Second Thoughts: Game #110 - Twins 7, Indians 5
|W: T. Robertson (1-0) L: C. Perez (0-4) S: G. Perkins (7)|
Watching the Indians 11-game skid is like surveying all of the unsophisticated pop songs about love, there’s rarely anything profound to enjoy and you always leave feeling disappointed and annoyed by the same old hackneyed methods. The Indians have recently demonstrated practically every way to lose, with Tuesday’s game being the old ‘take a sound lead, watch it steadily slip away because of shoddy defense and a lack of timely hitting, then the bullpen blows it for good’ routine, which is at least more entertaining than the recent ‘give up a bunch of runs early and then wallow along the rest of the game’ bit that has gotten more than a little stale. What can you say? It’s a funny sport, full of quirks, patterns, and puzzles. If Tribe fans must endure such burdening losses, hopefully it nets the organization a chance to evaluate and tinker with current personnel.
Error encore, Perez falters: With Cleveland up by four and squandering opportunities to push the game out of reach, it just took three errors and a blown save for the Tribe to lose grasp on this game. In the 7th inning, Minnesota got the first of two three-run innings rolling thanks to Asdrubal Cabrera’s 15th error of the season on a Jamey Carroll grounder, with a runner on second. Brian Dozier looked to somewhat screen Cabrera on the play, as the base runner tip-toed out of the path of the ball, but the bobbling of the ball is squarely his fault. This put runners on the corners with none out for Joe Smith. After Josh Willingham was plunked, it set the table for a Buckner-esque error from the usually sure-handed Jason Kipnis. Justin Morneau hit a soft grounder to Kipnis, but the ball sailed between his wickets into right field.
I’m not going to lambast Kipnis for making a bone-headed play. The look on his face as he glared at the ground after the ball had passed him says it all— he’ll be his own biggest critic on what proved to cost the Indians an additional pair of runs in the inning. It’s hard not to feel for a guy that was the team’s MVP through the first half, only to watch the same hard-worker scuffle at the plate, as well as having a hand in the defensive lapses that have led to a few of the recent losses.
The third and final blow on the defensive lapse front came in the decisive 9th inning on a three-hopper that ate up Casey Kotchman at first. The ball skipped away from him, allowing pinch-running Darin Mastroianni to score from second base. This sealed the blown save for Chris Perez, who on the previous play allowed Mastroianni to swipe second base, so much so that Santana couldn’t even make a meaningful throw to second because of the runner’s jump. After the final error, Ryan Doumit clubbed a mistake fastball to put runners at second and third base. A Nishioka sac fly and Dozier single gave the Twins the lead plus an insurance run. Perez was catching way too much of the plate with his fastball and couldn’t keep it together after the disheartening error.
A tale of two Tribe offenses: Tuesday’s game actually featured one distinct improvement with respect to Indians hitters’ plate approach: patience. Tribe hitters did a stellar job forcing Twins starter, Samuel Deduno to throw them pitches they could handle. It was encouraging to watch Cleveland rack up five walks against Deduno, eight total in the game, as they chased the opposing starter after four innings pitched, which took Deduno 87 pitches. Bravo to Indians hitters for recognizing that they were facing a pitcher who doesn’t have overpowering stuff, forcing him to throw strikes. A Michael Brantley walk led to a run on Shelley Duncan’s two-run bomb that gave the Indians their first lead since the Olympics started. Duncan, taking a right-handed pitcher deep, crushed a hanging breaking pitch for his 10th homer of the season.
The flip side to all this positive patience is the recurring theme of Tribe hitters being unable to notch a formidable amount of timely hits. In his own encore, Santana replicated Monday’s 1st inning rally-killing double play again on Tuesday. The blame for this loss can’t be put wholly on Chris Perez, as the Indians offense neglected to cash in on multiple run-scoring opportunities. For the sake of mercy, just a few numbers will do: three double plays, ten men left on base (six of whom were in scoring position) and 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. I’ve obliterated this old horse, but it really is the catalyst for the ongoing suffering.
Kluber snaps quality start drought: After a brutal 1st inning sunk his first outing, Corey Kluber pitched well enough to get his team the win on Tuesday. Over 6+ innings, he allowed six hits, three runs (one earned), three walks, and three strikeouts. Although the line might look a little pedestrian, he executed well, especially in keeping his fastball low in the strike zone. His fastball showed some nice movement, and he pitched like a confident big leaguer with a comfortable lead. His ability to evade Twins run-scoring opportunities helped him in this game; hopefully, these escape moves will help him realize part of the scope of what it takes to succeed at this level. With a mid-90s fastball, he can succeed at this level if he can establish his secondary pitches for strikes.
