Second Thoughts Game #46: Indians 12, Red Sox 3
Indians pound Red Sox in Francona's homecoming
While the central storyline of this game was unavoidably the return of Terry Francona to Fenway, the Indians’ hammering of the Red Sox should not be relegated to footnote status. This was a critical bounceback after a two-game stumble against Detroit, and it sets a very nice tone for a tough six-game holiday weekend road trip.
On a night where the 6-through-9 hitters drove in nine of the Tribe’s 12 runs, it’s worth noting that each of those bottom-of-the-order contributors—Mark Reynolds, Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles, and Drew Stubbs—were offseason acquisitions that generated minimal fanfare when they joined the club over the winter. This is a key point not just in terms of what’s making this season a success, but in how it’s clearly differentiating itself from, say, the 2012 season—when the team tumbled out of contention by midsummer.
No matter how much high-priced talent a team has, it’s routinely the contributions from unexpected sources that will determine a club’s eventual fate come autumn. Whether it’s a young starter emerging as a reliable part of the rotation or a veteran free agent bouncing back from a bad season, those complementary pieces wind up making an enormous difference.
Last season, despite their best efforts, the Tribe managed to uncover virtually zero diamonds in the rough, and their performance reflected this accordingly. Aside from Derek Lowe’s brief run of success in the first two months of the campaign, the team’s offseason (or early season) pickups like Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez, Aaron Cunningham,Johnny Damon, Dan Wheeler, and Kevin Slowey all failed miserably to rediscover any of the success they’d experienced earlier in their careers. Meanwhile, young X-factor players like Matt LaPorta, Jason Donald, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez all took steps in the wrong direction.
Admittedly, none of these players were counted on to be major contributors in the first place. But that’s basically what a diamond in the rough is by definition—a player who greatly exceeds expectations and becomes a key member of a ballclub. Nobody did that in 2012.
Therein lies the stark contrast between last year’s ballclub and Francona’s new and improved version. Even if we ignore the headline-making signings of Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and top prospect Trevor Bauer, it was the “afterthought” pickups of Reynolds (free agent), Stubbs (Choo trade), Aviles and Gomes (Esmil Rogers trade)-- not to mention Ryan Raburn (free agent) and Bryan Shaw (Choo trade)—that have made blowout games like this a nightly possibility.
It doesn’t hurt that in the case of everyone’s newly agreed upon “favorite trade” of the offseason, the aforementioned Esmil Rogers has struggled mightily for Toronto (5.16 ERA in 21 appearances), while Aviles and particularly Gomes have gained something of a cult status already in Cleveland. This is the kind of highway robbery that builds contenders. Just ask the Blue Jays if signing big-name free agents was all the luck they needed.
! of the Game
Heck, let’s give the Exclamation Point of the Game to Drew Stubbs. A 3-for-5 night included two doubles and a triple, raising his batting average to .255 and his OPS to .707. Has he found the all-star form once projected for him in Cincinnati? Nope. But has he produced pretty much exactly as you would hope he would as a #9 hitter with speed, excellent defensive skills, and decent pop? No doubt. It’s hard to see a frozen rope like the ball Stubbs hit off the 420 ft. sign in center field and not envision him “figuring things out” as a 28 year-old and balancing out that speed with a wiser approach at the dish. Only time will tell.
? of the Game
In a positive sense, the Question Mark of the Game goes to Yan Gomes and his future in the Indians line-up. Gomes’ hot bat alone could be brushed aside perhaps as a potential fluke (though he’s shown pop throughout his Minor League career), but his superb defense is another story. It’s far too early to start looking at the Indians’ depth as an avenue toward deadline deals and pitching acquisitions, but if Gomes is, in fact, ready to emerge as an everyday catcher in the near future, it certainly opens up some additional options going forward. In the short term, the only real loser is Lou Marson, who’s been thoroughly Wally Pipped at this point. Otherwise, Carlos Santanaisn’t likely to lose any at-bats. He may simply find himself at first base and DH slightly more often than originally anticipated, as Francona continues basking in the endless possibilities that this team’s remarkable depth affords him.
As a closing side note, does anyone else dream about Mike Carp signing with the Angels and Tim Salmon coming out of retirement, thus forming a Carp/Trout/Salmon all-fish outfield? Or better yet, they all sign with Miami. I didn’t mean to suggest Kevin Bass wasn’t invited, too. It’s a work in progress.
Baseball is a funny thing, the Indians have gotten 1.8 WAR from Gomes/Aviles, and the Jays have 1.4 WAR from Dickey, Josh Johnson, Buehrle, Melky and Reyes. Now, that will probably change, but, it's funny. Weird how Melky's back to being the replacement-level scrub he used to be before the steroids. I kept hearing that 'roids don't make that much of a difference. Apparently, they make a lot of difference.