Tribe Weekend Recap: Dominant starting pitching, slumbering bats, and Ubaldo being Ubaldo

Carlos Carrasco

Carlos Carrasco

This weekend series was once again another example of what this 2014 Cleveland Indians team is all about. The AL East leading Baltimore Orioles came to town with the biggest margin of any division top dog in baseball. Their offense is beastly, with power up and down the lineup. So naturally the story of the weekend was the Indians starting pitching. You know, the group that was Corey Kluber and a bunch of rotating pieces shuffling between Columbus and the bullpen? Well here they were, dominating one of the best offenses in the game and leading the Indians to a series win, one they needed badly to keep pace in the race for the second Wild Card.

It is still tough to see this team making another run like they did last year and it was this weekend that was example number one. There is a reason that the Wahoos haven’t won more than four games in a row this season. You can point to the up and down starting pitching all you want, but the hot and cold offense is the real reason. The much maligned rotation is on a crazy run this last week. Going back to last Saturday in New York, the Tribe starters have pitched 44 innings and has allowed just four earned runs. That’s good for a 1.02 ERA. On top of that is an 0.73 WHIP and an opponents batting average of .168. It was one thing to shut down the 4A lineup that Arizona Diamondbacks. It is quite another to do what Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar did to the Orioles.

Kluber was Kluberific once again Friday night. In a weekend full of odd decisions, Manager Terry Francona pulled his ace with two out in the eighth inning after he gave up a single to Nelson Cruz. At 116 pitches, Tito called for Bryan Shaw to protect the 1-0 lead. Earlier in the season in these situations, Francona has gone to closer Cody Allen for a four out save. It was not as if Kluber couldn’t have gone one more batter either. He had only given up five hits with 10 strikeouts. More on this in a minute.

A night later, it was Carrasco’s turn. Sure, some thought his five inning shutout of the Yankees last Sunday was a fluke. So what would you say about seven scoreless innings against Baltimore? And it is not like Carrasco struggled doing so. The right-hander with the killer stuff only allowed three hits and didn’t walk a batter. Did I mention he struck out five and threw just 79 pitches? Yes, I am talking about Carlos Freaking Carrasco, people. Nobody is more surprised by this than me.

I will be the first one to admit I was on the Carrasco-to-the-pen bandwagon for at least two seasons. His move to the pen did him a world of good. Whatever he, pitching coach Mickey Callaway, and bullpen coach Kevin Cash have worked on, has paid dividends. Carlos has learned to relax. That bullpen mentality of having a short memory has kicked in. Carrasco is now working exclusively from the stretch and it puts him in that same frame of mind where he enjoyed so much success. As a reliever, Carlos sported a 2.06 ERA and an 0.98 WHIP in 48 innings. He emerged to find a rotation spot waiting for him, thanks to the failures of Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister.

“I don’t know that that just changes everything,” Francona said of Carrasco working out of the stretch. “I just think that’s part of what he was doing in the bullpen, and he was pitching really well. So I don’t see the big deal. OK, you’re a starter, but if you’re more comfortable, there’s less moving parts.”

This may have been his last chance to prove he can be a starter in Cleveland. In his two outings since the return, Carrasco has now tossed 12 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts and ZERO walks.

“I think he’s better equipped to pitch, whether it’s in the bullpen or starting,” Francona said of Carrasco. “I think he feels good about himself. I think being out in the bullpen helped him a lot. I think it let him settle in and get his confidence and kind of understand who he is and he’s taken the same mentality now into the starts. Man, it’s a big lift for us.”

It is too early to call Carrasco a “savior” but his emergence was as if the Indians got a starter at the trading deadline. The 6-0 Tribe win Saturday gave them a chance for the sweep. It was Danny Salazar’s turn to step forward. With the way this offense has been going, any sort of “off” start will kill the chance for a win. He wasn’t as good as Kluber and Carrasco, but he entered the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead. After giving up a double to Steven Pearce and hitting Adam Jones with a pitch, Francona pulled the plug. The bullpen has been so reliable, so you can understand why he called for Scott Atchison, despite Salazar throwing just 91 pitches. “Sometimes you want to finish,” Salazar said. But he’s the manager. He knows the game better than me or anybody else.’

