Second Thoughts: Game #89 - Indians 3, Rays 2
July 17, 2012
Monday’s win against the Rays was crucial to stop the losses from piling up after a losing series in Toronto bumped the Tribe to third place in the American League central. It wasn’t what you would call a pretty win, but that hardly matters considering Cleveland had lost 12 of its last 16 games at Tropicana Field. The Indians grinded out the win, led by starting pitcher Zach McAllister and the two biggest hammers in the Mafia, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, who racked up their 25th hold and 26th save, respectively.
McAllister shakes off liner, bests Cobb: This was the second time in five games that these two starters faced each other and with two light-hitting clubs squaring off, the team with the better starting pitching performance was likely to prevail. Having trouble locating his fastball early on, McAllister made a shrewd adjustment, relying on his change up to carry him until he could settle in. The modification paid off, as McAllister didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning, while not allowing Tampa hitters from squaring him up. It was a key move for the Tribe righty, who struggled to throw strikes early, with 13 of his first 22 pitches going for balls.
In the 4th inning, the Rays led off with three consecutive singles; the third one, off the bat of Jeff Keppinger, drilled McAllister in his right forearm. It was a scary moment for Indians fans, who were likely fearing a Chisenhall-esque freak injury. After rubbing some dirt on it, Zach-Mac came back to induce a ground ball double play off the bat of Desmond Jennings, followed by a nice diving stop from Cabrera to throw out the plodding Jose Molina for the third out. This was a pivotal moment in the game, and McAllister answered the call by limiting the damage in what could have been a big inning for Tampa Bay.
McAllister went on to throw six innings of one run ball, overcoming four walks to lower his ERA to 3.17 through eight starts. He continues to solidify the back end of the starting rotation, consistently giving his team a chance to win. Monday’s game was particularly impressive because McAllister didn’t have good location, but hung in there nonetheless.
Rays starter, Alex Cobb, didn’t fare so well, allowing three runs (two earned) over just 3.1 innings, while racking up five hits and five walks. Tribe hitters made the adjustment against Cobb, who throws more changeups than any other pitcher in the American League. The Indians lineup consistently worked the count against the Tampa righty, forcing him to throw 86 pitches in a very short period of time. Cobb simply couldn’t throw his fastball or curveball for strikes. The poor location with his secondary pitches allowed Tribe hitters to sit on changeups in the strike zone, pounding four doubles off him.
Doubles & walks: The Indians accumulated five doubles and eight walks, painting much of the positive picture for the offense. Cleveland hitters did a great job taking what Cobb was giving them, clubbing four of their five doubles off him. Choo led off the double barrage in the first at-bat of the game, clipping the top of the yellow home run line on the right-center field wall on a play that was overturned after initially being ruled a home run. All three of the Indians’ runs were facilitated by doubles. Kipnis and Choo each had a pair; with the latter assuming the league lead in doubles (29), Damon added one of his own.
Unfortunately, of the eight walks, none of them came around to score. The Tribe’s patience at the plate was critical in boosting Cobb’s pitch count, which subsequently forced him out of the game early. Michael Brantley led the way in walks, with three. The way Brantley maintained his plate approach was impressive, even with a rare start in the cleanup spot. He is only one of three players in either league with two 13-game hitting streaks.
Pestano douses dual threats: Vinnie Pestano continues to prove his worth to the team in high-pressure, late-game situations. In the seventh inning, Pestano was called on to put out a two-on, two-out Tampa Bay threat. The Indians were only up by one, so allowing the Rays to plate one or more run would’ve likely sunk the Indians chance at a win since the offense was doing little against the Tampa bullpen. Pestano came in and gave the opposing hitter, Ben Zobrist four consecutive fastballs to strike him out and end the threat.
Again, in the 8th, by his own doing, Pestano had runners on the corners with two outs. Rays manager, Joe Maddon inserted switch-hitting pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad into the lineup. Pestano stepped up once more, freezing Conrad with a caught-looking strikeout on a devastating slider that started in the other batter’s box, only to break over the corner of the plate. Pestano’s role in this win cannot be overstated, as his two, impressive evasions out of danger preserved the lead, allowing Perez to come in and mow down Rays hitters for a 1-2-3 save.
This was only Pestano’s second career multi-inning appearance. Acta rightfully had no interest in relying on anyone else in the 8th inning, with Joe Smith unavailable.
