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Second Thoughts Game #105: Indians 10, Royals 3

Salazar and Santana steal the spotlight as Cleveland avoid sweep

Second Thoughts Game #105: Indians 10, Royals 3
Salazar fans seven as he earns his second career road victory against the Royals on Sunday. (Photo: AP)
July 28, 2014
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Should the Indians be satisfied with this road trip?

No, absolutely not.

Should they be happy with how they ended it?

I'll give it to them.

While the series in Detroit may have had a hangover effect on the Tribe as they traveled to Minnesota and Kansas City, they at least made sure to end a tough stretch on a high note before returning home and heading into an off-day.

Sunday, for sure, belonged to the Tribe and, more specifically, Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar, who dazzled at the plate and on the mound, respectively. Santana put an exclamation point on a weekend that the Royals pitching staff will not soon forget to the point where he may not see one strike thrown to him the next time these two clubs meet.

Meanwhile, Salazar, after failing to earn a single road victory in his young big league career up to this point, earned his second in as many starts away from the confines of Progressive Field. The fireballer pitched seven quality innings while striking out seven and not walking a batter to earn the win.

Beyond the Batting Average

There are 'hot streaks', there's 'locked in' and then about two or three levels above that is what Carlos Santana did to Royals pitching this weekend.

Allow me to congratulate the Indians' first baseman ahead of time on his impending Player of the Week (and possibly Player of the Month) honors as he belted five home runs in one series for the first time since Travis Hafner did so against the Angels 10 years ago. Over the course of the past week, Santana is batting .609 with six homers and 10 RBI and .314 with eight homers and 18 RBI overall in July.

Santana has managed to raise his season batting average to .232, which many would still scoff at, but it's a perfect example of how the batting average stat is overvalued in certain situations. Yes, Santana's average doesn't look great, but if you look at his other numbers, such as his .371 OBP and .827 OPS, which rank among the league leaders in both categories, you get a more accurate picture of what kind of success Santana has had at the plate this season.

Even during his worst struggles at the beginning of the season, the power and on-base ability were always present. Given those peripherals, it had to be a matter of time before he figured things out again, which he most certainly has now and then some. He has become the middle-of-the-order bat the Indians have needed all season and may be on his way to the most productive season of his career even with his early struggles.

Welcome Back, Danny

There's no question that Danny Salazar is the most exciting of the Tribe's young and upcoming starters. Of course, being able to throw a fastball in the upper 90s will do that. This season, however, the young right-hander has learned quickly that gassing hitters with fastballs alone is not a recipe for long-term success in the big leagues.

After struggling in the first part of the season with command and development of secondary pitches, Salazar took a trip back to Columbus to try and get himself back on the right track. Well, latest scouting reports on him indicated that he's back to being as effective as he was when he was first called up a year ago. And due to the carrousel of starting pitchers the Indians were rotating between Cleveland and Columbus, Salazar was due for another chance.

The 24-year-old has not only impressed in his first two starts back in the Tribe rotation, he has earned the first two wins on the road of his big league career. Sunday's outing was particularly impressive as he pitched seven innings of three-run ball without issuing a walk and conserving his pitch count enough to go seven full innings. He also fanned seven Royals batters in that span.

Another interesting element of his start was the fact that Salazar started out the day throwing 92-95 mph and finished it by throwing a 98 mph fastball past Nori Aoki to end the seventh. Maybe he's learning how to conserve his energy better during starts, as well.

If Salazar continues to prove that he can be an effective big league starter, then the Indians could have a long-term formula for success at the top of their rotation in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Salazar.

Buyers or Sellers?

This is a question I know I've had difficulty answering as I'm sure Chris Antonetti and the team front office has, as well. It's hard to ignore the fact that after four months of the season, the Indians are still hovering at the .500 mar and have yet to make any kind of sustained run in the division standings. Heck, have they even had more than two good series in a row this year?

Many fans hate to hear the term "sellers" being attached to their team since it most likely means the front office doesn't believe they will make the playoffs this season. I'd like to try and assure those fans that if the Indians do indeed sell at the approaching deadline that it doesn't mean we're in for another long rebuilding period, the likes of which we've seen enough of in recent years.

The Indians have a strong core of young talent which shouldn't need many additional pieces to be successful. As of right now, the Tribe has an AL top five representative at starting pitcher (Corey Kluber), catcher (Yan Gomes), outfielder (Michael Brantley), setup man (Bryan Shaw) and closer (Cody Allen), all of whom are young and under team control for at least the next 4-6 years.

