Second Thoughts Game #63: Rangers 6, Indians 3
Kazmir pitches well but Rangers' three-run seventh inning dooms Tribe
The Indians' road trip from hell (or has it been TO hell, in the form of multiple cities?) reached its final stop Monday, as the Indians traveled to Texas for three. Their lone left-handed starter pitched well, and they received the kind of clutch hit they've been so desperately searching for. But none of that is enough when you're going as poorly as this team is.
"One bad pitch," "a game of inches" and other cliches
Early on in the day yesterday, I tweeted that Scott Kazmir would need his best slider and changeup against a Rangers team that had the second-highest run value against fastballs, especially in their flighty ballpark. As it turned out, a poorly-located one of each of those pitches in the fourth inning were what hurt him.
He rarely fell behind all night, throwing 72 of 103 pitches for strikes (70%). But he did to John Baker, and a 2-1 changeup that he left belt-high was deposited into a mass of Rangers fans. The blow was a softer one to the Indians than they were used to: the home run only tied the game instead of putting them in a hole, as has been the status quo recently.
Terry Francona chose to send him back out for the seventh with 96 pitches. Maybe the decision was debatable, but Kazmir had pitched pretty well. The first hitter he faced in the inning flew double over Nick Swisher's head in right, whom Francona said he had positioned shallow. What followed was a ball hit that Carlos Santana only deflected instead of fielding cleanly. Base hit, first and third, no outs. A matter of inches and things out of Kazmir's control ended his night, but it wasn't what ultimately doomed the team.
Left-handed lack of relief
Nick Hagadone seemed to be turning a corner lately. After nearly two months of maddening inconsistency and a demotion along the way, his previous three appearances had resulted in 3.0 scoreless innings.
After inducing a wild double play, he was one pitch away from getting out of a treacherous situation that many fans would argue he isn't trustworthy enough to be put into, in the first place. When his 95 mile per hour fastball was turned around by Lance Berkman and sent into another mass of Rangers fans, he just stared. And stared. And stared. Wondering where he went wrong, and why this was happening to him and his team. The moment was Hollywood-ly symbolic to the current state of the Indians.
For Hagadone, it was another failure. We have seen flashes of the multiple-inning weapon with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, but more of this version. The team has tried four different left-handed relievers so far this season, and none of them have been able to get the job done on a regular basis. Recently-signed J.C. Romero will probably be up next. But is the answer actually this game's starter being converted?
The offense's wheels sputter
This game was different for the Indians' offense. Rather than doing little early and clawing back late like they have been doing during this slide, they scored early and did nothing after.
Through the first three frames, it felt like this could be the game that not only ended the losing streak, but would get the ball rolling in a positive direction. Two two-out hits in the first inning. A pieced-together third that culminated with a bases-clearing three-run double from Carlos Santana.
But after that, there was essentially nothing. The lineup managed two baserunners over the final six innings: one via walk, one via "error" (a bad scoring decision, but alas). Santana's huge hit didn't shake anything loose, and another defeat was suffered.
What to make of it all
What this all added up to was an eighth consecutive loss, and 12th straight on the road. Failure from one area of the team has seemingly bred failure to all others, and we are seeing the result on a nightly basis.
I have repeatedly pointed out just how difficult this 25-game stretch from May 21-June 16 would be and has been for the Indians, but I certainly never imagined it going this woefully. By no means is this team as bad as they have showed recently. But in all likelihood, they weren't as good as they were once playing a few short weeks ago, either. A middle ground seems reasonable. This is probably a team that competes all summer, but is ultimately just flawed enough to not reach the postseason. In other words: Exactly what I and many others expected.
Just before the game started, earlier suspicions were confirmed: the Indians acquired John McDonald from the Pirates for a player to be named or cash considerations. In corresponding moves, Brett Myers was moved to the 60-day disabled list (though still retroactive and he can return on the 20th), and Juan Diaz was eventually sent back to Columbus (today, officially). I assume that McDonald will serve as insurance to Mike Aviles and as a defensive replacement to Mark Reynolds late in games. Nothing more, nothing less.
Up next: The middle game of three in Arlington. Corey Kluber will take the ball, opposed by known Indians foe, Derek Holland.