Second Thoughts: Game #104 - Indians 2, Royals 5
|W: Mendoza (5-7) L: McAllister (4-3) S: Holland (1)|
Another loss, another game further behind the White Sox and Tigers; the recent trend of losing continues. The troubling aspect of the current five-game losing streak is how pitiful both the offense and pitching have performed. For the sake of being succinct, these three stats over the last five games tell the dim, but true tale: 11 runs scored, a .143 batting average with RISP, and 11.84 starters’ ERA. That about sums it up, and Wednesday in Kansas City was no different.
McAllister valiant, not sharp: McAllister’s line (6 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO) doesn’t accurately paint the picture of the highs and lows that his start entailed. Firstly, it doesn’t show that McAllister had three 1-2-3 innings. Unfortunately, in the other three innings he conceded five runs, while struggling to find his usually consistent command. What does stick out in the box score is the pair of runs in the 1st and 2nd innings.
In the 1st inning, with one out and Royals on first and second, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain took off for a double steal. The savvy move from Kansas City manager Ned Yost paid dividends as Carlos Santana held the ball too long and sent the throw, intended for third, into left field allowing Escobar to motor home while Cain took third base. The next hitter, Billy Butler, recorded an RBI groundout to give the Royals an early two-zip lead. After notching two outs to start the 2nd inning, McAllister came undone after allowing a two-out walk to Chris Getz. Getz proceeded to steal second base, followed by a Jarron Dyson two-out RBI single. Following the same recipe, Dyson swiped second and then scored on an Alex Gordon double, again with two outs.
McAllister surely did not have his best stuff in this game; Kansas City made him pay when he made mistakes over the middle of the plate. He didn’t pound the strike zone with his usually stellar location, instead battling periods of being unable to throw a strike, like after the Getz walk. McAllister also struggled mightily at keeping the Royals from running all over the base paths. He did, however demonstrate his typical beyond-his-years poise on the mound, by not succumbing to another challenging early deficit for the team to overcome. 20 of his first 42 pitches were balls, but he also had a string of ten-straight hitters retired. Once he settled down, McAllister worked all quadrants of the strike zone.
He did well keeping his composure and can learn a lot from this kind of a start. Some slack is certainly in order for the Tribe’s best starter, statistically speaking. He was not only victimized by a poor throw from Santana, but from Johnny Damon in the 5th inning, as well. Escobar smacked a two-out single and then scored on the following Cain double, a shot down the left field line that didn’t get past Damon, yet a weak relay throw allowed Escobar to score all the way from first. McAllister had to do some grinding last night, and while he wasn’t at his sharpest, he deserves praise for gutting out six innings.
Mendoza mows down Tribe: In his third start of the season against the Indians, Luis Mendoza hurled his best game of the three. On April 15th, the Tribe knocked him around for nine runs (five earned) over just four innings. Again, on May 28th, Cleveland chased him after just five innings, while plating a pair of runs. Yet, somehow, in spite of their familiarity with him, the Tribe could muster little in the way of offense against Luis “Lead Pipe” Mendoza.
The Royals starter didn’t exactly do anything fancy: he just littered the strike zone with 93-95 MPH fastballs to get ahead, and then primarily relied on his slider and curveball to put hapless Wahoo hitters away. The Indians looked downright befuddled against the righty, collecting just four hits and two runs against Mendoza over 7.1 innings. The nightly theme of making the opposing starter look vastly better than he is continues.
Steals and two-out hits: Much of this game was decided by Kansas City’s ability to steal bases at-will and to come through with timely hitting. All four of the Royals steals came in the first four innings, and all four base-stealers came around to score. They wisely put the pressure on Cleveland’s defense, which paid off. Amazingly, the fourth steal came on a pitchout. McAllister sailed the throw to Santana, but still, the jumps they were getting off the Tribe starter were concerning. Three of Kansas City’s five runs came on two-out hits. The Royals got the clutch hits needed to give their starter the breathing room necessary to cruise along unimpeded. The Indians pitchers simply can’t afford to allow these back-breaking runs, especially while the Tribe bats are in the freezer.
