April 24, 2014

Tribe defense has been historically bad thus far

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Sure, the Cleveland Indians aren’t exactly tearing the cover off of the ball on a nightly basis, but they aren’t exactly catching it either. FanGraphs, who has been very kind to the Tribe thus far through 2014, penned another entry that wasn’t all too glowing. The topic du jour: Defense, or severe lack thereof.

As run stopping has grown just as important as run producing, the Cleveland Indians are struggling mightily with the latter. FanGraphs, who breaks defensive opportunities into percentiles of likelihood to be made, shows that the Tribe is not just struggling with the unlikely plays, they’re blowing their opportunities to make the routine ones as well.

If you look at the 90%-100% ones, you’ll notice that 12 teams have converted 98 percent or more of those plays. 17 more have turned at least 96.0 percent of “the easy ones” into outs. And all alone at 94.4 percent, and dead last in DRS, are the Cleveland Indians. [...]

You can already see how it’s hurting the Cleveland pitching staff. They have the second–best strikeout rate in baseball, and the third-lowest homer rate. They’re not immune to blame — they’re walking way too many — but they’re being saddled with a .331 BABIP that is not only the highest in baseball, but would be tied for the second-highest in the last century with a 96-loss 2007 Tampa Bay team that primarily had B.J. Upton and Brendan Harris as double play partners, behind only a 1930 Phillies team that lost 102 games and played in one of the most offense-friendly seasons ever.

Oof. The struggles have not been limited to just one area of the team. We already discussed Nyjer Morgan’s early issues with regard to stopping runs. David Murphy has been tagged with three runs himself despite being a part of a platoon. Nick Swisher has been tagged with three runs, large in part to his two gaffes in a win over the San Diego Padres. Jason Kipnis has dropped easy pop-ups, failing to convert on three “easy” plays. Yan Gomes has been tossing baseballs all over creation. Michael Brantley’s errorless streak has ended. I could go on…

As Mike Petriello writes, with the AL Central slated to be a dogfight once again, the Indians can’t afford to be helping out their opponents. The way their defense has played so far, they’re making it much harder on themselves than it needs to be.

Indians 3, Tigers 2: The Zach Attack delivers again

Zach McAllisterWhen looking at the Detroit Tigers compared to our Cleveland Indians, one distinct advantage sticks out for the Kitties – starting pitching.  The Detroit top three — Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez — would all be the Indians number one if they toiled in Cleveland. Rick Porcello and Drew Smily also dwarf Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco as a tandem. Thanks to Tuesday’s postponement due to freezing temperatures, the Tigers were able to skip Smily over the shortened two game set. Sanchez got the first crack at the Tribe last night with Verlander going Thursday afternoon.

Manager Terry Francona stayed with his normal turns, sending out Zach McAllister on a cold night at Comerica Park. The last time we saw Zach, he was dominant in a win against the San Diego Padres and if the Indians were going to win this one, a similar performance would be helpful.

The first inning had the look of a game that could be high scoring. Sanchez, who normally has impeccable command, walked the newly activated Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis to start the game. A potential big inning was thwarted by Carlos Santana’s sixth double play ground out of the year. A run did score, but Sanchez got himself right off the hook. Carlos is locked in a 2-24 slump.

[Read more...]

Is this the end of days for Lonnie Chisenhall?

Lonnie Chisenhall

Last season, I really wanted Lonnie Chisenhall to take the third base job by the throat and strangle it. The Tribe’s former first-round pick—and the supposed future of the hot corner—was given the job last Spring with little looking over his shoulder. Sure, the Indians had brought in Mark Reynolds on a one-year deal, but that was to be a first base/designated hitter option. His days at third were thought to have been behind him. And sure, Mike Aviles was on the roster, but he was to be a jack-of-all-trades. This was Big Lon’s time.

[Read more...]