Atchison gave up back to back two out RBI singles which gave the Orioles the lead for good as they took the series finale 4-1. But the Tribe starters were the talk of the weekend. You will take three earned runs in 19.2 innings every time. The sad thing is when you get three starts like this, you should sweep your opponents. Which brings me to the offense.

Yes, they won two of three games, but the same issues linger. It took a Mike Aviles walkoff homer in the 11th innings on Friday night to win a game 2-1, their seventh walkoff homer of the year. This came after three runs in 21 innings in Wednesday’s split doubleheader with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of those five runs in those 32 frames, three came from solo homers (two by Zach Walters,who has been on the team for five minutes). Ubaldo Jimenez’s return to Cleveland was the tonic that the slumbering offense needed as they jumped all over him for three in the first in Saturday’s 6-0 win. Once again, it was the home run ball that did the damage, this one coming from Carlos Santana who scored the newly activated Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez who both walked. Michael Brantley added a two-run blast in a three-run fifth.

Reality set back in on Sunday when O’s stud rookie Kevin Gausman and three relievers held the Tribe bats to one run on two hits. Both hits came back to back in the fourth. Save for that, the Indians were 0-24. Many baseball people devalue the “win” statistic for pitchers, which I completely agree with. I am now on board with devaluing the overall runs scored category knowing the Indians rank fifth in the American League. Anyone who watches this team on a regular basis knows how tough it is for them to score runs. This week says it all. They scored five runs in 32 innings, then six in two innings, then get on on two hits in going for a sweep.

Bourn is now back, which should help lengthen the lineup. Moving Kipnis out of the leadoff spot was something that was long overdue. But as we have said all year, too many guys just aren’t pulling their weight. Other than Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, every single member of the offense has slumped at one point or another. Now they are attempting to make this playoff run without the now-departed Asdrubal Cabrera, plus injured starters Nick Swisher and David Murphy, who both we won’t see for at least three more weeks. Now it is not as the this is Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle and Carlos Baerga of ’95 being missed, but the Tribe has been forced to go with the likes of Chris Dickerson, Ryan Raburn, Walters, and Ramirez in their steads.

We all liked the Dickerson story when he first came over from the Pirates AAA affiliate, but there was a reason the 32-year old journeyman was available. In his last 21 games, Dickerson is 7-50. Raburn I can’t even get into at this point other than to say I still can’t believe the Indians gave him two years guaranteed in the middle of last season. The brass wants to see more of Ramirez and Walters, which I am completely down for. I mean, they can’t be much worse than what Swisher and Asdrubal was giving to the team. And I haven’t even gotten into the struggles of Lonnie Chisenhall.

We all knew that Lonnie Baseball was not as good as his .400 start suggested, but this offense desperately needs something of a wake up from him. This is a regression to the mean for Chisenhall for sure, but this tweet from our own Jacob Rosen heading into Saturday night woke me up a little.

It will be interesting to see how Francona mixes and matches his guys the rest of the way. Speaking of Tito, he is the master of juggling personalities and having his guys want to run through a wall for him. But his in-game decisions, particularly with his bullpen, have really been odd at times this season. I mentioned earlier about going to Shaw with two outs in the eighth and lifting Kluber when he did Friday night. Allen was a fresh as he could be and has had two four-out saves since taking over the closer’s role in May. Of all the guys Francona has overused, Shaw is the most egregious. He’s tied for second in the AL with 59 appearances (I know, Allen is next with 58) and has slowed down a bit in the second half. He entered the game needing one out for the hold and gave up back to back singles which tied the game and took away any chance Kluber had to win.

OK, call me a second-guesser after the fact if you want, but then how do you explain Francona going back to Shaw a night later with a 6-0 lead in the ninth? Anyone could have been used their; CC Lee, Kyle Crockett, whoever. Why use your set up man with a six run lead? Sunday he used six relievers over the last four innings, but used them in an odd fashion. Like why use not have one of your three lefties face Chris Davis with two outs in the sixth in a tie game? What about going to Lee in a one run game in the seventh? This weekend was not one his finer moments.

