Second Thoughts Game #81: Indians 0, Mariners 3
This game was officially the halfway point in the season. The Indians stand at 39-42, 6.5 games back in the division and 4.5 games back for the second Wild Card spot. They have their work cut out for them in the second half of the season, but despite the sub-.500 record we know from last season that a second half surge is possible – and a playoff spot is still in reach. On to the game...
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how good Felix Hernandez has been this year. Still only 28 years old, Hernandez is in the midst of the best season of an already exceptional career.
Hernandez ate the Indians up in this one. The only way to beat Hernandez this season is to hope that your starter can match zeros with him. He’s given up more than three earned runs just once this season and he was at his best on Sunday. For awhile T.J. House did just that, but eventually the Mariners got to him by way of a Robinson Cano two-run homer and the Indians offense wasn’t able to respond against Hernandez.
On paper, this was the one game in this series that looked like an uphill battle to win. Still, this was the rare series where the Indians’ starters gave the team three-quality starts and the team couldn’t capitalize with a series win. Considering that Seattle currently holds one of the Wild Card spots in the American League, I’d call that a wasted opportunity.
House answers the call
Despite the loss, the silver lining was the performance of T.J. House. After pitching around a Nick Swisher error in the first-inning, House matched Hernandez (well, mostly) for the next four innings. He made two mistakes in the game, and unfortunately for him they came back to back. In the sixth inning House fielded a groundball and threw the ball in the dirt to Swisher at first, allowing Michael Saunders to advance all the way to third on the error. Cano would follow with his homer and with the way Hernandez was pitching, essentially put the game out of reach.
House’s final line read 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K’s.House gave the team a chance to win. You can’t ask for more than that in a spot start. He’s come up when needed and provided quality innings. While he’s going to head back to Columbus, his role is still important. The team doesn’t have any quality options in Columbus other than him. The fact that House can come up and give the team these types of outings is huge with the level of uncertainty in the rotation right now.
For as much as I’m worried about that rotation right now, with a playoff spot still in reach, I’m even more concerned about the number and quality of the team’s internal rotation options over the next couple of years. House’s emergence as a quality back of the rotation option is a pleasant surprise this season. We’re sure to see him again at some point.
With the month of June coming to a close, here are some monthly totals of note (pre-Sunday):
Jason Kipnis: .272/.318/.359
Carlos Santana: .329/.443/.630
Nick Swisher: .130/.149/.326 (46 at-bats)
David Murphy: .197/.273/.250
Ryan Raburn: .182/.200/.182 (33 at-bats)
Bryan Shaw: 9.2 IP, 12 H, 7 BB, 6 K’s, 6.52 ERA
Justin Masterson: 25.2 IP, 22 H, 17 BB, 27 K’s, 4.56 ERA
Trevor Bauer: 31 IP, 37 H, 11 BB, 23 K’s, 4.94 ERA
Carlos Carrasco: 14.1 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 16 K’s, 1.26 ERA
On the whole, it wasn’t a bad month for the offense. There are a lot of times when it feels like the lineup is underperforming, but overall the Indians offense ranks in the top 10 of MLB in runs, OBP, Slugging Percentage, and OPS.
The problem has been consistency, clutch hitting, and hitting lefties. Consistency or clutch hitting are deeper rooted problems, but I am hopeful that steps will be taken to ease the lineup’s struggles against left-handed pitching at some point.
On the flip side, the team has one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. A lot of us have felt that something was wrong with Justin Masterson for a while now, and I’m glad the team has finally acknowledged that fact. I’m not sure if the extra rest will fix what ails him, but it’s a start. Truthfully, the team needs Trevor Bauer and when he comes back, Zach McAllister, to step forward and shore up their end of the rotation. Corey Kluber has done his part, and Josh Tomlin is pitching as well as should be expected, it’s the other three spots where more is needed.
In particular, I think the pitcher that really needs to step forward is Trevor Bauer. That’s a lot to put on him, for sure. We’ve seen positives out of Bauer this year, but he hasn’t been consistent. He leaves too many pitches up in the zone and he needs to continue to refine his control. He’s a completely different pitcher when he’s able to work ahead in the count, but his control seems to slowly be going backwards.
Other than a healthy and effective Masterson, Bauer is the pitcher in this rotation who could make the biggest difference. He has the talent and ability to pitch like a front of the rotation starter, and that’s exactly what the team needs. I’m not sure how likely that is considering what we’ve seen so far, but still, he’s my player to watch in the second half of the season.
Last year the surge was in September. This September Tribe has 7 games vs. Tigers, 3 vs. KC and the remainder against teams that, like the Tribe, currently are under .500. On the other hand, the last 10 days are 3 each vs. KC, Rays, Twins and 1 vs. Houston, so it's at least possible to run that table as in 2013.
If anything surge happens, it will be Kluber and Bauer on the mound, and Santana, Brantley, Chis and Gomes in the field who make it happen.
It was a difficult environment, in Seattle against King Felix, yet he pretty much matched him for the first five innings. It was a shame he rushed his throw to Swisher on the infield "hit", but then he got too careful and gave up the HR.
What really impressed me though is that he got back on the beam and got three outs in the 6th without giving up yet another run.