2014 WFNY Tribe Predictions

Nick Swisher

Man that was a long winter…Well it is essentially still going on here in Northeast Ohio, but the sun is shining here today and a smile is on my face. Why? Because it is BASEBALL SEASON! When we last left our Cleveland Indians, they had been shut down in the AL WIld Card game by Alex Cobb and the Tampa Bay Rays. A bitter taste was left in the mouths of the players. Guys like Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana have been champing at the bit to get back on the field.

“Unfinished Business” is the tag line for the 2014 Indians. The Wild Card was almost like a tease. They want more. We want more. The national media didn’t seem to give the Indians much of a chance in year one of the Terry Francona era. They shocked everyone by winning 92 games. Fast forward a year and again nobody outside of Cleveland seems to be giving the Tribe much of a chance again. In fact, the Kansas City Royals are the trendy team.

But what does the WFNY crew make of this year’s version of the Wahoo Warriors? I asked seven key questions, they answered…. [Read more...]

Yan Gomes and Miguel Cabrera get paid; Josh Gordon wants Johnny Manziel: While We’re Waiting

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First and foremost: Baseball!

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First and foremost (Part II), if you haven’t cast your votes yet, now is the time to do so. WFNY is nominated for Best Sports Blog and Best Podcast in Cleveland. We do this for free and count on you all to show your support through the ballot box. It’s Opening Day…why not start things off right? Thanks in advance, folks.

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Josh wants Johnny. Not long after discussing quarterback Johnny Manziel on Radio Row at the Super Bowl, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, once again, puts his Pro Bowl vote behind the Texas A&M quarterback for the Browns at No. 4 this May.

“To bring that spark to a team—that play-making ability—would be huge,” Gordon said of Manziel. “I’d love to see what he can do.”

There are some who wonder if Gordon is tipping the Browns’ draft hand, but those are also people who believe players are involved in the front office’s draft discussions. Earlier in the week, when he was on ESPN’s First Take, Gordon predicted a 10-6 record for the Browns in 2014 as led by one Brian Hoyer, so he’s nothing if not diplomatic. What Gordon’s words do signify is that (in addition to not being a scout) he’s a bit tired of catching passes from a different guy every week. The Browns continue to say that they don’t feel the need to draft a quarterback early, but the national pundits aren’t buying it. The question will come down to who’s there at No. 4, who does the team actually want (a lot of Teddy Bridgewater rumblings remain) , and do those stars align.

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Yanimal. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Yan Gomes news come across the wire this weekend as he’s clearly a guy who should be playing for more than the MLB minimum. It’s a team-friendly deal, and I’m all about the team. But I’m also all about said team locking up the only player who received MVP consideration a year ago in Jason Kipnis. This is the second offseason wherein the Indians and Kipnis were reportedly negotiating, and with Opening Day just hours away, it appears that we will head into another season without a long-term deal in place. Kipnis plays a premium position and is widely considered to be a player on the ascent. If another MVP-caliber season is on the horizon, the team is going to be in for a rude awakening once arbitration season rolls around. The Los Angeles Angels avoided such a mess by inking Mike Trout for the foreseeable future. If the Tribe wants to keep their word about locking up their core, they may want to realize the commodity they have and do the same. The benchmarks are already in place.

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Big Money Miguel. By now, you’ve seen plenty of opinions on the deal signed by Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers.  It was just a matter of time before Nate Silver gave his thoughts over at FiveThirtyEight, and given my personal intersection of sports and business, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the economic rationale of why the Tigers’ deal—while disgusting on the cover—may not be as bad as we think. As the value of the average MLB franchise increases at a rate better than that of the S&P 500, and the number of billionaires continues to grow, Silver says that the economic impact of signing Cabrera to such a lucrative deal may simply be akin to holding (and eventually selling) a basket of goods—and Cabrera is a good good. Of course, there’s also the chance that this is all a huge bubble (something our own Craig has been calling for years) and Mike Ilitch could be left holding the bag. He’ll also still be a billionaire.

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And just because: We’ll miss you, Dayton. Hell of a run.