The finest moment of the weekend to me was easily watching our old friend Ubaldo be, well, Ubaldo in his first inning inside Progressive Field since signing elsewhere. As much crap as I have him when he was here, Jimenez was brought in to pitch the Indians to the playoffs. That is exactly what he did. I know it was two years after the fact, but he did what he came here to do. On top of that, ask anyone who covers the Indians and they will tell you he was a great guy. Win or lose, Jimenez was at his locker making no excuses, and this was a guy who had some real stinkers while he was here.

During that incredible transformative stretch during the second half of 2013, Ubaldo was nails. For that, I will always have a soft spot for him. Let us not forget that Justin Masterson all but the final weekend of September with a side injury and it was on Jimenez to play the role of ace. He made six starts in September, and the Indians won all of them. Ubaldo’s ERA in those six starts was a sterling 1.09. In 41.1 innings he struck out 51 and walked just seven. He used that stretch to get himself paid. The Indians had seen two plus years of mostly junk and two and a half months of gold. They weren’t fooled, so they let him walk and collected a first round pick for him. The Orioles gave Jimenez $50 million over four years.

What has that produced thus far? A return to the guy we saw way too much of here; a command issue waiting to happen at every turn. Jimenez has made 20 starts in Baltimore, has a 4.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP and has 66 walks to his 98 K’s in 110 innings. His -0.4 WAR is the worst of his career.

He took the mound here Saturday night to a smattering of both cheers and boos, nothing to loud either way. As we have seen so often, he walked two guys in the first, then gave up a three-run bomb to Santana. His line on the night: four and a third innings, six runs, five hits, three walks, and five strikeouts. After the game, his catcher Kaleb Joseph has this to say:

“It’s difficult, because you know it is in there. And you want to try and call pitches that kind of get him back on track. You try as best as you can to get him back on track. But at the end of the day, he’s the one with the ball. And you are just trying to facilitate him throwing strikes. And like I said, when he does that, he does a good job for us. We are going to need him to throw strikes. It’s in there. We believe in him. He’ll be better.”

You could have cut and pasted that from any time between mid-2011 and mid-2013 and attributed those quotes to Ubaldo’s old battery-mate Santana and nobody would have known the difference. The good news is that he is somebody else’s problem now.

The Indians are still five games back of that second Wild Card with four teams in front of them, but they are coming off a series win that could be called unexpected. You cannot count this team out because of the soft schedule in front of them. After Monday’s off-day, the Tribe will play their next nine games against three AL doormats – Minnesota, Houston, and Chicago. If there was ever a time to start a run, now would be it.

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(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • mgbode

    We weren’t patient enough on Sunday, which is really odd to say when we walk 4 times. But, Gausman’s struggles this year have come when teams are willing to just rack up the pitch count on him and let him beat himself. He’s still learning and our hitters let him off the hook far too often chasing into weak contact early in counts.

    For our overall offensive struggles, I don’t know what we can really do about it right now. We have 3 pretty consistent hitters in Brantley, Santana, and Gomes. The rest of them have struggled, but so has the entire MLB this season. We actually score slightly more runs/game than the Orioles and hit more HRs/game than the Tigers. All while having an Offensive Team WAR 5th in the AL (so it’s not a flukey thing, it’s supported overall).

    Trust me, I’m frustrated by the past week of offense too (moreso the AZ series), but I also don’t really view this team as one that has what it needs to quite get to October, so I’m shading myself more for 2015.

    Of note: While KC might be able to sneak into October with their incredible depth, I really think they are going to get slammed if they get in. They are a bad offensive team with no power who have to completely rely on their defense and pitching (who are good but a bit over-rated due to their excellent defense). That works for the long haul, but, in the postseason, you need to have some bats and preferably some power at key times.

