Second Thoughts Game #63: Indians 3, Rangers 2
Masterson holds off Rangers as Tribe wins second straight
Baseball is a funny game sometimes. Less than a month ago, the Indians were in dead last in the division with a seemingly insurmountable 10.5-game deficit between them and the first-place Tigers. Now they sit alone in second place well within view of the Motor City Kitties' rearview mirror at only three games back.
Since being swept in Chicago, the Tribe has gone 8-1 in their last nine games as they have gradually managed to find more consistency and cut down on the miscues that have plagued them for much of the year. In addition to their recent success, Carlos Santana has returned from the 7-day concussion DL with Nick Swisher and Zach McAllister soon to follow.
Justin Masterson earned the win after five and two-thirds solid innings as the bullpen pitched shutout ball in relief. Offensively, David Murphy continued to make the most of his "homecoming" while the new and improved Lonnie Chisenhall proved that he could hit left-handed pitching.
Player of the Game: David Murphy (2-for-3, 2B, RBI)
The Tribe right fielder not only drove in the deciding run on Sunday, he also capped off a successful weekend overall at the plate in his return to his former home ballpark. In the first three games of the series, Murphy has gone 5-for-10 with two doubles and two RBI. He is batting .400 in his last 10 games as he continues to make Chris Antonetti look like a genius for taking a chance on him this offseason after a rough 2013 for the outfielder.
On the season, Murphy is now batting .291 with five homers and 36 RBI, which is the second most on the team behind Michael Brantley. He also has 13 doubles and has drawn 20 walks while striking out only 28 times. He also still has one of the league's best batting marks with runners in scoring position at .380.
So far, Murphy has been everything I hoped for and more. Thanks to him, we haven't seen lineup slumps nearly as bad as we saw at times last year since his consistent approach at the plate, along with Brantley's, helps keep the offense going even if the rest of the lineup is scuffling.
Many fundamentalists may not like Murphy's swing mechanics, but they can't argue with the results. Heck, it's even starting to rub off on some of the other hitters as Lonnie Chisenhall put a Murphy-type slap swing on a Joe Saunders offering for a leadoff single in the fifth inning.
Masterson Solid Sans Slider
The Rangers were fed a heavy diet of sinkers on Sunday from Indians right-hander Justin Masterson as his slider was not quite up to snuff for him. In his five and two thirds innings of work, Masterson only threw 12 sliders in 103 pitches with only five of those slide pieces falling in for strikes.
The moment where the sinkerballer pretty much decided to abandon his slider for the day came in the fourth inning where one sailed wildly to the left well out of the reach of catcher Yan Gomes, enabling the first Rangers run to score. After that, Masterson only threw three sliders, which all missed the strike zone.
It wasn't enough to derail the right-hander, however, as his fastball and sinker alone proved to be enough to hold the Rangers to two runs and give Masterson his fourth win of the season, putting him back at the .500 mark.
He will need to regain control of that slider, however, if he wants to return to the ace-like form that he had last season. The evolution of that wicked breaking ball has added a whole other dimension to his game other than getting ground ball outs as he is now capable of getting swings and misses and racking up the whiffs. Last season, the right-hander finished with a career-high 195 strikeouts with over a punchout an inning. So far this season, he only has 74 whiffs in 80 innings of work.
His last two starts have been much better, however, even with his lack of slider command on Sunday as he has only allowed two earned runs in 12 and two thirds innings of work and has struck out 16 batters between the two starts.
Lonnie vs. Lefties
Consider me now fully on the Lonnie Chisenhall bandwagon. That bandwagon already seems to be pretty full, but I'm sure there's room for more.
Words cannot express how impressed I am with the adjustments Chisenhall has made with his approach this season and while I don't think he'll bat .360+ the rest of the season, I don't think it's a fluke. He's still a good distance behind the qualifying players in the batting race as far as at-bats, but he should meet the minimum qualifying number within the next few weeks.
The Tribe third baseman/first baseman/DH is getting harder to keep out of the everyday lineup even when a southpaw is on the mound. Up to this point, Terry Francona has been cautious about batting him against lefties given his struggles in the past, but even in limited time, numbers don't lie. In 25 at-bats against left-handed pitching so far this season, Chisenhall is batting .520 (13-for-25) with a homer, a double and five RBI. He has also drawn a pair of walks and only struck out three times.
Now I don't know about you, but that blew me away when I looked up those stats considering he only hit .111 against lefties last season. Now 25 at-bats is still a small sample size, but it's enough, at least for me, to keep him in the lineup no matter who's on the mound.
Up next: Indians (32-31) vs. Rangers (31-32) @ Globe Life Park. First pitch at 8:05 pm ET.
The Indians have struggled on the road for the most part this season, but they will continue their attempt to change their fortunes away from Progressive Field on Monday as they try for the series win in Texas. Left-hander T.J. House will take the mound for his fifth appearance (fourth start) in his solid rookie campaign. He is still in search of his first big league win even after pitching five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox last week.
Young right-hander Nick Martinez will toe the rubber against House and the Tribe as he hopes to get back on track in his own impressive rookie season. He pitched five and a third innings against Baltimore and allowed six runs (four earned) on nine hits, including two home runs, which handed him his second loss of the year. Both House and Martinez have yet to face each other's team.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Masterson really battled well considering he was basically limited to 1 pitch in his final 4 innings of work. I have to admit I was one of those on here who really couldn't believe the Indians didn't take the short term deal he offered the club, but I'm now very glad the FO showed patience.
I'm still optimistic that Justin will be a very good pitcher for the Tribe this season, and he will likely have a month or two stretch where he looks unhittable. That being said, I just wouldn't want to be weighed down by a 3-4 year $50M+ contract for such an inconsistent guy.
With Verlander having a mediocre year and Scherzer not having the season he had last year, Cabrera having the consistent nagging injuries, the Tigers are vulnerable.