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Report: Indians sign Yan Gomes to long-term contract

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported this evening that the Indians have locked up their surprise young backstop Yan Gomes for the foreseeable future. The deal is a reported six years and worth $23 million. The deal includes two club options that could keep the Yanimal in a Cleveland uniform into his mid-thirties. This contract, per Jon Heyman, marks the largest given to a catcher pre-arbitration, breaking Carlos Santana’s record.

Gomes, 26, was arbitration eligible following the end of the 2015 season and would have been heading to the open market potentially following the 2018 season. This move effectively “buys out” his three arbitration years and his first year of free agency (plus an additional two years if the team so desires), a move that the Indians have used countless times in this era, including with Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley (which actually could buy out two of his free agency years if they pick up his $11 million club option).

After playing both corner infield slots, outfield, and catcher for Toronto, searching for a positional home, Toronto was willing to part with Gomes. He was acquired from the Blue Jays along with utility infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for middle reliever turned starter Esmil Rogers, Gomes hit .294/.345/.481 (.826 OPS) with 11 homers and 38 RBI in 88 games behind the plate as he became the Indians full-time catcher in the second half playoff stretch run. Aviles and Gomes formed one-half of the “Goon Squad” along with Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi that gave the Indians one of the most versatile and talented benches in the bigs, helping them win at the margins and finish the season on a 10-game tear.

Ironically, it was Yan’s play that forced the Indians to move Carlos Santana to a primarily 1B/DH role late in the season to put the best lineup on the field both offensively and defensively. Gomes was an assassin behind the dish, throwing out a phenomenal 41% of base-runners (the league average last season was 26%). This year, with Carlos Santana committing himself to a position change to third base, the door is wide open for Gomes to be the everyday catcher with Santana the only other catcher on the Opening Day roster to spell him.

With talks with starting pitcher Justin Masterson over and the Tribe ace all but certainly heading to free agency, the Indians’ next goal is to sign All-Star Jason Kipnis to a similar (albeit more lucrative) team-friendly deal.

Related: Setting the lines on the 2014 Indians

Compare and contrast: Tribe today and 365 days ago

Nick SwisherWe are getting close! I don’t know about you, but I am beyond excited for Indians baseball to begin. The pieces are starting to come together. On Wednesday, the final 25-man roster was revealed. There weren’t many surprises, but there has been some small but important tinkering. When you compare this club to the one which left Goodyear for Cleveland a year ago, you can see that top to bottom, Terry Francona’s bunch looks better.

I thought a good way to view this was to lay it all out for you by groupings.  I love the Indians depth and ability to move guys all over the diamond. The bullpen looks solid. Yet, there are still concerns. But on paper, the 2014 club looks improved from this time last year.  [Read more...]

Framing the Debate: Moving Carlos Santana off Catcher

Carlos Santana debut

I’ve long been an advocate of the offensively inclined catcher.  This, I tend to think, is not the most radical stance I’ve ever taken. Those who disagree find themselves in the awkward position of saying they’d rather not field a catcher capable of an .850 OPS who can hit 25 home runs a year.  That’s not a particularly winning argument.

[Read more...]

Indians have 2nd-best catchers, FiveThirtyEight and Blake Bortles… While We’re Waiting

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FanGraphs: Indians have 2nd-best catchers, 17th-best first baseman. If you are into baseball stats, you should not only be perusing all of the tools on FanGraphs, but you also should keep an eye on their content. During the 2013 season, their writers had major crushes on both Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar. Now? It appears they’re pretty high on Yan Gomes. [Read more...]

Indians bring back veteran catcher Luke Carlin

luke carlinVeteran catcher Luke Carlin will be returning to the Cleveland Indians in 2014 on a minor league free agent deal.

