Weekend Recap: Bizarro-Tribe Drops Two to Rays

Jason GiambiThe Indians lost two of three to Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, which really isn’t all that interesting until you stop to notice exactly how they went about it.

We should have known that strange times were in store on Friday evening when, after being delayed by two hours, the Indians allowed the game to begin before succumbing to a second rain delay just ten minutes later.  Perhaps this was the plan of the crafty Tribesmen, thinking that their starter, Corey Kluber, wouldn’t be able to match up against the Rays young ace Matt Moore.  Perhaps the Indians thought they had a better shot throwing their bullpen against that of the Rays, who are sporting an ugly 4.25 ERA on the season, good for 13th out of 15 AL teams?  Get both starters out early, and steal game one with a strong bullpen effort?

Except the Indians don’t really have a good bullpen this season.  In fact, their bullpen ERA is good for 14th in the AL with a 4.39 ERA, and as if to drive the point home, Scott Barnes laid a stinker (1 IP, 5 ER).  Despite a meager attempt at a comeback in the fifth (circa 1 AM), the Indians went fairly quietly with two runs on one hit over the better part of eight hours.  By the time the dust had settled, Mark Shapiro issued an apology and the Indians lost the game 9-2.

Saturday the bizarro-theme continued, this time in the form of Ubaldo Jimenez pitching well.  Like, really well.  He threw eight scoreless innings, striking out seven and walking only one.  He still looks to me like a guy who’s more comfortable with his off-speed pitches than his fastball, but when he’s commanding his splitty/change and curveball he’s every bit the #2 starter we need.  It’s those other nights that give him trouble.

I wrote last Friday that Scott Kazmir, like much of the Indians rotation, seems an all-or-nothing pitcher to me, and as evidence I broke his starts into two categories.  Let’s try this with Ubaldo:



He’s just not the same guy.  There’s the dominant, 3+ K/BB walk guy who shows up in two-thirds of his starts, then the stinking, blubbering failure that comes around every third time or so.  I would probably argue that if you’re going to sustain and ERA of 4.83—his current line for the season—that his performance thus far would be the way you’d prefer to do it: dominate most of the time and then give your team no chance every now and then.  That seems to me better than just stinking consistently.  Either way though, is this a #2 pitcher on a contending team?  I guess sometimes he is.

Anyway, Ubaldo cruised, Giambino homered and drove in three and the Indians earned their league-leading eighth shutout on the young season with a 5-0 victory (I know, right?).

Which left Sunday’s matchup of Jeremy Hellickson against Zach McAllister as the rubber game.  As a quick aside, I find Hellickson to be completely frustrating to watch as an opposing fan.  His fastball hovers in the low 90s, his change-up is always around the plate and he throws almost no breaking balls, and yet the Indians can’t buy a hit against him. Entering Sunday’s game, he had a 2.37 ERA against the Tribe.

Really though Hellickson wouldn’t matter all that much because the one pitcher I’ve continued to exempt from my all-or-nothing theory, McAllister, gave his team no shot. He managed to gut through 4.1 innings, allowing four walks and striking out no one en route to five Tampa runs.  This is now two starts in a row in which McAllister has appeared to have very little command of his fastball.  In his last start he relied on his off-speed pitches and gave the Indians enough to win, but Sunday he couldn’t locate any pitch for strikes and got beat all around.  Worst of all, just as the Indians managed to claw back into the game in the bottom of the fourth, McAllister and a Yan Gomes throwing error let them right back in the driver’s seat in the fifth.  The Rays didn’t look back, and ended up trouncing the Tribe bullpen on their way to an 11-3 win.

So let’s ask ourselves some questions.

Is the bullpen worrisome? Meh.  A little maybe.  You’d sure like to have Perez healthy and Pestano dominant, but when you look at the advanced stats they’re really not doing so bad.  13% of their flyballs have become home runs; that won’t last.  Their K/BB ratio of 2.53 puts them fifth in the AL as does their xFIP of 3.83.  Is the bullpen still a great strength? No, probably not.  But it’s possible they weren’t as good as they often appeared last year (really, it is) just like it’s possible they’re not as bad as they look right now.

