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Second Thoughts Game #152: Indians 2, Astros 1

Aviles' sac-fly enough to lift Tribe over Astros in extras

Second Thoughts Game #152: Indians 2, Astros 1
Jose Ramirez bunts for a single in Thursday's 2-1 extra-innings win for the Tribe in Houston. (Photo: AP)
September 19, 2014
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It got to the point where even I was on the verge of ruling this team out in their playoff chase over the weekend. Yet just four days later, here they are once again having won three straight to take the four game set in Houston and fight their way back to just four games away from a playoff berth.

Unfortunately, time is not on their side as they have only 10 games left to work with. However, the resilience of this ballclub has once again resurrected their season for what seems like the umpteenth time during the campaign.

Danny Salazar extended the brilliant stretch of pitching by the Tribe starting rotation with seven and a third one-run innings, but did not earn a decision as the Indians would not rally until the ninth inning to tie the game at one and wouldn't pull ahead until the 13th frame on a Mike Aviles sacrifice fly.

Barely Enough Offense

Probably what has been most impressive about the recent performance of the Tribe pitching staff, particularly in this series, is the fact that they had little or no margin for error. Danny Salazar fell behind 1-0 on a seeing-eye RBI single, but did not let it rattle him. Instead, he pitched brilliantly all the way into the eighth inning keeping the Astros off the board. From there, the bullpen would take over and put up six more zeros on the scoreboard before the Indians walked away victorious 2-1 in the 13th.

Of course, none of this would've been necessary had the lineup managed to put anything together against Scott Feldman and the rest of Houston's pitching staff. Both runs scored by the Tribe had to be fought for tooth and nail.

Feldman pitched eight innings and was nearing a shutout when Michael Bourn came through with a controversial ground-rule double, which was originally ruled an inside-the-park home run, to get things started for the Indians, who would eventually tie the game on an RBI single by Carlos Santana. And the sac-fly to put them ahead could've been a much different play had Astros right fielder Jake Marisnick made a more accurate throw to the plate.

Jose Ramirez was the game's most valuable player for the Indians on the offensive side of the ball as he recorded three hits, including two infield singles awarded to him by replay review and a one-out double in the 13th, which set up the go-ahead run. He scored both runs for the Tribe and put on a fantastic display of hustle, as he has nearly all season.

While they did get just enough offense to win three out of four games, the performance of the lineup hasn't been something for them to hang their hat on as they scored only nine runs in this series and batted below the Mendoza Line as a team.

Of course, this isn't exactly a new development at this point as they have struggled collectively at scoring runs for a while now. Thankfully, the pitching has been outstanding to where they don't need much run support, but you're living dangerously if you continue to play the game that way.

A Perfect Storm

Heading into this offseason, the Indians have some issues to address, but for the first time in several years, none of the major concerns lie with the pitching staff. Of course, adding a depth starter or another back-of-the-bullpen arm could be on Chris Antonetti's to-do list, but overall, the Tribe's current squad of hurlers is a functionally sound unit capable of stepping up and carrying this team, as we've seen in the second half of this season.

The starters in particular have been especialy impressive, as many of us here at the site have discussed in depth. Danny Salazar was not quite able to to top teammates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco's pitching performances, but he still managed to put on a nice show of his own allowing only one run in seven and a third innings while striking out nine, bringing the final tally of the series for Indians starters up to 41 punchouts. Now, of course, the Astros have been notorious for swings-and-misses this season, but still an impressive feat nonetheless.

What the Indians may have on their hands moving forward over the next few years is a perfect storm for pitching. Barring injury, of course, the Tribe has five capable young starters in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and T.J. House, four of which can pump up the heat in the mid-to-upper 90s and, arguably, churn out ace-caliber pitches. Add House in there as a left-hander who pitches more to contact, and you've got balance.

Taking the current starting five into account, the average age of the group is 25.4 years old and the average length of time away from free agency being just over five years with Carlos Carrasco set to be the first one eligible of the group in 2018. If I'm a rival fan, I'm hoping these guys don't find their groove again because they'll be around for a while.

