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Second Thoughts Game #90: Yankees 5, Indians 4

Second Thoughts Game #90: Yankees 5, Indians 4
Vinnie Pestano serves up the game winning homer in the 14th. (Photo: AP)
July 10, 2014
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The Indians roller coaster season continued on Wednesday. After a galvanizing win against the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday, the Indians blew an early lead and ended up losing this game in 14 innings, 5-4.

This loss comes as the team’s stock was ticking upward. With a victory against the Yankees on Wednesday, the Indians would have ensured three straight series wins or ties, and would have been 6-2 in the month of July against some stiff competition. Instead, a late home run given up by Vinnie Pestano, after two given up earlier by Josh Tomlin, slows the team’s momentum.

The Indians are two games below .500 with four games left until the All-Star break. From a ‘moral victory’ standpoint, finishing up the first half with a .500 record despite all of the things that have gone wrong this season would be quite an accomplishment.

Home Runs Continue To Undermine Tomlin

There’s a lot to like about the year Josh Tomlin is having.  For starters, he’s nearly doubled his strikeout rate from his pre-injury years.

He’s far from the pitcher he was in 2011. That Josh Tomlin was an overachiever, a pitcher with a high 80’s fastball who was getting by on a little luck. Today, Tomlin is a bonafide major league starter. He’s more than the ‘fifth starter’ tag that’s always been cast onto him.  He’s likely the Indians second best starter, and his 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio right now is exceptional. He’s nearly doubled his strikeout rate from his pre injury years. These are both important numbers, numbers that bode well for long-term success as a middle of the rotation pitcher.

Still, Tomlin’s kypronite continues to be the long ball. He’s given up home runs in 11 of his 13 starts this year, an alarming total.  If he qualified, his home run rate of 1.41 HR/9 would be fifth worst in baseball. Without that, Tomlin would be pitching at nearly ace level (3.15 xFIP heading into Wednesday). He’s a pitcher who does a lot of things well, from fielding his position, to controlling the run game, to avoiding free passes, but the long ball is something that continues to plague him.

The Indians were in good position to get this game to their bullpen with a lead before Tomlin gave up his second home run of the night to Mark Texieira. If there’s any hope of Tomlin becoming a better pitcher than he is right now, that improvement has to come by keeping the ball in the park.

Is Swisher Back?

It was just a matter of time, right?

That seems easy, but in the midst of a season long slump you really had to wonder whether or not Nick Swisherwas ever going to snap out of it. As the months have ticked by, it looked like this season could be a total loss for Swish.  It ‘s too early to say this with any certainty, but there are some signs that Swisher could finally be unthawing. He now has a five game hitting streak going, and has a slash line of .261/.320/.565 in July.

Swisher’s WAR right now is -.09. (Fangraphs). Value wise, he’s been the worst player on the team this year by a considerable margin. A small part of that has been his struggles defensively, but the larger issue is his complete meltdown at the plate. Swisher’s strikeout rate has ballooned, until recently his power had disappeared, and he’s also been the victim of some bad luck (.253 BABIP). What’s been left is a well below replacement level first basemen making 15 million dollars a year.

There are a lot of reasons the Indians need Swisher to bounce back. The most acute problem is their need for offensive improvements internally. On a larger scale, they can’t afford to pay him the money he’ll make the next two years if he’s not going to produce.  We’ve seen the impact his bat can have this series. That’s the player the Indians need to see for the rest of the year. On a team that’s been with faced with a lot of substandard performers (Masterson, Santana, Salazar, Swisher, Bourn, Kipnis, Axford, etc.) getting someone as important as Swisher turned around would be refreshing.

Other Notes

Lonnie Chisenhall is quickly coming down to earth. So far in July his slash line is .208/.321/.333 in 24 at-bats. That’s certainly not a large sample, but even without Chisenhall hitting he’s still showing greatly improved plate discipline and provides a presence in the middle of the lineup.

- The Indians will have a chance to get a series split on Thursday against the Yankees. T.J. House will take the hill against New York’s David Phelps.

User Comments

July 10, 2014 - 8:19 PM EDT
He has a looong swing. Prone to looong slumps.

We have one big time hitter.