The team announced the move on Twitter early Friday morning. Carlin, 33, appeared in 138 games for Triple-A Columbus and 10 for the Indians from 2010-2012. He spent last season in the Los Angeles Angels organization, batting .230/.339/.311 in 77 games over in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

As of now, as Indians Baseball Insider’s Tony Lastoria quipped on Twitter yesterday, the Tribe lacks many viable big-league backup catching options. Yan Gomes is expected to be the new everyday catcher. Carlos Santana is reportedly preparing for possibly regular duty at third base. After that, the only other option is 37-year-old Matt Treanor, who also was signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

In 2013, Santana made 81 starts at catcher, Gomes made 79 and since-departed Lou Marson made the other two. Gomes is only 26 and only had 178 games of catching experience in the minor leagues. So the Indians rightfully should have some concerns about how many games he can catch in 2014.

Carlin is a boring signing. But he has familiarity with the Indians organization and will likely remain as an emergency backup option over with the Clippers. So in that sense, it’s a safe move for the organization.

The Indians recently invited catching prospect Roberto Perez to big league spring training. The 25-year-old is regarded as the best defensive catching prospect in the system. But he batted just .200/.337/.286 in 350 plate appearances between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season. So he’s not really a viable MLB option at this point.

[Related: Thursday Tribe Notes]

Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com

MLB News: Carlos Santana preparing for regular third base duty

carlos santana celebrationAfter reports all winter, it appears that Carlos Santana is gearing up to be the Cleveland Indians usual third baseman in 2014.

The latest extensive report arrives in Spanish on ESPN Deportes via writer Enrique Rojas. Santana shares that the team is primarily planning for him to play third base next season. He’s currently trying to re-learn the position in the winter leagues over in the Dominican Republic. He last played third base as a Dodgers prospect in 2006.

Last season, Santana started 81 games at catcher while new everyday backstop Yan Gomes patrolled for 79. In the other games, Santana played primarily at first base, where in the article he shares that he wasn’t necessarily that comfortable. He has a .254/.367/.446 career batting line in 2,101 MLB plate appearances. He’ll turn 28 shortly after Opening Day.

But with the continued struggles of 25-year-old third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians are trying their luck with their switch-hitting offensive star at the hot corner. The news was first reported on Nov. 23 by the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes. As it currently stands, Santana would easily be one of the best offensive catchers in MLB history, but the Indians are looking to maximize their MLB talent.

According to Rojas’ article, Indians third base coach Mike Sarbaugh has visited Santana down in the Dominican. Santana said he doesn’t want to be merely adequate or average, but is working hard to be quite good. He said: “I’m mentally and physically ready to play third base.” His errors have dropped dramatically since his first few games.

Ramón Peña, the Indians Director of Latin America Operations, said he looked initially lost in the field but is suddenly getting more comfortable. Audo Vicente, the team’s manager and a coach in the Diamondbacks organization, said Santana’s progress has been very impressive and if he keeps it up, he could become one of MLB’s better third baseman within two or three years.

Santana has gradually regressed into one of the worst-regarded defensive catchers in baseball. Despite the similar total of innings, Santana allowed 44 wild pitchers compared to Gomes’ 27. The younger Brazilian is thought to be a much better pitch framer too.

The third base news still seemed very shocking at first. Initially, the idea appeared to be a long-shot and hardly any fans expected Santana to actually play any meaningful MLB action at third base. Now, maybe the Indians are indeed planning on this to be the case. We’ll certainly know some more within the next several weeks as players start to report to Goodyear for spring training.

[Related: The WFNY Sportsman of 2013: Terry Francona]

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The Tribe Walk-offs – WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories: No. 8

If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and appearances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.

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Man, it was a crazy exciting year down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. There weren’t nearly enough fans flocking to see this team, but the ones that did – especially on Friday nights – were treated to some masterful theatre. The calling card of those mid and late 90′s Indians teams that captured our city was the walkoff wins. The 2012 Wahoos did their best to match that drama seemingly almost once or twice a homestand.

11 times this special group sent the faithful home with a walkoff winner that they wouldn’t forget. 11 times. [Read more...]

