Second Thoughts Game #45: Tigers 4, Indians 5
I had a ton of stray observations about this game, so this piece became pretty undefinable. Alas, I decided to take a more casual, albeit scattered approach, and merely expand on my copious notes.
- Corey Kluber continued to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. He had his troubles with two of the best hitters in the world, a long rest threw him out of his rhythm late, and he was covertly still victimized by his defense (we will get to that later), but the end result was still wonderful. What separates him from Justin Masterson is his ability to limit walks, thus keeping him out of trouble and in games. The Indians undoubtedly have a new ace.
- It was talked about plenty, but Yan Gomes had a huge impact on this game. Three hits (robbed of a fourth), a walk and excellent baserunning that allowed him to score a key run late. Thus far, he has showed that his offensive production last season wasn't a mirage or just the product of an inflated average on balls in play. That is great on its own, but considering that the two most counted-on hitters have struggled, and the team as a whole have struggled against left-handed pitching, Gomes' success is of utmost importance. He is going to strike out, but he knows how to hit, and his power is absolutely real.
- One of those two aforementioned "counted-on hitters," Nick Swisher, came through with a timely hit for what seemed to be the first time all season. He also contributed to a rally later on, and drew another walk. It goes without saying so much that this sentence is completely asinine, but he must get better for this team to contend. His track record and the fact that he has been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball say he will, but I do worry about the impact that shifting defenses has had on him and his ability to adjust to that.
- Michael. Brantley. Walkoff. In past seasons, I have thought that Michael Brantley has been overvalued by most Indians fans. He has been a steady player that does a bit of everything, but mostly unspectacularly. What we are seeing now is him hitting his prime, and historically, age 27 is the baseline for that to happen. He has always been great at not giving away at-bats and putting the ball in play (and he is even posting career-best walk and strikeout rates), but now the power has arrived on top of it. More doubles are leaving the park. I don't think he is quite the ~30 home-run hitter that he is on pace to be, but he sure isn't the sub-10 home-run hitter that he has been, either. Like Gomes, his production is tenfold more important when considering the disappointing starts by Swisher and Carlos Santana. The team most certainly needs more from them to get where they want to go, but Brantley seems more capable of leading an offense than I ever thought he would be.
- What a special game for Jesus Aguilar. First hit, first run batted in (a pair of them), and a huge hand in a huge win. And how will he be rewarded today? Likely by being sent down for Jason Giambi, who, frankly, is stealing a roster spot. I fear that many expect too much of Aguilar, whose power has been overemphasized by most, and who will be given fits by smart pitching, but he and a number of other players in the organization have more to offer this team than Giambi.
- Bryan Shaw is such a treat to watch. He has it all: command, velocity, stuff, makeup. He limits hard contact, keeps the ball on the ground and in the park, can still generate swings and misses, and doesn't beat himself. The best reliever on this team.
- Cody Allen gave up a solo home run to a pinch-hitter who jumped on the first pitch that he saw. It was a slightly-elevated, but not terribly-located fastball. What are you going to do?
- After already using his two best relievers, Terry Francona called on Scott Atchison to face the middle of the Tigers' order in the 10th. Atchison bookend-retired Cabrera and Don Kelly on one pitch apiece, and battled back to get Victor Martinez after falling behind 3-1 in between them. Chalk up another hit on one of those harmless minor-league deals that many Indians fans love to complain about, as he has quietly been excellent in a variety of bullpen roles.
- Mike Aviles helped buck the Indians' trend of allowing response runs by erasing a leadoff hit just after the team had taken a 3-1 lead in the half inning before with a rangy, sliding double play turn. I shudder to think how much more disastrous this infield defense would be without him.
- One of the most important plays happened in the seventh. It seemed harmless. Cabrera made a nice effort to field the ball up the middle, and his off-balanced throw just missed beating the runner at first. Here's the problem. To a number of shortstops (especially one currently residing in Akron), it wasn't a play that would require so much effort and an off-balanced throw due to limited range. So, not only did the play directly result in a leadoff single, it also forced Kluber to have to pitch out of the stretch, to which the Tigers took advantage. Poor defense goes far beyond making officially-scored errors. The Indians do plenty of that, but they fail to be in a position to make plays or cause themselves added difficulty even more.
- Twice, Santana was the turn man at second base on potential double plays because of shifts. The first one, the aforementioned Aviles double play, was completed. The second one was not, as Santana lost the transfer and just barely managed to get one out, let alone two. Luckily, nothing came of it. It was a bad play, but a rare circumstance, as he isn't going to be asked to make plays in the middle of the infield very often. That being said, his third base experiment has really gone no better than that one play, and he deserves to be back behind the plate even less. Like Swisher, he probably belongs nowhere on the field, but one of them has to play first, and as far as I know, only one designated hitter is allowed.
- After the Tigers had already tied the game in the ninth, more shoddy defense gave them a chance to take the lead.Michael Bourn misplayed what should have been a single in the gap into a double. Again, not an official error, but still a dangerous play. And again, luckily, the Indians weren't punished. It may seem as though I am nitpicking with some of my defensive criticisms (namely if you have read previous Second Thoughts from me or follow me on Twitter), but so many of these less obvious blunders have undoubtedly cost the team hits, runs, and wins, and will continue to.
Up next: The return of Trevor Bauer, who may very well have his first real chance at consistent Major League starts right now. He will match up with Justin Verlander in the middle game of this series.
Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and David Murphy are a combined 36-for-97 (.371) with 13 runs batted in and nine walks in their careers against Verlander, but only a mere three of those 36 hits have gone for extra bases. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher have delivered 17 combined extra-base hits against him, but with much less overall success and a ton of strikeouts (23 each for Cabrera and Swisher).
Of course, they also make a ton of errors, 45 so far. According to Terry Pluto, the average AL team has made 25. So they're 80% above the average, and that's just on official errors. Shockingly bad. Horrifically bad.
However, I disagree regarding Aguilar. You said it yourself, smart pitching can make this guy look bad. With that being said, I'd rather see him playing everyday in Columbus than strictly against lefties (i.e. Francona pinch hitting Chisenhall for him in the 9th, which was the right move). He's only 24 and will be back and will make a further impact on this team in 2014. For now, he needs to get his AB's.
As for Giambi, he is a 25th man; nothing more, nothing less. It's hard to be good in that role when you're only playing every 3rd or 4th day, including pinch hitting. I think people underestimate that fact. To me, I don't want to see a prospect called up to fill that 25th spot when they could be playing everyday in AAA. The fact of the matter is, the Indians have a lot bigger problems than who is taking up that 25th spot on the roster.