  • nj0

    I think it’s just a matter of time before the Royals come back down to earth. To me, the story of the Central is less the ascendency of Kansas City and more the underachieving Tigers. I know they’ve dealt with some injuries, but they’re sure underwhelming for a team “willing to spend”.

    Agree on the offense too. That’s just how the league is now.

    My head nearly exploded when I saw Saturday’s starter. That the universe didn’t implode for Jimenez v. Carrasco means that we’re going to be okay.

  • nj0

    Also: can we please cut bait on Raburn? I don’t see the value in keeping him around. Just eat the money and give some young guy a chance, please.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Detroit’s bullpen is what had been killing them and of course hitters not hitting but that happens to every team. Once they start to hit again the race in the central is over. But maybe they won’t.

  • Harv 21

    Lotta stuff needed to break right last year for that playoff surge. Looks like Callaway’s magic dust and hypnotism is finally affecting enough starters, but the extra month it took to take hold this year appears fatal.

    Re the offense, I won’t blame our half-dozen hitting coaches, or whatever the number is. I blame Antonetti. Guys like Kipnis are going to dip some after they get their big bucks. The rest isn’t that far off their recent track records. Chiz has had a breakthrough but wasn’t going to carry us all season and Brantley is only permitted to bat once per lineup cycle. Bourne seems to take a few weeks post-IR to get going and that will be too late. Bottom line: they will never compete 2 consecutive years until the amateur draft produces a steady stream of position player talent competing with each other up the system. Cannot count on managers and coaches extracting miracle years from the Raburns and Giambis.

  • mgbode

    Yes, please.

  • mgbode

    and pitchers. we actually look to have some steady stream of position players coming in the future, but the outlook on pitching isn’t looking as nice.

  • mgbode

    Oh, and I think this was lost a bit in my posts, but I thought the overall weekend of baseball was fun. The Aviles blast, destroying Ubaldo, and having the 2 youngsters put on a show (Salazar v. Gausman) was really fun baseball. I enjoyed it thoroughly (especially winning 2/3).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I like that Walters but his elongated neck really creeps me out! He has his neck plus the one I was supposed to get but didn’t.

    http://i.perezhilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/lpc051ml-giraffe_zps7ac226aa.gif

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Just think had Harang (yep he’s still pitching decent for the Braves sorry Tribe fans/Antonetti) and maybe Kazmir been resigned what may have been huh?

  • Jason Hurley

    I guess. Or, Harang in the AL would have been Derek Lowe 2.0, and Kazmir, who wasn’t a world-beater last year, could have had a bad year and we could be staring down another year of a bad contract.
    The Tribe made some choices, and while some of them have been fine (letting Ubaldo walk), some have been tough to see (Kazmir). These things, they happen – especially for a team that has limited their payroll.

  • nj0

    Yeah, general rule of thumb is add half a point to ERA from NL to AL. So Harang would be a 4.00 ERA guy pitching in front of our awful defense.

    I’m still with Shammy though that letting him walk was a mistake. With the way starting pitching is, you find a way to keep arms around. We should have at least seen what we had with Harang and let Tomlin start in AAA.

  • Harv 21

    I don’t see any position prospects but Lindor that are viewed as the really good future major league starters we will need. It’s nice that draft picks are still hitting for decent averages when they reach AA but there’s no serious buzz about major league potential, and all we might have is some major league pieces parts. That’s better than Brad Snyder/Beau Mills/Trevor Crowe/Corey Smith/Michael Aubrey but won’t help the Tribe compete.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    True dat about the ERA but Harang hasn’t missed any starts and thus would have still had a spot in the Indians rotation.

