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Second Thoughts: Game #66 - Reds 9, Indians 10

Second Thoughts: Game #66 - Reds 9, Indians 10
June 19, 2012
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The central storyline coming in to the game was the Lowe-Baker feud that boiled over last week, with both player and manager trading nasty barbs in the media. Very early on in this game, the juicy drama bowed out of the way, in favor of an offensive eruption. After a ten-minute rain delay, thanks to the tail end of a thunderstorm passing through Cleveland, hitters for each team must have been unimpressed by the storm, as they put on their own thunderous display of offensive firepower.

The Major 3

Offensive Inferno: Obviously, one glance at the box score tells you that this was a classic offensive slugfest; therefore, there is no better place to start. A quick statistical rundown: the two Ohio ball clubs combined for 19 runs, 27 hits, 14 extra-base hits, and an 11-for-23 hitting mark with runners in scoring position. Of the 17 half-innings in the game, only six were scoreless. The only entirely scoreless inning was the 8th. Wow.

Cleveland did a superb job of clubbing mistake pitches from Cincy’s starter, Mat Latos, who regularly hit 95-96 MPH with his fastball. Unfortunately for him, Tribe hitters had no trouble squaring up Latos, who frequently caught too much of the plate, especially with many pitches tailing over the inner-half of the plate. The Indians recorded a whopping eight extra-base hits, their high-water mark for the season. The Tribe went 5-for-13 (.278) with runners in scoring position, recorded five two-out RBI, and scored in five of their eight innings at-bat. To say it was an offensive awakening is putting it lightly.

Ironically, Cleveland’s two best hitters, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera, went hitless, with three punchouts and no runs batted in. It was the five-nine hitters in the lineup who did the work, going 10-for-19, with eight RBI and two homers. The fact that it was the bottom half of the lineup that helped Cleveland match Cincinnati’s nine runs is particularly encouraging. Lonnie Chisenhall hit ninth and led the way with three hits, including a two-out two-run jack, and three runs batted in. Yet, he was not alone, as Casey Kotchman had his own two-out two-run bomb, to go along with three RBI. In addition to Chisenhall, Choo, Brantley, and Santana all had multi-hit games.

The Reds offensive attack was very balanced, with six hitters recording multi-hit games, as well as six different players with runs batted in. One key was that both of Cincinnati’s home runs came with no one on base. Struggling with his command, Lowe’s sinker looked flat and hittable most of the night. Furthermore, a lack in pitch speed variation likely made it easy for Reds hitters to time him up, regardless of which pitch was thrown. Only two of his 83 pitches weren’t in the 80-89 MPH range. Since he can’t consistently live in the low-90s, perhaps Lowe would benefit from taking a little more off his offspeed pitches.

Head-to-Head Bullpen Showdown: Coming into the game, Cincinnati boasted the best bullpen ERA in the National League (2.60). In spite of recent struggles that currently has Cleveland’s bullpen dead last in ERA in the American League (4.48, the only bullpen in the AL with an ERA above 4), it was Cleveland’s Bullpen Mafia that put the hit on Cincy’s sluggers.

In the 5th inning, with the game tied at seven and both starters out of the game, it was up to each team’s ‘pen to minimize the run-scoring bonanza. Each team’s relievers had four innings pitched, but it was the Tribe who gave up two runs, compared to the Reds three allowed. Although it was Cleveland’s three best relief arms (Smith, Pestano, Perez) versus three of the Reds’ middling relievers (LeCure, Hoover, Ondrusek), the only thing that mattered was runs allowed, for that was the difference in the game.

Chris Perez came through when it mattered most, freezing Ryan Ludwick on a four-seam fastball, after three consecutive sliders, to end the game. It was Perez’s MLB-leading 22nd save in 23 chances.

The Tribe’s Ability to Respond: There were several key moments in the game where Cleveland responded to a Cincinnati punch. Tribe hitters didn’t press; they responded. In the five frames (prior to the 9th) that Cincy scored runs, the Indians responded with runs of their own three times in the corresponding bottom half of the inning. Of the other two times the Reds scored and the Indians didn’t immediately respond with runs, they proceeded to hold Cincinnati scoreless the following inning, and then followed up with response runs.

