Second Thoughts Game #31: White Sox 4, Indians 3
Kluber and Kottaras make history, but Axford beaten by White Sox again
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Perhaps Dickens was prophesying Sunday's game between the Indians and White Sox with those words. Either way, it encapsulates the resounding joy followed by sheer frustration and heartbreak felt by Tribe fans that afternoon.
The pale hose are already cashing in on some revenge after all the comebacks and magical moments the Indians put them through a year ago. First Alexei Ramirez and now Dayan Viciedo have made Tribe closer John Axford pay for leaving pitches too far out over the plate.
While Cleveland comes away with a series win in tact, knowing they were two outs away from a sweep after such a brutal road trip is hard to brush aside, especially considering how historically dominant Corey Kluber pitched and how George Kottaras established his name in Indians lore.
Player of the Game: Corey Kluber (8 IP, 3 hits, 1 R/ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 13 K).
Even though it ended in a loss, the most impressive performance on the afternoon still was, by far, the pitching of Corey Kluber. The right-hander made one mistake pitch to Jose Abreu in the first inning, but other than that, he was outstanding in his eight innings of work.
Besides holding the White Sox to just one run, Kluber set a franchise mark for most consecutive strikeouts at seven, passing up Tribe legend Bob Feller for the most all-time. He also tied the team record for most strikeouts in a start at 13, a feat last accomplished by CC Sabathia in 2007.
The right-hander departed after eight innings having thrown 1 and 10 pitches. Could he have stayed in and at least started the ninth? Maybe, but hindsight is always 20-20. He's got to be tired of his closers blowing games for him, though. Going back to last August in his last start prior to injury, the right-hander has had three dominant starts spoiled by blown saves, one by Chris Perez and now two by Axford.
The good news is Kluber appears to be be back on track after his rough start to the year in Oakland. Only in one of his five starts since then has he been unable to pitch at least six innings.
The Summer of George
Well, maybe not a full summer, but I'll take any opportunity I can to work in a Seinfeld reference.
George Kottaras was called up to fill in for Yan Gomes, who was placed on paternity leave to be with his wife during the birth of their daughter. The veteran catcher wasn't expected to provide all that much offensive production since he only recorded two hits and one RBI in nine games for AAA Columbus.
On Sunday, Kottaras made his presence known with solo home runs in each of his first two at-bats, which makes him the first player in Indians history to go deep in his first two at-bats with the team. He also drew a walk giving him a final stat line of 2-for-3 with two home runs, two RBI and a walk.
This is a perfect example of the unpredictability of baseball. No matter how advanced statistics and scouting become, there were always be a certain amount of mystery with the game that can't be explained or predicted.
Even with his performance on Sunday, though, Kottaras is still likely to be designated for assignment upon the return of Gomes, unless Jason Giambi and/or Michael Bourn are placed back on the disabled list. Still, that doesn't take away the historic feat and great memory he provided for himself and Indians fans everywhere.
Caught in Traffic
Well, I might as well discuss our closer and let me just say right off that I don't believe he is the next in the line of the Borowski's, Wickman's and Perez's because I believe he has better stuff.... when he throws strikes and keeps the ball down. However, that seems to be the challenge for him thus far. He's had outings where he's been able to accomplish it, but not yet on a consistent basis.
On Sunday, the right-hander was unable to throw any of his secondary pitches for strikes, which left him trying to challenge hitters with his fastball. After walking the first batter on four pitches, he managed to strike out Jose Abreu, but Adam Dunn followed with another walk and Dayan Viciedo accepted his challenge and planted his fastball in the right field seats.
Base runners have been a problem for Axford as he has now allowed 17 on the year via hit or walk. That comes primarily from lack of consistency with his command. After Sunday's loss, his WHIP on the year is now 1.378, something that he definitely has to shave down if he wants to find consistent effectiveness as a closer.
The big reason why I still think Axford can be effective for the Tribe is his combination of pitches. His mid-90s fastball can be effective if it's kept down in the zone. The same goes for his slider. His curveball can be a knee-buckler, but he has left it hanging one too many times lately.
Before I start colling for his job, I'd like to see if he can figure out how to maintain command of his pitches consistently and keep them down in the zone.
Up next: Indians (13-18) vs. Twins (14-15) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05 pm ET.
Despite a tough loss on Sunday, the Indians will take the series win and prepare for another divisional foe to come to town. The Twins make a return visit to Cleveland after taking two out of three against them in their opening home stand. Zach McAllister will match up against Kyle Gibson.
Like the rest of the team, McAllister struggled on the last road trip going 0-2 and not pitching more than five innings in either start. He hopes to get back on track on Monday. Gibson, on the other hand, has really come back to earth after starting out the year strong. 12 of the 14 runs he has allowed to this point have come just in his last two starts.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.