Notes From the Wigwam: Divisional race effectively ends
Indians go 1-5 this past week to fall to 7.5 games back but Wildcard hope remains
Remember when the Indians were in the thick of the American League Central race? Well, it’s safe to say that race is officially over.
The Indians went 1-5 this past week, which all but ensures that the Detroit Tigers will clinch the AL Central. The Tribe’s performance was especially difficult to take because the Oakland Athletics actually won 3-of-4 games against the Tigers, so the team could have made up some serious ground had they not been swept by the Atlanta Braves.
Following the week’s action, the Indians’ record now sits at 72-64, but there does happen to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Even with the rough week, the Indians are just 3 ½ games back in the AL Wild Card race. In other words, despite the fact that the team played downright terrible, the Indians will still have a chance to take home one of the two Wild Card spots.
This next week now becomes incredibly crucial as the Indians begin play against the Baltimore Orioles (another Wild Card contender) today before the schedule starts to ease up a bit. Now is the time for the Tribe to put it all together because one more bad week could essentially eliminate them from the playoff picture.
With that being said, let’s take one look back at the week that was…
August 27 at Atlanta, L 2-0 (WP: Wood, LP: Salazar)
August 28 at Atlanta, L 3-2 (WP: Kimbrel, LP: Smith)
August 29 at Atlanta, L 3-1 (WP: Medlen, LP: Jimenez)
August 30 at Detroit, L 7-2 (WP: Porcello, LP: McAllister)
August 31 at Detroit, L 10-5 (WP: Sanchez, LP: Kazmir)
September 1 at Detroit, W 4-0 (WP: Smith, LP: Benoit)
Player of the Week
Michael Brantley — Left fielder
6 G, 7-for-21, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 BB, 1 K, 3 SB
Brantley’s week was definitely not great, but it was the best for the Indians during this stretch, which just shows how bad things really were. The nice thing is that Brantley did collect a hit in every contest, and he is now riding a nice six-game hit streak. The other impressive aspect for Brantley is the fact that he stole three bases during the week. With 15 stolen bases on the season, it does appear as if there could be an outside chance that Brantley could top 20 stolen bases for the first time in his career. It would be nice if the steals would continue to come for Brantley as this was an area that he excelled in during his minor league career. In fact, in 116 games with the Columbus Clippers in 2009, Brantley actually swiped 46 bases while being thrown out just five times. However, he has never been able to replicate that type of success in the Major Leagues as the 15 stolen bases this season is already a career high. Nonetheless, one nice thing is that Brantley has been much more efficient when he attempts to steal as he’s only been caught three times this season, yet he was thrown out nine times in 19 attempts in 2012. While his batting average may down this year (.274 compared to .288 in 2012), it’s nice to see that Brantley is still making progress in one department. Plus, there’s still one month of the season to go, and Brantley is entering the month in the midst of a nice little hit streak, so that has to be considered a positive.
A Rough Week
Zach McAllister — Starting Pitcher
1 GS, 3.2 IP, 5 R/ER, 4 BB, 3 K.
McAllister’s rough outing this past week was especially discouraging simply for the fact that it followed a string of three great outings for the big right-hander. Unfortunately, McAllister could not replicate that success and labored against the Tigers as he threw 76 pitches in 3 2/3 innings of work before he was finally taken out of the game. What made the outing even worse was the fact that McAllister could not limit the damage during those 3 2/3 innings as he allowed five earned runs across that span, which essentially guaranteed that the Indians would open the crucial series with a loss. The Indians will have to hope that this past outing was nothing more than an outlier and not a trend because McAllister is going to be incredibly important to the team during this final month. Z-Mac is on the mound for Wednesday’s series finale against the Baltimore Orioles, and it’s imperative that he put forth the type of outing that fans have come to expect from him this season.
Minor League Player of the Week
Jordan Smith — Outfielder, Carolina Mudcats
5 G, 10-for-21, 4 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K
Smith played outstanding this past week as he collected 10 hits in five games to raise his season line to .292/.369/.401. Unfortunately for Smith though, it’s tough to call the season a huge success as he failed to improve in the power department as he collected just five home runs on the year. Nonetheless, the batting average is still there, and it seems easy to conclude that Smith will begin next season as a member of the Akron Aeros. For quite some time, many have said that Smith has the ability to one day be a solid Major League contributor, but there are still question marks. As noted earlier, the fact that he does not hit for power limits his potential, and Smith is also already 23-years-old. He was among one of the older players in the Carolina League, so his dominance this season should have been expected. Nonetheless, it’s still hard not to like the overall body of work as Smith now owns a .303/.376/.419 line in a combined three minor league seasons. Perhaps he could one day develop into a Michael Brantley-type player or maybe he could become a fourth outfielder at the next level. The bottom line is that he’ll be an interesting player to keep tabs on over these next couple years.
The Indians’ team batting average during the month of August.