MLB News: Indians add veteran catcher Matt Treanor

With a need for a potential third-string catcher, the Cleveland Indians signed veteran free agent Matt Treanor to a minor league deal on Tuesday.

Treanor, 37, might be most well known for being the husband of Olympic volleyball champ Misty May-Treanor. But he’s stayed around in the majors for quite a while as a somewhat serviceable backup. In his nine-year career, he has played in 468 games with a .221/.313/.305 offensive line. In 2012, he appeared in 36 contest for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He missed all of last season after left knee surgery.

With Yan Gomes set to take over everyday catching duties and Carlos Santana requesting to take grounders at third base, this was a likely move to give some veteran a shot for backup duty. Down the stretch last year, former Indian Kelly Shoppach was on the 40-man roster but appeared in just one game. Lou Marson was let go in the latest series of roster cuts.

Logically, Treanor won’t see too much playing time in 2014 even if he does make the MLB team. But with his non-roster invitation to Major League spring training camp, he could eventually spend some time in Triple-A Columbus or fill in if any injuries occur. Again, this is a zero-risk move with very minimal upside in case of emergency.

[Related: Terry Francona has renewed my patience with the Cleveland Indians]

MLB News: Indians’ Carlos Santana taking grounders at third base

Indians catcher and first baseman Carlos Santana has been taking grounders at third base this offseason, according to The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes.

In his usual mailbag for Sunday’s paper, Hoynes took a first question about Lonnie Chisenhall’s future at third base. Here was his response:

Yes, I believe the Indians will give Chisenhall a shot at the starting job in 2014 but I don’t think they’re living in a dream world.

I’ve heard Carlos Santana is already taking grounders at third base and could play some third this winter in the Dominican Republic. I’m not sure if it’s to increase his versatility or to give the Indians another option if Chisenhall can’t do the job.

Earlier this offseason, we heard from the Indians that Yan Gomes would take the reigns as the team’s everyday catcher. So this move isn’t that surprising in the context of the team’s biggest position player weakness (third base) and its love for versatile defensive players.

In 2013, Santana had 81 starts at catcher compared to 79 for Gomes and two for former backup Lou Marson. Santana then started at 47 games at designated hitter and 24 at first base for a total of 152 starts. He had 152 and 142 starts in the previous two seasons. The team certainly would hope to keep him at the pace for the future.

I’ve written before about how many fans underrate Santana’s all-around value, mostly because of his inconsistent defensive presence. As a catcher, he ranks among the best sluggers of all-time. At any first base or DH, his extraordinary hitting value is mitigated. It moves back up a bit at third. We’ll see where this lands by the time spring training comes around in three months.

[Related: How crazy would it be for Indians to consider trading Michael Bourn?]

MLB News: Yan Gomes will be Indians every day catcher in 2014

Yan Gomes played in 88 games for the Indians in 2013 and that number looks to go way up in 2014 according to Indians manager Terry Francona. Francona made an appearance on 92.3 the Fan’s afternoon show with Adam the Bull and Dustin Fox to talk about winning the A.L. Manager of the Year award.

Opening day starting catcher Carlos Santana played in 154 games this season for the Tribe and I certainly wouldn’t expect that number to drop with the announcement. Santana will likely play just as much between first base, DH and as backup catcher in 2014. Hopefully this move helps solidify the Indians lineup in all three spots.

[Related: While We’re Waiting… Manager of the year]

2013 Indians in Review: Infielders and Catchers

Asdrubal Cabrera

The Indians wild ride has come to an end. The 2013 season was one that nobody expected. A 96 loss team turned into a 92 win club that advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. GM Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona helped changed the culture of the organization and has our baseball team on the rise. There is a buzz in the city about the Indians again. It was a season to remember with so many great moments and the arrival of some new fan favorites.  

Each day this week, we will look back at a different portion of the club and see where we are today, a plan for 2014, and so on. We began with the starting rotation, and then we moved onto the relievers. Today we will look at the infielders and catchers. [Read more...]

