Second Thoughts: Game 26 - Indians 4, Rangers 2
This is an interesting game because of the divergent path of these two pitchers. Jimenez has been awful, showing a lack of command that most Indians fans remember last in Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) before he got sent to A ball to figure it out. It is an extremely depressing situation, as Jimenez was supposed to be a potential ace, and the Indians paid dearly to acquire him.
On the other side, the Rangers paid a lot of money for Yu Darvish, and after a bit of a rough start, he has performed very well (Last 4 starts: 2.18 era, 4 wins, and a K/9 of 9). One interesting fact about Darvish is he has also been prone to a high walk rate. During the four starts his WHIP is 1.42. So this should be a wild game, with a lot of walks. So the question of the day will be, can Jimenez start to turn it around? If not, how much longer can they afford to keep him in the rotation if every time he pitches it’s an auto loss.
The First Three Innings
I think every Indians’ fan has to be pleasantly surprised by what Jimenez has done today against a high powered Rangers line up. It’s not been pretty, but he has been effective. Somehow Jimenez got out of a bases loaded jam in the third after he walked the bases loaded. Until then, he had been borderline dominant with a real low pitch count. Still, only one hit in the first three innings is not bad.
On the other side, the Indians might be the worst team possible for Darvish to face, since they lead the league in walks and he can be wild. He has three walks including Kipnis twice, but the Indians are lucky to have a lead. They let Darvish off the hook in the first inning with two on and no outs. It drives me nuts how often they swing at the first pitch following a walk, especially when it’s a pitcher who is known to have control problems, and yet they did it again today. Yet if Kinsler had not lost a ball in the sun and Andrus had not made a bad throw then there is a very good chance this game would still be scoreless. Really, the stars for the offense right now are Damon and Kipnis, both on base twice through three, and really could be solidifying the top of the lineup.
The Middle of the Game
I have to start with Jimenez. He gave up a double to Daniel Murphy to start the 4th, but since then, he has retired 9 straight. He has only made 86 pitches through 6, and if he keeps it up then he might be able to go 8. More important though is the confidence bump this will have to give Jimenez if he keeps it up. Not only will he have had a good game but it’s against the top lineup in baseball. If he did have a confidence issue this is could be a HUGE game. If he can do this against Texas he can do this against any team, and the hope is that this will indeed be Jimenez turning a corner. His curve seems to be finding the zone and just driving the Texas hitters wild.
On the other side the Indians have made Darvish work, 112 pitches in 6 innings. He has struck out 11, but the four walks have hurt. Kipnis is continuing to shine, with a home run to keep his hit streak alive. It is already his fifth of the year. I don’t think he will keep the pace he has right now, but no doubt Kipnis has a bright future and is going to be an integral part of this team for a long time. If I asked you who was third on this team in stolen bases, would anyone guess Kotchman? He is really catching teams by surprise. For a player with 11 SB in eight seasons this sudden stolen base acumen has been kind of fun to watch just in terms of baseball oddities. Also, Choo is continuing to look better with a single, walk, and a stolen base. If he can start to approach what he did two years ago, this team’s line up would take a big step forward.
The Last Three Innings
The big story of the last three to me was yet another implosion by Tony Sipp. The Indians needed him to cover the 8th and preserve Pestano, who had worked the last two days. It wasn’t to be. Sipp has had great stuff, but the knock and continued concern comes from the fact he feels like a thrower and a not a pitcher. At least that was my concern. I know some people talked about a return trip to AAA if he cannot break out of the funk, but he turns 29 this year and I think Sipp is pretty much what he has shown to be: a sometimes erratic, sometimes electric bullpen arm. Pestano came out in a high pressure situation and again shut the door; to me he is the best arm in the pen right now. Props also need to go out Chris Perez, who after his rough start, has looked as good as he ever has with the Indians. He has not been dominant, but he has been effective. Since the opening day debacle, he has had only one other outing where he gave up a run.
The obvious choice is Jimenez, who was excellent today. I listened to the post game and Jimenez stated that the trouble he did run into in the 3rd was when his mechanics got out of whack. If he can now identify this and keep his mechanics in place he could be something special. If you take out those three walks, he went seven shutout innings, with two hits, two walks, and six strike outs against the top offense in all of baseball. I think everyone entered this game expecting some ugliness and a loss, but Jimenez showed today why the Indians acquired him. The hope is that this is not a flash in the pan, and that Jimenez will be turning a corner.
The pen was not ideal but Pestano and Perez showed again why if we can get to the 8th inning then the Indians should win a ton of games this year. In terms of the offense Kipnis was awesome again; to me the most impressive thing about Kip is how much he is able to work the count and get on base. As a two hitter, he is not just producing, but wearing down pitchers as well. Choo and Damon have also made a nice impact to the lineup; they are getting on base and making more opportunities for this team. As Damon gets more at bats, it is pretty clear he is far from done and will be helping this team all season.
Tony Sipp’s continued troubles mean that Hagadone is the only lefty in this pen that can be counted on. The trouble here is the lack of options for the Tribe. If anything happens to Hagadone, this team could be in a lot of trouble.
What a difference a week makes, last week Hafner was on fire. Now, he didn’t get a hit the entire series. As much as people keep saying he looks like that Hafner of old, the truth is that he has not been more than a good hitter for six years. He is soon to be 35, and at best, we can hope for him to replicate last year, which means a 280 hitter with 13 home runs.
Hannahan was one more at bat and strike out away from a golden sombrero, he has played well, but I want to see if he can keep it up or if it will be like last season. Last year we saw the same hot start then a tail off.
The Big Picture
The Rangers are considered to be one of the top teams in all of baseball and the Indians won a series from them thanks to the fact that they got a quality start in each game. I have gone into Jimenez at length but it’s the story of this game. If he can turn the corner, the Indians all of the sudden become legitimate players for the division title. The Tigers won today as well so the lead over them remains a game and a half. The Indians had won 4 games against the Rangers in the previous three years. They already doubled their win total against them from last year. Tomorrow all the sports sites will have their MLB power rankings, and I expect the Indians to make it into the top ten for the first time this year. Winning this series was a bit of a signature win for the Tribe thus far in the early part of the year. Maybe I am wrong, but by taking 2 of 3 from a World Series favorite has to show everyone that this is a team that can hang with anyone. Plus, it should be pointed out that the Indians faced the Rangers’ top pitchers this weekend and still came out on top. So, I want to start a rallying cry now. Fans, lets support this team. Cleveland, you have a first place team! The football draft is over, and it’s time to support the Tribe!
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at email@example.com
But Tony's right, it will take more than one game. Look how dominating he was in his first start of the season, but that didn't last.
Kipnis may end up being the "face" of the franchise because of marketability and speed/power excitement, but give me Carlos Santana for winning baseball games. Still, a great problem to have: debating which of your young potential All-Stars is better.
Santana looks lost hitting left-handed. His swing is way too long. He's not catching up to the fastballs and he's way out in front of the breaking stuff. He hit .203 left-handed last year. Something needs to change.
Kipnis is having an All-Star season with his speed and power again on display yesterday. The home run was obvious and he's on pace to hit about 30. But he also scored from first on a double and he's one of the few Indians who can do that. He's also on pace for 30 stolen bases. Just a tremendous talent; hope he can keep it up.
After seeing a lot of hot prospects fizzle when they got to the Show (Cord Phelps, Chiz, LaPorta), it's great to see this kid thriving and playing with such confidence. He looks like a veteran out there, not a kid playing his first April in the bigs.