Additionally, beyond their natural talent and ability, these pitchers also have Yan Gomes, who has really stepped up and taken the bull by the horns this season as far as starting catching duties, to guide them behind the dish and pitching coach Mickey Callaway in the dugout as he continues to prove himself as a capable leader for this bunch.

From Sinkers to Strikeouts

While we're on the subject of the pitching staff, as someone with an ever-increasing curiosity and admiration for the art of pitching, watching the evolution of the Indians staff has been an interesting development just in these last few seasons. The group went from a foundation of mostly sinkerball, pitch-to-contact types fronted by the likes of Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and alike to a more power-based fastball/breaking ball bunch that could generate more swings-and-misses.

In 2012, the Indians, as a staff, struck out 1,086 batters, which ranked 13th in the American League out of then-14 teams. The following year in 2013, when guys like Salazar and Corey Kluber burst on the scene and Masterson had his career year, the staff fanned 1,379 batters, a 27% increase over the 2012 total which moved them all the way up to second in the league. This year, they have struck out 1,350 so far, which also puts them at second in the league.

So overall since 2012, the Indians have seen about a 30% increase in strikeouts thanks to their reconfiguration of the staff with the additon of younger power arms in both the rotation and the bullpen. It has certainly taken some pressure off the defense, which needs all the relief it can get this year. (Imagine if this defense was around for the 2012 pitching staff.)

It also puts additional pressure on opposing lineups knowing that they have to get to the pitchers early if they can due to the fact that they don't have to wait for them to put the ball in play to record outs. That's not to say that the sinkerball and contact pitchers aren't effective, but you put more pressure on yourselves as a team with them than you put on opponents with power/strikeout arms.

Up Next: Indians (79-73) vs. Twins (65-87) @ Target Field. First pitch at 8:10 pm ET.

The Tribe will stay in the Central Time Zone as they travel north to Minneapolis to conclude their season series against the Twins. Cleveland is 9-7 against the Twins this season after taking two out of three in their last meeting in Cleveland last week. Trevor Bauer will toe the rubber against the Twins after going only five innings in a no-decision his last time out against Detroit. In two starts against Minnesota this season, Bauer is 0-1 with eight runs allowed in 10 and two thirds innings.

For the Twins, their ace will be on the hill in Phil Hughes, who has had a fine bounce-back season away from New York. The veteran right-hander is 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA this season. He handcuffed the Indians in his lone start against them this season as he bested his counterpart Corey Kluber with seven one-run innings back in August. He took the loss his last time out against the White Sox allowing five runs (three earned) in seven innings. He did strike out a season-high 11 hitters, though.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Rocky55
September 20, 2014 - 5:17 AM EDT
G:

It must now be "Irony Saturday"; Custer lost his life at the Little Big Horn, not Wounded Knee.
Joe Chengery
September 19, 2014 - 10:28 PM EDT
It's unfortunate Seattle and Oakland don't face each other, but Seattle just got done with the Angels and Oakland still has a series left with them. Plus, they seem iffy and teetering after the Angels blew right past them for the AL West. Plus, the Angels can't rest on their laurels for the top seed because Baltimore is close enough to still take it, so the Angels could help out the Tribe by beating Oakland, so that series at least shouldn't be that easy for the A's.. So, there are a few things working in our favor when it comes to Oakland/Seattle (especially Oakland).

The Indians just have to put themselves into position to be able to move past KC. Right now, it's working, and if the Royals continue to struggle against the Tigers as they have been, they could really be teetering by the time they get to Cleveland on Monday, never mind that extra suspended game where they are down and three outs away from losing a game to the Indians.

Bottom line: Indians must play well in all facets these final 10 games (or more if there's a tie)- control what they can control, and let the chips fall where they may otherwise (with fingers crossed, of course, that they fall in our favor). Go Tribe!
GSon
September 19, 2014 - 3:58 PM EDT
@Walter.. I'd watch that movie.. a hundred times.. just like the original...

