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Second Thoughts Game #47: Tigers 10, Indians 11

Second Thoughts Game #47: Tigers 10, Indians 11
The Indians celebrate an improbable balk-off win over the Tigers. (Photo: AP)
May 22, 2014
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Feel-Good Win of the Year

A walk-off balk is one of the rarest occasions in baseball. From some cursory research, it appears this has only happened about 15 times in HISTORY. While the way the game was won on Wednesday is certainly the most unbelievable event that occurred, the game featured three separate comebacks by the Indians and is without a doubt the biggest (and most improbable) win of the year.

I don’t think anyone saw this series sweep coming. The Indians entered the series on a four game losing streak, while Detroit was in the midst of a six game winning streak. Detroit would have its two best pitchers, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer going during the three game set, whereas a struggling Zach McAllister and Trevor Bauer, fresh from Triple A, would pitch two of three for the Indians. Detroit was already up 10.5 games in the division, and as we all know we haven’t had much luck beating Detroit over the last 14 months.

None of that mattered.

On Wednesday, the Indians were down four runs before they even came up to bat. McAllister started and lasted only two innings. Other than Cody Allen, every single bullpen pitcher and Josh Tomlin was needed to pitch in the game. Going into the bottom of the ninth inning the Indians were down two runs. Going into the bottom of the 13th inning they were down another run.

None of that mattered either.

This was a show of perseverance that’s been missing most of the year. There was all the reason in the world for the Indians to fold and lose this game. The offense kept getting hits (CLUTCH hits too), and with the exception ofJohn Axford and Marc Rzepczynski, the bullpen did a good job of keeping Detroit at bay in 11 innings of work. The walk off wins on Monday and Wednesday, plus sweeping one of the best teams in the American League and a hated rival, should give the team some of its swagger and confidence back. The key is to keep the momentum going in Baltimore on the road, where they’re an American League worst 7-14.

One leak plugged, another one pops up

Over the past couple of weeks the Indians have begun making some changes to their roster. It started with the rotation, where Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar struggled and were replaced with Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. Tomlin did a great job of solidifying the last rotation spot when he came up, but now, Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister are struggling. If that continues, then the rotation isn’t in much better shape than it was a month ago.

In the bullpen, John Axford was removed as closer, and Blake Wood and Vinnie Pestano were sent down after struggling in April. One of the last cuts from camp, C.C. Lee came up, but couldn’t nail down a job in place of Wood or Pestano. Axford is still struggling, and lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman’s have been inconsistent.Scott Atchison’s work in the bullpen can’t be understated, and we know how good Allen and Bryan Shaw are, but you need more than three arms in the bullpen that you can count on. I liked the move to go down to Akron and getKyle Crockett on the team, as he has a good chance to be an impact arm in the pen. This is one of the areas of the team I’m watching closely. I feel like we could be on the cusp of a major breakdown.

In the lineup, Nick SwisherCarlos Santana, and Ryan Raburn have continued their season long struggles. Francona finally moved Swisher and Santana out of the middle of the lineup. While the lineup is the one spot where the team hasn’t been able to do much to fix their holes, the offense has actually been one of the best in the American League in the month of May. Asdrubal Cabrera and Yan Gomes have had good months, while David MurphyLonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley continue to hit. Contributions of late from Mike Aviles andMichael Bourn have helped as well. Hopefully Jason Kipnis’ impending return can add some juice as well.

Still, the lineup won’t truly be able to live up to its potential until Swisher and Santana come around. Raburn’s struggles, combined with Swisher and Santana, have really hurt the team against left-handed pitching. Like many others, that’s one of the reasons I was hopeful the team would decide to keep Jesus Aguilar around. I understand the move right now, but one look at the team’s record this year against left-handers tells you that pretty soon they might need to consider making the difficult choices it’s going to take to get at-bats for a guy like Aguilar.

Overall, it’s been a somewhat frustrating series of events to watch. The Indians have yet to be able to get rolling on all cylinders. If they can figure it out though…

Some Second Guessing

Bringing in Marc Rzepczynski in the fifth against the middle of the Tigers lineup?

Bringing in John Axford with runners on first and second in a tie game?

Neither of these moves ultimately cost the team the game, but they could have. I cringed when I saw Francona bring in Rzepczynski in to face right-handed Miguel Cabrera, switch-hitting Victor Martinez (1.342 OPS against lefties this year), and right-handed J.D. Martinez. It’s not JUST the matchups that didn’t make sense, but as discussed earlier Rzepczynski is really struggling right now. He needs to be used appropriately, and that’s not in middle relief against the heart of a right-handed dominant Tigers lineup. As it turns out, he was going to have to be called on at some point to pitch more than situational work anyway, but the spot could have been picked much better.

I have similar feelings about when Francona brought in Axford. Here’s a guy who has 15 walks in 18 innings, and he’s brought into a tie game with runners on first and second. That’s the definition of playing with fire. He did end up walking the first batter he faced, the non-hitting Danny Worth, before getting Rajai Davis out to escape the inning. It wasn’t for long though, as he’d give up a single and walk to begin the next inning and end up putting the team in a 9-7 hole.

