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Second Thoughts: Game #136: Indians 3, Tigers 2

Second Thoughts: Game #136: Indians 3, Tigers 2
September 5, 2012
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  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
CLE 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 9 1
DET 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0    0 2 4 0
W: J. Masterson (11-12) L: R. Porcello (9-11) S: C. Perez

First pitch

A wonderful opportunity awaited the Cleveland Indians Tuesday evening. The Tribe had not won back-to-back games since August 8 and 9 when the team beat the Minnesota Twins and then the Boston Red Sox. A streak of futility like this is certainly nothing to be proud of, but it actually gets worse. To find the last time that the Tribe won back-to-back road games, you have to go all the way back to almost exactly three months ago, June 5 and 6, when the Indians beat the Tigers twice in Comerica Park. Perhaps the combination of the Tigers, Comerica Park and almost three months to the date made for a good omen because the Indians finally won back-to-back road games once again Tuesday night. In the 3-2 win over the Tigers, the Indians appeared to be that solid team that we had all hoped to see consistently throughout the 2012 season. There were occasions where we were treated to glimpses of such a team, and Tuesday’s game seemed to be another such occasion. With the win, the team’s record improved to 58-78, and who knows, after winning 3-of-4 games, maybe the Indians will have a chance at reclaiming that third place spot from the Kansas City Royals.

Game M.V.P.

Justin Masterson: SP, Indians: In this case, you have to go with “The Masterpiece” Justin Masterson. The big right-hander rebounded nicely from his last outing and went six innings while allowing just two runs, which came off a home run from Miguel Cabrera. There’s certainly no shame in allowing a home run to Cabrera, so all in all, it was a pretty outstanding start from Masterson. In his six innings, Masterson also recorded four strikeouts and allowed just four hits. Much like Corey Kluber in the series opener Monday, Masterson gave his team ample opportunity to win. The Tribe’s offense has continually been criticized this season, and rightfully so, but the name of the game is still pitching. If the team got consistent efforts from its starting rotation, it would be interesting to see where the Indians’ record would stand. During the losing streaks, there were just so many occasions where the game was out of reach in the second or third inning. It made it impossible to even think of a comeback. Thankfully that was not the case Tuesday.

Base knocks

  • Surging Santana: Carlos Santana went 2-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts Tuesday. No, it’s hardly a perfect performance. It’s not even a great one. Instead, it was a plain, old good night at the plate for Santana, which is also indicative of his second half. Since July 13, Santana is hitting .287 with 30 walks and 30 strikeouts. That shows marked improvement from his first half average of .221, and it also shows in his overall average, which is now up to .250.
  • Canzler’s streak continues: It’s only been four games, but Russ Canzler seems determined to leave his mark. He collected one hit Tuesday to move his modest hitting streak to four games. It’s unlikely that Canzler is anyone to get too excited about, but it’s hard to find anything wrong with the early results. Perhaps the right-handed hitting Canzler understands the gravity of his current situation. The Indians will assuredly be in need of a potential right-handed hitting bench bat with some pop next season, and Canzler could fit the bill.
  • Brantley battles on: Prior to the year, I was one of the skeptics in regard to Michael Brantley. I saw a toolsy player who could do a lot of nice things, but I still labeled him as nothing more than a fourth outfielder on a good team. I’m pleased to say that he’s proving me wrong. He’ll never hit for power, but his WAR of 2.7 suggests that he is certainly a capable Major Leaguer. On Tuesday, he recorded his 36th double and drew two walks. On the year, Brantley now has 42 walks compared to 54 strikeouts and his average sits at .285. He essentially has improved every facet of his game, and he’s also a joy to watch in the field. People often ask me why I’m still watching the Indians, especially considering the team’s massive downward spiral. Well, a player like Brantley is my answer.
  • Taming the Tigers: With the win, the Tribe’s record against the Tigers this year is now 9-5. That is simply astonishing especially considering that the Indians lost 29-of-35 games prior to the start of this series. For whatever the reason may be, the Indians just seem to match up well against Detroit. Even in the past, the Indians have had a significant amount of success against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. The season’s end is drawing near, and of the two teams contending in the AL Central (Tigers and Chicago White Sox), I would much rather see the White Sox head to the postseason. Given the Indians’ performances against the Tigers, I would have to guess that they feel the same way.
  • Pure Rage returns: It had been almost a week since Indians closer Chris Perez had last pitched for the Indians. Perez had left the team for a bit as he celebrated the birth of his child, but he came back full force Tuesday. It took Perez just 10 pitches (eight strikes) to rack up his 34th save of the season. Between his controversial comments and game performances, Perez has taken his fair share of criticism this season, though I tend to believe that he is still one of the better closers in baseball today. I do believe there is a chance the Indians move him in the offseason, which makes performances like this even more important to ensure that his value remain high. Plus, you have to tip your hat to Perez for coming back strong against the Tigers, who tortured him for five runs in 2/3 of an inning back on August 5.

Swings-and-misses

  • Casey Botchman: In four at-bats, the Indians starting first baseman saw a total of 11 pitches and produced four outs. This type of production is unacceptable for a Major League starting first baseman. I like Kotchman’s defense as much as the next guy, but I still struggle to understand why he is playing first base for this team anymore. He will not be in the Tribe’s plans for next year, so why is he in their plans now? Shouldn’t Canzler or Matt LaPorta be getting the majority of the at-bats at first base? Or there is Jared Goedert, who could be called up now that he recently completed his Triple-A season with the Columbus Clippers. Any of the three are more deserving of time at first base. We are in September now, and Kotchman’s average sits at .228. The team’s pitching can certainly be identified as a scapegoat for this season’s struggles, but Kotchman is not too far behind.
  • Master of Inconsistency: Considering I named him the player of the game, it may not be fair to include Justin Masterson among the swings-and-misses, but it seems necessary. Outside of the month of June, Masterson has been up-and-down all year. He’ll dazzle one start then disappoint the next. Fresh off of allowing eight earned runs in his previous outing, Masterson brought his A game Tuesday, but it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds. It’d be great to see him come out and put together a dominant September effort, but we’re almost conditioned to expect a disappointment. Though to Masterson’s credit, for as bad as he has been at times this season, he has also been very good on occasion. However, the fact that he has probably been the Tribe’s most consistent starter is evidence of the team’s deep-rooted pitching problem: The team’s most consistent starter has been, more or less, terribly inconsistent. How can any team win given those circumstances?

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

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