Second Thoughts: Game #88 - Blue Jays 3, Indians 0
Sunday's rubber match between the Indians and Blue Jays was drastically different from the game before it, as both teams pitched well enough to win. Another sleepwalking performance from the lineup and one unfortunate inning put the Indians at a disadvantage, and led to a series loss to start the second half of the season.
Derek Lowe threw five brilliant innings. The other frame was a bit more troublesome. All three runs, all three hits and three of the four walks he allowed on the day came in a third inning that ultimately decided the game. The trio of hits were all singles, none hit very hard and none on horribly located pitches. His command left him for a period of time, and it cost him dearly. This was a fine outing that the team would take every fifth day, no problem. But on a day where the offense contributes exactly nothing, all they have to show for it is a loss.
Just like that, Michael Brantley has another extended hit streak (13 games). Two more hits (both doubles) put him up and over 100 for the season, and he is the leader of the offense right now. In 13 plate appearances since the break, he has reached base 10 times. In his last eight games, he is 17-for-34, with five doubles, three home runs, nine runs batted in and four walks. Besides hits, he sets the team pace in average, doubles (tied) and triples (tied), and is second in runs batted in and stolen bases. It is worth repeating that he probably ends up being better than anyone ever expected, and this season is the beginning of that.
Joe Smith came on to spell Lowe in the seventh, and despite allowing a pair of doubles, pitched two scoreless innings. He has kept pace with Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez all season, and it is quite a luxury once again, especially considering how volatile bullpens can be from year to year.
This was another mostly poor game for Carlos Santana, but he did do a few different things well and it is too trendy to pile on him right now, so he will be featured twice. He did reach base twice, once via bunt base hit away from the shift, something he should take advantage of more often. He also did a great job of catching/blocking a number of errant Lowe sinkers.
On the down side for Santana, he continues to press and fail more often than not at the plate. In his other two at-bats, he chased a 3-2 breaking ball that almost hit him and flew out. And all was not stellar defensively, as he put a good pitch to throw on into center field, allowing the steal and an extra base to really set off that decisive third inning. There is reason to worry, but it's difficult to imagine him all of a sudden forgetting how to hit for the first time in his life, and he is still getting on base at an excellent rate.
In a game full of frustrating at-bats, Johnny Damon put together the most frustrating collection of all. The Indians had a chance to get on the board with a runner on third and one out in the second, but Damon skied a 2-0 fastball on the infield. In his next at-bat, he struck out on three pitches with two more on. He capped off his day with a recurring lazy fly out. He may have turned a corner at the plate recently, but it's still tough to have any kind of confidence in him. The same goes for Casey Kotchman, who had an equally miserable offensive day.
Asdrubal Cabrera snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a laced single on the first pitch he saw in this game, but went on to strike out, ground into a double play and hit a weak roller with a runner on. He did just miss hitting a home run (foul) in his second at-bat, but this is still about the most extended slide for him all season. If this is the beginning of another second-half bottoming out from him, the Indians really have little chance of sticking around.
With this loss and White Sox and Tigers victories, the Indians fall into third place, and four games back of first. Despite that, they are right in the thick of the Wild Card race, as seven teams are within a game and a half of the two spots.
This was yet another frustrating offensive performance, but the team still managed 10 baserunners in what was a three-run game. All of them were left on base, thanks to an 0-for-10 in scoring position situations.
Next up: The Indians travel from Toronto to Tampa Bay, matching up with the Rays for another four-game set. The series between the two teams immediately before the break was split at two games apiece.
For more Indians insight from Kevin, along with ticket giveaways, follow him on Twitter: @KevinIPI. He can also be reached by way of email at email@example.com.