I can only assume Axford was brought in because he’s the former closer, he’s used to pitching in stressful situations, there wasn’t a ton of options at the time, and he’s coming off a couple of decent outings. Enough is enough, though. That has to stop. He’s the worst reliever on the team. He should be pitching in mop up situations until he figures it out, or is released.

Other Notes:

-The Indians are now 11-8 in the month of May.

-Just a question; how long will the team be prepared to ride out Raburn’s struggles? I’m not advocating a move right now by any means, but with him being guaranteed money for 2015, do they even consider making a move in July if he’s still this bad? Like everyone else I’d love to see him start mashing lefties again, but I can’t help but think he’s repeating 2012 all over again. If this continues into July, I definitely consider cutting bait and eating the money he’d be owed.

-The Indians will head to Baltimore to open a three game series with the AL East leading Orioles. At the time I’m writing this, there is still no decision on who will make the start for the Indians against Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen. Game time is 7:05 PM.

User Comments

May 22, 2014 - 2:39 PM EDT
@Bill ..crazy amazing info you've shared.. wow..

Notes on Bawart: The best things that have been said about him is that he is steady...consistent.. etc.. In other words, not what you'd call an "uber" prospect. He's a fastball/slider guy.. I think he came up through the A's system and has been with at least one or two other clubs. In short, he's a fresh, big bodied right hander that can stand on a 9 inch hill and throw the ball over the plate. At least, that's what his history says..

Regarding the "boo boos" by the Santana and Cabrera and Chiz and so on..I seriously doubt those plays are part of who's due and who isn't.

Regarding Carlos Carrasco's Outing: he faced 10 guys.. got six outs.. with three K's, two walks and one hit. No one on base when he arrived scored.. No one he put on base scored. Being the long man in a long game is a role he can fill. His velo is there. He needs to tighten up his command on the change of pace pitch he throws (the one with arm side run and fade).. Otherwise.. he has the kind of arm that can be VERY effective out of the pen..

May 22, 2014 - 2:31 PM EDT
How close is Bryan Price coming back from his shoulder injury? If he not close, than the easy thing would be to move him to 60-day dl which would open up a spot on the 40 man. I would call up Lowe and Adams for the bullpen send Axford to Columbus.
May 22, 2014 - 2:08 PM EDT
As rare a feat as the balk-off is, what's even more amazing is that this is the second time this happened in JUST 13 DAYS in the Indians organization! The Lake County Captains also did this back on May 9th. That was also an extra inning game that ALSO ended with a score of 11-10.

This is why I love this game!
May 22, 2014 - 2:06 PM EDT
Ax axford.
May 22, 2014 - 1:47 PM EDT
I think you could be right on Tony w the roster moves. I would add that Masterson looks like he's throwing batting practice so far this year- relaxed, easy motion, not throwing hard. He could probably throw 150 pitches a game like that. Unfortunately because he gets hit so hard, and misses the plate so much, he's generally yanked after half that. If the Indians are going to compete this season, Justin has to get fired up and start competing. BTW, Josh Tomlin did a heckuva job last night. He's not the biggest or the fastest, but the dude can pitch- hopefully the guys on the staff watch and learn.
May 22, 2014 - 1:06 PM EDT
Actually, believe Masterson move to tonight has more to do with two things. First, in his last start he went a little over 4 innings and just 70 pitches. So should be available just on that reason alone. Secondly, Mark Lowe is coming up to fill a pen need today, which means a 40-man move is going down. Rather than make TWO moves with the 40-man the Indians can simply make one by calling up Lowe for one day and then DFAing him tomorrow and adding Banwart. I am pretty certain Banwart is going to get the start tomorrow.
May 22, 2014 - 12:54 PM EDT
Bastian tweets that Masterson is starting tonight and TBD has been moved to Firday night's game. I'd bet good money this si to give Antonelli time to make calls and try for a starter-for-prospects trade. It's not like we have much choice anyway.
May 22, 2014 - 12:01 PM EDT
Nice to see Detroit lose 3 and taken down a peg by the lowly Indians, hopefully this won't be the team's last great highlight this year. The Indians made plenty of mistakes yesterday. Santana getting thrown out at second on a grounder that didn't roll far from Cabrera, Chisenhall slowing down to look back at Rajai Davis after tagging at third in the 10th and then getting thrown out, Santana failing to catch a third strike and extending the Tigers inning after the Indians had climbed back into the game, Asdrubal Cabrera hitting into a double play w Michael Bourn on first and no outs in a tie game- with the two hottest contact hitters in baseball, Brantley and Murphy coming up, there were only two options- Bourn steals, or Cabrera bunts- no other options one would think, but alas Cabrera found one. Cabrera missing a catch from Aviles on a would be double play that led to a Tiger run. I think the Tigers were just due to lose a few, and the Indians were due to win a few. I am happy, but I wouldn't read too much into it. The Indians are still playing the worst defense in the majors they still have a catcher/ third baseman/DH hitting .148 who is oblivious to coaching, and they still have 2 relievers Carrasco and Axford that can't stop walking hitters, even weak hitters. I am sure people in Chicago, Minnesota and Kansas City were happy to see the Indians sweep and expose Detroit's vulnerabilities, but I don't think any of those teams are worried about the Indians sneaking up on them at this point.
C L Who
May 22, 2014 - 11:52 AM EDT
In today's Los Angeles Times the Tribe starter is listed as Travis Banwart.

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