Santana’s solo blast: A breath of offense came for Cleveland in the 4th inning, when Santana clubbed a low fastball that tailed over the heart of the plate just over the right field fence for a solo shot. At that early point in the game, it was positive to see the Tribe get on the scoreboard, with plenty of time left in the game. There was some initial uncertainty that the ball cleared the wall, so the umpires quickly reviewed and confirmed the call. It was uplifting to see an Indians hitter make some sweet-sounding contact against Mendoza; but sadly, this was an isolated blip on the offensive front.
Brantley flashes leather: For the second consecutive game, Michael Brantley made a very nice catch in center field. Dyson roped a liner that looked destined for extra bases, but Brantley showed off his wheels by tracking the ball and then reaching up to make a nice running snag, while cutting across the warning track to rob his center field counterpart. For a player who had some question marks about his defensive skill set, Brantley has shown time and time again that he plays a very solid defensive center field.
More 1st inning runs allowed: With two more 1st inning runs allowed in this game, Cleveland now has yielded a whopping 79 first frame runs (4th most in the American League) over 104 games. It was unsettling to see how effortlessly the Royals were able to plate a pair in the 1st inning, which they did without the benefit of an RBI hit. Credit Ned Yost with detecting a weakness in the opposition and seizing the opportunity to ratchet up the defensive strain against a desperate Indians team.
3 Most Wanted
Keep the changes coming: After the game, it was announced that the Indians have designated Derek Lowe for assignment, clearing a space for Thursday’s starter, Corey Kluber. This was a painfully necessary move, as Lowe devolved into being the same pitcher who struggled to an ERA over five last season with the Atlanta Braves.
In an effort to continue the requisite roster purging, the next move should be to DFA Johnny Damon. With over 200 at-bats and a batting average in the .220s, as well as brutally subpar defense, the 38 year old left fielder has been given an ample chance to show that he can still contribute. Damon deserves the blame for the fifth Kansas City run that scored. Lorenzo Cain’s double down the left field line didn’t get past him, yet his weak, one-hop throw to Asdrubal Cabrera allowed Escobar to score all the way from first. Damon offers the team nothing in the way of offensive or defensive contributions, and the time has come for him to not only be stripped of starting duties, but of a roster spot, as well. Clear the playing time for a younger player, one who might be an answer for next season, to prove himself.
More from run-scoring opportunities: Like the allowance of 1st inning runs, the inability to come through with hits in run-scoring opportunities continues to hamstring the Tribe. In the 3rd inning, Jack Hannahan led off with a hustle double, only to watch the top of the lineup strand him at second base. It’s much tougher to swallow these botched opportunities when it’s Choo, Cabrera, and Kipnis that can’t get the job done.
In the 8th, Cleveland got something going with an RBI single from Cabrera, which scored Hannahan and put Choo on second base. Again, the usually clutch hitters couldn’t execute as Kipnis and Brantley failed to trim the Royals lead. Since Kansas City just traded their closer Jonathon Broxton they would’ve had a fighting chance against new Royals closer Greg Holland had they been able to get Choo and Cabrera home. Yet, Holland was able to pepper the strike zone in the 9th because of a cushy three-run lead. The Indians went 1-for-7 with RISP.
Some fire, risk-taking, sign of life: At this point, seven games behind Chicago in the American League Central, the Tribe must do something to show that they’ve still got some fight left in them. Watching Kansas City’s aggressive running on McAllister juxtaposed against the Indians lifeless, worried approach highlighted the insipidity that has led to five straight brutal losses from the lowly Twins and Royals. There are nearly two full months left in the season, so there is plenty of time to catch up. Cleveland needs to start taking risks and putting pressure on the opposition, instead of themselves. Get tossed from a game, shake up the starting lineup, do something, anything to show that this season’s playoff hopes won’t be lost without a fight.