We have watched all season as the Tribe has acted like a volatile stock. They can get hot and win eight of 10 just as quickly as they can lose eight of 10. The schedule coming out of the All-Star break set up nicely. If you have to start on the road, might as well do it against two of the AL’s worst – the Minnesota Twins and the Seattle Mariners.
Over the weekend, the Indians had a sweep in their sights, except they lost two of three despite their starters allowing just one earned run combined. Last night in Seattle, it was Ubaldo Jimenez’s turn to continue the quality starting pitching run. The offense has been the real problem out of the break. They scored two runs in each of the two losses in Minnesota. Yes, they busted out for seven on Sunday, but five of those run came on two hits – a Michael Brantley bases loaded triple and a Jason Kipnis two-run homer. Other than that, it seemed to have been one missed opportunity after another.
I will say it again, it is these kinds of games that you have to win if you plan on taking the division away from the Detroit Tigers.
To try and get the slumbering offense going, manager Terry Francona moved Nick Swisher up from the cleanup spot to the two hole, flip-flopping with another cold Indian, Asdrubal Cabrera. “I talked to Swish about it last week before the All-Star break,” said Francona. “I just wanted to see if he could come out of the break and get hot. I’m thinking about a couple of things: No.1 on his worst day, Swish sees a lot of pitches and has a good on-base percentage. No.2, with Michael Bourn in front of him, every pitcher slide steps when Bournie gets on base. So maybe Swish gets some mistakes and more fastballs to hit.”
In the first inning, Tito looked like a genius as Swish hit a solo homer to left-center against veteran Aaron Harang. In the third inning, after a Bourn single off of Harang’s foot, Swish blooped a single to left for his second hit advancing Bourn to third. But as we have seen so many times lately, the Indians couldn’t bring in the run. Kipnis struck out and Cabrera grounded out. It is these early blown opportunities that they always seem to be lamenting.
An inning later, Carlos Santana hit a one-out double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He was stranded there as Jason Giambi popped out to short and Lonnie Chisenhall grounded out. Like they did with Mike Pelphrey and Kevin Correia over the weekend, the Indians were letting an average starting pitcher off the hook.
On the other side was Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been a far more successful pitcher on the road than he has been at home. Once again, Ubaldo was being Ubaldo – walking guys, throwing a lot of pitches, but limiting the damage. He essentially made two mistakes – solo homers by Kendrys Morales (who would look real good in the DH spot for the Indians instead of the Mark Reynolds/Jason Giambi duo might I add) in the fourth and Mike Zunino in the fifth.
“The main thing is you want to minimize the mistakes. You don’t want to be making mistakes, especially with a hitter like Morales. He has a lot of power. If you make a mistake, like I did with that pitch, he’s going to hit it a long way.”
Other than that and his four walks, Jimenez did what he does. CC Lee came on in the sixth to get the final out and close the book on Ubaldo who threw 110 pitches in five and two-thirds, allowing those two runs on five hits. He struck out six.
The Tribe’s starters have been masterful since July 7th, posting an ERA of 1.99. If only the bats could match this output.
As the game grew longer, the Indians continued to scuffle against Harang. Through seven innings, the Indians had just four hits, none coming after the fourth. Harang retired the last nine in a row before exiting in favor of lefty Charlie Furbush. The first batter he faced in the eighth was Bourn, who he hit with a pitch. Swisher struck out and failed to move Bourn to second. Now with one out, the speedy Bourn needed to get himself into scoring position. These are the spots that beg for him to steal. Unfortunately, Furbush picked him off on his first move.
“I messed up,” Bourn said. “I felt like I thought I had [Furbush] read right. I didn’t. He guessed right on me and was able to pick me off.”
They still had one more chance to tie the game against shaky Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen. With one out, Michael Brantley doubled, giving the Tribe two shots to get him home from second. Santana grounded out for the second out with Brantley moving to third. Giambi then worked a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Mike Aviles. It was up to Chisenhall. He swung at a 1-0 pitch and flew out to right to end the game. The loss was another one the Indians will be kicking themselves over when the season is over of they don’t win the Central.
This one was on the offense.
Said Swisher after a 2-4 night: “It’s frustrating not being able to score any runs. Ubaldo did a great job. The bullpen comes in and does a great job. For a team that’s been hot as a firecracker over there, for us to hold them at two runs, we’ve got to score more runs than that. We’ve got to pick up that win.”
“We missed some opportunities early in the game. These games, from here on out, they count. Ain’t no way around it. Sometimes you’re going to make mistakes, but we’ve got to be able to press for nine innings. That’s the way the second half is played. That’s how good teams get into the playoffs. They play the game within the game and every inning counts.”
Tonight’s tilt will be the return of Zach McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA) to the mound. He has been on the DL with a finger problem that has cost him six weeks. Seattle will counter with Erasmo Ramirez (0-0, 13.50 ERA), who will make just his second start of the season.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)