    As far as Kazmir goes I don’t beat the Indians up for not taking a chance because there was a risk it’s just unfortunate that Oakland took the risk and benefited while the Indians, well, did what the Indians do. I just hate Mickey Calloway’s coaching prowess being wasted. It’s amazing what he does with so little. For a team with such a limited payroll they find ways to waste plenty of money.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Harang wasn’t going to be a rotation saver not by any means but he was an innings eater. I agree the Indians defense would have been an issue for him but at least he’d have been out there every fifth day. We’ll never know the results of that fifth day which goes in the “mistakes by Antonetti column” for this past season. The deal to Raburn was another mistake. The deal to Murphy will be another.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    And this is/has been the problem for the Indians for the last decade. It’s what lays at the ROOT of their issue well that and not being able to spend or spending wrong. But the good news is it’s getting better. Lindor is the player everyone is waiting on but you have seen Ramirez the 1B who I forget and now Walters who came in a trade but is really a minor leaguer plus Holt. You’ve seen Crockett and House in addition to Allen so there are more drafted guys actually playing.

  • Harv 21

    My problem was with Kazmir. He clearly was getting it together last year and they had the power to qualify him for just a one year risk and then lose him for a first round pick. I assumed they knew what they were doing after watching him up close last year. I was wrong. Their idea that Tomlin or Carrasco was a better bet to compete this year has been a disaster.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I can’t believe I’m going to type this…hopefully nj0 doesn’t read it but maybe, just maybe CC (not Lee) has figured it out. I don’t want to say that out loud for fear his next start will be a disaster but his last two starts, especially his last one, was impressive.

  • markn95

    Boy, does this rotation look better going forward the next 3-5 years if Carrasco and Salazar can come close to replicating this weekend for any stretch of time. That said, I’d still be looking to add at last one decent middle-of-the-rotation arm through a trade. FA seems like a lost cause for starting pitchers when a guy like Ricky Nolasco costs you 4 years/$50 million. Better the Kazmir/Dice-K/Marcum one-year lottery ticket than long-term payroll inflexibility.

  • mgbode

    That is fair. Differing opinions on how they will project but very few in the top100 of MLB.

    I was more referring to all the top Indian’s prospect lists being very heavy on position players though.

    http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2014/index.jsp?c_id=cle#list=cle

    top10 – 1 pitcher (Sheffield – LHP in rookie league)
    top15 – 1 more pitcher (Anderson – RHP in Akron)

  • nj0

    Aguilar. And don’t forget Roberto Perez at catcher. None of those guys are touted like Lindor, but not many players are.

  • Harv 21

    and that’s my point. We (including me) are excited that recent draftees appear major league bound. But only when they are bound to be good major league starters will the tribe have a margin of error to regularly compete in the division.

    Twenty years ago Manny and Thome and Belle were tearing it up in AA and AAA. But right after that so were Brian Giles and Richie Sexson and Sean Casey, all future all-stars. We’ve reached the point that we think the system is fixed because of Kipnis and a half-season of Chiz.

  • Laura

    I want this so badly that at this point, I should just get Cut Raburn tattooed on my forehead.

  • mgbode

    well, before them was CC (and that’s it). it wasn’t a pretty time : )

    I agree.

  • mgbode

    that would be interesting next season when he’s already gone. you might want to go Henna for that one.

  • Jason Hurley

    “For a team with such a limited payroll they find ways to waste plenty of money.” Amen. Thanks, Antonetti.

  • Harv 21

    just referring to the dearth of position players.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You complete me! I did forget Perez.

  • Jason Hurley

    But it’s a value proposition, and not a heads-up valuation, right? Is Kazmir at $10mm plus/year better than Tomlin/Carrasco at super-low salaries plus whatever else you can get fro the $6-8mm surplus?
    All in all, I’d say that Oakland offers him what the Indians couldn’t – a super pitcher-friendly park and a MUCH better defense. Put Kazmir pitching like he is on the Tribe and you’d see a less-effective pitcher based on the defense alone, let alone anything else. (His FIP is down to 3.25 from 3.51 last year…but, his ERA is down to 2.78 from 4.04 last year…so, I’d say Oakland has something to offer…)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Baseball’s economic imbalance is a real shame but they make to much money to change it. I’m afraid it will require something monumental for that to ever happen. Monumentally bad of course.

    But yea I think Antonetti has made more then a few mistakes which if I were the Dolans I’d be none to pleased over. Especially when they had that tv network money to use.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hippy!

  • Believelander

    4 earned runs in 44 innings is a 0.82 ERA, not 1.1.