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Second Thoughts Game #112: Reds 1, Indians 7

Second Thoughts Game #112: Reds 1, Indians 7
Corey Kluber and Yan Gomes (Photo: AP)
August 5, 2014
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Things have been trending upward of late for the Indians. With a three game winning streak entering the game, the Indians sent Corey Kluber to the mound to open a four game (two at home, two on the road) stretch against the Cincinnati Reds. After another strong performance from their ace, the team has now moved to just 2.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and 5.5 games back of Detroit in the division.

I see this as an important stretch for the team. They have a sweep of Texas under their belt, and took the first game of four from the Reds. After the Reds they’ll face the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Orioles. This will be the hardest stretch of the month for the team, and if they can handle New York and Baltimore, they could be poised for a huge month. Following the series against the Orioles they’ll face Minnesota, Houston, and Chicago before meeting Kansas City to close out the month.

Kluber Keeps Winning

This is exactly what an ace is supposed to do. Not only has Kluber provided the Indians a stopper when losses are piling up, but in times like this he’s able to go out against a good pitcher in his own right and extend a winning streak. For the reasons noted above, and the fact that the Reds have Johnny CuetoMat Latos, and Homer Bailey pitching the next three games, this was the win the Indians needed to get.

Kluber hasn’t lost a start since June 30th, a start in which he ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 affair. In fact, the only start he’s had since that date in which the team lost was the the ‘Ryan Raburn error’ game. If that wasn’t enough to explain how well he’s pitching right now, it should be noted that he took a 25 scoreless inning streak (earned runs) into the eighth inning of this game, before watching Nick Hagadone cede an inherited run in relief.

This start bumps Kluber up to a 5.0 WAR for the season (fangraphs), moving him firmly into second place in baseball in that category. We’ve even started to hear CY Young buzz forming around his season. Personally, if the Indians were to make the playoffs I think MVP would be more suitable. This team needs a lot of wins over the next two months, and in that stretch they’ll be able to give the ball to Kluber every fifth day and watch him nearly win the game by himself. With how much we’ve talked about things that have gone wrong this season, Kluber’s season can’t be championed enough. 

On another note, in some of my deadline articles I mentioned that I felt the Indians needed at least one more starter to pair with Kluber and Bauer if they wanted any shot at competing for the playoffs. It’s possible that player has come from within in Danny Salazar. I don’t know if Salazar and Bauer are going to be able to hold their own in a playoff push, but I’m really excited about the future of that trio at the top of the rotation in the years to come.

The Clutch Hitting of Lonnie Chisenhall

The big hit in this game came from Lonnie Chisenhall, a three run homer that put the team up 4-0 in the fourth inning. It’s true that Chisenhall has fallen off steadily from his scorching start. His July numbers weren’t pretty, and he’s hitting under the Mendoza line since the All-Star break. Still, Chisenhall has continued to be one of the team’s most reliable hitters in clutch situations.

Of course, most expected this drop off. His early season numbers were certainly not sustainable. There is a lot that he’s still doing right. In the month of July, even when he wasn’t hitting, he posted his best K/BB rate of any month. Using the eye test, he’s playing better at third base defensively. That’s surely a result of more consistent playing time. Nobody will ever confuse him for a Gold Glover, but he looks a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He’s still a below average defender, but he’s capable, and his bat is a valuable part of the lineup.

Let’s talk more about that bat; even in the midst of a steady fall Chisenhall continues to get big hits. His home run in this game is just one example. His two-out RBI single in the sixth inning on Saturday broke a 0-0 tie and played a large part in the winning that game. I think this is something that’s been overlooked during his breakout season. On the year Chisenhall has a .975 OPS with runners in scoring position.

Interestingly enough, even his K/BB rate is much better in clutch situations. That’s an important barometer for a player like Chisenhall. His ability to lock in and produce runs in these types of situations is a great sign for his development. If he can translate his approach and performance in clutch situations into all of his at-bats he’s going to become a much better player and a fixture on this team for a long time.

Other Notes

- I see a lot of parallels between Yan Gomes and Zach Walters. Both came to the Indians without a defined position, legitimate concerns about plate discipline, and power bats. It might be a comparison of convenience, but Gomes’ success shows us that if Walters is able to find a position where he has defensive value and translates his power to the majors, he’ll become a very valuable player for the Indians.

Jason Kipnis has just a .585 OPS as the team’s leadoff hitter. Still, I like him in the role. He’s having a terrible year, but he still has the skill set that you’d like to see in the one spot. At his best, he could probably post numbers similar to Grady Sizemore in the years he was the team’s leadoff hitter. I don’t know if Kipnis will continue to hit first when Bourn comes back, but that’s my hope.

- The Indians will be tasked with defeating Johnny Cueto if they want to extend their winning streak and sweep the Reds in Cleveland. Josh Tomlin returns to take the hill for the Indians.

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