That added to the fact that other youngsters like Lonnie Chisenhall and Trevor Bauer appear to be coming into their own as players and established players like Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana being capable of playing better than they have this season, the Indians do have a lot going for them.

So why sell? First off, take a look at the market. It clearly benefits teams who have assets to sell than those looking to buy. The Indians could get a decent return even for a rental player such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson. The Blue Jays have already shown interest in the Tribe shortstop, which I didn't think they would want to business with the Indians again after the trade of Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

Trading Cabrera seems like a no-brainer to me at this point since Jose Ramirez has come up and filled in admirably at short alongside Aviles. Plus, Francisco Lindor is now in AAA and could be ready to join the big league squad full time as soon as next season. At least dangle him on the market to get a sense of what kind of value we could get in return and whether seller's market inflation is really a factor.

Justin Masterson is a tougher call due to the fact that the Indians could use a veteran starter in their rotation to offset and guide the younger guys. Plus, depending on how he performs once returning from the DL, the Indians may want to revisit extension talks this offseason since he clearly won't be getting offers nearly as pricey this time around. But of course there's always a high demand for pitching in any market, so the Tribe would be foolish to not at least field some phone calls.

Up Next: Mariners (54-51) vs. Indians (52-53) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05pm ET (Tuesday).

The first two games of this upcoming home stand represent tantalizing pitching matchups. Hisashi Iwakuma and Trevor Bauer is intriguing, but it's merely just the opening act for what could be a devastating matchup of aces in Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber on Wednesday. This matchup does still hold promise, though, as Bauer holds a 3-1 record with a 2.82 ERA at home this season while Iwakuma is on a roll of four straight starts of seven innings or more.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

July 29, 2014 - 9:18 AM EDT
There are actually 2 months that he didnt hit 200 But baseball is not month to month Santana has gone games where he has not contributed, After his torrid start last season he went 32 games from May 11 with a batting average 354 to June 11 a batting average of 284 in those games his batting average was 221 with a slugging percentage of 319 and OPS of 639 he hit 1 home run and struck out 24 times His game logs is filled where he has these prolonged stretches and then he has a week like he did recently. I understand a lot of people love this guy,I cant take those stretches of where he is less than average. I think some of those stretches come from his great eye for the strike zone. When he is really seeing the ball he hits those mistake pitches and when he is off a bit he fouls them off or swings through it, but because he has such great plate discipline he draws a lot of walks even though he isn't hitting the ball well
Joe Chengery
July 28, 2014 - 11:16 PM EDT
Last sentence of second-last paragraph should read:

"The saving grace is that the Indians do have a promising young staff in the making, and they probably wouldn't have got that chance without Jimenez and Kazmir leaving and Masterson being injured, but one could strongly argue that they SHOULD have received much more for those pitchers than they did (and probably will, since I'm not convinced the Indians will or can afford the QO for Masterson and improve next year's team).
Joe Chengery
July 28, 2014 - 11:09 PM EDT
Path of Kindness,

I mentioned that earlier this season, and was going to mention again what you just mentioned: Move Kipnis out to LF for next year, since you probably can't (or maybe more accurately stated, the Indians won't) trade Kipnis, even though that contract may hinder the Indians long-term. Ramirez should keep SS warm for Lindor, then slide over to 2B, as that should be his position long-term, NOT Kipnis's, regardless of the 6-year contract.

Tondo, nice point on Ramirez's age- all the more reason why he has a legitimate chance to improve, especially as compared to Kipnis, who is already 27 YO (28 for 2015). Kipnis was an OF in college, so he could adapt to the position, and probably would play defense better out there as compared to 2B, where he has no chance of competing with Ramirez defensively. Someone mentioned this earlier this year, but Kipnis and Swisher had to have made the worst defensive right-side of the infield in baseball, essentially making you forget that Chisenhall and Cabrera was not a strong left-side of the infield, but I would give them the edge in terms of better defense than Kipnis and Swisher.