The wildcard playoff picture is a wee bit murky right now..
Essentially, there are four teams with two spots on the line.
The four are: KC, A's, M's and Tribe as the last remaining.
These 4 are separated by 4 games & have this schedule:

The A's: Phillies (3), the Angels (3) and @ Texas (4)
The Royals: Det (3), @CLE (3) @CWSox (4)
The M's @Houston (3)@ Toronto(4), & Angels (3)
Indians: @Minnesota (3), KC (4) Tampa Rays (3)

The A's could easily go 3-7 giving them a final record of 86 - 76

-If the A's do better than 3-7, they're almost guaranteed a WC spot.
The only question will be whether they host the game or not..

The Royals could easily go 4-6 giving them a final record of 87 - 75

-The Royals start this last 10 at 0-1. If the Royals go above .500,
they are almost assured of a WC spot & that's all she wrote...

The M's could easily go 4-6 giving them a final record of 86-76

-The M's are the real Wild Card, IMHO..they can go 2-8 or 8-2
depending on what Houston does with them.

The Tribe could easily go 7-3 giving them a final record of 86-76

-The Tribe may need to win em all.. or no less than 9-1.. This is
a tall/tough row to hoe, one we've seen just about a year ago on
this exact date..

Should be a fun weekend of scoreboard watching.....
Seth
September 19, 2014 - 2:50 PM EDT
The only way the Indians make the playoffs is if they go at least 9-1 the rest of the way, and probably 10-0 to catch the Mariners or A's, and would definitely need to sweep the Royals in either case. So I don't think it matters too much whether the Tigers sweep the Royals. As long as the Royals lose 1, if the Indians swept the Twins, they'd be in position to tie the Royals with a sweep.
Walter
September 19, 2014 - 2:41 PM EDT
GSon

you know your history well. I just wanted to provide some humor with this analogy. The Indians really against the wall. Maybe there last stand started in Houston. The question will it continue past Minnesota so Indians fans see the final outcomes next week. This team sort had nine lives this season. Every time we want to bury the find a way to keep there season relevant.

if they do win 13 in row the have written a new script for Major league III.

Tony
September 19, 2014 - 2:30 PM EDT
Nick, if the Royals take 2 of 3 from the Tigers and the Indians sweep this weekend....yes, the Indians are 3.5 out of the division.....but they are also 3 GB of the Tigers with 7 to play. That's the key. Hard to envision them jumping both in the division, even if they sweep the Royals next week. Their best case is for the Tigers to sweep the Royals. Or, for the Royals to sweep the Tigers I guess....and then sweep the Royals. It's a lot to bank on right now and very improbably.....so we should have a lot more clarity by the end of Sunday. No matter what the Indians cannot afford a loss this weekend.
Seth
September 19, 2014 - 1:37 PM EDT
Well Adams performance was terrible across the board in a tiny sample. Gave up runs in 3 of 5 appearances and got beat generally beat up. But that sample is what means he's not really going to get a shot until the Indians are eliminated unless there's no one left in the bullpen but Price
GSon
September 19, 2014 - 1:17 PM EDT
@Seth.. ERA is about the sixth most important stat for an RP.. Yes.. AA is young.. Yes.. he's got a lot to learn.. He needs to be learning it at the highest levels.. With his stuff, make up and ability.. he'll be an RP in the Indians pen long after the memory of the blue glove has been long gone for years..
Nick
September 19, 2014 - 12:00 PM EDT
*Which, essentially puts us 2 1/2 back with 7 to go. Not out of reach if we have another 2013 magic finish.
Nick
September 19, 2014 - 12:00 PM EDT
While the division is almost a lost cause Tony, it's not quite.

If KC takes 2 out of 3 this weekend and the Tribe sweeps, we're 3 1/2 games back and don't forgot we are 3 outs away from picking up another game.