On two occasions (the 2nd and 3rd innings) after giving up a pair of runs, Lowe had a runner on third with one out and both times he escaped without further damage. The latter occasion, Lowe induced a timely double play off the bat of Todd Frazier to mitigate the run-scoring frenzy. These occasions can go easily unnoticed with all of the runs, but they were both huge in keeping the game from getting out of hand early.

In the 5th inning, Cincinnati led off with back-to-back doubles from Votto and Phillips, the latter of which tied the game at seven because of a tough-luck, two-base error assigned to Johnny Damon, who crashed into the left field wall in an attempt to trap the baseball. With another lead blown and no one out, Lowe buckled down and retired the Reds’ 5-6-7 hitters. This was particularly impressive, as Lowe had trouble missing Cincinnati bats all night; undeterred, he fired back and finished the fifth with the game still tied.

There is no doubt that this Tribe squad showed some big time resiliency on Monday. That kind of moxie is necessary for the Indians’ hopes to capture an AL Central title.

The Minor 3

Kotchman’s Unassisted Double Play: The best of three quietly significant double plays, the Indians’ first baseman smoothly snagged a Brandon Phillips line drive in-stride to double-up Votto off first base. If the ball gets past him, Jay Bruce’s follow-up homerun would’ve been a three-run shot, instead of a solo blast. No other defensive play was more important for the Tribe, as this double play killed the momentum and a chance for a big-run 7th inning for the Reds.

Brantley’s Sac Fly: Seemingly just another run in an offensive battle, Brantley’s sac fly in the 7th was an insurance run, but it proved to be crucial as it was the deciding run in the game. Brantley got a pitch he could handle, an 86 MPH changeup, and pushed it deep enough into center to easily score a tagging Cabrera. One could argue that this insurance run allowed Perez to attack the heart of the Reds’ order in the 9th, since he had a two-run cushion.

Converting Leadoff Hits into Runs: Cleveland hitters ledoff six of their eight innings with hits. Five of the six leadoff hits came around to score. This was huge for the Tribe, as it setup those scoring opportunites and put less pressure on the lineup to come through with one big swing. In addition to making small ball plays on offense— like sacrificing base-runners over, stealing bases, and recording two-out RBIs— cashing in leadoff hits for runs will be paramount to the success of the Indians’ offense.

The 3 Most Wanted

Continued at bats for Chisenhall: Falling a double short of the cycle, Chisenhall made a statement in this game out of the 9th spot in the lineup. Manny Acta recently expressed his public support for the 23 year old third baseman, who has struggled of late. After Jack Hannahan returned from a DL stint, many, including myself, thought it’d be Chisenhall who’d get the bus ticket back to Columbus. With this offensive showing, he’s now hitting .269 and has an OPS of .769. With 52 at-bats in 17 games on the season, Chisenhall should be given another 50+ at-bats to see if he’s ready to regularly contribute. At least until Travis Hafner returns, there should be enough at-bats to throw at him.

Credit for Manny Acta: The Tribe skipper did some shuffling of the lineup, notably bumping Santana to the 6th spot in the lineup. Of the 55 games played for the Tribe backstop, 33 games he has hit cleanup and 19 times he’s occupied the 5th spot. This was the first time this year Santana hit 6th, going 2-for-4 in his new spot. Santana has the power one would hope for out of your sixth hitter, so like the Choo leadoff move, maybe this one will get Santana going, too.

Also, Chisenhall hit 9th for the 4th time in 17 games played, raising his average to .308 when hitting last in the lineup. Never afraid to mix up the batting order, Acta deserves credit for pressing the right offensive buttons on a team that has its share of run-scoring deficiencies.

Blood Pressure Medication: For fans on both sides, this game was a thriller from start to finish. A classic offensive slugfest, lined with timely evasions by Tribe pitchers, including the benefit of a trio of double plays, this game had it all. This was a huge psychological win for Cleveland, who put a halt to any percolating panic that might’ve started to set in after dropping five of their last six. The back-and-forth nature of this contest gave both sides plenty of reasons to cheer and jeer down to the last batter.

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