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Tribe Happenings: Wildcard hopes are still alive for the Indians

Tribe Happenings: Wildcard hopes are still alive for the Indians
Yan Gomes and the Indians are ready to let it all hang out this week at home. (Photo: AP)
September 22, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Wildcard hopes

Today marks the beginning of the final week of the regular season in baseball. With seven days of games remaining, there are still several postseason spots up for grabs and still unsettled. One of those spots is the AL Wildcard which is still unclear and could still end in a wild finish this weekend.

For the second year in a row the Indians are playing meaningful baseball games going into the final week of the season. As a fan, there is not much more you can ask for aside from obviously winning a championship. The main goal of every season is to compete for a playoff spot and to just get in and see where things go from there, and for the second year in a row the Indians are doing that. This is the first time they have done it two years in a row since the 2000-2001 seasons, which are also the last two seasons they finished with a winning record. With one win in their final seven games the Indians will do just that.

The Indians have not made it easy on themselves this month. They are just 5-5 in their last 10 games and 10-10 this month. Thankfully, while they have been playing .500 ball so have the rest of the wildcard contenders as they have been playing at a .500 or worse clip themselves which has kept the Indians in it. The Indians looked to be dead in the water after getting swept out of Motown last weekend and then losing to the Astros in the first game of their series last Monday, but have since recovered and won five of six to set themselves up for this big final week of the season.

The way things look, the Indians pretty much have to sweep the Royals to have any thoughts of jumping over them in the wildcard standings before the end of the season. They are four back in the loss column with seven games to play, so a four game sweep obviously pulls them to even with them. While winning three of the four games would be nice, it would probably severely damage their playoff hopes as they would still be two games back in the loss column with four days to play (four games for the Royals, three games for the Indians).

Thankfully, the Indians are home for their final seven games. They have played much better at home and there has been a good amount of magic at Progressive Field this season. It is probably going to take a 7-0 finish at home with a few magical moments for this team to have any shot at making it to the postseason. A 6-1 finish could still make things interesting, but they just have too many games to make up in so little time with the Mariners, Royals and Athletics that it may not be enough.

The big key there is that even if the Indians sweep the Royals, it does not guarantee the Indians are in line for a wildcard spot. The Athletics and Mariners could win out or a high percentage of their games and still keep the Indians out of the playoffs, so the Indians are going to need some help. That help could come in the form of the Angels who own the AL’s best record and play each of the Athletics and Mariners this week. They play the Athletics the next three nights in Oakland and then play the Mariners in Seattle this coming weekend.

No matter what happens and  how things play out, this has been another fun – though frustrating at times – season for the Indians. As has been talked about many times already on this site for the past few weeks, they have really taken a major step forward as a franchise this season with the coming together of a very good starting rotation over the long term and the emrgence of some key star position players. There is a lot to be excited about going into 2015…..let’s just hope all the talk for next season can be set aside a little longer with the Indians enjoying another fantastic finish like last season and gaining a berth into the postseason.

Late-inning bullpen woes

If the Indians do see their postseason hopes vanish this week, they need to look no further than the amount of late inning games they have blown in September alone as a major reason they missed out on the postseason dance.

The Indians started the month with two blown saves in three games from Cody Allen, one against the Tigers on September 1st and the other against the Royals on August 31st (the suspended game). Over the past week and a half they have lost five games, three of which they had the lead late and had one of their top two arms in the game in Bryan Shaw or Allen. Unfortunately, Shaw blew two straight games against the Tigers last weekend on homers and Allen blew the save in a crucial game on Friday night against the Twins. Those five blown saves over the past three weeks could be what they look back on as an opportunity they lost to get on a roll and push themselves over the top and into the poseason.

Yes, the sloppy defensive play all season has been a problem, the inconsistent offense and the rotation struggles early in the year did not help either. But in a game where so many things are put under the microscope, it is those key moments late in games which often times can be the difference between a team having five more wins or losses.