Are we done playing elite teams yet? No.  In the next month the Indians face the Yankees, Tigers (twice), Rangers, Nationals, and Orioles.  Those are all really good teams.  After the All-Star Break, things start to get easier, but there are a lot of hurdles to deal with before mid-July.

What about Carlos Carrasco? Right now, Carrasco has a 3.21 ERA in Columbus and is striking out more than three times as many hitters as he’s walking.  His problems will always be home run related (and, perhaps, getting ejected for doing dumb stuff), but so far this year he’s allowed only four home runs in 47.2 innings pitched.  Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer is getting shellacked down there; in his last three starts (16.1 innings) he’s walked as many batters as Carrasco has all season (14).  This, along with the bullpen deficiencies, is my way of saying I don’t want to see Brett Myers anywhere near our rotation this year.

How good is good enough? The Indians are so much better than they were last season.  But we have to remember that they were truly awful last season, so improvement isn’t necessarily going to be good enough to matter in any tangible way.  I still think they have to get to the All-Star Break above .500 with a solid hold on second place (or first, why not?) before we can think of them as contenders for a playoff spot.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t just enjoy the bejeezus out of watching a fun team play good baseball for the next month or so.  Some questions just don’t have answers yet.

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

  • CB Everett

    I know lefties who can throw 95 are rarities; however, I don’t want to see the lurching mouthbreather Hagadone in the pen again this year. He can go throw some gasoline in Columbus until his heart is content. And then perhaps we can call up a new face (ie someone not named Huff).

  • mgbode

    I completely agree with you that if you are going to have a bad ERA, then having a combination of great starts and putrid starts is the best way to do it. He’s either helping us gut out a win or shouldering the loss. Now, if he can just figure out a way of having those putrid starts happen less often, then we’ll be in business.

  • Jaker

    -I was very disappointed that they had to play that game so late, it just seemed ridiculous and forced.

    -Dr. Ubaldo and Mr. Jimenez at it again

    -Can’t buy a hit? We had plenty of hits against Hellickson, only problem was that aside from a Gomes double, they were all singles.

    -That flyball rate better come down quickly, because flyballs at Yankee Stadium and Arlington turn into homers quickly. And guess where 6 of are next 9 games are played?

    -Agree on Myers, rather deal some young talent for a better starter at #2, pushing Ubaldo to the 3, Mac to 4, and Kaz/Klub to the 5. Not so bad.

    -Finally, the months of June and August will be the toughest for this team, but if we can get to September within striking distance of first(3-5 games) and just as close in the WC, I think I’ll be happy because our September schedule isn’t as tough as any other month.

  • Harv 21

    “the lurching mouthbreather Hagadone.” Exactly what I think when watching him lately. But he’s the kind of lowbrow that will one season go lights out as a set-up guy and will suddenly seem like the the lean cowboy enforcer. Then he’ll return to being the stupid doodoohead who breaks his own hand after a mound implosion.

  • Harv 21

    As you said in a podcast, Jon, just be at .500 at the end of this trip. When an org has quality arms bullpens can get tweaked in mid-season and get red hot just as quickly as they fall apart, Detroit is having their own problems, and there’s two wild cards. They need to not get swept in any of these upcoming series.

    I’m not counting on Carrasco. He can’t work on his impulse control issues in the minors where no one can hit his stuff. You have to at least fake like you’re a big boy and have some mental toughness on a major league mound, and not yet sure Carlos has that in him.

  • mgbode

    part of what I like about Tabasco is his fiery attitude. however, there is a fine line between fiery and out-of-control. He has been the latter too often and MLB is letting him know that will not be tolerated.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    And after all of this the real tough part of the schedule starts tonight! Look on the bright side(s) though because Detroit was losing too and Washington looks like both Strasburg and Harper won’t be available.

  • FearTheRoo

    The whole month of June is awful for the Tribe. Going 3-2 over the past 5 isn’t bad, but shows how inconsistent we’ve been. Just frustrating that everytime Detroit stumbles we can’t take advantage. This team needs to win the “must-win” games.