Second Thoughts: Game #162 White Sox 9, Indians 0
By losing the final game of the year, the Indians missed their chance at matching a season high with three straight series wins. Alas, they were routed and fell to a final record of 68-94. David Huff took his lumps and the offense was shutout for the second time in three games. The high point for Tribe fans was watching Travis Hafner receive a standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box in the 9th inning, for what very well might’ve been his last at-bat as an Indian. It was a sobering night of baseball, in what’s been a remarkably up-and-down season. Cleveland held every position in the division this season, but ends the 2012 campaign in fourth place.
Johnson’s trio leads five homer flurry: Dan Johnson had an incredible finale to the season, going 3-for-5 with three home runs and five RBI. Johnson’s first career three-homer game paced the White Sox, who had a total of five big flies, accounting for eight of their nine runs. Johnson started the barrage in the 2nd inning; he followed a Dayan Viciedo walk with a two-run shot on a mistake fastball that was middle-in and just above the belt. Ray Olmedo reached base to start the 5th on a Lonnie Chisenhall error that setup Paul Konerko’s two-run tater. Viciedo singled, and then Johnson cranked his second two-run jack on another pitch that simply caught too much plate. With Vinnie Pestano on in the 9th, Viciedo notched the fourth homer by smacking an outside fastball to the opposite field for a solo bomb. Johnson capped the scoring by smoking a mistake fastball, thigh high and down the middle.
The only run that didn’t come via the long ball was Hector Gimenez’s RBI single in the 4th inning. David Huff caught most of the White Sox wrath— 4.2 innings pitched, nine hits, seven runs (three earned), two walks, two strikeouts, and three homers allowed. Huff simply didn’t have good location on Wednesday, and he paid dearly for it. He consistently left the ball up in the zone, allowing Chicago to put some good swings on very hittable pitches. His fastball was either catching too much of the plate or it was well out of the zone. In spite of this clunker, the southpaw finishes the season with a 3-1 record and a 3.38 ERA.
Floyd flummoxes Indians bats: Gavin Floyd continued his 2nd half success (3.42 ERA over his last 15 starts) by shutting out the Tribe for seven innings of three-hit ball, with two walks and six strikeouts. Floyd looked sharp from start to finish, flashing a particularly impressive curveball that accounted for all six of his punch outs. He got ahead of hitters with his fastball, while consistently relying on his crisp breaking pitch as a dominant out pitch. The Chicago starter had a stretch of twelve consecutive batters retired, as he worked clean innings in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frames. Floyd mixed in his curveball and changeup, as needed, while showing good location overall. Although Cleveland was without Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Carlos Santana in the lineup, it likely wouldn’t have mattered since Floyd didn’t hang very many hittable pitches.
Tribe lineup collects five hits, no runs: Jason Kipnis (2-for-4) led the way for an unimposing lineup that failed to score in this game. Of their five hits, only one went for extra bases. Cleveland was 1-for-9 in getting the leadoff runner aboard, setting the table for a lot of quick innings. The Tribe didn’t have many chances— 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position— but the few they did garner were not taken advantage of. Sure, Brantley, Cabrera, and Santana weren’t in the lineup, but then again, neither were Adam Dunn, Kevin Youkilis, or Alex Rios for Chicago.
Choo extends streak: With a single in the 8th inning, Shin-Soo Choo closed out the 2012 season with a 13-game hitting streak, the longest of his career. The Tribe right fielder went 20-for-55 (.364) over the last 13 games.
Spotty defense: The Indians had a pair of errors, as well as another play that probably should’ve accounted for their third miscue. In the 3rd, with a runner on second base, Gimenez chopped a grounder up the middle for an RBI single. The relay throw glanced off Jack Hannahan’s glove, as he cut across the mound to snag the ball, allowing Gimenez to advance to second. Olmedo led off the 5th by lining a ball to third base. Chisenhall made a nice diving stop, but airmailed the throw over a leaping Hannahan into the camera well. The third play that very easily could have been the third error came in the 7th. Former Indian, Jose Lopez grounded to third, but Chisenhall couldn’t field the ball cleanly. His hurried throw appeared to hit Hannahan in the glove at first, but he couldn’t squeeze it for the out.
Pick #5: With a record of 68-94, Cleveland has secured the fifth overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft. The road to recovery starts with drafting and developing within. Personally, it’d be nice to see the Indians land a big time pitching prospect. Whether he comes from high school or college, it’s likely the only way the Tribe will be able to insert a Cy Young caliber pitcher into its rotation.
3 Most Wanted
Starting pitching: After watching 162 games of Indians baseball, it’s apparent the team’s biggest need is starting rotation help. The lineup has its holes, but to be successful a team must have a formidable starting rotation. The especially harrowing thing is that the Indians need two top-of-the-rotation caliber pitchers, no easy task for any team heading into the offseason, let alone one with modest resources. Justin Masterson looks like a number three starter at best, and the rest of the lot is back-end or quad-A talent. It’s unlikely that Cleveland is able to secure two top-flight starters via trades or free agency, but one doesn’t seem unreasonable, given the payroll flexibility heading into the offseason. Simply relying on scrapheap pickups to patch together a 2013 rotation is out of the question.
Terry Francona: Since it’s evident that the managerial search is a two-horse race, between Sandy Alomar Jr. and Terry Francona, I’m casting my vote for Francona. As warm and fuzzy as it’d be to go with the nostalgic pick of Alomar, it’s hard not to want the skipper who helped lift the curse of the Bambino, while winning two World Series titles in Boston. I know he obviously had vastly superior resources with the Red Sox, than he would with the Tribe. And sure, he may be just feigning interest in the Cleveland job to announce to the rest of the league that he’s ready to manage again. But if he’s not and the interest is genuine, then this organization needs to pony up the duckets necessary to land a proven winner. No, it wouldn’t mean an immediate turnaround, but it would put a winning attitude at the helm, which would only further help the development of key young players.
Growth: Talented youngsters like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Santana have been relied upon heavily as the cornerstones of this offense. They’ve been asked to do a lot, which has spiked expectations for these competent, but rather inexperienced players. This trio has had their ups and downs, but all of them have shown flashes of brilliance. Looking ahead to 2013, I’m hoping for continued progress out of this group. Regardless of what happens in the offseason, these and other young players on the team need to continue improve if this team is going to be better next season. In spite of Black August and a lack of faith in the front office, there are a handful of players to build around.