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Second Thoughts Game #137: Tigers 0, Indians 7

Second Thoughts Game #137: Tigers 0, Indians 7
Danny Salazar and the Indians celebrate a big win. (Photo: AP)
September 4, 2014
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Salazar salvages the series

It would have been a disaster if the Indians were swept in this series. They would have been behind as much as seven games in the Wild Card race, with only seven games remaining against Detroit and Kansas City. That would have put the playoffs almost entirely out of reach. Winning at least one game was an absolute necessity, and now the Indians have done just that and will be searching for a series split that would be massive considering the events of Monday and Tuesday.

Danny Salazar was the story in this game. He dominated the Tigers, spinning his first complete game shutout, and added nine strikeouts.  Watching Salazar made the memories of the pitcher we saw early in the season completely disappear.

It was just two months ago Salazar walked six batters during a start in Columbus. He hasn’t allowed six walks in his last five starts combined. In April it was taking him 90-100 pitches to get through five innings. On Wednesday he went the distance on 118, 83 of which were strikes. When he was sent down to Columbus in May the team had him work on some adjustment to keep the ball down. That work is paying off, as his groundball to flyball ratio has been much better of late. In this game 19 of the 27 outs he recorded were either a strikeout or groundball.

All of this has added up to another impressive late season surge for Salazar. He’s posted a 1.08 ERA in his last four starts and seems to have gotten stronger as the month of August and now September has progressed.

Right now there are a lot of negatives that we can talk about with this team, but with the emergence of Carlos Carrasco and Salazar over the last month, people don’t want to see the Indians on their schedule down the stretch. This rotation has been the best in baseball since early August, and with that type of pitching there’s going to be a fair share of wins. It’s just a matter of whether they can keep pitching this well, and whether or not they’re going to run out of time in dragging the team to the top of the standings.

About Cody Allen

On Tuesday, the Indians were three outs away from gaining back the game they lost in the 12-1 blowout on Monday, despite yet another bad offensive performance. Instead, they found themselves in an 0-2 hole in the series and staring at a five game deficit in the Wild Card standings after Cody Allen blew the save and wasted the terrific efforts of Carlos Carrasco, Scott Atchison, and Bryan Shaw.

If you think about it, a lot of excuses could be made to excuse Allen’s performance. He’s pitched a ton this year. He was facing the middle of the Tigers lineup, which has absolutely eaten the Indians pitching staff alive all year. His offense stranded 10 runners, not allowing the team to go into the ninth inning with a larger advantage.

I watched the game and saw the Tigers get several calls on pitches off the plate to the outside (ask Michael Brantley). Then I watched Allen locate three pitches in the ninth inning to Torii Hunter in the same spot, without getting any called for strikes. That cost Allen a walk and set the stage for the big inning. None of these are excuses to me, because I don’t think excuses need to be made for Allen.

This was just the second time he had given up runs in back-to-back appearances all season. The timing of it was terrible, but it shouldn’t diminish the year he’s had. Allen has picked up this team in countless close games over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, as the team’s closer his outings are under a much larger microscope and when he comes into the game and ‘doesn’t have it,’ the glare is much brighter and the aftermath is much uglier.

It’s true that Allen seems to be in a mini-funk. Just like it was true that Bryan Shaw struggled in June and July before turning in a fantastic month of August. This is the ebb and flow of a long season. After surviving for so long on the excellence of Corey Kluber in the rotation and Cody Allen at the end of games, those two are showing some kinks in the armor. You don’t want it to happen against Detroit during a huge four game series in September, but it doesn’t undersell what these guys have done to get this team to the point where they’re contending in September.

Allen needs to take a day off and get himself into a side session. He’s struggling to locate his pitches. I don’t believe he threw one off-speed pitch for a strike in Tuesday’s outing, and the hits he gave up, including the home run, were fastballs that missed their location and ended up over the middle of the plate. I’m confident that he’ll be fine.

About Jason Kipnis

With Jeff Ellis’ article discussing  Lonnie Chisenhall’s future coming out on Wednesday, I wanted to comment on Kipnis’ future. This is something that’s come up due to Jose Ramirez’ solid play since becoming the team’s full-time shortstop, the inevitability of Francisco Lindor pushing him aside, and the emphasis on improving the defense next year. Twelve months ago Kipnis was the best player on the team. Today, people are tossing around the idea of cutting bait on him.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I see the same below average defender and underperforming bat everyone else sees. I would LOVE to have Lindor and Ramirez playing side-by-side in the middle of the infield. Still, I don’t think I can get behind trading Kipnis. Not at this point in time. I don’t even agree with moving him to the outfield, as also has been suggested.

Setting defense aside for a moment, the biggest issue facing Kipnis right now is that his power has disappeared. His isolated slugging percentage is just .094 this year. That’s a huge drop from the .168 number he had a year ago, and his minor league numbers that ranged from .153 in A ball to .204 in Triple A.

To me, what we’re seeing is an outlier year from Kipnis. I don’t know if there’s an injury that explains why his power has vanished, but I’m not comfortable selling off a guy who posted a 4.4 WAR last season and is locked into a contact that should be team friendly over the next few seasons when he’s having the worst year of his professional career.

There’s nothing in his background that tells us that this is the new normal for him. He hasn’t been in decline for several years, and his minor league numbers indicate he wasn’t playing over his head last season. That was exactly the player we thought he would become, and it’s still the player I think we’ll see in the future.

I understand that there needs to be a larger emphasis put on defense by the Indians front office. I would caution that they shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture in an effort to do that. This team isn’t in position to sell good, young players for pennies on the dollar. You don’t fix one problem by creating another. Losing the production that Jason Kipnis should reasonably provide in 2015 (as in, something closer to 2013 versus the 2014 version) isn’t going to help an offense that is already struggling to score runs.

If at this point next year Kipnis has not bounced back, and Ramirez has established himself as a capable replacement offensively, then I would understand considering a Kipnis trade. If we’re going to trade him, let’s make sure it’s at the right time. If you move him to the outfield, he’ll never again have the value he had when the Indians signed him to his extension. If you trade him right now, you’re trading him as a 1 WAR player who’s guaranteed 40+ million dollars. The return won’t justify the loss of potential gain from keeping Kipnis around at least another season.

Other Notes

- The Indians will conclude their four game series against the Tigers on Thursday. They’ll send Trevor Bauer to the hill to matchup against Max Scherzer. The team has actually hit Scherzer fairly well on the season, scoring 10 runs against him in 18.2 innings. On the other hand, Bauer hasn’t given up a run in his last 16.1 innings of work.

User Comments

September 4, 2014 - 11:50 AM EDT
Amazing performance by Salazar, really becoming a complete pitcher. Indians deserve all the credit in the world for their work with starting pitchers, both this season and last year.

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