Second Thoughts Game #99: Twins 2, Indians 1
Following a disappointing series in Minnesota to start the "second half" of the season, the Indians traveled far west for a three-game set with the Mariners. As was the case in the two losses against the Twins, the team pitched well enough to win, but the offense just couldn't do enough to make it stand up.
Status quo Ubaldo
If you've seen one Ubaldo Jimenez start this season, you've essentially seen them all. Frankly, I could have pre-written this assessment, but I didn't think Tony would appreciate that much.
This is what we know about the 2013 Jimenez. He strikes out many hitters, walks many hitters (and thus, throws a lot of pitches) and doesn't give up many hits, though he is susceptible to letting them go out of the ballpark when he does (almost exclusively the solo variety, however). Monday's affair featured more of the same.
He labored, and a lot of his 110 pitches were made under duress. He allowed nine baserunners (five hits and four walks), but there wasn't a run manufactured against him. Mostly by executing his breaking pitches, Jimenez has managed to make a living out of escaping traffic and keeping the Indians in games this season.
Both runs came via solo homers. He missed twice, once with a splitter to Kendry Morales and once with an 0-2 fastball to Mike Zunino, and unfortunately, those two mistakes put he and the team on the wrong end of this game.
Since April 29th, Jimenez has allowed 33 runs in 87.1 innings (3.40 earned run average). While he has averaged less than six innings over those 16 starts, it is difficult to be disappointed by what he has offered the Indians to this point. When you consider his first year and a half with the Indians, it has been a downright revelation.
A Swisher switch
Looking to shake something loose from either of his two most consistent and proven hitters that have underperformed so far this season, Terry Francona decided to swap Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher in the lineup.
The move seemed to have an instant impact on Swisher, as he homered for the first time since July 6th in his first at-bat as the number two hitter. He went on to add a well-placed bloop single in his next at-bat.
The home run was just his 10th of the year, and while he has still managed to get on base, it has been his power that has been missing so far as an Indian. Never in his career as a full-time player (all but his rookie campaign) has he had less than 53 extra-base hits in a season. As it stands, he is at 27 and on pace for 44 with 63 games left. The shoulder injury that put him on the disabled list will leave him short of his ~149 game per season pace over that span, but it has clearly affected more than that.
The rest of the offense falters, but it is not broken
You always wonder how the All-Star break can affect teams, particularly when one is playing well going into it. So far, the time off seems to have taken a toll on the Indians' offense.
Obviously, one run isn't going to cut it often. The lineup managed just five hits, and none of them came with runners in scoring position (0-for-7). In the first four games since a four-day vacation, they have just 12 runs and 23 hits, seven and nine of which came in Sunday's finale against the Twins.
As the trade deadline nears, many have expressed serious concern about the team's sticks, and a desire to add one (or more). Despite this slow start, I am not one of them.
On the season, the Indians rank fifth in all of baseball in runs scored. And even if you look at more recently, there are second (behind only these Mariners) over the last 30 days. Beyond that, they are among the best in just about every offensive category that really matters: top-10 in on-base, slugging, weighted on-base average, weighted runs created-plus, etc. All of those rankings don't include last night's game, but the point still stands that they seem to be just fine in the grand scheme of things.
Keep in mind that those things are true, all while Swisher and Cabrera haven't lived up to their billings, Carlos Santanawas down in the middle months and Mark Reynolds has fallen off a proverbial cliff. Adding a hitter likely wouldn't hurt, but I don't think it is quite a big-picture need just because of a few duds lately.
Up next: Game two of three in Seattle. The Indians will send Zach McAllister to the mound for the first time in nearly two months. Luckily, they will miss the Mariners' two best starters (Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma) in this series.
There are two LH run producers in Kipnis and Brantley who do their job. Santana is a good hittter but does not really produce runs the way the Indians need in cleanup. Swisher and Cabrera are decent complementary players who could fit in the two or six hole but not a big run producer even when completely healthy which they are not. That leaves Stubbs and the bench bats which are all good enough but not run producers to rely upon.
This is not a bad team but it is not a great one. It doesn't really have a pitching stud or a RH hitting stud either. They could easily get by with current RPs if they had those and a LH RP the team could rely upon. The starters are adequate, including Ubaldo. They are doing well for a VERY small market team with no money from attendance. Expecting more is not realistic.