Second Thoughts Game #35: Indians 4, Tigers 3
Tribe takes down Detroit in extra innings to move into first place
Player of the Game: Michael Brantley (2-for-4 with the game-tying hit in the ninth inning).
Started from the bottom, now they’re here!
For the first time since April 5, the Cleveland Indians reign at the top of the American League Central Division after winning a wild extra inning showdown with the Detroit Tigers, 4-3. With the victory, the Tribe not only takes the three-game series, but move into a tie for first place with the Tigers with a record of 20-15.
Down 3-2 with two on and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, left fielder Michael Brantley delivered an RBI single off Detroit closerJose Valverde to give Cleveland life as they knotted the game up 3-3.
Just one inning later in the tenth, pinch hitter Mark Reynolds gave the Indians the lead and win for good with an RBI single of his own to seal arguably the best Tribe win on the young season.
How refreshing is it to say Indians and first place in the same sentence? I don’t know about you, but I sense fans will be saying first place when referring to the Tribe all season long.
Yes, it’s only May 13, but we’re talking about a team that began 2013 with a 5-10 record. Since Apr. 20, the team owns a record of 15-5. Over their last 14 games, Cleveland is by far the hottest team in all of Major League Baseball, sporting a 12-2 record. Offensively over the same stretch, the team is hitting .305 and averaging 6.5 runs per game with 24 home runs. If that wasn’t enough, the Tribe pitching staffs owns a 2.98 team ERA and more importantly are 5-0 in one-run ballgames.
Last season, Cleveland was just one game off their record this year through 35 games, owning a 19-16 record and up two games in the division. Anything can happen over a 162-game journey, but it’s nice to see things finally start to come together for a team that continues to come up big when they need to the most.
Both offensively and defensively, the Indians continue to show they are a team with lots of grit and moxy collectively, seeming to always sport a certain never die attitude with them day in and day out.
It was only two years ago that Valverde converted 49 straight saves and yet the Tribe found a way to get to him and give him the blown save. Cleveland has played well when scoring first this year, but struggle when the opposition gets on the board first. This wasn’t the case on Sunday as the team found luck with the pink bats and shoes to get what I believe was their best all-around victory to date.
Easy Mac stays hot
He didn’t have his best outing of the year, but Tribe starter Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.68 ERA) gave the Indians yet another quality outing on Sunday. The right-hander tossed six innings on the mound giving up just two earned runs on eight hits, walked three and struck out five.
McAllister has quietly become one of the team’s top and most consistent starting pitchers, owning the lowest ERA by a starter and in front of ace Justin Masterson by a full run. Having won the fourth spot in the rotation out of spring training, McAllister has all but silenced doubters just like the entire five-man rotation has done of late.
Struggles at the Hot Corner
Heading into the season, I was a firm believer third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall would have a nice breakout year for the Tribe and be an asset to the Cleveland lineup. Now 35 games into 2013, Chisenhall is hitting just .213 with four doubles, three homers and 11 RBI, walking just three times while striking out 22 times.
The third basemen went 0-for-3 on Sunday with two strikeouts and a throwing error in the fourth inning that just about cost McAllister and the Indians the victory against their division rivals.
Is it time to send The Chiz Kid to Triple-A Columbus? I don’t think so, but I will say it may be time to consider a platoon at the hot corner with the 23-year old and veteran utility man Mike Aviles. While there have been both good and bad flashes of what he can turn out to be, Chisenhall is hitting just .091 (2-for-22) against left-handed pitching. Batting against right-handers, he is hitting a respectable .250 (18-for-72) with two of his three home runs and six RBI.
The only problem with playing the young third baseman only against righties is that he won’t be playing every day as he continues to develop in the big leagues. This is definitely something to keep an eye out for as the season rolls on.
Clutch two-out hits continue
The Tribe finished Sunday’s game with a total of four runs on eight hits, yet three of those hits would be all the team would essentially need to pullout the victory against Detroit. Those same three hits also all shared one thing in common: they were two out hits with runners in scoring position.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis’ two-run double in the third inning, followed by Brantley’s game tying hit and Reynolds game-winning hit all came with two outs in the ballgame.
Offensively, Cleveland has remained hot with runners in scoring position and two outs, as the team now leads the American League in that category boasting a .327 batting average. Good teams always seem to find a way to get clutch two out hits and the Indians have thrived in these situations all season.
I don’t think I was the only person that was confused as to why Reynolds wasn’t in the starting lineup on Sunday. While he went on to make a pinch hit appearance and come through with the game-winning hit, Tribe managerTerry Francona said pregame he originally wanted to give the American League leader in home runs a day off.
A day off? I get the day off for centerfielder Michael Bourn still coming back and getting used to playing every day again after his injury to his index finger, but I absolutely do not get it in the case of Reynolds.
We’re talking about the player that is one of the best so far this year with 11 home runs and 32 RBI, not to mention his .389 batting average with runners in scoring position. I understand some players do need an occasional day off, but in what was a divisional game against arguably the best team in the American League, why on earth would Reynolds sit? Not to mention when he is the designated hitter most of the time.
The team does play a doubleheader on Monday against New York, but they also have a scheduled off day on Thursday this week. Maybe I’m old school, but unless a player is hurting or struggling at the plate or on the mound, a player especially the likes of Reynolds should be playing every single day.
I think Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. would agree.
With the win, the Wahoo’s move into a virtual tie with Detroit for first place in the American League Central Division with a record of 20-15. The team is five games over .500 for the first time since June 22 of last season when the Tribe was 37-32.
Up next for the Indians: As Hall of Fame outfielder Ernie Banks once said, “Let’s play two!” Cleveland will make up the April 10 and 11 rainouts with the New York Yankees on Monday as the Tribe clash with the Yanks in a traditional doubleheader.
Game one will feature Indians ace Justin Masterson (5-2, 3.67 ERA) vs. Yankees right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA) at 12:05 pm. Game 2 about a half hour after the first game will be a matchup of two rookies as Indians top prospect Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.70 ERA) toes the rubber against lefty Vidal Nuno who is making his second big league appearance.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.