Shedding Swisher's contract would be something I'd explore, but I'll be surprised if the Indians can pull it off. Plus, the Indians may not want to alienate the fanbase further by trading the "hometown guy," though I'm really not sure how many associate with Swisher (we're not talking LeBron, Manziel, or even Hoyer here in terms of popularity). I do think that moving Bourn is more realistic, since his defense and overall play hasn't been as bad as Swisher's (or Kipnis's, for that matter). If the Indians succeed in moving Bourn (and yes, I'd eat some to all of the salary to get a better return for him, Swusher, or even Kipnis if that trade ever materialized and occurred)- I doubt the Indians are going to be big free-agent players next year, and with the budget restrictions anyway, you're not likely going to get substantial upgrades for the free agents the Indians can afford. You'll likely get the same or similar production with bargain basement pickups; combine that with a promising young roster and nucleus, and the Indians would probably be better served going for bargain basement pickups anyway. Plus, if you can trade Bourn and Masterson, or not offer the QO, you'd have some money that could maybe be used for a more significant FA pickup if the Indians felt one was out there that could help in a significant way. Trading Axford would help some as well- definitely would be on board with that).

As for Masterson, I'm more in the camp of looking to see what I can get for him, likely in August, since he won't make his first start until Aug. 1. I don't think the Indians can risk the QO for $14-15M next year, as that would hamper them from even making minor adjustments to next year's roster. In addition, I'm not as convinced Masterson will bounce back that strongly in 2015. His 2013 wasn't as strong at it might appear at first glance when you break down his first-half starts (as I did a while back)- he was just as inconsistent as Jimenez was in that first half; of course, Jimenez had the stellar second half, while Masterson was mostly injured, which is the other major concern with Masterson- his injury history. He's been largely banged up for over a year now, and even when he is healthy, he is very erratic with his command, as much or more so than Jimenez was.

This is all the more reason why I thought Jimenez and Kazmir were the pitchers the Indians should have signed rather than wait and try to resign Masterson. They would have had two pitchers of similar or better quality for approximately the same money as Masterson, and I'd still advocate that Jimenez has a better overall track record as a starting pitcher than Masterson, with a higher ceiling. Looking at his 2014 stats, his BB/9 rate has regressed, but his other numbers are pretty solid, not far off where he was in 2013. If he had been here with the coaching staff in Cleveland and facing weaker AL Central lineups, I think it's a safe bet that BB/9 rate would have been lower and he would have been an effective pitcher (probably not the 2013 second half Jimenez throughout, but an effective pitcher nevertheless).

I had also advocated signing Kazmir over Masterson, and it still amazes me the Indians didn't even offer a contract for the relatively small number of years and dollars it would have taken. Either or both would have been better options than Masterson, but as I feared they would, the Indians decided to hold out for Masterson, thinking he would be the best option, when it turned out he wasn't, and worse yet, the QO that many thought would be a safe "fallback" option is probably not a safe "fallback" option after all. All the more reason why I think you have to look to see what you can get for him, with the hope that he can find himself quickly and pitch well in August to consummate a deal. Otherwise, the chances are real that the Indians might get nothing for him, which is exactly the same that you got for Kazmir and even less than you got for Jimenez (draft picks). Some might claim that that was a major management mistake by the Indians- three of the better pitchers in the league up close to FA, and you get probably two draft picks out of them? The Indians should have probably gotten more in terms of signing one or more, more draft picks, and/or more young talent via (a) trade(s). The saving grace is that the Indians do have a promising young staff in the making, and they probably wouldn't have gotten that chance without Jimenez and Kazmir leaving and Masterson being injured, but one could strongly argue that they have received much more for those three pitchers than they did.

Plus, I too don't ascribe to the "he can guide the young starters"- the strong point has been made that you can't guide too well if you can't show consistency of command yourself, and Masterson has been largely erratic throughput much of his career. A cheaper veteran can do that (Jimenez and Kazmir could have done that if either or both had been signed), and Kluber and McAllister can both fill that role, as they both have been around long enough to provide valuable experience. Masterson is a nice guy, and he has good moments in an Indians' uniform, but I can't see where the Indians can afford the chance of paying him 14-15M for 2015 when he has been largely erratic through most of his career, plus has been banged up since the second half of 2013, not to mention the holes and possible changes you need to make to the team next year, especially when it comes to the lineup and the bench.
C L Who
July 28, 2014 - 7:02 PM EDT

Carlos isn't particularly streaky. Check his monthly BA splits for 2011, 12, 13 and 14. You will see that in only one month during 2011 - 2013 did Carlos ever bat less than .200 for a whole month. One other time he hit exactly .200. After that, he's varying monthly between .230 and .290, which I would call normal variation.

