Second Thoughts Game #100: Indians 8, Twins 2
The Cleveland Indians beat the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night by a score of 8-2. The final line is a little misleading, because the game was so close that Indians manager Terry Francona brought in his closer, Cody Allen, to get out of a jam in the bottom of the 8th. With the Indians up 4-2 and a runner on third, Allen got Chris Parmalee to strike out to end the threat. Then the floodgates opened up:
- Back-to-back doubles by Nick Swisher and Yan Gomesplated run #5.
- David Murphy and Mike Aviles both grounded out and Gomes appeared to be stuck on third base.
- Jason Kipnis was intentionally walked and he subsequently stole second base.
- Chris Dickerson singled plating both Gomes and Kipnis.
- Michael Brantley walked.
- Carlos Santana hit an RBI double, one of his four hits in the game and third extra base-hit of the night.
- Mercifully, the inning ended and when the smoke cleared the Tribe was up 8-2.
- Cody Allen wasn’t needed in the recently-turned blowout and Carlos Carrasco mopped up in the 9th.
Though the offense put the game away, the pitching ended up being stellar all night. While Danny Salazar got the W in his return to the rotation, he didn’t really impress that much: he gave up nine base-runners in just five-plus innings (WHIP of 1.80) and continued to battle inefficiency. There is still plenty of hope for him to develop that efficiency that has plagued him in his limited Major League time (see Trevor Bauer), but it will be a handicap for the remainder of this season.
The real pitching story for the Indians right now is the bullpen. They pitched four innings on the night yielding just a single run and continued their great 2014 campaign. The bullpen currently ranks 6th in the Majors with a 3.03 team ERA on the year, their peripherals are also strong with their xFIP (measure of luck-independent performance) coming in at 10th in the Majors.
It is a very good thing that the bullpen has performed so well, because they have been called on as much as anyone: along with the Rangers, Rockies and Marlins, the Indians use their bullpen for more than 3.25 innings per game. For comparisons sake, the Reds use their bullpen less than any other team and rely on their pen for just 2.54 innings per game. That’s nearly 120 fewer innings over the course of a season, and 75 up to this point in the season.
The bullpen has seen a great deal of change throughout the season as the closer role has changed hands and movement between Triple-A and the Majors has seen Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee, Josh Outman, Mark Lowe, Blake Wood, Austin Adams and Vinne Pestano used to varying degrees. The only constants have been Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Carlos Carrasco and Marc Rzepczynski who have remained steady. Kyle Crockett seems like a fixture as he has pitched to terrific results over his limited exposure thus far (though his low strikeout-rates and underlying peripherals spell trouble in the future).
The above chart really drives home two points of the bullpen’s performance:
1) Bullpens have relatively little impact in terms of overall WAR: the range between the high and low is just 1.3. Whereas the range between the high (Corey Kluber) and low starters (TJ House) is 3.8 and the high (Michael Brantley) and low (Nick Swisher) position players is 5.0. Point being, bullpens matter less than starters and position players.
2) The variability in the pen is extremely high, given the low overall magnitude. Though the negative WAR of Josh Outman is ‘just’ 0.3, he accomplished this in just 24 innings, and Mark Lowe did so in just 7 innings!
Incrementally, the differences begin to add-up. If those innings thrown by Lee, Axford, Lowe and Outman could have gone to Pestano, Hagadone and Atchison instead, the Indians would have enjoyed at least 1 extra win, potentially more (depending on the situation and leverage of the games thrown).
The Indians season, like every other team, will largely be in the hands of the rotation and everyday players: but those wins on the margin, the extra boost required to win the highly competitive AL Wild Card (or perhaps Division, if you are a true optimist) rest in the small decisions made at the margins.
Francona has been required to make many small decisions over the course of the first 100 games, and the importance of pulling the right string will be even more crucial over the next 62.
The Indians take on the Twins today at 2:10pm EST and will be looking to take the series. Trevor Bauer opposes Anthony Swarzak.
Not sure where that is coming from?
I don't know where you got this, but it's not even his first 4-hit game this season (June 24 vs. ARI). He had 5 hits in a game last year, too.