Second Thoughts Game #69: Royals 2, Indians 1
After a well-documented brutal 20-game stretch, the Indians had seemingly gotten themselves back on the right track, winning four out of their last five (and it could have just as easily been all five). They began a set against a surging Royals team Monday night, backed by a recently-freed Carlos Carrasco. He turned in one of the best starts of his young career, but the team was lacking in all other facets and another brutal loss was suffered.
The Carrasco Show
Besides a stretch in which Carrasco allowed just four earned runs over 36.2 innings in the middle of 2011, the Indians haven't gotten what they expected out of him when making he and now defunct Jason Knapp the two centerpieces of the Cliff Lee deal. On this night, he again flashed that front-of-the-rotation arsenal, continuing his enigmatic existence as a Major League pitcher.
After throwing an insanely low amount of pitches on the inner half of the plate in his last start, Carrasco knew he had to change that to be successful. Although it wasn't deep inside, he broke the bat of the first hitter he faced in this one. Aside from moving his pitches around very well, he also had all of them working and mixed them masterfully. His fastball got up to 98, and both of his secondary offerings were even sharper than number one.
He rolled through four innings in the blink of an eye, allowing zero baserunners and needing just 37(!) pitches to do so. In his last start, it took him 83 pitches to get as far. The perfect game pipe dream was broken up with one out in the fifth, but it did nothing to deter him. He finally had traffic in the sixth, but pitched around that and a Mark Reynoldsfielding blunder that should have ended the inning even easier.
Terry Francona opted to remove Carrasco in the eighth inning with a runner on second and one out. He was at 90 pitches, and it wasn't a matchup matter. I personally didn't like the decision at all, but Francona later stated that his pitcher still wasn't quite stretched out after his long recovery from Tommy John surgery. I would point to the fact that it was a wholly stress-free 90 pitches, but those aren't my decisions to make. Said decision would go on to be an unfortunate one, and the single run charged to Carrasco scored while he was unfairly sitting in the dugout.
Santana giveth, Santana taketh away
This game featured Carlos Santana in just about every way imaginable - good and bad.
The good: He accounted for exactly 100% of the Indians' runs. In a scoreless sixth inning, he led off the inning and put the first pitch he saw out of the field of play in right field. It was his 10th home run of the season, and he has now hit in nine straight (albeit collecting just 10 hits in the span).
Also, he caught the marvelous start from Carrasco. It's always tough to say exactly how much credit a catcher deserves for such things, but there is praise for him to be had. As I said earlier, Carrasco varied his pitch types and locations excellently, and Santana calls for most of them.
The bad: He was also directly responsible for the winning run scoring. The play was officially scored a wild pitch, but a Matt Albers breaking ball got through the legs of Santana and went to the backstop. We have seen these kinds of plays from Santana plenty. It's not a particularly difficult one, and one that a Major League catcher should be able to handle. Here, it cost him and the team in a major way.
It is pretty well understood by now. His bat (and choosing when or when not to swing it) is invaluable. His glove, whether catcher or first baseman, leaves so much to be desired.
Including this game, the Indians are a salvageable 4-4 over their last eight games. In those games, though, they have scored just 25 total runs.
If you have read this far, you already know that they only managed one in this game. Despite putting a ton of runners on base by way of both hit and walk, they were unable to take advantage of James Shields in the same that they couldn't with Stephen Strasburg the day before. Both pitchers wanted to give up crooked numbers and walk themselves out of the game, but the Indians wouldn't let them.
One play really stood to me, and again, it was a sacrifice bunt. It was the third inning with runners on first and second and no outs. Jason Giambi was in the lead and John McDonald was the hitter. I called it on Twitter before it happened. Not only is bunting in this situation silly, but doing it with Giambi as the lead runner is a disaster waiting to happen. Sure enough, McDonald bunted, and Giambi is forced out at third. Brutal.
In all, they left 11 on base. Jason Kipnis was the main culprit, as he left five in scoring position by himself. This is a great offense, but a combination of tough opposition and struggles with runners on is holding them down a little bit right now. Nick Swisher has had issues of his own, but losing him for any considerable amount of time shortens the lineup and takes away versatility.
The reoccuring nightmare
It has become something of a season-long narrative now, but once again, a somewhat surprisingly great start was wiped away by a surprisingly toiling bullpen.
When Carrasco was pulled in that eighth inning, Bryan Shaw relieved him. The hit that he gave up was a blooped one on a decent pitch, but it allowed the Royals to tie the game, all the same.
The ninth looked to be a full-blown mess that would completely take the Indians out of the game, but to their credit, they kept it winnable. And even then, it was Santana's misplay that directly cost them. But Shaw, Rich Hill and Albers combined to allow four baserunners in the inning, and in the end, it was all enough for them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Joe Smith was unavailable, according to Francona, and seemingly Cody Allen and Vinnie Pestano, too. It is tougher to win a close game when you don't use any of your three best relievers, so I guess that is the silver lining here. Or perhaps we should be questioning Francona about why none of them were availabale.
Nothing will be made official until later today, but it seems as though Matt Langwell is on his way back to Columbus. Who will take his roster spot is probably a toss-up.
Depending on Nick Swisher's recovery from his shoulder injury and the need for an additional bat, Lonnie Chisenhall could be the one. At the same time, Chris Perez is due to be activated soon. There could be an additional move to get both of them back with the Indians, especially with the team carrying eight relievers.
If that is ultimately the case, the casualty will almost certainly be left-handed. Does Francona go away from one of his guys and finally cut ties with Rich Hill (long overdue), or do the Indians continue to yo-yo Nick Hagadone?
Up next: The second of three games against the Royals. Ubaldo Jimenez, who was pushed back in the rotation, will take the mound after five days down instead of the traditional four. The visitors will call on Ervin Santana.
If Carrasco didn't dominate this lineup then there would have been a problem.