Second Thoughts: Game #143 Indians 2, Rangers 5
As the losses continue to pile up, it’s growing increasingly difficult to watch a visibly defeated Tribe team take the field each game. The starting pitching continued its recent and season long trends of futility, while the offense wasted a bevy of potential big innings, yet again. After the Rangers pounced starter Jeanmar Gomez for three 1st inning runs, it was easy to predict how the game would end. It’s fair to wonder if some Indians players have already mentally checked out from this brutal season, if for no other reason than because the self-preservation part of their brains have forced them to. Kidding aside, this team is simply overmatched against a well-oiled Texas ball club.
Tribe offense squanders chances: Trapped in a loop of perpetual misery, the Indians offense once again botched a few golden chances to hang a crooked number on the scoreboard. The team went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and the measly one hit they did get didn’t score either of the Tribe’s two runs. The first run came on a 4th inning Casey Kotchman RBI groundout with the bases loaded, dropping Kotchman’s season mark with the bases loaded to an unsightly 1-for-14 (.071). The second run was courtesy of a Carlos Santana sacrifice fly in the 5th inning. Brent Lillibridge (0-for-3, 0-for-2 with RISP, two strikeouts) and Jason Kipnis (0-for-4, two strikeouts) struggled the most on paper; although, no one other than Shin-Soo Choo (2-for-4 with a stolen base) really had a good game.
The first wasted chance came in the 2nd frame. Lonnie Chisenhall and Kotchman had back-to-back two-out singles, but a Lillibridge strikeout sunk the run-scoring chance. In the 4th, Santana and Brantley each singled, followed by a Russ Canzler walk to load the bases with no one out. Ryan Dempster pulled the string on Chisenhall for a punch out, then Kotchman pushed the first run across with a fielder’s choice that really should’ve been an inning-ending double play, but Ian Kinsler’s poor relay throw pulled Mitch Moreland off the bag. Lillibridge struck out swinging to end the threat. Finally, in the 5th, after a Zeke Carrera infield single and steal, Choo got the lone hit with runners in scoring position to put runners on the corners, again with none out. A Kipnis lineout, Santana sac fly, and Brantley fly out accounted for the second and final run. These chances for a big inning come sparingly against a veteran starter like Dempster; unfortunately, the Tribe couldn’t make him pay. One last offensive tidbit: the last 15 Indians hitters were sat down in order.
Gomez gets knocked around, again: Coming off a three-inning dud in his last start, Jeanmar Gomez was hardly any better on Wednesday in Texas. Following his last game, Manny Acta asserted that Gomez wasn’t being aggressive enough. After watching Gomez throw another clunker, it appears that he just doesn’t have the control to comfortably command the strike zone. His location just isn’t sharp enough to hit the black edges of the plate, and when he misses, too often it’s in dangerous parts of the zone. The Rangers wasted little time, ripping off three 1st inning runs, thanks to a Josh Hamilton RBI fielder’s choice and Adrian Beltre two-run homer. Gomez hung a slider up in the zone and Beltre crushed it for his 32nd bomb of the season. Early and often, Gomez was missing badly, either way out of the zone or up and over the plate. In the 3rd, Hamilton absolutely tattooed a two-out, 2-2 fastball for an upper-deck moon shot. No mystery here, give the Major League leader in home runs a fastball middle-in and he’ll do the rest. The fifth and final run came on a Geovany Soto sac fly to plate David Murphy.
After watching the Rangers speed bag Gomez for four innings, Acta had seen enough. The Indians starter was simply unable to come through with a well-located pitch when it counted. His lack of command makes it highly difficult to aggressively attack hitters.
Dempster spins seven strong: Following a subpar first three starts in a Rangers uniform, Ryan Dempster has now won five straight games in as many starts. He demonstrated good location, while working with a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. A tried and tested big league vet, Dempster worked all parts of the zone, as well as placing pitches just off the plate to get Indians hitters to swing at balls. The major difference between Dempster and Gomez is that when the former misses it’s enticing enough to induce a swing, plus he rarely catches the fat the part of the zone. Dempster capitalized on an over-aggressive Tribe lineup that was happy to hack away at the off-speed pitches that he wanted them to try to hit. He sat down the final nine hitters he faced in order, needing only five pitches to retire the Indians in his 7th and final inning. Over seven frames of two-run ball, he allowed seven hits and a walk, while striking out eight. This is a case of a big league pitcher executing and outsmarting a young, road-weary Tribe lineup.
Bright spot bullpen: From Cleveland’s perspective, the positive aspect of this game was the Tribe bullpen’s four shutout innings. The three relief arms of David Huff, Esmil Rogers, and Chris Perez kept their team within striking distance. Huff went 2.2 innings, working around three singles and a walk, while notching four strikeouts. Rogers came on to allow a hit and record the final out of the 7th inning, stranding an inherited runner. Perez allowed a single, but got Soto to hit into an inning-ending groundball double play. The team numbers don’t necessarily show it, but there are positive assets on an individual basis in this bullpen, as the team looks forward.
1st inning omen: After Dempster struck out the side in the top of the 1st and the Rangers responded with three quick runs in the bottom half of the inning, it took little imagination to surmise the direction of the game. Although they were only down by as many as four runs at the worst deficit, the Indians never felt like they were legitimately in this game. Too often this season, the Tribe digs itself into a hole that they are plainly incapable of clawing out of.
Kipnis saves a run: With two-on and two-out in the 7th inning, Mike Olt hit a grounder deep in the second base hole. Kipnis made a great stop to knock down the ball and prevent Kinsler from rounding third and heading home. The next hitter, Nelson Cruz, was caught-looking on a fantastic slider from Rogers to end the inning. Sure, it was a relatively minor play, but it’s encouraging to have at least one player who is putting in a professional level of effort from the first to last out.
3 Most Wanted
63 Wins: Cleveland has to go 4-15 over the final 19 games to avoid losing 100 games for the 6th time in 112 seasons and the first since 1991. For most other teams, that mark would be absurdly easy, yet with 10 of those 19 games against teams in the thick of a division or wild card race, it will not be a cake walk. Looking at this situation from the other side, one could argue that triple-digit losses might incite serious change within the organization, but I’m not that hopeful.
An extra-base hit: The Indians had seven hits in this game, all of them singles. It seems, along with their proclivity for allowing 1st inning runs and wasting run-scoring opportunities, this team has a serious issue with tallying extra-base hits. The Indians are 13th in the American League in slugging percentage (.380).
More Huff, less Gomez: After watching the second scoreless, multi-inning relief appearance for David Huff, following an early Gomez exit, it may be worthwhile to give Huff a couple starts down the stretch. In spite of his 5.43 ERA in 262 big league innings, it’s possible that the 28 year old Huff is finally starting to grasp what it takes to be a successful Major League pitcher. Worst case scenario, he should be in the mix for a long-relief role heading into spring training next season. In this game, the way he identified Hamillton’s weakness for the high fastball and went up the ladder twice for a pair of strikeouts against one of the game’s best hitters shows he’s learning how to pitch at this level.