Second Thoughts: AL Wildcard – Rays 4, Indians 0
A packed Progressive Field was rocking at the start of last night’s AL Wildcard game between the Rays and Indians, but it was not enough as the Indians fell short 4-0. With the win, the Rays move on to face the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday in Fenway Par. With the loss, the Indians get set to pack their bags and head home for the season.
Before I look a little more deeply into the game, I want to commend the Indians once again on a fantastic season.
Was it frustrating at times? Sure, it was. But overall, they have nothing to be ashamed about losing that game last night. They had a very good year winning 92 games and bouncing back from a demoralizing 2012 season that was one of the worst in their history just in terms of the way fans were left feeling hopeless at the end of the season. Now, with a very successful season in the books, hopefully the faith has been restored.
In a lot of ways this team arrived a year early as many felt like 2014 would be the year they put themselves back on the map. Based on what they have done in the offseason and during the season over the past year, there is a lot of hope going into 2014, and deservedly so.
A lack of offense
This was a game where the Indians struggles against good pitching in the second half of the season reared its ugly head once again. The struggles were overshadowed and briefly forgotten thanks to facing the Astros, White Sox and Twins the final 10 games, but they were there for a very large portion of the second half and for most of the season.
As was the case many a times this season, when the Indians faced a good pitching staff, they had trouble putting up runs and getting big hits in key situations. That was the case last night as they had bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning and runners on first and third with no outs in the fifth inning; yet did not score a single run. They had other chances to score in the game as they had nine hits – including three doubles – and one walk, but the fourth and fifth innings were the key spots in the game and the turning point for Alex Cobb and the Rays.
Give Cobb some credit. He pitched a heck of a ball game as he mixed all of his pitches well, threw his curveball for strikes and kept hitters off balance changing speeds, location and the eye level of his pitches. Several Indians hitters had some funny looking swings, particularly Michael Bourn who had no chance all night against Cobb’s curveball.
But the Indians also made some good hard contact as well. With no one on they routinely squared him up for several hits and several loud outs. But they really pressed and failed to stay within themselves once runners got on base, particularly in scoring position as the Indians went just 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Both hits came with a runner on second and less than two outs but were unable to score runs as Chisenhall smoked a ball to right field and Michael Brantley sent a grounder up the middle that was gobbled up and was a close play at first.
The at bats by Tribe hitters were poor with men on base. Several hitters jumped out of their approach and were clearly pressing and swinging out of their shoes to try and be the hero instead of staying on the ball and working to the middle of the field. There is no greater example of this than Asdrubal Cabrera’s at bat in the fourth and Nick Swisher’s and Jason Kipnis’ at bats in the fifth.
With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, Cabrera tried to pull a 1-0 changeup that was located on the outside of the plate. Rather than letting the pitch go and finding a more hittable pitch, he was overaggressive and tried to hook it only to hit into a 3-6-1 double play to defuse the Indians rally in what was arguably the biggest spot in the game. With runners on first and third with no outs in the fifth, Bourn struck out in ugly fashion as Cobb made him look silly with several well located curveballs down in the zone and then Swisher and Kipnis grounded out weakly to end the threat. Kipnis’ at bat was the backbreaker as he was up 3-1 in the count and swung at a curveball low and out of the zone.
Bottom line, the Indians had their chances to score runs and make it a close 3-3 game or even lead it 4-3 going into the late innings. Those at bats in the fourth and fifth inning will lead to many a sleepless nights this offseason forTerry Francona and the front office, and it is clear as day they need a true run producing bat in the middle of the lineup, or perhaps two professional hitters instead. They need to get those runs, especially in the postseason where runs are at a premium.
Salazar starts hot, then fades
Wow, did Danny Salazar impress in the first inning as he completely blew away the Rays on 10 pitches racking up two strikeouts. He did the same thing in the second setting the Rays down in order on 10 pitches with a strikeout. He gave up a first pitch home run to Delmon Young to lead off the third, but set down the next three in order on 17 pitches.
In total, Salazar threw 37 pitches in his first three innings and of the 10 batters he faced got seven swings and misses. Really, the only mistake was a letter high fastball to Young, which really wasn’t that bad of a pitch and shows he was sitting dead red fastball.
Things quickly changed for Salazar the second time through the Rays order as they made adjustments and started to hit him more consistently. He allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in the fourth, throwing 24 pitches. He walked the number nine man Jose Molina to start the fifth and his night came to a sudden end. In that last one-plus inning the Rays sent eight batters to the plate and Salazar did not get one swing and a miss, a stark contrast to the first ten batters he faced on the night.
The fact that Salazar was unable to get through five or six innings was no surprise as he was conditioned all year to be a four or five inning pitcher due to his pitch count. This is something that will need to change next year as the restrictions should all but be gone and he should be able to routinely get to six or seven innings and at or above 100 pitches if his performance dictates it.
I would also like to see more first pitch curveballs and changeups just to change the eye level for the hitters and not have them sitting on his fastball so much. Getting more consistent command of that breaking ball is a key for him so he can do that and he is not just a two pitch pitcher as he can be at times. He has the stuff to dominate a lineup as he showed one time through the Rays lineup, but as we saw last night the second time through you need three pitches you can throw in any count and at any time, otherwise you are going to get in trouble.
Even still, the kid was special those first two innings and the future looks bright for him.
Bullpen does their job
You can’t say enough for the job that Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw, Justin Masterson, Cody Allen and Joe Smith did last night as they combined to go 5.0 innings and allowed one unearned run on four hits, no walks and had seven strikeouts.
They kept the score at 3-0 and kept them in the game, which allowed the Indians ample time to get things going offensively so they could peck away at the lead or even come back and take the lead. Unfortunately, as noted above, the offense just did not have it on this particular night.