He was sharp in this contest, clipping the zone and when he missed it was out of the zone, rather than catching the heart of the plate. Tom Hamilton made an interesting point about Kluber having simple mechanics (like Zach McAllister), so hopefully a simplified throwing motion can help keep him mechanically-sound, in order to avoid prolonged lapses of errant arm slots or poor release points.
Another 1st inning run allowed: Again, nothing new here. It’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter who starts for the Tribe because 1st inning runs for the opposition seem inevitable. This earmark of a dismal pitching staff continues to put the team at a disadvantage. It’s clearly time for coaches to step in and do whatever it takes to get their starters loose and focused for the start of the game. Different routines, more warm-up pitches, it doesn’t matter what, just do something to mitigate these dreaded 1st inning runs.
Wearing out Denuno: Twins starter, Samuel Denuno went a mere four innings in this start because of the aforementioned patient plate approach by Tribe hitters. With a high-risk of pressing because of the dark cloud above their heads, Indians bats could’ve easily been aggressive against a mediocre Deduno, but instead they were steadfast in getting deep in the count. Once Cleveland hitters got a pitch they could handle, they didn’t try to do too much with it. Working five walks off the opposing starter allowed the Indians to see more pitches, as well as extend innings for run-scoring opportunities. Although most of the chances forged out of this patient approach were wasted, it doesn’t negate the fact that they had the right approach, yet just couldn’t execute. One time it did pay off was in the 2nd inning when Kipnis worked a two-out walk to put Jack Hannahan in scoring position for a Cabrera RBI single.
Mr. Reliable, Vinnie Pestano: In a world where Tribe fans feel like they keep falling down the same rabbit hole, it’s nice to know they can always count on Pestano, who exemplifies the concept of consistently performing at a high level, evidenced by his diminutive 1.29 ERA. Sandwiched between two three-run debacles, in the 7th and 9th innings, Pestano coolly kept the Minnesota bats from breaking through for more during the 8th inning to protect a one-run lead. After a two-out single, followed by a walk from Jamey Carroll and Denard Span, respectively Pestano bore down in an eight-pitch at-bat to Ben Revere to halt the threat. Pestano is a huge cog in the ‘pen this year and beyond.
3 Most Wanted
Fair sample size for Zeke: In spite of faltering in earlier at-bats during the game, Zeke Carrera impressed by legging out an infield single in the 9th inning, as he bunted down the first base line with the defense playing back and used a head-first slide to beat the throw. Earlier, in the 2nd inning he made a nice stabbing catch, while leaning into the crowd. He looked confident that he had a beat on the ball & the wall the whole time, as he smoothly snared the ball. With the recent glut of roster pruning, I hope Carrera is given a fair shot to show what he has to offer the team going forward. At 25 years of age, if he can continue to offer above-average defense, while adjusting to big league pitching, he could be a legitimate left field option for 2013.
Continued aggressiveness: The Indians were 2-for-2 in stolen bases on Tuesday, begging the need for continued aggressiveness on the base paths. With the current nature of the division standings, the Tribe has little to lose by attacking and putting the pressure on the opposing team, instead of themselves. Steal bags, go 1st to 3rd, lay down a bunt. Although Santana got thrown out in the 2nd inning, attempting to take third on a throw home, his head is in the right place. Especially at that point in the game when Cleveland was up 5-1; if the throw to third squirts into left field, then Santana could score on what would’ve been just a double otherwise. It may be a better idea to try these sorts of plays with players who have more speed, but again, there isn’t much to lose at this point.
Defined roles: With yet another player, this time Jose Lopez, being given the boot, it’s important that management maintains a commitment to stabilizing the roster overhaul by communicating to fill-in players what their roles are on this team. Give Carrera, for example, a certain number of at-bats in a designated role (i.e. left field platoon), so that he and others who are vying for recently vacated roles don’t succumb to the pressure of watching their teammates scuttle to the chopping block. There are plenty of holes to fill for the future, so use the last seven weeks of the season to see if there is a potential answer or two already within the organization.
Acta's job should be in serious jeopardy. I don't think he's a good motivator. The sloppiness of the play is dumbfounding. I really like Acta as a strategy guy, and think he could have a lot of success managing a loaded veteran team of the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies ilk, but the knock on him in Washington as well was that he couldn't motivate. The fact that they were never able to seize momentum, and the egregious mental lapses from guys like Asdrubal that just show lack of concentration ... I think some of that certainly falls on Acta.
While it wasn't the case two weeks ago, and the process has thankfully started with the Lopez DFA and Damon release, I have to wonder what guys like Kotchman and Duncan are doing still on this team. Use this as an opportunity to see if Geodert and Laporta can do anything, so you know clearly whether any of the internal players are options at all.
Also if we're already typing that Zeke Carera could be 'a legitimate left field option in 2013' then we've already packed in next year too. Not that it should be a surprise.