What this season has shown is the Indians have missed Joe Smith more than originally thought. He was a big loss in the offseason, but one that they felt they could fill with the emergence of another young reliever or with another free agent pickup. That never happened with a young right-handed reliever stepping up, and no free agent really helped. Yes, John Axford was okay when he was here, but he was more of a Chris Perez replacement. And yes, Scott Atchison has proven valuable, but he’s been more of a Matt Albers replacement.  For as well as Atchison has pitched this year it would be foolish to expect him to repeat it next year, so you want to keep him in a versatile, utility role in the bullpen.

The Indians have not been able to find that suitable replacement for Smith, and it has shown with the way Terry Francona has really overworked Shaw and Allen this season. Last year, Francona had the trio of Smith, Shaw and Allen at his disposal anytime in the seventh or eighth inning. Now, he just has Shaw for the seventh and eighth inning because Smith is gone, Allen is closing and no one else has really stepped up to the level of what Smith provided them.

While I will be the first to tell you I dislike the save stat and am no fan of the save percentage statistic, a team that blows a high amount of leads in the sixth inning or later is never a good thing. Right now the Indians have 23 blown saves, which is tied for the third most in all of baseball. Their 61.7% save conversion rate is fourth worst in all of baseball. The league average is 18 blown saves, so with 23 blown saves imagine if the Indians had converted on five of those save opportunities and been at the league average….they might have three to five more wins and be in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth.

The Indians have to use what they have right now which is Shaw and Atchison in late innings and Allen as a closer and see where it takes them this final week of the regular season. But once this season officially ends, they are going to need to search hard for a reliable setup man to team up with Shaw or a closer so that Allen can move back to setup duties.

It is imperative the Indians find another late inning arm to add to the mix. While they have a lot of prospect depth and others ready to help out at some point next season, several of them are inexperienced at the big league level and some of them really disappointed this season. They need to find at least one reliable late inning right-handed arm to help get the bullpen back to the set up it had last season.

Three’s company

While the Indians have some work to do this offseason with finding another right-handed option or two for the bullpen, they look pretty strong in the bullpen from the left-side. The emergence of Kyle Crockett, the resurgence of Nick Hagadone and the steadiness of Mark Rzepczynski have really solidified them in that key area of the bullpen.

Crockett has been exceptional in his big league debut appearing in 40 games going 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA (28.0 IP, 26 H, 2 HR, 8 BB, 25 K). He has been more of a matchup guy often appearing in games to face one or two lefties holding them to a .217 average and .571 OPS. He is looking like the Indians second matchup lefty in the pen for next year (right-handers are hitting .302 with a .863 OPS off him).

Rzepczynski has been one of the better pickups by the front office the last two years. He has solidified himself as the team’s top lefty option out of the pen and one of the most reliable in all of baseball. He has appeared in 70 games and is 0-3 with a 2.80 ERA, but more impressively has been lethal against lefties holding them to a .175 average and .434 OPS. Like Crockett, he is better served to mostly be used in matchup situations only as when he does face right-handers they are hitting .343 with a .956 OPS off him.

Hagadone has found himself again this season and has established himself as a Major League pen option for the Indians going forward. In 34 appearances he is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA (23.0 IP, 17 H, 3 HR, 6 BB, 27 K), but he has been equally as successful against lefties (.200 AVG, .599 OPS) as he has righties (.211 AVG, .645 OPS). He is kind of the Carlos Carrasco of the bullpen as a guy who has had numerous opportunities and a player the Indians are running out of time with (he is out of options after this season), and he finally looks to have solidified himself as someone that the team trusts in key spots at any point in the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up an option as the team’s closer at some point down the road.

It is tough to have three left-handers in a seven or eight man bullpen, but that is the way things are looking for next season. It would be tough if all three were straight up matchup only options, but that is not the case here as Hagadone has proven to be a guy who can handle both righties and lefties. With the trio of Hagadone, Crockett and Rzepczynski (they will tender him and pay him next year) along with the trio of Allen, Shaw and Atchison it makes for a nice bullpen to build around.

It is a nice group which complements each other well. Now, the Indians just need to find that one veteran late inning right-handed arm to add to the mix and have a young player or two step up to the forefront next season like Crockett and Hagadone did this season.