I'm blaming his below Mendoza April and May on The Third Base Experiment. It messed with his head, and then with his bat.
C L Who
July 28, 2014 - 6:54 PM EDT
From outside, it's very difficult for me to imagine what Masterson brings as far as "guiding" the more junior pitchers. Every interview I have read with Masterson makes him appear as a nice guy, without a clue how to develop consistent release points and "repeatability" in his approach.

In my view, Bauer is the true "guide." He's the guy who spent a year in AAA deconstructing his pitching motion and reconstructing it......and now look at what he's doing in the majors. I've never even seen a shred of a hint that Masterson might even consider such a thing, or even thought of it.

As far as buying or there a doubt? Let's move JM, Tomlin, Ax, Bourn, ACab......and figure out how this year or next the Tribe can gracefully unload responsibility for most of Swisher's contract, and Swisher himself. Either that, or start buying him a supply of "the cream" and "the clear" and making him intensify his workout regimen......a la Mr. B. Bonds.
July 28, 2014 - 2:16 PM EDT
Tondo, I agree on the 6 guys you mention. And add Bourn. Big salary with 8 hitter numbers. .260s with a ton of Ks we can get from a AAA guy for a fraction of the price.
July 28, 2014 - 12:31 PM EDT
Jose Ramirez is quickly becoming one of my favorite players. He's very exciting. Reminds me a bit of Baerga when he came up: small, quick, strong, fearless, spunky, and basically whatever he's doing, he's fun to watch...Kipnis to LF? 8--)
July 28, 2014 - 12:30 PM EDT
Tigers and the Indians just finished playing 11 games after the All-Star break.

Tigers 4-7
Indians 5-6 pick up one game 6.5 out and 1 game under 500

Indians with there lack of clutch hitting,bad defense (Rayburn) and curtain relief pitchers giving up the big hit which cost us winning games.

They could have really gone 10-1 on this road trip and would have been 1/2 game out of first. Blown opportunity to make a statement big time!!!

July 28, 2014 - 12:09 PM EDT
I have been having this discussion with Jeff Ellis about Santana for the past few week. I feel that Santana puts up a week like this and somehow we forget how streaky a player he really is. He had a bad April and May as well as 17 games from June to the break
In April Santana played 27 games batted 151 had an OBP of 313 slugging percentage of 280 and a OPS of 593
In May he played 23 games had a BA of 169 OBP of 343 slugging % 325 and OPS of 668
From June 25 thru the All Star break he played in 17 games had a BA of 180 OBP of 275 Slugging % 311 and an OPS 587
So in 67 games of the 95 games he has played in our 4 hitter was not even average. Is that the player we want to build our offense around?
Are we one game below 500 if Santana had better numbers during those 67 games?
Jake D.
July 28, 2014 - 12:04 PM EDT
Yeah, I should've mentioned how impressive J-Ram and Robocop were yesterday. Ramirez has always been a smart hitter and since beating the Bell's Palsy, Perez has developed a very good eye at the plate. I think there's a good chance both could be assets on the Tribe bench for years to come. I'd also add Tyler Holt in there if and when he ever gets a legitimate big league opportunity.
July 28, 2014 - 11:53 AM EDT
Indians can sell or dump Masty, ACab, Swish, Murphy, Raburn, Axford and they would not miss a beat, so I would not consider it selling even if they did just that. That'd actually be the best thing they could do for both short/mid term.

The stat of the game for me was JRam and Perez each eating 30+ pitches in their PAs. That 13 pitch AB to start the game off was beautiful. Those guys belong.
JRam will be a BABIP-dependent hitter, but he has a great contact skills and a good eye and he puts balls in play, add in the speed and position versatility and he's all the makings of a very useful major league player that helps a team win. Oh, and he's 21yo. Many seem to foget that. I think having Lindor being close to ready also adds to the lack of excitement for JRam.
Let's compare JRam's AAA numbers to ACab at 21y:

JRam (2014): .302 BA, .801 OPS, .139 ISO, 25:30 BB:K, 19/30 SB/SBatt
ACab (2006): .249 BA, .658 OPS, .100 ISO, 32:90 BB:K, 12/21 SB/SBatt
July 28, 2014 - 11:47 AM EDT
Salazar and Bauer, along with the already accomplished Kluber can make you envision a strong top of the rotation for the next few years. Of course we've seen this before, here and with other teams too, but that is a lot of potential talent for the rotation.

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