a couple of weeks and has tried to play through it, but he re-aggravated it Saturday and had to be lifted for Mike Aviles. The next morning, he joined Swisher on the DL.
“You can feel sorry for yourself that guys got hurt. Or you can look at younger guys, different guys, have a chance to shine. I think that’s how we view it,” said Francona. “This doesn’t mean you can’t win. We just might have to do it in a little different way.”
Taking the place of Swisher and Murphy for now are Tyler Holt, who we have seen a cameo of earlier this season, and newcomer Zach Walters, an infielder by trade who came over from Washington for Asdrubal Cabrera on July 31st. Holt is what he is, but Walters carries along some intrigue. While in Columbus, the switch-hitter was raking at a .387/.387/.710 clip with a pair of homers and eight RBIs. The Indians current need is in the outfield, so the shortstop is heading there. He got the call Sunday morning and was penciled seven hole in left field.
Walters was behind Carlos Carrasco, the deposed starter turned legit bullpen weapon who has now been moved back into the rotation out of necessity. The front office and coaching staff had seen enough of Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin to know that a better option had to present itself or else this season could be sunk for good. Carrasco has been great out of the pen and seemed to have found a home after failing as a starter several times. He couldn’t even make it out of April before being shipped off to the pen. One thing that banishment did do was refocus Carrasco, who has been terrific since May. Nobody can ever doubt Carlos’s arsenal because what he has when he puts it all together is devastating.
Tomlin and McAllister’s steep dropoff has once again given Carrasco the chance to prove he can be an effective starter and here he was Sunday with the spotlight on him. This time it was in Yankee Stadium. Sounded like a recipe for disaster. However, Carlos was not only effective he was, dare I say, Kluber-esque.
Because he hasn’t been stretched out as of yet, the best the Indians could hope for was five innings from Carrasco. Not only did he go five, but he only allowed two base runners, each coming on singles in the first two innings. That was it. He retired the last 11 he faced, struck out four, and didn’t walk a batter in a tidy 77 pitches.
“That was awesome,” said Jason Kipnis who had three hits and scored three of the Tribe’s four runs on the day. “We wanted him — when he got his other chance right now to make a start — to take it inning by inning and treat each one like he’s coming out of the ‘pen and just has to pitch for one inning. Throw strikes. I thought he did an outstanding job today and kind of really set the tone for us. He looked great. I think he’s gaining his confidence back on the mound as a starter. That’s what we saw.”
Thanks to four close out innings from the bullpen, Carrasco ended his 17-game winless start streak dating back to June of 2011. The performance was a best-case scenario for the Tribe and its “Kluber and rotating goobers” run they had been on for a long while.
“The hope was that he’d pitch well,” Francona said. “But to get through five and the way he did it, and to stay in his delivery, to hold his stuff, to command his pitches, to change speeds, that was really exciting.”
If someone, this wasn’t another Carrasco tease and he has indeed found what he has been searching for, it would be a gigantic bonus for a rotation that badly needs one. Let us not overlook the work of the bullpen who once again came strong to finish out two straight wins. Save for Jacoby Ellsbury’s ninth inning two-out solo homer off of Allen on Sunday, the pen was perfect. Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw, and Allen did their things twice and CC Lee made a nice cameo in Sunday’s 4-1 win as he followed Carrasco with a 1-2-3 sixth which included two strikeouts. The team’s bullpen continues to be its biggest strength.
The Wahoos are once again back at .500 after taking two of three from the Yankees. A welcomed off day is here which gives the banged up Tribe a chance to rest. Michael Brantley spent the weekend at DH to rest his sore legs, but should be back in the outfield come Tuesday. We should also see the return of Michael Bourn to center field. He has spent the last month on the DL dealing with his nagging hamstring issues. As for the rotation, with a two-game set at Progressive Field with Arizona and off days this week both Monday and Thursday, Francona can move things around. T.J. House will go Tuesday with Bauer again slated to go Wednesday against his former team, a game you know he will be jacked to pitch in. What happens after Kluber’s next turn Friday is anyone guess.