Second Thoughts Game #76: Tigers 10, Indians 4
Defense no help to Tomlin as Tigers complete sweep in Cleveland
For the first time in three years, the Indians drew over 100,000 people to the ballpark for a three-game series. The weather was great. The team was in good spirits riding high after a walk-off grand slam to stun the visiting Angels. And on top of it, Tribe legend Omar Vizquel was inducted into the team hall of fame.
It was pretty much the perfect setting for a key divisional matchup between two teams who were both neck-and-neck in the standings and right within grasp of the first place spot in the AL Central. Well, Detroit leaves town back in first place while the Indians try to figure out what hit them before heading back out on the road.
One positive from this series, however, was that other than Sunday's finale, the Indians had their top rivals on the ropes pretty much the whole time. Only a couple key mistakes and costly missed opportunities kept the Tribe out of the win column. Unfortunately, it's a totally one-sided contest like we saw on Sunday that make those missed opportunities sting even more.
I'm not all that superstitious, but one scary thought is what if the Tigers just reversed the "curse" they've been under since the Tribe swept them in Cleveland a month ago?
The Clean Challenge
While Terry Francona and the Indians coaches continue to search for answers as far as how to fix the team's defense, which continues to pile up errors at an alarming rate, some folks I know on Twitter may have stumbled onto something that maybe more fans and maybe even the Indians themselves should consider embracing. Every time the Tribe plays a "clean game" of defense, a select amount of cash will be donated to Indians charities.
On Sunday, the Indians had three errors committed, one by center fielder Michael Bourn and the other two being on the infield as Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall had their 14th and 10th errors of the season, respectively. The left side of the Tribe infield, in particular, has been pretty much a black hole of unpredictability defensively to the point where you cringe if a ball is hit to short or third.
Maybe instead of trying to avoid the subject altogether, the team and its fanbase can consider embracing the Clean Challenge. It's not totally unheard of as charitable donations have been made for home runs hit by a team or, in football, a donation for every touchdown scored. It publicly encourages the team to play better defense and makes money for various charities.
All I'm saying is maybe it's time to start thinking outside the box a little because it's obvious what they're doing right now isn't working.
More Brantley Praise
My natural optimism won't allow me to write a complete doom-and-gloom piece, so how about taking some time to lavish more praise on pretty much the only guy that's been consistent for the Tribe all season up to this point.
This week's All-Star voting update came out on Sunday and showed Michael Brantley now in sixth place in the voting for outfielders, one spot higher than he's been the past few weeks. So be sure to break out those "Vote Smooth" hashtags and as the fan voting enters the home stretch. The way he's playing right now, not only could you make a case for him being just an All-Star. You could argue that he should start in the Midsummer Classic.
Even with a few missed games due to concussion-like symptoms, the Tribe left fielder hasn't missed a beat going 4-for-11 with two doubles and three RBI despite only making one plate appearance in game one. He is now batting .325 (4th in AL) with 11 home runs and 49 RBI (T-9th in AL). He also has the fourth highest OBP in the league at .390 as well as the sixth most hits (90) and runs scored (49).
All that added with his solid defense and clutch hitting, which we are all well aware of by now, makes him arguablly (at least until Jason Kipnis gets back on track) the Indians' most complete package of a player right now.
Up next: Indians (37-39) vs. D-Backs (32-47) @ Chase Field. First pitch at 9:40 pm ET (Tuesday).
Maybe the Indians can look at this as kind of a point of starting over as they make a return visit to their spring training home of Phoenix, Arizona to take on a struggling Diamondbacks team on the first leg of a three-city western road trip. Maybe at least make a pit-stop in Goodyear to work on some defensive drills.
Justin Masterson pitched admirably in his last outing against the Angels as he gave his team seven innings of one-run ball despite still not having his best stuff. In one career start against Arizona, Masterson received a no-decision after pitching six innings and allowing four runs including a home run while walking and striking out four batters.
He'll be matched up against another scuffling starter in Wade Miley, who has pitched better as of late, but like Masterson, has yet to find the consistent groove that he's been known to have in the past. He has yet to face the Tribe outside of spring training exhibition games.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
This much is certain: Kipnis should NOT be in the cleanup spot - he has sabotaged many opportunities because he bats between the two most consistent batters in the Indians' lineup, Brantley and Chisenhall, and the hottest Indians' hitter, Santana. If Kipnis hadn't been inbetween those three, it's a decent bet the Indians could have probably pulled out one of those games on Friday or Saturday, possibly both. I know he killed one to two of the rallies on Friday I believe when he failed to get that runner in from third with less than two outs. If he had done that, that game may not have gone into extras- we may have won it outright in 9 innings.
Add to the fact that Kipnis was only hitting .261 up until Sunday's game with 3 2Bs and 0 (yes, 0) HRs, and there is no good reason to keep Kipnis in the cleanup spot; he never should have been put there in the first place- Brantley, Chisenhall, Santana, and Gomes would all be better options. Ironically Chisenhall was in that cleanup spot while Kipnis was out and did nothing to necessitate him being moved down in the order; the only possible reason Kipnis was inserted there and Chisenhall was moved down was because of seniority and expectation of him performing, even though his last strong offensive month was last June, as mentioned above.
If Francona is going to refuse to put Brantley and Chisenhall back-to-back (and the way Brantley has hit LHP in his career and Chisenhall is hitting them this year, I don't think it's a bad option, certainly better than putting Kipnis behind Brantley),then Francona should put the following lineup on the field beginning Tuesday (well, not the DH, of course- the pitcher has to hit, but for AL Stadium games this lineup would lead to the Indians' best offense in my opinion- Francona can sit Swisher and have him come off the bench for the Arizona series, at least the first game):
Swisher (again, this is the AL lineup)
Murphy (move him up to 8th for the Arizona series and have the pitcher hit 9th).
This lineup would be likelier to score some more runs because you would have your hottest and most consistent hitter back to back to back to back, not having Kipnis and, at times, Swisher, inbetween them. They have sabotaged more rallies (outside of Swisher's two late blasts) since they've been inserted back into the lineup, effectively weakening the lineup from its strong point upon their return. And, note the balance of the lineup I mentioned: Outside of Murphy and Bourn hitting back to back (and they've shown some ability to hit lefties in their career, especially Murphy, because of their ability to hit the ball the opposite way), the rest of the lineup switches back and forth, making it very difficult for opposing managers to match up late.
Now, if Francona would just make the change and remove Kipnis from that cleanup spot sooner (I.e. Tuseday) rather than later, this offense is likelier to score more runs. To my knowledge, Arizona has largely struggled pitching-wise, and overall on the season. The Indians really need to win this series, and if I heard right, it's a two-game series? If so, the Indians really need to sweep and get back on track. Getting the offense back on track would help to some extent,and might help to get the pitching staff to relax a bit and, hopefully, pitch better. That, in turn, would likely get the Indians back to playing their best ball as they were doing earlier this month.