Kluber for Cy?

Indians ace right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber is on some kind of roll. Since his disastrous outing against the Tigers on September 1st (2.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R/ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 2 K), he has bounced back with four straight outings of 7.0 or more innings allowing no more than two earned runs. He has also piled up back-to-back 14-strikeout outings.

Kluber, 28, is now 17-9 with a 2.53 ERA in 33 starts this season. In 227.2 innings he has allowed 202 hits, 14 homers, 49 walks and has 258 strikeouts. Those numbers are exceptional and when compared to his peers make him Cy Young worthy. He is tied for 2nd in the AL in wins (Weaver – 18), 4th in ERA (Hernandez – 2.07), 2nd in innings pitched (Price – 232.1), tied for 2nd in K/9 with a 10.20 K/9 (Sale – 10.61), 11th in BB/9 (1.94), 5th in HR/9 (0.55), 2nd in xFIP with a 2.59 xFIP (Hernandez – 2.52) and is 1st in WAR with a 7.0 (Hernandez is a distant 2nd at 6.1).

Looking at the numbers, it should be a two horse race between Kluber and Hernandez for the Cy Young. Kluber has one more start next weekend to stake his claim on the award, but it may ultimately come down to which one of the Indians or Mariners makes it into the postseason which determines the winner of the award.

Parting shots

Right-hander Zach McAllister has been impressive in some late inning bullpen appearances as his velocity has spiked and he has been dominant. He still has a lot of value to the team as a starting option for them next year, but seeing how he is out of options he is someone who will probably get the Carlos Carrasco treatment and start next year in the bullpen unless someone gets hurt or he is traded in the offseason. … Over the weekend outfielder Michael Brantley became the ninth Indians player in franchise history to have 20 or more home runs and 20 or more stolen bases in the same season. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis is battling soreness in his right hamstring and missed two games on Friday and Saturday before playing as the designated hitter on Sunday. … Outfielder Ryan Raburn’s season is over after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on Friday to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. It will take six to eight weeks to completely heal from the injury and he is expected to be 100% for spring training.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Jeff P
September 23, 2014 - 12:23 PM EDT
I can't disagree with much that's been said here, but I also know we are not upping payroll next season, so our options will be limited as always. I think Scrabble is a trade candidate. The 2 million he'll get in arbitration for a third lefty can be used elsewhere. A substantial RH bat is a pipe dream, as the very, very few in free agency will demand top dollar and the trade price will be very high. Even if as posited we were to get a Beltre(Texas isn't dealing him as they want to contend next season), who thinks we are taking payroll to 90m plus? The moves to sign Swish and Bourn were bold 2 years ago, but they are an anchor now. No one is taking those contracts, so we'll mix and match and hope for bouncebacks. A trade is possible but we'll have to clear payroll somewhere, and I can't see us cutting loose Aviles as we should, dealing Murphy as we should, Scrabble as we should. We could have 2 rotation depth options making 3-4 million in the bullpen and Columbus if we keep both Zmac and Tomlin.

Payroll will be 85 million or so again, and we'll enter next season dependent on basically the same parts as this year. With our payroll situation I still think our best bet is to sign Headley to play 3B on a 1 year deal, deal Murphy, and move Lonnie to RF. That's realistic. Getting a big money RH bat is not. That type of deal would also allow us to sign a couple of major league pen arms. It's not perfect, but it never will be here. We just better hope we can get close to fair contract value out of Swisher next year and Kipnis does bounce back. If they do not, we'll be playing a lot of 3-2, 2-1 games again
Tito the Puppet
September 23, 2014 - 3:23 AM EDT
Also, Hiram i dont want to hear this CRAP about "If Kipnis and Swisher were healthy this lineup would be so much more potent." Look at Swisher's career stats, career .249 hitter, he is OVERRATED. What about when Kipnis was healthy and the last 2 seasons before this one he didnt show up in the 2nd half? What's your excuse then? Kipnis is NEVER consistent for 2 halves, he played well in the first half of the season, and then his numbers went down in the 2nd half. (WHEN HEALTHY AS WELL.) Kipnis is eating himself out of the league and he needs to stop going to Taco bell late nights.
Vic Venom
September 23, 2014 - 3:18 AM EDT
The ownership, Antonetti, and Shapiro are ALL a frickin joke. They should just move this team. I dont blame only 10k for showing up to last night's game. You play these BUMS like Holt, Shuck, and Gimenez. Most important game of the year and you come with the Bad News Bears lineup. Couldn't even call up Lindor because they are afraid to start his clock and are so god damn cheap with the arbitration stuff. I am done, that's it. Tito is a PUPPET, he's a YES MAN.
September 22, 2014 - 11:52 PM EDT
I'm in disbelief that Francona started Gimenez. Also, why is Schuck getting a crucial pinch hit late in the game? The guy has a .168 OBP on the year and a .050 OBP with the tribe.