News & Notes
— Ubaldo Jimenez had another excellent start this past week against the Atlanta Braves as the right-hander went seven innings and allowed just seven hits and three runs. Jimenez also struck out 10 batters, which now gives him a total of 20 strikeouts in his last two games. Unfortunately, Jimenez was unable to pick up the win as the Tribe’s offense faltered in the contest and could not back him despite the strong performance. Nonetheless, this was just the latest of a string of impressive performances for Jimenez, who now has a 2.53 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star Break. While it was indeed an awful week for the Indians, one of the positive developments is the fact that Jimenez continues to perform well even though it seems as if regression is inevitable. Also, perhaps the best part of his start against the Braves is the fact that he did not walk any batters in the contest, which was a first for this season. The Tribe’s playoff hopes may seem to be slipping away by the day, but if this next month is going to be crucial, so the team will need Jimenez to stay on a roll. His string of success in the second half has to be considered a massive positive at this point.
— Could Danny Salazar’s time as a member of the Indians’ rotation be coming to an end? The right-hander made two starts for the Indians during this past week, but his season innings total now sits at 126, so it seems as if the team may look to shut him down before too long. This also seems to make sense considering the news that right-hander Corey Kluber is expected to return from the disabled list and start this Friday if his bullpen session goes well today. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to understate what a boost Salazar has provided to this rotation. When Kluber went down with an injury, there were numerous concerns in regard to how the team would be able to respond, but Salazar has filled in admirably and made the loss much easier. Salazar had a bit of an up-and-down week this past week as the right-hander made two starts and one was okay while the other was outstanding. In his first start against the Braves, Salazar labored a bit and allowed two runs across four innings of work. What made the start so rough was the fact that Salazar seemed to be pitching quite well until he allowed a two-run double to second basemanElliot Johnson. Salazar could have just walked Johnson and brought the pitcher up to bat, but he instead decided to go after him and ultimately paid for it as the 2-0 score would stand up for the entire contest. Thankfully, Salazar rebounded nicely against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday as he held the strong Detroit offense to zero runs across six innings before the Indians could come back to win the game in the ninth. Even if Salazar’s season could be over, it’s impossible not to make note of the immense progress that he’s made this year. Not only does he look like a future ace, but he also looks like a future star, and that’s definitely a good thing for this organization moving forward.
— The Indians made somewhat of a big move this past week when they dealt right-hander Matt Langwell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Jason Kubel. Kubel is currently having somewhat of a rough season, but to his defense, he has spent much of the year playing hurt, and in 2012, the left-handed hitter compiled a .253/.327/.506 line with 30 home runs and 90 RBI for the Diamondbacks. The Indians obviously are not expecting to get those type of numbers here in September, but even if they can get just half of the player that Kubel used to be, then the team will be in for a big boost. One of the nicest things is that it gives the team another designated hitter option other than Jason Giambi. While Giambi has certainly had his moments, the departure of Mark Reynoldscombined with Ryan Raburn’s injury has forced Giambi into the lineup with much more frequency. With Kubel now in the fold, Tribe manager Terry Francona can go back to using Giambi in key pinch hit situations, which really is the best way for him to be utilized at this point of his career. In Kubel’s debut Sunday, the left-handed hitter went 1-for-3 while also drawing a walk and striking out two times. All in all, it made for a pretty mediocre debut, but Kubel’s track record does suggest that better performances are ahead. At the very least, you have to appreciate that the Indians did go out and make a move, especially since it will only cost the team about $200,000. Kubel may not be as sexy of a name as Justin Morneau, but it’s an upgrade nonetheless, which is all you can ask for at this point. Also, it just seemed unlikely that the Indians would be willing to take on the remainder of Morneau’s contract, so Kubel will have to do at this point.
— Jose Ramirez made his Major League debut Sunday as a pinch runner, and he actually accounted for the winning run in the 4-0 win. At just 20 years old, Ramirez is the fourth-youngest position player in the Major Leagues, so the fact that the Indians were so aggressive with him proves that they obviously see him as a player with major upside. In 113 games with the Akron Aeros this season, Ramirez compiled a .272/.325/.349 line with 16 doubles, six triples, three home runs, 38 RBI and 38 stolen bases. Ramirez also showed great plate discipline as he drew 39 walks and only struck out 41 times in a total of 533 plate appearances. From all indications, it appears as if the Indians will use Ramirez primarily as a pinch runner, but he will also be a player to watch at the plate. Going into the season, the IBI’s Tony Lastoria ranked Ramirez as the No. 4 prospect in the entire system, so high praise like that obviously does not just come out of nowhere. The Tribe’s current farm system may be somewhat barren in regard to position players in the upper levels, but there are some that believe Ramirez could be a legitimate difference maker. At the very least, it will be important for the team to get a look at Ramirez and his playing ability at the various infield spots. Given Asdrubal Cabrera’s struggles, the team may very well try to trade him this offseason, which would then mean Mike Aviles would take over as the starter, and the team would need a new utility man. If all goes well, that role will more than likely go to Ramirez.
— The Indians released Brett Myers this past week. The signing ended up being a colossal bust for the team as the Tribe signed him for $7 million this offseason, yet Myers rewarded them by posting a 8.02 ERA in 21 1/3 innings before he got hurt.
— The Tribe signed catcher Kelly Shoppach this past week. Shoppach last played with the Indians from 2006 to 2009, and his best season came in 2008 when he hit .261 and socked 21 home runs. Shoppach played in 35 games with the Seattle Mariners this season and compiled just a .196/.293/.346 line.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.