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Second Thoughts: Game #91 - Indians 10, Rays 6

Second Thoughts: Game #91 - Indians 10, Rays 6
July 19, 2012
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  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
CLE 0 0 0 0 3 0 5 0 2 10 14 0
TB 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 6 10 0
W: E. Rogers (1-0) L: K. Farnsworth (0-2)

Starting Pitching

The Line: 4.1 IP, 7H, 4/4 R/ER. 7 BB, 1K. 0 GIDP

The Results: 109 pitches, 57% strikes, 12GB, 3FB, PO, 2LD

The Write-up: Justin Masterson didn’t have it last night. Compounding the problem was the fact that he faced a patient team, pitched on turf (murder on groundball pitchers) and opposed a team coached by Joe Maddon who is willing to beat the shift every time it is offered. All things considered, Masterson did well to only give up four runs, albeit he was saved by Esmil Rogers (more on this later). Masterson didn’t have the get-me-over slider or four-seamer that he needs to limit walks and keep hitters guessing at the tailing sinkers that induce so many swing and misses and groundball outs.

All night Masterson seemed to be struggling more and more as the game wore on. Evidence of this can be found by simply looking at his Strike% by inning:

Inning Strike %
1 67%
2 70%
3 52%
4 50%
5 40%

Another decent sign is his pitch velocity dropping, no matter which pitch he was throwing:

*Graph courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, trend lines are estimated.

This is understandable, but having a significant velocity decrease coupled with deteriorating control shows just how gassed Masterson was. Keeping him in long enough to load the bases was a gamble by Acta to protect his bullpen and it would have come up to bite him had it not been for the Indians continued bullpen excellence.

The Bullpen

The Line: 4.2IP, 3H, 3BB, 4K

The Results: 76 pitches, 57% strikes, 9GB, 2FB, PO, 1LD

The Write-up: The story of the night was Esmil Rogers escaping the 5th inning mess that Masterson left. Bases loaded, one out and the game hanging in the balance. The Indians had just scored three to make it a one-run ballgame and, at the time, it didn’t look like much more offense was in the works for the Tribe. Rogers came on and struck out Elliot Johnson and induced a groundball by Upton to get out of the inning.

Joe Smith cleaned up a smaller mess created by Tony Sipp, but the Indians were up 8-4 at that point in the game and with Pestano and Perez, the game was basically out of reach. For whatever reason, last night’s game crystalized my perception of the Indians bullpen. They aren’t just good, they are more than that: they shorten the game to about 6+ innings. Once you get to Smith, Pestano and Perez, the game is usually over and last night it felt that way the second the ball was handed over to Smith.

The Starting Lineup

The Line: 14/40, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1BB, 0 SB, 0 CS

The Results: 10R, 21TB, 11LOB, AVG/OBP/SLG 350/381/525

The Write-up:  For the first four innings, the Indians offense looked as lethargic as possible. Brantley led off the 2nd inning with a triple and the Indians didn’t even come close to getting him across. In fact, that was the only hit until the three-run 5th inning. The Indians went back to their old bag of tricks and did all their damage with two outs. The game felt like it was slipping away and things started out well with a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana, but a subsequent strikeout and pop-up by Hafner and Damon appeared to short-circuit the rally. Kotchman was up next and he got down 0-2 in the count; but Hellickson beaned Kotchman to put men on first and second. Hannahan doubled home both guys and, now that the pressure was off, Choo followed up with a single up the middle. The Indians were back in it and a small spark was lit.

A couple innings later the two out magic continued as the following happened with two outs: 1B, 1B, 1B, 1B, HR, 1B. Six consecutive hits with two outs and after that, the game was in hand. The big blow was Santana’s much-needed three-run homer. The Indians needed it, yes, but Santana needed it even more. Yesterday, we covered how it had been more than two months since his last homer run and I guess all we had to do was say something, because this was a no-doubter to dead center. If Santana can get going, the Indians will be in contention all season long.

The Defense

Several defensive plays are worth mentioning, but two stood out:

Hannahan smothered a smash to his left and flipped to second in the 6th inning to preserve the one-run deficit.  He ranged about five steps to his left and then gloved a hop above his head as he was diving. If you care to see how difficult that is, take as far a step as you possibly can to the left, then raise your left hand above your shoulder. Tough, right? Hannahan did this while diving, not leaning. He does save runs with the glove, even if his bat continues to be mediocre (he had a timely double, yes, but he still is hitting .241/.314/.349 on the season).

Another great play was Jason Kipnis’ taking the risk to turn the double-play in the 7th as the Rays tried to counter-punch after the Indians five-run outburst. He had to move to the left, stop, pivot and throw to Cabrera in an instant to get the speedy Jennings. Cabrera had time to make the throw to first thanks to Jose Lobaton’s below average speed. Kipnis is rapidly becoming not just an acceptable defensive second basemen, but an above average one. Fangraphs.com sang his praise in their annual “Trade Value” series here.

The Takeaways

This was a big win for the Indians because of the context of where they are at in the season. The trade deadline is approaching and teams are starting to decide if they want to make a run at those wild card spots. Maintaining pace is essential for management to get the green light to pursue mid-season help. The Indians had looked pretty lackluster the last week and showing the perseverance to go out and get the win when falling behind was a big step in showing each other, the fans and the front-office that the Indians aren’t ready to call it quits yet….even if that is what it looked like just one day earlier.

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