Some of Francona's ridiculous lineups and the stress he's put on the bullpen have really hurt the tribe this year. He may be a great motivator, but he's gotta be one of the worst decision makers in baseball.
September 22, 2014 - 9:41 PM EDT
Inexcusable lineup put out there by Francona tonight. Absolutely no reason Gimenez should have been in the game. None. Wow, what did Aguilar do to deserve this fate with the Indians?
September 22, 2014 - 8:17 PM EDT
The Indians have done great jobs staffing their pen these last few years, but I had a hard time believing in those pens (outside of a few obvious guys each year) at he beginning of each season. Lets not forget we have seen some very mediocre bullpens on our team over the years, so I'm nearly always a show-me fan of the bullpen. But next seasoning (probably unreasonably) optimistic; we aren't going to lose anyone to free agency and they should be used less next year than in 2014 (since our rotation looks like it could be outstanding). I'd like to find one more starter over the offseason or next spring, for depth, and see a good competition for the bullpen and I'll be happy.
Joe Chengery
September 22, 2014 - 7:33 PM EDT
Before you guys write off Tomlin from the rotation or the team, keep these numbers in mind:


That's the number of innings Tomlin threw in 2012 AND 2013 (2 IP in a rehab start for the Arizona Indians in 2013).


That's the number of IP he's now thrown in 2014. As I said before, I think Tomlin is gassed- he doesn't beat himself, yet he's been walking guys and falling behind in the count for the past two to three months. I want to see what he can do with a full offseason of rest and no rehabbing- he's still in the mix for the five spot with McAllister and House. Yes, House may have a leg up, but I'm not ready to give him that spot just yet - he still has to outpitch the other two next March to claim it to start 2015.

McAllister's stuff does play up in the bullpen, but he did have strong value as a starter; he just seemed to be out of whack and not on the same page with Gomes when it came to attacking hitters. As for Tomlin, I think the TJ surgery did help his stuff and swing-and-miss ability a bit- thus I wouldn't rule him out of the rotation or bullpen just yet. Certainly I like our top 7 next year and think it's the best top 7 we've had since I've been following the Indians since the mid- to late-80s.

Tondo, Hagadone has always had the stuff, but between the injury and getting down on himself for faltering on his first chance, I don't think it's out of the question that's he's found it now. You'd be hard-pressed to find a LHH reliever with better stuff that the Indians can get- thus he's in the bullpen to start 2015 unless he absolutely implodes and looks completely lost in Spring Training.

Also, I wouldn't write off Crockett on handling RHH - it's too small a sample size. Granted, I probably don't let Crockett face Cabrera and Pujols, but lesser RHH would still be an option. Francona has to learn which guys can get both sides out, and that's not going to happen by just presuming a LHP can't get a RHH out- Hagadone definitely should, as his stuff is as good as it gets; Crockett doesn't have enough of a track record to say he's just a matchup guy or LOOGY- doing that too prematurely could lead to similar issues in the future where the bullpen is overused too much, even if they do find a suitable RH replacement for Smith in the future. (Maybe Lee with more experience could fill that role in time, though probably not to start 2015, but his skillset, repertoire, and even delivery remind me of Smith's, hence why I think he could be a candidate to help fill Smith's role in the future).