All of the Indians tweets after the AL Wild Card loss

Sometimes, sports are tough. A perfect example would be Wednesday’s gut-wrenching 4-0 loss by the Cleveland Indians at home in a one-game do-or-die playoff game. As we wind down the team’s incredible run to a 92-70 record, I felt it was appropriate to recap some of the team’s best tweets over the past few days since that loss. Hope you enjoy and that this makes you even more pumped for 2014.

The Tribe’s pitching coach got it all started shortly after the game ended with this quick post. [Read more...]

Early thoughts on the 2014 Indians: WFNY Roundtable

Following Wednesday’s AL Wild Card loss to Tampa Bay, the WFNY staff was still giddy about the Cleveland Indians’ 2013 season. But, some were already not as optimistic about the picture for 2014. Here’s another look inside the WFNY email thread to see what we were talking about yesterday with regards to the Tribe’s future.

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Jacob: From 1995-2012, 58 MLB teams had .600+ records in 1-run games. Of those 58 teams, 44 regressed the following season: 75.9% of teams. In total, those 58 teams regressed by an average of 5.8 wins/162 games the following season.

Sure, that’s probably just regular regression to the mean for good teams anyway, but still notable. I don’t think winning 1-run games is a skill however, unless you have Mariano Rivera. The Indians went 30-17 (.638) in one-run games this season, second in baseball to the Yankees: 30-16 (.652). Both could be prime candidates for 2014 regression. [Read more...]

Royals 7 Indians 2: Defense does Tribe in

Ryan RaburnThis one started out poorly, ended poorly, and was played poorly in the middle. Lets just say it was not a banner evening for your Cleveland Indians.

For the second time this week, the Wahoos had a chance to get into the lead for the second Wild Card spot with a win. They started the night a half game behind both Texas and Tampa Bay. The rookie Danny Salazar got the ball from manager Terry Francona, who knew that at some point earlier than he would like, his bullpen would come into play with Salazar still on a strict pitch count.

It didn’t look as if Danny would be long for this game in the first inning. After retiring the first two Royals on groundouts, Eric Hosmer singled. Billy Butler, a thorn in the Tribe’s side all series, followed with a walk, sending Salvador Perez to the plate. The KC catcher who to me looks like Victor Martinez version 2.o, laced a double to the wall in left. Michael Brantley fired into shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera who had Butler dead to rights at home. However, Cabrera’s throw short hopped catcher Yan Gomes who couldn’t make the scoop and tag for what would have been the third out. Another in a long line of bad defensive plays Asdrubal has made this season. It is not a tough throw and Cabrera couldn’t even hit Gomes on the fly. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians win 9th straight over White Sox

With last night’s crucial rain-soaked blowout win over the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians have now won nine in a row against their long-time division rival.

The Indians Twitter account shared earlier today that, per Elias Sports, it is the longest winning streak in franchise history over the White Sox.

That statistic was confirmed by Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. Using that tool, I then set out to find the longest winning streaks against an individual team in Indians franchise history. To be exact, this current nine-game streak over the White Sox is the 29th streak of its kind since 1916.

Here are all of those streaks:

indians win streaks

Cleveland has only had two such nine-game winning streaks against an individual opponent since the 2000 season. Their last one was a 10-game roll over the Kansas City Royals in 2005.

In this most recent stretch, the Indians are out-scoring the White Sox by an average of 8.0-4.0. The offense, obviously, has been the significant reason why, as evidenced by last night’s 14-run outburst. The team is batting .331/.398/.536 in this stretch.

On the season, the Indians are 12-2 (.857) against the South Side Sox with a fortunate five games remaining. Jason Kipnis (1.029 OPS in 45 PA), Ryan Raburn (1.319 OPS in 39 PA) and Yan Gomes (1.281 OPS in 32 PA) have led the charge offensively in these 14 games.

[Related: Indians 14 White Sox 3: Sox Raburned Again]