Second Thoughts Game #25: Indians 1, Giants 4
Walk-off blast completes sweep of Tribe in San Francisco
There's no use sugarcoating it. The Indians headed west with a nice little hot streak under their belts winning four out of their last five games and three straight in a key division battle against Kansas City. Unfortunately, that momentum fell flat once they set foot in AT&T Park.
Even if they could've managed one win in this series, they could've walked away only a game under .500. Instead, they allowed themselves to be swept in the three-game set. I say "allowed themselves" because they most assuredly had their opportunities jump on a tough Giants team. Whether it was runners in scoring position or dominant starting pitching, the Tribe could not take advantage of what they were given.
The latter was true on Sunday as Danny Salazar's first quality start of the season came to no avail due to a lack of run support.
Player of the Game: Brandon Hicks (1-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, K).
The script almost wrote itself. With the winning run on second base, Cody Allen got Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval to strike out swining for the second out. He then intentionally walked Brandon Crawford, who had already hit an RBI double earlier in the game. Then up stepped Brandon Hicks, who was 0-for-3 and barely batting his weight on the year.
Well, I guess that first hit of the game was bound to happen sooner or later. Unfortunately for Allen and the Tribe, it just so happened to come in the form of a long, high drive to left field in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 tie. All three runs were charged to the young right-hander as well as the loss, both of which were his first of the season.
A Step Forward for Salazar
Pretty much the lone bright spot of the whole weekend was Danny Salazar pitching seven innings of one-run ball on Sunday. The starting pitching has begun to turn a corner with Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister improving on the mound. The downside is Salazar and Carlos Carrasco have not shown much consistency thus far in 2014, at least until Sunday.
Not only was this Salazar's longest outing of the year, he managed to limit the damage to only one run and conserve his pitch count. He threw more strikes, kept th ball down and continued to do what he does best: rack up the whiffs with eight on the afternoon. His command and location were the best I've seen from him since last season.
It was definitely refreshing to see him dominate for at least one start. Maybe he and the Indians coaching staff pinpointed a problem with his mechanics. Maybe sitting in on Zach McAllister's last bullpen session gave him a few ideas on fastball command. Or perhaps his late start in spring training has held him back and he is just now finding his stride.
It was a step in the right direction, nonetheless, and now the pressure is on Carrasco to get his game back on track. Might I mention that Trevor Bauer had another brilliant start for AAA Columbus on Sunday? Regardless of what happens with Carrasco or Bauer, Salazar finding consistency will be a major shot in the arm for this staff.
Looking for a Spark
After it appeared that the lineup was finding some consistency during the last home stand, they find themselves back at square one after a tough weekend by the bay. The team only scored five runs combined during this series and only recorded two base hits with runners in scoring position in 20 opportunites while leaving 21 runners on base. Even when they had Tim Lincecum on the ropes on Saturday, they only managed to push three runs across.
The middle of the lineup only went 3-for-30 the whole weekend with all hits coming courtesy of Jason Kipnis. Carlos Santana's struggles at the plate are reaching very concerning levels. In his last 35 at-bats, the new Tribe third baseman has only recorded two hits with one of them being his first and only home run to date this season, which accounted for two of his three RBI thus far. To make matters worse, the strikeouts are beginning to catch up with his walks. During that same 35-at-bat stretch, he has been punched out 13 times while only drawing seven free passes.
Even Michael Brantley couldn't muster a hit during this three-game set, which is quite the oddity for him. I wouldn't be too worried about Dr. Smooth, but it goes to show you that frustration at the plate is taking its toll and the lineup is only pressing harder. Yan Gomes hit the game-tying home run on Sunday, but the pressure continues to mount on key hitters like Santana, whom the Indians are going to need if they want to compete.
Up next: Indians (11-14) vs. Angels (11-13) @ Angels Stadium of Anaheim. First pitch at 10:05 pm ET.
Justin Masterson will continue his quest for his first win of the year as the Tribe stays on the West Coast and travels south to take on the Angels. He is coming off back-to-back solid starts against the Blue Jays and Royals, but came away with no-decisions in both. He will take the mound on Monday night as he tries to pitch the Indians back into the win column.
The Angels will be sending one of their new lefties Tyler Skaggs to the bump against the Tribe. The former Diamondbacks prospect has pitched well for the most part. His last appearance earned him a win with seven strong innings against the Nationals. He has yet to earn a win at home, however, as he has scuffled a bit in two starts at Angels Stadium allowing eight earned runs in 13 innings combined.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Lets see more bats on balls from the offense, while we're at it...