September 22, 2014 - 7:16 PM EDT
Gimenez playing 1B in this game says all one needs to know about the teams opinion of Aquilar and our team needs.
September 22, 2014 - 6:48 PM EDT

Shaw is a very good set up man... he hasn't been as effective recently because he's just been overused. I agree with Tony that another late inning arm is needed to take the pressure off of Shaw and get high leverage outs. Now do I think the FO will do that, I do not. I don't see them paying 5 mill a year for a 7th or 8th inning guy.

I think the offense and somewhat reliable pitching depth are more important than getting one more bullpen guy, but if they can make it work financially, it would sure help this team.
September 22, 2014 - 5:24 PM EDT
September 22, 2014 - 4:32 PM EDT
I don't trust Hagadone, probably never will. His FIP in Columbus was 4.13 and with the Indians it's 3.26. Would not be sad to see him included in a trade this offseason."

Hagadone is I believe one year older than Kluber. He is at the point in his career that he should emerge now or never. He has the stuff. Tomlin does not. Austin Adams also has the stuff to succeed - and is the same age as Nick. IMO these two guys are our best two hopes to emerge.

All of that said, the ~$30 million for Bourne and Swisher is what really needs an ROI.

September 22, 2014 - 4:43 PM EDT
Tomlin has options left next season so will be depth In columbus. As for McAllister, there is no way I'm giving him the keys to a late inning bullpen role right now. He has looked good in a few outings but I would rather keep him as starting depth for next year and as the long man in the pen. Almost exactly the same way the Indians handled Carrasco this year.
September 22, 2014 - 4:33 PM EDT
Thanks for this article Tony. Good insights.

This is exactly why I haven't been very sanguine about the BP, we never replaced Smith, we put Axford in a back-end situation that he (like Perez) simply can't handle any more, and we asked guys like Atchison and Shaw to be in roles that they were not best suited for.

After seeing the last few games where McAllister has mowed them down out of the pen, I think Robert's right: McAllister could be that missing piece, the setup, 8th inning guy. That said, I have no problem with them adding another experienced BP arm and another experienced SP. Tomlin seems like a fine guy at the back of the BP, as he can go short or long, depending on the situation. I think its pretty clear that he's no longer a starting option...
September 22, 2014 - 4:32 PM EDT
I don't trust Hagadone, probably never will. His FIP in Columbus was 4.13 and with the Indians it's 3.26. Would not be sad to see him included in a trade this offseason.
C L Who
September 22, 2014 - 4:25 PM EDT
Francona can drive a fan nuts with the way he shuttles the pen in for one out stays, but of the three lefties in the pen, only Hagadone is as good at getting right handed hitters out as left handed. Rep and Crockett are very vulnerable to right hand hitting. The Tribe should sign two pen pitchers that are effective against any kind of hitter.

I disagree with the idea of putting the two failed starters in the pen......maybe one (Zach) but not Tomlin. The league has figured him out pretty well. He doesn't always give up runs, but he always puts runners on.
Go Tribe
September 22, 2014 - 4:02 PM EDT
You figure the prelim bullpen in 2015 looks like this: Allen, Shaw, Atchison, Rzep, Crockett, Hagodone. Which would leave 1 or 2 spots open. I would have to think McAllister gets one spot if he doesn't win a rotation job. since he's out of options next year.

Which would leave 1 spot open.

So what about Josh Tomlin... Does he have any more options left next year? If not, I'd have to think he makes the last bullpen spot (provided he doesn't win a rotation job as well), right?
September 22, 2014 - 4:00 PM EDT
The answer is in your article. McAllister seems not to have the secondary stuff to be a starter - but he has the power arm for a single inning. I also think someone needs to look at Hagadon as something other than a left handed hitter option. What difference does it make if he is left handed if he can get anyone out?

September 22, 2014 - 3:04 PM EDT
It is all on the line tonight. The Indians have to take both games. A split combined with a Mariners and A's win ends it.

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