Second Thoughts: Game#34 - Indians 1, Red Sox 12
By Jeff Ellis
May 14, 2012
|W: D. Bard (3-4) L: J. Masterson (1-3)
The Indians are currently tied for their longest losing streak of the year and worse yet, they are doing it against a Boston team that looks completely punchless. The big story of this game has to be Justin Masterson. Everyone is throwing Jimenez under the bus right now, but no one seems to be saying a peep about Masterson. Last year, Masterson was able to pitch well against lefties, but typically they have really beaten him up for his career. This has been a returning trend in 2012, along with a loss of control that eerily mirrors Jimenez. People want Jimenez sent down, but Masterson has been equally bad all season long, but has avoided that mass of anger that seems to follow Jimenez. This was supposed to be the Indians top two pitchers all year, but they have pitched like near auto losses. Masterson has had a good history of success against his former team, so the hope is that he can start to turn it around today.
The First Three Innings
After the Indians went quietly in the first, Masterson breezed through the first two batters, but like a bad script we've seen too many times this season, he fell apart. The Indians defense was sloppy but a majority of the blame has to fall on Masterson who just looked like he had zero feel. It was an extremely ugly inning that saw Masterson facing the same issues he had every year before the 2011 season. He had control trouble, and even had a wild pitch.
The major concern was that he got beat up by both lefties and righties, which is not typical. Masterson will always struggle with lefties, but the hope is that he can minimize what they do. The converse of this is that he should be able to dominate righties, which is why he was such an effective pen arm for Boston, and why they thought it was going to be his role there. The result was after using 4 pitches to get 2 outs, Masterson then gave up 4 runs, 4 hits, a walk, and a hit by a pitch.
The Indians failed to do anything against Bard, who they have traditionally handled very well in the past in their half of the second. Then Masterson came out with an encouraging second inning. The Indians showed some life in the third when they manage to get 3 walks, and Kipnis continued to hit well in Fenway. The Tribe loaded the bases with one out. Bard then walked in a run and was on the ropes with Pronk standing in the batter's box. In recent typical fashion, Hafner managed to hit into a double play.
Pronk has really struggled of late, considering he was killing the ball two weeks back, hitting in the 330’s. Now, he’s down to 250, and has zero hits in his last 22 at-bats with a runner in scoring position. The chance his option for next year is picked up is zero, and one has to wonder if he is pretty much done. I know his OPS is over 800, but he has the worst producing good OPS I have ever seen.
The Indians at least got a run back, until a right hander, rookie Will Middlebrooks, got the run back in the bottom half of the inning with a home run. Masterson has given up 5 homers this year; after giving up only 10 in the entire 2011 season. This is a hugely troubling trend, as it shows that his pitches are not sinking. I know the comparison in the past has been Jimenez to Carmona, but Masterson to Carmona might be more apt as they are more similar pitchers. We saw this same issue when Carmona lost it, and his sinkers were all over the place and ended up getting up a lot. Masterson will be lucky if he can go five innings.
The Middle of the Game
The Indians went into the middle of the game trailing 5-1, but with hope. They had done well against Bard who had been scuffling as a starter and had control issues through Sunday's game. The Indians were able to put runners on 1st and 3rd with one out, but failed to score a run, as Kotchman hit a shallow fly and Hannahan grounded out.
Brantley gave the Indians their first extra-base hit of the day. He had been on fire since Acta moved him down to seventh in the order. The problem for the Tribe has been that Damon has really looked lost on offense and defense, so do you keep Brantley at seven or might we see him back leading off? I for one would not want to mess with what works, and while Damon needs to be moved down in the order, I think Brantley should stay where he is for now.
Masterson started to settle down, but another wild pitch showcases his struggles throwing strikes. As the game progressed, Boston began running wild on him. Carlos Santana has been great at throwing out runners, so the stolen bases have to be on Masterson, who gave up two today and six total on the year, which is a higher rate for him than typical. As stated before, Carlos Santana is much improved at throwing, so this rate should be expected to be much lower, which made me at least wonder if Masterson does not have some kind of mechanical hitch which has made him slower to the plate this year.
The Indians managed to get two on base in the sixth, but Kotchman again failed with runners on, which ended the inning. Kotchman is a guy who might quickly find himself out of baseball if he does not improve. No one tried to sign him after an excellent year last season, so who would try and sign him after a year in which he is hitting well below .200. Masterson somehow managed to recover and go six in spite of wildness, giving up six runs, and had 11 base runners in six innings. He only faced 28 batters, but managed to let almost 40% of the batters he faced reach base.