So while it's unlikely, it's not a lost cause.
Seth
September 19, 2014 - 10:57 AM EDT
Where is Austin Adams? Sitting in the bullpen with an ERA around 12. Lee had some kind of injury last night. Wouldn't be surprised if he's been dealing with something for the past couple weeks with the way his performance cratered. Either that or his magical blue glove stopped working its mojo. It actually looked like Francona was going to leave Lee in to walk a guy who was trying to bunt until Aviles made an emergency mound visit.
GSon
September 19, 2014 - 10:46 AM EDT
I don't get this.. My comment (Just Below) was four more paragraphs and it was truncated... Why does this happen?

CC Lee is not a reliever that can be counted on when the pressure is o n.. He is a AAAA RP as witnessed by Tito's quick hook.. Where is Austin Adams.. He's a ML RP.. and could be similar in effectiveness as Cody Allen, given the chance..

Mike Aviles: The two plays he made saved the game and were Web Gem worthy..

The weekend series.. Tony is correct.. Go Tigers !!. The Mariners need to be spanked by the Halos and the Indians need to take care of their own business in the twin cities.. It would be very nice to see packed houses for the Rays series as Tito leads the Indians to their second miracle finish in a row..

See you at the ball yard... Go Tribe...
GSon
September 19, 2014 - 10:40 AM EDT
Must be "Malaprop Friday"

@ Walter... Custer was a cavalry general.. lost his life at Wounded Knee.. Custard is what DQ doesn't sell but is pretty close..

@ Tony.. A lost cost is a benefit.. a lost cause is what the chances are for the Indians to win the AL Central this year...

I see I wasn't the only one staying up to watch that 13 inning / highly intense / the Stros could win any time and put an end to the Indians season.. game.. Wow.

CC Lee
Tony
September 19, 2014 - 10:26 AM EDT
For the next 3 days I am a Tigers fan. And then for the next 7 days after that I am an Angels fan. Hopefully the Indians can keep on winning to make this interesting.
Walter
September 19, 2014 - 10:21 AM EDT
I bet the Angels do not want to see the Mariners and A's in the playoffs. They play both teams the last week of the season. This were the A's and Mariners could lose a lot. Both team also struggling in hitting and scoring runs.
Tony
September 19, 2014 - 10:15 AM EDT
Tigers and Royals play this weekend. At this point the division is a lost cost because even if the Indians sweep the Twins, the best the Indians can be back in the division is 4 games with 7 to play. What they need is for the Tigers to sweep the Royals and then the Indians sweep the Twins. That happens, then things will get very interesting at the start of the Royals series next week where they would be 1.5 games behind the Royals and have that one game to finish where they are up 4-2. They win both those games on Monday and they are suddenly ahead of the Royals by a half game with two games left to play in the series.

Of course, the key is also that the Athletic and Mariners have to lose. The Indians don't have any control over that. I wish they played each other head to head a few times these last 10 games as it would help their chances. They need one of them to slide. But I agree, the Indians at this point pretty much have to win all of their remaining 10 games to have any shot at a playoff berth. Can they seriously have a 13-0 finish and do it again like last year? Obviously it is very unlikely.....but will be fun to see how things play out this weekend. That's the key. Getting through Sunday and re-evaluating their chances from there. They absolutely have to sweep the Twins!
art
September 19, 2014 - 9:58 AM EDT
I had the Astros feed for this entire series, and their announcers were just gushing over the quality of the Tribe starters.
Canadian Joe
September 19, 2014 - 9:53 AM EDT
This living on the edge is brutal. Tie it in 9th, and win in 13th. On the road as well, even though it is Houston. Not going down without a fight. This starting pitching is absolutely phenominal. Any kind of offense, and we would be playoff bound. And oh, so young !!!!
Walter
September 19, 2014 - 9:49 AM EDT
A sweep in Minnesota would provide a wild last week in Cleveland. It would be the Indians version of Custards last stand in which we will be celebrating or we be giving our final respects to the 2014 Indians.

Basically to make the playoffs the Indians need to win all of the next 10 games.
If that happens and they get in to October baseball we would have seen the live/real version of Major League III.

With Kipnis getting hurt last nite. Possible batting order for tonight

Bourn
Ramirez
Brantley
Santana
Murphy or Gomes
Murphy or Gomes
Giambi
Chisenhall
Walters or Aviles

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