It is pretty incredible how many ebbs and flows there are in a baseball season. The strength of this team all season has been the pitching. The starters have kept the Indians in game after game and atop the AL Central for most of the young season while the bats attempt to come around. However, over the last week or so, the rotation has hit a tad bit of a swoon.
After being swept in Chicago and seeing Monday’s starter Josh Tomlin only get through five innings in an 8-5 win over Kansas City, another Tribe pitcher didn’t show up with his A game. This time it was Justin Masterson, the team’s supposed top dog.
To say Masterson has been inconsistent this season would be a very fair assessment. Disappointing? I would say so. Last night’s pitching matchup of J Mast against Royals rookie Will Smith seemed to favor the Tribe in a big way. This was just Smith’s second career big league start and in his first, he was lit up by the Yankees and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. That was the good news. The bad news for our boys in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue was that Smith throws from the left side. Ah yes, the obscure lefty factor would rear its ugly head once again.
That didn’t mean Masterson had to go out an lay an egg. But he did.
For whatever reason, the big right-hander always seems to get into trouble in the first inning. Right off the bat again, Masterson gave up two runs on a two-out homer by Mike Moustakas, putting his team behind the eight-ball early. After last night, opposing batters are now hitting .388 of him in the first inning. His ERA for the frame – 9.82 in 11 starts. You just cannot allow your team to have to come from behind like this early time and time again.
The Indians would get back into it in the bottom half of the first after loading the bases with nobody out on two walks and an Asdrubal Cabrera single. AC was the DH last night after missing the previous three games with hamstring tightness and will return to shortstop today. Jose Lopez got them on the board with an RBI single and Michael Brantley’s groundout tied the game at two. They really had Smith on the ropes, but let him get away. With two on and one out, Aaron Cunningham weakly popped out to second. Lonnie Chisenhall making his second start in as many days, then K’d with two in scoring position to end the threat.
That would be all we would see from the offense. Things would only get worse for the Tribe.
The Royals battered Masterson for a five-run second inning as the big right-hander had serious command issues. It looked as though he didn’t know where he was going to throw the ball. However, he managed not to walk anyone for the first time all year. But there are no such things as moral victories here. KC sent nine men to the plate in that five run second. With the way the Indians hit left-handed pitching and with the lineup including the likes of Luke Carlin, Juan Diaz, and Cunningham, this one was all but over before the bottom of the second had occurred.
Manny Acta put it best.
“That had to be the most boring game I’ve ever been part of. Everything happened in the first two innings.”
“Other than that it was pathetic. The second inning pretty much sucked the energy out of everybody. It was a deep hole we couldn’t get out of after we bounced back in the first inning and tied the game,” he said.
After two innings of play, it was 7-2 Royals. That is when Masterson decided to settle down. If he did anything well last night, he saved the bullpen, which was an arm short, for this afternoon’s 12:05 tilt. He also struck out eight without walking anyone.
“He was just trying to battle through some adjustments out there early,” Carlin said. “After those first two innings, he was cruising. He made some good adjustments late, and I think that he took some positives out of that as well. He still continued to pitch, so that was huge for us.
But the big inning struggles continue to dog the Indians ace who has to get better if the Indians are going to win this division.
“It’s always one inning,” Masterson said. “When I do struggle, it typically is one inning. It really was that second inning that was bigger than anything.”
Meanwhile the KC rookie Smith, who almost didn’t get out of the first inning, allowed just two hits over the next five innings. It was just another case of a lefty shutting the Tribe down. They are now 4-10 against left-handed starters. The last two have come against “noted aces” Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Smith. Combined the two had made one career start heading into their matchups with the Tribe.
Did I mention that Josh Willingham hit a walk-off, three-run homer last night for the Twins against Oakland? He now has nine homers and 32 RBIs. Think he would look good in left field right about now? P.S. He hits right-handed.
The loss coupled with a White Sox win in Tampa, drops the Indians out of first place for the first time since April 24th. They have dropped four of five and in all four losses, the Tribe has given up eight runs or more. The pitching needs to get back on track.
A couple of quick side notes from last night:
- Carlin managed to reach base three straight times on errors made by three different KC infielders. That hasn’t happened to an Indian since 1973.
- With Cabrera ready to play shortstop, Diaz was supposed to have been sent back down to the minors after the game. However, news this morning came that Travis Hafner has been placed on the DL with his his sore knee problem. His place on the roster will be taken by lefty Scott Barnes, a starter by trade who has been working out of the pen of late in Columbus.
- Kudos to Jeremy Accardo for his two shutout innings of relief work. He struck out three and only allowed one hit. He’s been here for two weeks and it is clear that he is a 1000% upgrade from Dan Wheeler, who Accardo lost out to in the Spring for the final bullpen spot. This was despite the fact Accardo clearly outpitched Wheeler in Goodyear.
Don’t forget the 12:05 start time today. There is no TV today, so you will have to get by old school style, listening to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the radio. More good news – the Royals are starting a lefty! Bruce Chen (3-5, 4.81 ERA) will face off with the Tribe’s Jeanmar Gomez (3-3, 3.94 ERA).
(photo via Chuck Crow/PD)