Second Thoughts: Game #85 - Rays 7, Indians 6
|W: J.Peralta (1-3) L: C. Perez (0-2) S: F. Rodney (25)
The Indians had an opportunity to win yet another four-game series on Sunday, the final contest of act number one for 2012. An early five-run lead and dominant pitching made a loss feel impossible, but the Indians' two All-Stars were not at their finest in their last go before they are to be on the center stage.
For a second consecutive start, Indians defenders derailed a brilliant Zach McAllister performance. Through the first four innings, he was as locked in as a pitcher could be, attacking the zone and getting ahead, commanding his fastball, and putting hitters away with a tight slurve. He struck out eight total (five by way of that slurve), and five in a row at one point. After four hitless innings, he handled a little bit of traffic in the fifth. In the sixth, two curious plays from Asdrubal Cabrera opened the door for Tampa, and McAllister could do himself no favors. He got tuned up for four unearned runs in the inning, and just like that, his day was done. Still, he is an improved pitcher because of a refined repertoire that he is commanding as well as he always has, and is very much a part of the rotation going forward.
A pair of former Rays led the charge against once teammate James Shields, as Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon combined to go 5-for-7 against him. Kotchman brought in a run in each of his first three at-bats, while Damon showed off what is left of his once-elite speed by tripling and stealing a base. Both of them have made major strides at the plate recently, bringing respectability back to a pair of very scrutinized positions.
Michael Brantley contributed three more hits and a walk, and just like that, he has another double-digit hit streak in effect. One of those hits extended the game with two outs in the ninth, but he would not come around to score the tying run. The model of consistency through 85 games, he has gone no more than three games without a hit, and has hit in 41 of his last 44 starts. Despite the 22-game run coming to an end, he never really stopping streaking, and his swing was never any less pretty.
This game was an absolute mixed bag for Shin-Soo Choo, so categorizing it was difficult. In each of his first three at-bats, he went down swinging on Shields changeups. He managed to finally stay on one the fourth time, lining a center back up the box. The biggest hit of his day came in the eighth, when he put a breaking ball over the 400 foot marker in straightaway center, extending the lead to two. His breakthrough work in the leadoff spot continues to be very Sizemoreesque (with less speed).
Jason Kipnis carried on doing what Jason Kipnis does. He extended the third inning with a hustle double, deflected a base hit off of his adversary to start the fifth, and motored around to score both times. The dude just plays baseball at a different gear, and it is so easy to appreciate.
Joe Smith, Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano tooks turns preserving the team's one-run lead in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Pestano was the only one to experience any difficulty, having to work out of trouble after a hit and a walk. For Sipp, it was his fifth straight clean appearance. The team let him work through his troubles, and it seems to have paid off.
For the first time since Opening Day, Chris Perez failed to come through in a save situation. The Indians had a two-run cushion going into the bottom of the ninth, but four hits led to three runs, giving the Rays a lead for the first time in the game. It was a rare misstep in what has otherwise been an impressive first half.
Cabrera continues to struggle in the field, and the issue was likely never physical. It's not as if he is a completely incapable Major League shortstop all of a sudden. The lapses are coming on the most routine plays, and as they mount, so does that little bit of doubt in the back of his mind. He isn't the first baseball player to ever go through such a spell, and he won't be the last.
Just before the game got underway, word came down that Nick Hagadone suffered a self-inflicted injury to his pitching hand following his appearance in Friday's game. He fractured a bone in the wrist area, and is set to see a specialist soon. This sounds like it could very well be a season-ending injury.
Next up: The All-Star break. The Indians go into it with a mark of 44-41, three games off the pace in the Central. Cabrera and Perez will play in the main attraction on Wednesday, while the rest of the team gets a chance to recharge. After the four-day layoff, the team travels to Toronto for the first three games of the second half.
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Cut Damon, Call up LaPorta (sink or swim time), platoon LaPorta and Duncan in LF/DH/1B role.
Cut Duncan if/when we land a RH bat, cut Cunningham if/when Grady returns.
Chen to AAA (takes LaPorta's spot)
Neal to AAA (takes Crowe's spot, who is apparently gone)
Aguilar to AA (takes Chen's spot)
Kluber to Pen (takes Accardo's spot)
Wright to AAA (takes Kluber's spot in the rotation)