Rzepczynski looks like a keeper and a solid addition to the 2014 bullpen and Shaw took a huge step forward at the end of the season where he will probably graduate to a more expanded late inning role next season. It will be interesting to see what happens with Smith in free agency, but with Chris Perez all but gone and the bullpen being such a necessity, I’d love to see him back and even on a slight overpay.
Boy, did he look good with that decision as Chisenhall had a great night at the plate going 3-for-4 and was a rally starter in each of his first three times at bat. He did make two misplays, one on a Wil Myers slow roller to third that he pulled Swisher off the bag on the throw, and the other a misplay on a double play grounder that he booted off his glove and led to an unearned run in the ninth, but overall you can’t ask for much more from him. Hopefully this is the confidence builder he needs to have a great bounce back and consistent season next year.
There were few opportunities to matchup at the plate or on the bases late in the game, so Francona was unable to use his bench much. On the pitching front he did a nice job getting Salazar out when he did and managed the bullpen well. My only minor complaint being why Shaw went back out there to start the seventh after 1.2 innings of work already and why he didn’t just go to Masterson to begin with.
This is a huge offseason for the Indians as they have to make several decisions on who to keep, who to let go, and who to add. They had a very successful offseason last year getting the core of the team reset, establishing leadership through the player and coaching ranks, and getting their pitching in order, now it is time to make that important last step to truly making this team a contender.
It won’t be easy as the Indians have several roster decisions staring at them straight in the face. For the most part, the team returns intact next year, but there are several key players they have to look at resigning or letting go. Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith are the key free agents. The likelihood they keep all three is small, but it is important to bring back two of them – hopefully Smith and one starter. They also have to make decisions on players like Chris Perez and Drew Stubbs and whether they tender them a contract or non-tender them and let them become free agents so they can use their money for other needs.
It is imperative that the Indians keep at least one of the starting pitchers and one of the relievers in question (preferably Smith). If they can do that, then this team has enough internal solutions to fill most of their other holes as long as they go out and make one big acquisition for the middle of the lineup and maybe add another professional bat.
It won’t be easy as players with run producing ability are in high demand and cost a lot of money in free agency or cost a lot in terms of prospects in a trade. I expect the Indians to be in on just about any potential bat on the free agent and trade market this offseason, and if they can get that one bat to put in the middle of the lineup it should help solve a lot of issues they have, lengthen the lineup, and allow others to settle into their roles and stop trying to do too much. Perhaps they even look at a better leadoff option. Sliding Bourn way down the lineup to eighth or ninth sort of in a Drew Stubbs kind of role this year might be worth considering too if the right option presents itself.
It is unknown what these potential solutions are at the moment, but as the offseason progresses I am sure that will become much clearer. One thing is for certain, and that is they have to get some help in the lineup as there is just too much inconsistency at a few positions and they are prone to huge dry spells as a lineup.
So buckle up Tribe fans. The 2013 season may be over, but it should be a wild and entertaining offseason as the Indians look to take another leap forward next year. As always, the IBI will be all over anything they do this offseason!
Congrats once again to the Cleveland Indians on a fun rollercoaster ride in 2013….hopefully many more thrills are on the horizon in 2014.
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.
I've often thought about the Indians resigning Stubbs and installing him in CF and trading away Bourn. But for what? Truly? Salary relief? In the field, no problem at all with that, In the lineup however, you are essentially swapping a leadoff hitter (albeit a rather poor or underperforming one) with a #9 hitter. I think the problem is the hole that would present itself at the top of the lineup. The Indians lack any real options currently in that role.
I'm intrigued with Ramirez in that role but The fact is, he has no everyday role on the team, all the more so with the impending arrival of Lindor as soon as sometime in '14. Perhaps the only viable option is to try to mirror the Grady days with Kipnis. Though he hasn't really responded to that spot in the order. While overly expensive, perhaps the best option is to hope for a rebound from Bourn next year.
bourn has 40 some walks and over 120k's. terrible for a leadoff guy. should be 8th or so. and he's not getting younger. contract or not, he has to move down if he doesn't produce next year.
still am totally bewildered at gomes 8 and cabby 7. no one has given me a remotely good answer why. and it bit us big time when cabby hit into the double play. plain studpidity as far as I'm concerned.
agree the lack of patience at the plate and swish swinging out of his shoes were killers. where the hell is the hitting coach? maybe need a new one?
bye bye cabby and perez. just need a taker for cabby. hope smith stays but I think someone else overpays for him and he goes.
would let jimenez go. don't see him keeping it up. nothing in his history says he will. and you are what you are.
move brantley or someone to leadoff besides bourn and really need a run producer. may have to trade a pitcher or two to get one.
at least the future looks better than it did just last year. but need to make some more moves this year and keep drafting better. the drafts from late '90s and for the next 10 yrs or so where killers for the most part.
hope to see lindor up by summer.
Agree that he won't be moved from the spot though. Not only because of the money, but because Francona is very stubborn in regards to the lineup. Took him how long to remove Swisher from the leadoff spot? Move Cabrera down? Santana up? Get Raburn/Gomes into lineup?
Personally I'd look to move Bourn in a trade. Big money owed to him...even if he bounces back, he's gonna be overpaid for what he brings. What $13.5M he is gonna make next year would look a lot better in the form of a middle of the order power bat...
Maybe he had a bad year and he will bounce back next season, but even if so, they should be actively looking for a better leadoff man. He put up a .316 OBP this season and stole 23 bases. Quite ordinary and rather subpar, especially for a guy who got $48 million to be much more than that. I'd advocate moving him down to the 8th or 9th spot in the order, but I realize that won't happen. They paid him to be a leadoff man and that's what they will put him at at least to start the 2014 season.
Scary to think how bad we'd have look if he had his changeup for much of the night...