Blue Jays 5, Indians 4: Masterson’s hole too deep for offense to dig out

Carlos Santana

Justin Masterson is a nice guy. By all accounts he is a great teammate and rarely in a bad mood. But you know what I want to see from him? More nastiness. More intensity. More domination. But here is the thing: I expect too much out of Masterson. Justin is what he is—a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter. At his best, he is a No. 2. And therein lies the problem. I want him to be something that he isn’t.

Justin Masterson SplitsAs we have seen with Masterson many times before, the second time through the order, the opposition gets to him. On Tuesday night, Masterson was nearly untouchable through four innings, but it was the sixth where the wheels came off the wagon. After Juan Francisco’s solo homer gave Toronto a 2-1 lead in the fifth, the Jays stepped on Masterson’s throat. Melky Cabrera led off with a walk and advanced to second on Jose Bautista’s infield single. Left-handed hitters have given Masterson all sorts of trouble this year. Another one of those lefties was up next and touched him up. Adam Lind’s double scored both Cabrera and Bautista, stretching the Toronto lead to 4-1. Justin came back to strike out Edwin Encarnacion, but the left-handed hitting Francisco got him again with an RBI double to the corner in right. The walk to Brett Lawrie was all for Masterson as he departed after five-and-a-third.

“I just didn’t mix it up as well,” said Masterson. “That was the biggest thing. We still had some balls down for the most part, but it was just a lot of sinkers. They made a good adjustment to stay with the ball. I just didn’t combat the adjustment by mixing it up.”

With the way the Tribe’s offense has been most of the year, a 5-1 lead seemed insurmountable. But if we have learned anything with Francona’s Tribe teams it is that they always continue to battle. The Blue Jays bullpen has been a horror show all season, but it was actually starter R.A. Dickey who the Indians finally began to solve. The knuckleballer entered the seventh inning on cruise control. But the Wahoos went to work.

Asdrubal Cabrera led off the seventh with a single which was followed by a David Murphy infield single. Former Blue Jay Yan Gomes worked a walk to load the bases with nobody out and the Tribe was in business. Dickey hit Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch to force in a run and Jays skipper John Gibbons had seen enough. On came left-hander Aaron Loup with the bases still loaded and nobody out. He erased Mike Aviles on a short fly ball to right, but Michael Bourn delivered a single to right, scoring Murphy. Nick Swisher’s sac fly inched the Wahoos closer at 5-4. Michael Brantley was next and he lined one right up the middle for what everyone thought was a game-tying single off the bat, but shortstop Jose Reyes was shading Brantley that way and snared it for the third out. Dr. Smooth slammed his helmet down in disgust.

[Related: The Diff: Justin Masterson and his future with the Indians]

We had a John Axford sighting in the bottom of the seventh. His first appearances since losing his closer’s role played to rave reviews. The righthander came through with a 1-2-3 inning, setting the stage for a potential Tribe comeback.

Lefty Brett Cecil replaced Loup and gave up a leadoff single to the struggling Carlos Santana. ‘Los moved to second on a passed ball. Asdrubal failed to move Santana up a bag, striking out swinging at a pitch in the dirt. David Murphy also struck out. It was up to Gomes. The Yanimal lined a sharp single to left and third base coach waved Santana in all the way. Melky Cabrera has a cannon for an arm and came up firing. He threw a strike to catcher Josh Thole, who applied the tag to a sliding Santana for the third out.

“It was a great throw,” Santana said. “I don’t know if he tried to block the plate. I tried to be safe. It was a great moment, a great situation. I tried. Melky made a great throw and the bat was in the middle.”

Francona could have come out to challenge the play, but replays showed Carlos was indeed out. It was their last, best chance.

“I thought the ball was going to hit Carlos,” said Francona. “I think Carlos was more having to dodge the bat than anything. I think the throw took Thole toward it there.”

A two-out single by Bourn in the ninth was all the Indians would muster off of Jays closer Casey Janssen, as they fell in the series opener 5-4. The Indians attempt to square the series on Wednesday by sending Corey Kluber (3-3, 3.48 ERA) to the mound. He will match up with right-hander Dustin McGowan (2-1, 4.63 ERA)

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

  • Adam Copeland

    I thought that the Indians front office made a major mistake when they refused to re-up Masterson for 2-3 years like his camp was offering. After seeing him pitch this season, I’m reminded why those guys have their jobs and I don’t. Masterson just doesn’t seem like a guy worth $12-$14 million a year. He’s too inconsistent and it seems like at any point lefties can just destroy him.

  • boomhauertjs

    Was going to post the same thing. Hopefully, they take the money they save on Masty and Asdrubal next year to get a RH power bat or maybe a lefty starter.

  • John Smith

    If Ramirez is pinch running for Santana in the 8th this is a 5-5 game. God forbid Corey Kluber probably scores on that play. Santana’s turn rounding 3B was extremely wide. Play wasn’t reviewed because it was determined the throw took the catcher into the lane, which is legal. Regardless, Santana didn’t field last night and with the exception of a 2-0 fastball left up in the zone, still can’t hit either. Dickey had him swinging at pitches in the other box last night.
    How much longer can you hit him cleanup? I understand the alternatives are bleak, but this guy has THE worst BA of ALL qualified hitters. He is hitting 4th. This isn’t Aaron Cunningham hitting 7th. This is your cleanup hitter. I’m tired of this talk about the position change in his head and hurting his hitting. He’s a professional baseball player. Came up in the Dodgers organization as a 3B. Santana needs to get it together before this team is too far out.

  • Steve

    Let’s look at what’s happening to Santana at the plate.

    He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone than any other point in his career.

    He’s swinging and missing at as many pitches as last year, which is down a tick from his career mark.

    He’s seeing a bit fewer pitches in the strike zone than in years past.

    He’s seeing fewer fastballs than in years past, especially 4-seamers.

    His LD% is way down, but his BABIP is even further down.

    My takeaway is that he’s simply not getting good pitches to hit. Not many pitches in the strike zone, not good contact when he does get the bat on the ball. But more balls are going to start falling in for hits. The patience that will lead to good results is still there, and the power has shown when he does finally get some good pitches. He’s had some stretches like this in the past, and he snapped out of it.

  • Natedawg86

    Kaz would have looked good at 22M

  • tsm

    Excellent observation about the failure to use Ramirez as a pr. Carlos was not catching, so it was not like we were going to lose our catcher. As pointed out, Carlos is not hitting this year either, so his removal is not exactly taking a big bat out of the lineup in the late innings.
    Also agree on Masty, as I was unhappy they couldn’t agree to a deal, but so far he has not shown he is worth it.
    Finally, I still think Carrasco can be great in the pen with his stuff. We need to keep using him to see how this develops.