The Last Three Innings
The Indians bats go silent in the 7th, but Boston exploded in their half. Dan Wheeler was an absolute mess. He managed to give up four runs before getting his first out. I know fans say cut him, but where do you go for help. The depth in the minors is very questionable, all the sudden and the only really long guy for the pen option have to be Frank Hermann or Jeremy Accardo. Dan Wheeler’s final line for the 7th inning: five hits, six earned runs and a walk. He managed to equal most of Masterson’s numbers for the day in terms of runs, hits, and walks in one inning. This was one of the worst innings of the year for the Indians. After this nothing of note really happened and the game ended with a final score of 12-1.
Michael Brantley continued on his recent tear, going 3-for-4 with a double. It would have been nice if one of those hits could have scored a run, but he still did his job and has looked like the player the Indians thought he would be a few years ago. Jason Kipnis looked like does not want to leave Fenway, and just kills the ball there. Frankly, right now, he is the best hitter on the team. Also should give a quick note on Jairo Ascencio, who pitched well in mop up duty. With Wheeler being awful, Ascencio has nicely filled in as an extra pen arm. He is not a guy you use near the end of a game, but he is useful and should stick around for awhile. I might be in the minority, but I am very glad we traded for him, with the lack of depth there is in the pen.
Pretty much everything and everyone else not mentioned previously. This was an ugly game. Masterson looked horrible again, and with he and Jimenez pitching as bad as they are, its amazing this team is above .500, let alone in first. I don’t think I have seen a pitcher hit three guys in a game since I was in little league, which Masterson managed. Dan Wheeler somehow managed to fail in mop up duty. The offense could not get on base and when it did they failed horribly to drive in runners. They were 1-7 with runners in scoring position. Even when Bard was struggling, they helped him out throughout the game. The big offenders were Hannahan leaving three on, Hafner leaving three on, and Kotchman leaving five on. I don’t know what you do with Kotchman right now, since defense doesn’t slump, but after a nice stretch to raise his average to .186, he is just not getting the job done. One more note on the bad, and maybe I am over thinking, but Choo’s bunt single just struck me as a guy trying to get on base who has zero faith in his bat.
The Big Picture
This is a series that has to leave every Tribe fan more than a little worried. Boston was in trouble, and after the Indians blew out their ace, they utterly failed to generate offense the rest of the series. The Indians are 34 games in, and they use 40 as a bench mark, but in spite of being in first, things are a bit grim. The number one and two pitchers for this rotation have lost it mechanically, and seem unable to keep it together for a start. The line up contains four hitters who are hitting under .240. Damon is obviously not ready, and Kotchman has been awful. The biggest concern for me was yesterday when the Indians demoted Donald and in turn removed Nick Weglraz from the 40. I looked back at when he was a top prospect during the 2009 and 2010 year rankings when this was one of the best systems in baseball, and how few of those guys have made it. If one looks at the 2009 top ten list, it produced three MLB players and only one guy who was able to stay in the majors. 2010 produced six, but only three are with the MLB team right now. This would actually be quite good if not for the fact that the minors were loaded thanks to the trades prior to that season. To me at least that is the big problem, the offense is a patch work of cast offs, and guys no one wanted. The young kids who were supposed to hit and help have not, and that’s why the offense is in the trouble we see now. Prospects fail often, it’s a part of the game, but this was a year were the Indians were expected to contend and while they are in first; the reason for the concerns are based on the fact that there is almost no help that can come internally outside of Chiz and LaPorta. I do not know where they find the help this offense needs. I think the front office knows this might be a make or break year, so it will be interesting to see what the next step is for the Tribe.
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Where's the power? The Indians rank 12th of 14 in home runs per at-bat. They're averaging one HR every 43 at-bats. Nobody is a threat to go deep right now, which means they have to string hits together to score. And with no speed on the bases outside of Kipnis and Brantley, and no clutch hitting, they have very little offense.
Damon is a black hole. How can you expect to score when your leadoff hitter has a OBP below .200??? And his defense is an embarassment. I'm declaring an end to the Damon experiment. Release him now.
They have few tradeable assets. What do you think you can get for Laporta or Kotchman? The best hitting prospects are in A ball. Chiz might help but he's another leftty bat. I don't see this team making the playoffs.