Second Thoughts Game #132: Indians 2, Braves 3
Without dwelling too much on another disappointing performance by the Indians’ offense on Tuesday, I’ll just say that entering the series this is the game that seemed most winnable. Justin Masterson takes the hill against Paul Maholm, who recently returned from the disabled list and has just a 4.45 ERA on the season. With a series against Detroit and Baltimore looming, the Indians need a big start from Justin Masterson and the offense to break out its month-long funk.
The Whole Nine
1. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but Justin Masterson did what the Indians needed him to do. He gave the team six strong innings and despite struggling with his control throughout, limited the Braves to just two runs in the second inning. Masterson has really done a great job this entire season in working out of jams. In his last two starts Masterson has allowed ten walks in 14.2 innings, but has given up only three runs, in part due to 13 strikeouts over the same period. That’s seemingly a microcosm of his entire season.
2. The two runs that did cross the plate for the Braves in the second inning were following a Masterson walk to Maholm (career batting average .110). With two outs and two runners on and the top of the order to follow that’s completely unacceptable. This is one of the problems with a pitching staff that’s one of the league leaders in walks allowed. One walk was worth two runs in this game, and truthfully may have cost the team the game.
3. With the team’s struggles offensively I’m happy to see Mike Aviles playing more at third base. Lonnie Chisenhallis lost at the plate, and this is a time where the Indians can’t afford to let him try to figure it out. Aviles plated both of the Indians runs with a home run in the fourth and a huge RBI sacrifice fly in the eighth. It’s not that Aviles is a great offensive player by any means, but he’s a huge improvement over Chisenhall and can help dredge the team out of its slump.
4. Speaking of the eighth inning, looking back at things how big was Asdrubal Cabrera’s baserunning error? With two out and runners at third and first the Indians brought Michael Brantley, easily the team’s best clutch hitter this season, to the plate in a tied game. Brantley would never get a chance for the hit the team’s been looking two days for, as Asdrubal Cabrera stopped running on a foul tip caught by the catcher (thinking it was a foul ball) and was thrown out between second and first.
5. By my count, the Indians offense as a whole is 0-14 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of this series. I don’t think anything else has to be said here, that number speaks for itself.
6. I don’t put this loss on Joe Smith. He entered the game with the longest scoreless inning streak of any Indians reliever on the year and has been the Indians best reliever since the All-Star break. The winning run reached base on a jam shot that just found a hole on the infield and advanced into scoring position on a stolen base. There’s some blame to go around in this game, but it’s not with Joe Smith or the rest of the Indians bullpen.
7. I suppose the thing a lot of people will be talking about is Francona’s decision to pinch hit Matt Carson in this game with a runner on second and one out in the seventh inning. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, no, but I assume Francona was just fishing for a spark. Carson’s a guy that the Braves likely don’t have much of a scouting report on and Francona might have just had a gut feeling on this one and hoped some adrenaline from the recent call-up would work in his favor. It didn’t work of course, but it does allow a window into the mind of Francona. Like us, he seems to be frustrated by the Indians lack of offense and looking anywhere he can for something to get this team going. [Editor's note: Yan Gomes never got into the game.....enough said].
8. Sure, it’s a small sample size but Carlos Santana is now hitting .263/.447/.561 in the number four hole. He’s one of the few hitters who look like they have a pulse at the plate right now. It’s welcome improvement from Asdrubal Cabrera.
9. When I took a look at the remaining schedule of the wildcard contenders last week the one thing that looked like a worst case scenario for the Indians was the Athletics sweeping the Tigers followed by the Tigers sweeping the Indians. This was a series of events that looked like it could effectively knock the Indians out of wildcard and division contention even before the schedule really loosens up. We’re not at that point yet, but this is something to think about as the next four games are played. The Indians have to avoid that fate at all costs.
Without a doubt, the next four games are going to be the most important of the year. With a key hit or two in either of their last two games the Indians would be set up much better for a run at the wildcard race. Instead, they’ve let two winnable games slip by and lost two games to the Athletics in the wildcard standings in the process. They’re staring a sweep by Atlanta in the face while watching the Athletics stifle the Tigers in the process. Things aren’t desperate with still a month to play, but it would sure help if the team starting playing like it was desperate.
Arguably, we have more position player prospects at any time since the last wave with Santana, Kipnis, and Brantley. The starting pitching prospects have been better than they've been in some time too (especially in terms of power arms with the potential to be frontline starters).. Then, add in the bullpen depth, along with a hopefully healthy Sturdevant, and I think the farm system has actually strengthened over the last year. It wouldn't surprise me if its ranking improves in the offseason.
Or get caught wandering around between first and second base because you didn't know what happened at home plate.
Those little things kill you in close games. That, and going 0-for-14 with RISP.