1st inning run: It came off a Rays defensive miscue, but the first inning run for the Tribe offense was refreshing, as they are tied for 11th in the American League in 1st inning runs (45). The stats for teams that score first are perpetually favorable, so getting off to a run-scoring first inning was helpful to an offense that failed to show up in two of the three games over the weekend in Toronto. Choo ledoff the game with a double, and after outs from Cabrera and Kipnis put him on third with two outs, he scampered home on a passed ball that five-holed Tampa’s catcher, Jose Molina. A first-inning run —by whatever means— was sure to be helpful in what was expected to be a low-scoring game, with the Cleveland and Tampa Bay offenses facing off, who rank 8th and 10th in the AL in runs scored.
Rays bullpen hogties Tribe hitters: After Tampa Bay’s starter could only go 3.1 innings, it left 5.2 innings for the bullpen to take care of. To eat up these innings, the Rays used five relievers, all of whom kept the Indians off the scoreboard. They yielded three hits and three walks, while striking out seven batters.
The first arm out of the ‘pen was J.P. Howell, who squashed a bases loaded, one-out threat in the 4th inning to keep Cleveland from garnering anything out of the most golden offensive setup in baseball: bases loaded, none out. In the 5th, he allowed the first two runners to reach, only to get a double play and pop out Howell, who got ahead of hitters and then nibbled, forced Tribe hitters to expand the zone and swing at his pitches.
Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Fernando Rodney combined to shutdown minor Cleveland threats over the last four innings. Indians hitters looked anxious against these relievers, abandoning the methodical approach that succeeded against Cobb. If Tampa had tied the game or taken the lead, this stellar showing from its ‘pen would’ve loomed larger; regardless, they gave their team a chance to come back.
Leadoff hitters reaching: The Tribe’s first five leadoff hitters all reached base through the first five innings. Over the entire nine innings, seven Indians led off innings by reaching base. Unfortunately, only two of the seven came around to score. The struggles with runners in scoring position overshadow these excellent marks, but if table-setters continue to get on base, one would have to think that some timely hitting will turn up eventually and make opposing pitchers pay.
3 Most Wanted
Timely hitting, less double plays: 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and a whopping five double plays underscore the oft-referenced offensive deficiencies in the Cleveland lineup. The most harrowing blown opportunity came in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and no one out. The trio of Damon, Choo, and Cabrera couldn’t manage to get a single runner home. With a three-zip advantage, the Tribe had a gift-wrapped opportunity to really blow the game open. Continued zeros in these chances will seriously jeopardize the Indians chances of compiling a competitive amount of runners scored.
If Indians hitters could limit these offensive gaffes to one inning it might be more tolerable, but five double plays is incredibly difficult to overcome, since it is the quintessential rally killer. Winning a game with just two hits with runners in scoring position is as surprising as it is unsustainable.
Middle Relief Help: Monday’s middle-relief perps were Esmil Rogers and Tony Sipp. Desmond Jennings blasted the first pitch Rogers threw in the 7th inning for a towering home run that cut the lead to one, raising the pressure on the Indians relief corps. The typically-reliable Rogers recorded two outs before walking Will Rhymes. Sipp walked the only batter he faced. These two lackluster appearances set the stage for Pestano’s clutch strikeout to end the inning, but the fact is the two middle-relievers came perilously close to giving up the lead.
It’s no secret by now: the Indians middle relief is dismal. The lack of lefties in the ‘pen hurts, too. With Scott Barnes as the long man, Sipp is the only every day southpaw at Acta’s disposal. A right-handed bat might be the biggest need, but a trade for a lefty reliever could be near the top of their trade deadline checklist.
More from Cabrera and Santana: The pair of struggling cogs in the lineup went 1-for-9, with five strikeouts. Cabrera did a better job at not succumbing to his first-pitch swinging ways, but struggled with two strikes, going 0-for-5 with four punchouts, while leaving seven runners on base. He’ll get it turned around eventually, but the Indians desperately need it to be sooner than later, especially with Santana scuffling.
Santana only managed to collect one seeing-eye single, while going 1-for-4 with a ground ball double play. The maligned Cleveland catcher exhibited his all-too-common long swing on a sixth inning strikeout, in which he was tardy on a 96 mph fastball from Farnsworth. The big issue with Santana is that he continues to fail to make adjustments when down in the count, in addition to his homerun-every-swing hacking ways.
The two slumping sluggers went 1-for-6 with runners on base, which is simply unacceptable from two key pieces in the lineup. Their success is imperative to the Tribe’s chances at sustaining a legitimate offensive threat.
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