Second Thoughts Game #19: Royals 3, Indians 4
After finally coming through with a big hit and a victory against the Blue Jays on Easter Sunday, the Indians welcomed the Royals to town for four contests. They quite literally tried to throw the game away time and time again, but slugged the ball well enough to overcome that.
Phase one: pitching
On a team that is filled with wild-card, peak-and-valley players, there is something to be said for consistent adequacy. Zach McAllister is consistently adequate. Nothing more. Nothing less.
In this game, like many others before, and likely many after, he was solid. The only real trouble that he ran into was in large part to being victimized by an abysmal defense (more on that later). He assaulted the zone with strikes, to the tune of 71.4%, which is exceptional. As usual, he did it with a well-commanded fastball. It isn't an overpowering fastball (to that point, he only recorded four swings and misses), but he can usually put it where he wants it. When he doesn't, he can get hit pretty hard. The key, for him, especially, is keeping those mistakes from going over a fence, some 300+ feet away. He has yet to give up a home run.
On the bullpen side of things, Marc Rzepczynski, Cody Allen and John Axford were phenomenal, pitching three perfect innings to finish the game. They needed just 30 total pitches to do so, 20 of which were strikes (Axford notched the final three outs using just seven pitches). For my money, Allen is one of the best relievers in baseball (and Bryan Shaw, quietly one of the better).
Phase two: offense
I think I worry about this offense less than most, but that is not to say that it is one that is going to steadily produce, churning out baserunners and moving them along at will. This is one that thrives on the big hit, and they got a bunch of them in this game, recording a season-high seven for extra bases.
Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis all stayed hot, contributing four of those seven extra-base hits and all four runs driven in (two-run home runs from Brantley and Kipnis). Even better to see, though, was Nick Swisher coming alive and driving the ball to the opposite-field gap twice for doubles.
If, after 162 games, Brantley still leads the team in home runs, runs batted in and isolated power, things will have not went well, and a chance at "unfinished business" surely will not have arisen. That is, by no means, a knock on Brantley. He is entering his prime, and a spike in power and overall performance is highly plausible. But, this team is not good enough in other areas to be carried by someone like him; they need contributions from up and down the lineup like last season, and especially from Swisher (and Carlos Santana).
Despite almost nothing from those two leaders so far (add: Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera, and even Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar on the pitching side), the team has more than stayed afloat during this underwhelming start. Don't abandon ship just yet.
Phase three: defense
Three more errors in what turned out to be a one-run game. This is an epidemic, and easily the most concerning aspect of the Indians to me. The pitching staff? Capable. The offense? Quite capable. The defense? Not even close to capable, as is.
What I'm not sure that most fans realize is just how bad this team is, defensively. It's not a new problem. They are currently last in defensive runs saved. Since 2011 (so, three full seasons and three weeks), they are last in ultimate zone rating, and third-worst in defensive runs saved. The same rankings hold true if stretched to the last five full seasons, and they are still bottom-five in both over the last 10. At what point do we consider this an organizational failure?
And at what point does the organization turn to one of the best defenders in professional baseball, who currently resides in Akron...?
- If you watched the game, saw highlights, or read Twitter, you will have been made aware of the squirrel. A squirrel roamed the yard for a pair of innings, even causing a stoppage at one point. Swisher actually attempted to field the creature, but to no one's surprise, could not. It was eventually corralled into the Indians' bullpen (after first escaping the Royals'). Maybe it was trying to stake its claim as the Indians' new nickname/mascot?
As expected, Jason Giambi was officially activated before the game (by way of Blake Wood). Much to the dismay of most fans, Terry Francona chose to sacrifice his beloved eight-man bullpen instead of Elliot Johnson. What's strange to me isn't the actual decision ( I preferred it) - Johnson is one of the few competent defenders on this team - it's that Francona decided to keep someone around that he never plays (28.0 innings out of 171.0).
This is an unpopular opinion, but I consider Giambi a waste of a roster space. He's a glorified coach that is going to get 12-15 plate appearances a week, and likely negatively perform in them. His heroics and his presence were undoubtedly impactful last season, but he was still a below-average hitter, overall. Now, he is another year older, and coming off of an injury. He will likely stick all season, but will he really deserve to?
Up next: Game two of this four-game set, as Salazar will look to get right in his fourth start of the season. The Royals are set to oppose him with James Shields.
From my vantage point in front of the screen the outfield looks at least average defensively and Bourn a plus in CF, despite last night's uncalled error. C, 1B, P, 2B, SS and 3B are where the error action resides. Zach can't throw the ball to Swish on the side farthest from the runner.....Chis can't get the ball out of his glove....lots of throws that draw the foot off the bag.
You're a bit harsh on Zach. He's a number 4, maybe 3.6, starter. If Bourn had made the catch, and Zach had thrown correctly to Swish at first later in the inning, one run would have scored and no one would think a thing of it.
The defense is a huge concern. The pitching has struggled, but some of that may be in relation to a defense that is poor. There have been several plays that have been missed that have not even been recorded as errors.
Agree on him being so lightly used. Last night Chiz makes 2 errors in the field and gets a double in the 8th with no outs. Haven't we been hearing that Johnson is around for his baserunning and defense? Wouldn't that have been the PERFECT time to use Johnson? I know Chiz showed great hustle to get that double but if you're not gonna use Johnson there when will you use him?
I know Kottaras has struggled in the early going in AAA, but I'd still much rather see him up here than Johnson. Can live with Giambi as we are playing in an NL park this weekend and Giambi has been a solid pinch hitter for a couple years now.