Offensive Explosion Gets Tribe One Step Closer

kipnisminnyAfter a trying day that included yanking Chris Perez from the closer’s role that he’s held for the past three and a half seasons, the Indians really needed a no-doubter type win where they could give some key bullpen guys the night off. They got just that as the Indians bats exploded on lefty Pedro Hernandez and posted seven runs in the first two innings. The lead eventually shrunk to 9-6, but the Tribe held on for a 12-6 victory and stayed out of the heart of their bullpen in the process, decreasing their magic number to two.

Nick Swisher started the extra base hit parade with a double, followed by a Kipnis triple, Santana double, and Cabrera double. Yan Gomes added a single, and just like that, Corey Kluber walked out to the mound with a 4-run lead. A double play grounded into by Swisher in the second plated another run, and then Ryan Raburn’s two-run single made it 7-0. Hernandez just kept putting fastballs in the middle of the plate, and the Tribe was racking up the extra base hits (and loud outs on top of that) by going after him early in the count. Hernandez was 1-0 allowing 7 runs in 10 1/3 innings over two starts against Cleveland, but he didn’t even make it to the end of the second frame this time. After just 43 pitches, Hernandez was gone, allowing 6 runs and 7 hits.

Meanwhile, Corey Kluber was cruising right along through the first four innings, allowing just a run. Kluber’s had five starts since returning from the finger injury, and he’s now 4-0. He has definitely not been as sharp as the guy who was in effect the team’s #2 starter for the majority of the season, but he’s been getting the job done overall. Things started to head south in the fifth, though, when Captain Kluber surrendered a two-run homer to Pedro Florimon that answered the two runs the Tribe bats put up in the top of the inning, on a Mike Aviles two-run single, to make it a 9-3 ballgame. Banging out 17 hits in all, every starter in the lineup had at least one hit, seven had one RBI or more, and four had multiple RBI.

There’s something to be said for losing your edge in a blowout, and I think that may be what happened to Kluber. The sixth inning was a disaster for him. After retiring the first batter, Kluber allowed two singles and a walk that loaded the bases and chased him from the game after 91 pitches. Lefty Rich Hill came on and did not do his job. A groundball to first scored one run, but it was Alex Presley’s two-run single to left that made this a ballgame again. More importantly, it made you wonder if in the sixth inning up just three if Tito wouldn’t be able to give his bullpen core of Smith, Shaw, and Allen the night off they so desperately needed and seemed like such a certainty earlier in the contest. Shaw had worked 6 of the last 8 days, and Cody had worked 5 of the last 6. They NEEDED this day off. So, Francona went to C.C. Lee, who struck out Brian Dozier to end the threat. It’s a little unnerving to have those 7 or 8 guys all season in your bullpen that you trust and want to use then put the ball in the hands of a Columbus Clipper, but Lee may be here after all next year, and kudos to him for getting the job done.

The only key person to the back end of the bullpen (in the definite sense) that had to work was Mark Rzepczynski. Scrabble worked a 1-2-3 seventh and sort of calmed down the situation, putting that goose-egg up on the board at Target Field was psychologically huge. It set the tone for the rest of the game with the Tribe adding three more and the Twins halting their offense right there.

We got our expected Justin Masterson appearance in the eighth inning, which was obvious since he’d been warming up since the sixth inning. Masterson’s speed looked good on his sinker in the 94-95 range, but he had far too many foul tips for my liking (12 in all). Hitters kept just getting a piece of his stuff, which isn’t a common occurrence when that sinker and slider are both working as they should. He walked the first batter he faced, but he went on to strike out the side (all looking), the last two on sliders that froze the hitter with great movement. It took Masterson 25 pitches to get through the 8th, which is more than you would like, but I think he’s rounding himself into form. He’s off limits tonight with the hope that he could go on Sunday, provided that game is still meaningful. It would appear that Joe Smith is your guy for the ninth inning this afternoon, if he’s needed.

Speaking of meaningful, the Rays lost last night! You just had the feeling that if the Indians wanted to host that wild card game, the move to pull even with Tampa had to happen last night. Thanks to R.A. Dickey and the Jays, the Tribe and Rays are now both 90-70. Texas beat C.J. Wilson, so they stayed in the hunt at 89-71, one game behind the two wild card leaders. Texas due to bad weather on the way had to move up their game against the Angels to 11 am local time! They’ll finish before the Indians in all likelihood, who have a 1pm first pitch today, so the Indians could know if a win today clinches a playoff berth. That would be huge, because if it does, the Indians can pull back Ubaldo, holding him until Wednesday’s wild card game, wherever it may be, and go bullpen committee for the regular season finale.

Scott Kazmir takes the ball for the Tribe this afternoon against right-hander Cole De Vries for Minnesota.

(Photo: Jim Mone/AP)