No clutch hitting again so far and little league quality fielding again too. Horribly played ball by Lonnie again
July 10, 2014 - 8:13 PM EDT
Who was it that wrote the column about the rebirth of Carlos Santana coupla weeks ago? Just struck out on three pitches w runners on first and third and one out? I recommended trading him the morning the column was published. I don't know what his WAR is nor do I care. He is a one dimensional hitter and a rally killer.
July 10, 2014 - 6:49 PM EDT
Tomlin does need to work on the gopher ball. Just like Salazar.
July 10, 2014 - 6:19 PM EDT
Tomlin's first home run pitch to Texeira was down and away.....a good pitch. Unfortunately Texeira has enough talent to take that pitch and hit it out. I didn't see the second one.

Tomlin's home run rate per 9 is truly a feature of his game that needs work. No pitcher to my knowledge that finished with better than a journeyman inning's eater career has an HR/9 anywhere close to 1.41.
C L Who
July 10, 2014 - 4:08 PM EDT
In the final 72 games, I'd guess the Tribe will go something like 36 - 36, unless Masterson rejoins the rotation, in which case I would expect more like 33 - 39 as he continues his march to an FA contract much less than he surely anticipated. I have advocated trading him if he couldn't be signed on this and other forums since January, so it's not my fault!

Still, it is quite amazing to me that the team is 44 - 46 right now. Most of the line up is in a slump every day, our "ace" is terrible, and the rest of the staff, except Kluber, are highly variable in outcomes game to game.

If the following things happen, the Tribe might win as many as 86 or 87 games: (a) Masterson stays out of the rotation; (b) Bauer and House continue their development; (c) McAllister continues his AAA performance at the MLB level; (c) Chis stabilizes at around .300; (d) Kip and Murph up their average to about .270 and Swish and Carlos boost theirs to at least .240; and (e) we get Nyjer Morgan back. Morgan gave this team some much needed energy, not to mention a superior performance at the plate from the average and OBP standpoints.

None of these things are pie in the sky.....they could all happen, at the same time.
July 10, 2014 - 2:09 PM EDT
Team is soo frustrating

We have one legit hitter right now. Lonnie is fading fast and we will see if the first two months were a mirage or not. Not saying .380 is expected but is he a legit .280 guy going forward or not? Gomes is hitting good as catchers go and very good as far as this team is concerned. Everyone else is a banjo hitter to date. We have no leadoff guy including Bourn and no 4 or 5 hitter for that matter.

Tough to put winning streaks together with so many guys below 260 and two below 210! Pitching other than masty hasn't been bad.

If this keeps up it's clear as much dead weight for next year. I would rather see some young guys learn here next year than mediocre vets again. A shane Bourn and swish haven't worked out.
July 10, 2014 - 11:40 AM EDT
I think this is as good as Vinnie gets at this point. There is some late life but without the velo he is marginal at the major league level. His is a roster spot that at this point should be used as OJT for Austin Adams or Tyler Sturdevant or CC Lee. As for Swisher, the Indians had the bases loaded and one out with a chance to walk off last night if Swisher puts the ball in play. He made zero contact and we all know what happened after that. He's just not getting it done either as a position player or a DH. I think the Shaponetti duo are taking the long walk around Dolan's office these days. He can't be too pleased with being on the hook for $70 million dollars for a gimpy centerfielder and a DH/1B/RF hitting a buck something.
July 10, 2014 - 11:37 AM EDT
This is a series where we should have been able to win 3 games. The NYY starting pitching is a mess but our offense is not good. Four batters last night hitting below .250 on the season.

We need a regular RF who can hit for average and has some power. Do you really want to go with Murphy & Raburn platoon again next season?

We should be selective sellers. Asdrubal has to go.
July 10, 2014 - 11:31 AM EDT
Think Pestano's stint in the WBC last spring set him back alot? Both C.Perez and Pestano's Indians' career took a dive right after that. I don't mind the WBC but it shouldn't be in Spring Training. Competitive games that early can hurt a guy. Even Giovanni Soto hasn't been the same since his time there.
July 10, 2014 - 10:24 AM EDT
I know that Pestano's numbers have been good since he has returned.....but he is still not back from a stuff standpoint. He was 89-90 with every fastball last night. And the slider didn't look as good as it once did.

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