Don’t look now, but here they come. The Cleveland Indians, the consistent inconsistents, are in the midst of the soft part of their schedule. After taking two of three from the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, the next nine games on the docket featured three of the AL’s worst teams; Minnesota, Houston, and Chicago. The Twins were first up and the way things got started two nights ago early, this wasn’t going to be the beginning of something big. But since Trevor Bauer gave up five runs in the first inning Tuesday night, the Indians have shutout out the Twinkies. That’s right, 17 straight scoreless frames from your Wahoo pitching staff.
They battled back to take the first game of the series Tuesday as they chipped away at that five run deficit and eventually won 7-5. Last night they led from start to finish as T.J. House and four relievers held Minnesota scoreless on five hits in a 5-0 win. The hot and cold offense has woken up again. The arms are doing their thing. Is it de ja vu all over again for the Indians? Could another late season sizzling streak be in the offing?
“Right now, they’re pitching lights out. Last year it was the same kind of thing later in the season. Everybody had that little bit of extra confidence and was able to go out there and execute their pitches,” said Mike Aviles, one of last night’s heroes. “This absolutely feels like the same thing.”
Zach Walters got the party started with a two out homer in the second off of Twins starter Ricky Nolasco. It was his third homer as an Indian, a no doubt, upper-tank shot. In the fourth, back to back doubles from Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis gave the Tribe their second run. Aviles’s RBI single brought in Kipnis. Francona went with the numbers and gave Handsome Mike the start at third against the right-handed Nolasco. After two more hits off of the right-hander, Aviles is now 7-11 in his career.
Then there was the pitching. House has a way of bobbing and weaving through games and minimizing damage. The Twins put their leadoff batter on base in four of the six innings that House pitched in, but each time they failed to score. He just kept bearing down and getting the big outs he needed.
“Once he gets guys in scoring position, he’s all changeups and sliders,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He actually throws more offspeed in hitter’s counts. He has a good changeup. We barreled a lot up, but just didn’t get any hits with runners on.”
The Tribe played the I-71 shuttle with House, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin over the last two months, flipping guys back and forth in the rotation unlike any season I can remember. It hasn’t been easy for the guys, but everyone is on the same page. It is all about the team.
Said House: “Obviously, I’ve never gone through the situation I’ve been in this year. You always want to be positive and not a nuisance or a distraction in any possible way. So I just told them, ‘Whatever you need me to do, I’m going to do.’ Whether that’s me going down and coming back up and starting, going back down, going to the bullpen, whatever it may be. I’m just going to do my job and help this team win. That’s all I want to do.”
House now has a 1.66 ERA in his last 16 innings of work. Even more impressive is the overall body of work from the group. In the last nine games, Tribe starters have given up just 10 runs in 54 innings, good for a 1.67 ERA (h/t to @joelhammond)
Speaking of the team, the rock of it has to be the bullpen and for the second consecutive night, they were nails in closing out a win. House departed with one out in the sixth and handed the ball to C.C. Lee who worked out of a two on, one out jam. Michael Bourn added an RBI in the seventh and Aviles’s third hit of the nigh, a solo blast in the ninth, ended the scoring. Scott Atchison, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Shaw closed things out for the win. Of all of the bullpen pieces, Hagadone’s emergence may have become the most important and most surprising. The command issues he has struggled with over the past three years seem to have left and Nick has become a dependable late inning lefty. He’s allowed just one earned run in his last 18 appearances with 15 strikeouts to just one walk.
With the win, the 64-61 Indians moved to within five and a half games of first place Kansas City in the AL Central and trail Detroit by just four and a half games in the race for the second Wild Card. They’ve won seven of nine and have leaped over both New York and Toronto. Now the Tribe goes for the sweep with the unhittable Corey Kluber pitching this afternoon. They couldn’t be in a better spot. The Twins counter with righty Phil Hughes.
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)