Second Thoughts Game #91: Blue Jays 5, Indians 4
Continued bullpen problems bite Cleveland again
With the second to last series before the All-Star break underway the Indians would send Justin Masterson onto the hill in this game for his last start in the first-half of the season. After a hot start, Masterson has scuffled overall in his last nine starts, mostly trading good starts and bad starts back and forth. Masterson faced Toronto on Opening Day, pitching six innings and giving up only run. He’ll face former Indian Esmil Rogers, traded in the offseason for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Inserted into the rotation in June by the Blue Jays, Rogers has a 3.55 ERA in seven starts thus far.
The Whole Nine
1. Another disappointing meltdown by the Indians bullpen highlighted this game. I’m of the opinion that a tied ballgame in the ninth inning is the absolute last situation that Rich Hill should pitch in, but you have to give credit where it’s due. Even though he allowed his customary walk and made it interesting, he got two important outs only to watch Joe Smith give up three runs (one charged to Hill) before getting the final out in the ninth inning and serving the Indians offense an insurmountable deficit.
2. The big hit off of Smith, pitching by the way in his fourth consecutive game, was a bases loaded single that scored THREE runs after Michael Bourn fumbled the ball in center field and then made a poor throw to second base. That run would come back to haunt the Indians as they were able to rally in the bottom of the ninth to score two runs. This was a winnable game that we let slip away with poor pitching from the pen, some untimely bad defense, and some missed opportunities early and late in the game offensively.
3. One of the other storylines in this game was Justin Masterson’s seventh inning. With two outs, a man on second base, and a pitch count over 100, Masterson proceeded to walk the next two batters and load the bases. The only pitcher warming was Preston Guilmet, who had yet to make his MLB debut, so Francona decided to keep a gassed Masterson in the game and watched him promptly give up a two-run single.
4. The point above is two-fold; once again Masterson struggled with his control. His five walks in this game give him 54 on the season, third-most in all of baseball. He had good stuff in this game throughout and Toronto found it tough to hit him, but his walk rate is the biggest reason he’s struggled in June and July. Secondly, the lack of dependable options in middle relief (or really anywhere in the bullpen) seemingly forced Francona to keep Masterson in as long as possible and the decision backfired. I have to image if the bullpen was pitching like it did in April and May, Masterson comes out of the game much sooner.
5. It’s easy to blame this loss on Francona for questionable decisions in the seventh and ninth innings regarding the bullpen, but that really glosses over the problem. He has basically one reliable reliever to work with right now. Something has to give here eventually. I’d be nice for some of the young relievers to get a chance in more prominent roles. Nick Hagadone will be back eventually and he pitched well during the month of June. It’s hard to see why he hasn’t taken Hill’s role yet. Guilmet has some promise, and C.C. Lee and Bryan Price are dominating at Columbus and are options that appear ready when needed. Of course, trades are another possibility. The question is how long are the Indians going to let this continue?
6. Some numbers on the bullpen situation: The Tribe’s relievers are 24th in baseball with a 4.18 ERA, but 12th in batting average against at .240. The reason for the big difference is walks, with Indians relievers allowing 125 walks, the most in baseball. At this point just give me some guys that are going to throw strikes.
7. The Indians had Rogers on the ropes early in the game, but failed to capitalize. Jason Kipnis grounded into a double play and Nick Swisher struck out to end a first inning that started with Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera reaching. Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana walked to start the second, with Brantley scoring on a Jason Giambi single. However, Chisenhall (pop up) and Stubbs (strikeout) followed with bad at-bats and Bourn grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. Rogers ended up settling in and pitched six strong innings for the Blue Jays in his return to Cleveland. These missed opportunities take a backseat to the bullpen collapse and failed rally in the ninth, but they hurt just as much.
8. Michael Brantley’s RBI to tie the game in the eighth inning is certainly a play that Jose Reyes should have made, and he did fly out to end the game with runners on third and second, but it’s of note that he’s hitting .387 with runners in scoring position and .424 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
9. Asdrubal Cabrera broke his 0-for-20 slump in this game by going 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. He had an ugly strikeout in the eighth inning but you have to hope this game can get him going. It’s been a rough year for Cabrera in nearly every respect. He’s posted only a 0.5 WAR on the season thus far, second worst among Indians regulars (not counting Lonnie Chisenhall). The Indians need more out of him.
We’ve seen this type of game play out all too much lately. I wish I had a count on how many games in the last month and half we’ve lost because of a meltdown in the bullpen, but it’s been far too many. The team needs to and regain some of the momentum lost during the Detroit series before the All-Star break, so a series win will be crucial. In the rubber game tomorrow we’ll see the major league debut of Danny Salazar facing R.A. Dickey in what should be an exciting game.
If you can't bring in Hill in a situation like that, why is he on the team? The Jays would have pinch hit with a right-handed hitter, but then you go to Allen to finish the inning.
Esmil Rogers walked the first two hitters in the 2nd, then fell behind Giambi and had to groove one, which Giambi lined up the middle to plate the first run. Chisenhall was up next with a big inning in the making, and you'd think he wouldn't be stupid enough to swing at the first pitch unless it was a cripple right down the middle. Instead he jumps on a fastball inside and off the plate and pops out. What an idiot. You never chse a first pitch out of the zone when a pitcher is stuggling to throw a strike.
Then Stubbs strikes out, Bourn makes the third out, and Rogers is off the hook. He settles down and ends up going six strong innings.
The error by Bourn was crucial because it allowed what proved to be the winning run to score from 1st base on a routine single. This guy is supposed to be a Gold Glove centerfielder but I'm not seeing it. I still can't believe he let a ball pop out of his glove and over the fence to give Miggy Cabrera a gift home run.
We really need Cabrera to get going. He's killing us in that 2-hole. Maybe the two hits last night will get him started.