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Second Thoughts Game #111: Rangers 3, Indians 4

Brantley's walk-off blast completes three-game sweep of Rangers

Second Thoughts Game #111: Rangers 3, Indians 4
Michael Brantley trots toward home plate after launching an extra-inning walk-off home run against the Rangers on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
August 4, 2014
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This team...

This maddeningly inconsistent bunch who one night will score 12 runs, but can barely buy a hit with runners in scoring position the next...

This group of players with all the heart and resilience in the world, yet they can't seem to string more than three or four wins in a row together...

This franchise that traded away two key players without bringing in any other major pieces at the deadline...

This ball club, with all those imperfections and more, now has only three games sitting between them and a playoff berth via wild card.

Is it because of the calming influence of Terry Francona and the other leaders in the clubhouse? Is it because the race for the final AL wild card spot is full of flawed teams? Or is it just a complete luck of the draw and the Tribe is in the right place at the right time?

Maybe it's a combination of all those scenarios, but the Indians did look sharp this weekend against an ailing Rangers team as David Murphy picked his team up in the ninth with a game-tying homer and Michael Brantley lifted them to victory in extra innings with a walk-off solo shot.

The Doctor Is In

It's been a little while since I've lavished excessive praise on Michael Brantley, so good timing with the walk-off home run on Sunday.

It goes without saying at this point that Brantley is the best all-around player on this team. His intelligence as a hitter continues to expand, his defense, even after taking over center field for the injured Michael Bourn, remains tops in the league and the numbers just speak themselves as they have all season. I can't even begin to imagine where this team would be right now without him in the lineup.

Just for our own enjoyment, let's rattle off Dr. Smooth's season stats to date. In 107 games played and 419 at-bats thus far, Brantley is batting .322 with 16 home runs, 29 doubles, two triples, 69 RBI, a .382 OBP and an .897 OPS. He has also stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts and has drawn 37 walks and struck out only 39 times. Plus, on defense, he has nine outfield assists.

Can you say complete ballplayer?

Sunday's walk-off blast was the second of the year for Brantley as he has come through big in the clutch once again for the Indians this season with a .347 average with runners in scoring position. He was red-hot against the Rangers this weekend batting an even .500 (7-for-14) with the homer, two doubles and three total RBI.

Michael Brantley is the central cog in a young core of talent that, with the right reinforcements, should remain competitive for several years to come.

Shifting Gears

As I've discussed before in this forum, the "second gear" factor came into play once again for Trevor Bauer on Sunday as he ended up pitching a quality outing of seven and a third innings with only three runs allowed, but an eventful second inning with three walks and a pair of sac-flies allowed two of the Rangers' three runs to score. He was almost lights-out after that, though, allowing only four more base runners over the next five innings.

Normally a seven-plus inning start with only three runs allowed should help earn a pitcher a win. Not the case when Yu Darvish is the opposing hurler. In his seven innings of work, the Japanese right-hander allowed only one run on four hits. I give Bauer a lot of credit, though. Despite not being able to get a win, he did all he could to work out his early issues and keep his team in the game for as long as he could.

This first-gear, second-gear issue continues to be a not necessarily a serious problem, but one that Bauer and pitching coach Mickey Callaway continue to work through and find a solution. The young right-hander admitted himself that his game has been this way since his collegiate playing days at UCLA. It simply takes him a little time to settle in during a start and find his groove. Once he finds it, though...

This isn't a new phenomenon with pitchers, though. When it was first brought up, I immediately thought of Justin Verlander, who also has that "second gear" that kicks in the later innings of his starts. Bauer's splits this season back that theory up as his batting average-against this season is .292 during his first and second turns through opposing lineups, but only .242 the third time around.

Just to compare, in 2012, opposing hitters were batting .231 off Justin Verlander in their first and second plate appearances of a game, but only hitting .192 off him in their third appearance. Of course, Verlander is, or at least was, a much more dominant pitcher than Bauer, but the point remains he, too, had that "extra gear" or "second wind" or whatever you want to call it.

If Bauer can just figure out a game plan for the early innings of a game where he's not as comfortable, he'd be better off rather than trying to force himself to find his groove earlier during his starts.

Happy Birthday, Madison Murphy!

David Murphy has brought a lot of good things to the Tribe this season and now it seems his young daughter Madison doing her part to help the Tribe succeed. Hey, we first found out about the veteran outfielder inking a deal with Cleveland from Madison, who spilled the beans at her day care.

Now on Sunday, Madison celabrated her seventh birthday and gave her father incentive to hit a home run, as Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com reported following the victory. Murphy drove in the first run for the Tribe on Sunday with an RBI double off Darvish in the second, but he wasn't satisfied. It wasn't until he came up to bat in the ninth representing the tying run that he accomplished his task.

It was a moment of near-Ruthian proportions considering the famed tale of the great Bambino also promising a home run to a sickly child in a hospital. And with the chance of completing a three-game sweep and picking up a full game in the wild card race on the line, I think everyone on the roster wished young Madison the best on her birthday.

Murphy has enjoyed playing against his former team as he is now batting .464 (13-for-28) against Texas this season with a home run, six doubles and seven RBI in seven games. He has picked up his game overall lately as he is now batting .452 in his last 10 contests with a home run, four doubles and five RBI.

Up Next: Reds (56-55) vs. Indians (56-55) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05 pm ET.

The 2014 edition of the Ohio Cup series kicks off on Monday in Cleveland as the Reds come to town to face off against the Tribe for a pair of contests before concluding the series in the Queen City. Both teams come in with identical 56-55 records and are fighting tooth and nail to stay alive in the playoff chase. 

The 4-game, 2-city set starts off with a matchup of Corey Kluber and Alfredo Simon. Kluber, of course, is coming off a Maddux-like gem against the Mariners where he shut them out on only 85 pitches. The budding Tribe ace has yet to face the team's inner-state rivals in his career.

Simon has had a fine season as a starter for the Reds after spending the last couple years in their bullpen. On the year, he is 12-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 21 starts this season. He is coming off three straight losses, but pitched well in his last start against Arizona allowing only two earned runs in seven innings. In his career against the Indians, Simon is 1-1 with a 4.41 ERA in six appearances (one start).

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

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