8:06 PM – I crunched some numbers earlier today that suggested the Indians need to shoot for at least 90 wins if they want to make the playoffs. I don’t know why I did that work, because you could probably just have hit a corpse on the nose with a ball-peen hammer before the season and have concluded largely the same thing. Nevertheless, to win 90 games the Indians need to go 24-9 over their remaining 33 contests—a winning clip of .727. That seems difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.
The good news is that, at least to some degree, the Indians control their own destiny. They have 10 series remaining, eight of which are against AL Central teams.1 They’ve pitched well of late, so assuming the bats can come around, nothing is out of the question.
On the other hand, there are pitchers other than TJ House I might rather entrust with the first of these games.
8:14 PM – Something must be said about the bunting.
I am happy to concede that there is such a thing as a reasonable sacrifice bunt situation. I am willing even to concede that such a bunt may reasonably take place in contexts other than the eighth or ninth inning of a one run game. Furthermore, I appreciate that not all bunts with runners on base are necessarily attempts at giving away an out; you must factor in a batter’s ability to turn a bunt into a hit, which shifts the scoring expectancy a bit away from the rote charts you see cited by the saberati. I get that the sacrifice bunt, when deployed strategically, can be a powerful tool in the manager’s tool box.
On the other hand, Jose Ramirez is hitting the snot out of the ball; in August he’s hitting .310/.355/.397 over 67 plate appearances. Morever, it’s the top of the first inning against a pitcher who’s just given up a lead-off double to Michael Bourn. You have the chance to pounce on Jose Quintana, and bloody him up early. But instead Ramirez bunts back to the pitcher, moving Bourn to third and giving Quintana the first out of the inning. For the record, I think that was a silly decision.
8:26 PM – I suppose you could argue the bunt “worked”. After all Michael Bourn scored! It must have worked!
But Michael Bourn scored on a double off the wall from Carlos Santana after Michael Brantley walked, which means Jose Ramirez’s bunt really didn’t accomplish anything except give a struggling pitcher a free out. Quintana continued to muck his way throughout the first, allowing another two runs on a Kipnis groundout and an Aviles single.
Indians jump out early to a 3-0 lead, but I feel like it really could’ve been more. You hope TJ doesn’t need that sort of cushion, but he’s a number five starter for a reason.
8:37 PM – And just like that, the White Sox are right back in it.
After an Adam Eaton groundout, Chicago goes single, double, single to plate two runs. Thankfully, Paul Konerko is old and decrepit and compliantly grounds into an inning ending double play. 3-2 Indians after one.
8:51 PM – There are several reasons I don’t write with the frequency that I once did: a job that has become more demanding; a child with whom I occasionally like to commune; my precious toilet time. But certainly one excuse I find myself coming back to again and again is the feeling that I’ve already said what I think about [insert topic here].
To wit, TJ House. TJ House is Josh Tomlin is Aaron Laffey is Jeremy Sowers is Tom Mastny is David Huff. He has his strengths—strengths that are occasionally enough to make you convince yourself that he’s actually good. He will sprinkle some competence here, and occasionally even dabble in what could be considered brilliance over there. I’m thinking of Josh Tomlin shutting out the Yankees in his Big Leage debut, or Tom Mastny throwing five scoreless in the 2007 ALCS against Boston. Gosh, you tell yourself. Why NOT him?
Because of talent, mostly. Talent has a way of catching up with these guys. Ultimately, how good a pitcher’s pitches are has a fairly predictable effect on how good he will be. It’s not, therefore, surprising to me that Carlos Carrasco has found some recent success in the rotation. He has two excellent pitches and at least one good one. TJ House just doesn’t. He has a good groundball rate, reasonable control, a strikeout rate that’s downright Sowersian, and some pretty decent luck on sequencing so far this year (.340 BABiPs generally don’t go with 76% strand-rates for long).
This isn’t to dump on TJ at all. He seems nice, and we’re lucky to have him. There is absolutely nothing wrong with above replacement level pitching for the league minimum. It’s just that he keeps pitching on my live recap nights, and these games take forever.
8:57 PM –While I was writing that love letter to TJ House (whose real name is “Glenn Anthony”, which I continue to find noteworthy), the Indians scored again to make it 4-2. Then Glenn let up a leadoff single just to stick it to me before a strike out and a GIDP to move us along to the third inning. I appreciate the nod toward brevity Glenn, honestly! All that stuff before was merely motivational!
Through two innings we’ve had six runs on ten hits and if there’s a rain delay tonight I’m going to make up the end of the recap and you shouldn’t trust anything.
9:06 PM – Let’s digress, as this is getting boring.
Win totals for division winners by year: pic.twitter.com/OVN0MYrZXo
— Jon (@WFNYJon) August 26, 2014
Based on current playoff rules since 2000: Avg ALC winner: 93 W Avg AL WC team: 93 W Avg 1st AL WC team: 95 W Avg 2nd AL WC team: 91 W
— Jon (@WFNYJon) August 26, 2014
A couple of things here. First, I know that the second wild card is new. But I wanted a bigger sample, so I went back to 2000 and looked at the records of the teams who would have been the second wild card if such a thing had existed at the time. Are there problems with this approach? Prolly, yeah. But not so much that we can’t draw some reasonable inferences.
One of which is that it’s still awfully hard to make the playoffs. The “first” wildcard teams’ average win total in the AL over this 14 year stretch was 95 wins. The “second” was 91. Some of this is likely inflated by the former dominance of the AL East, but still, I think we have to shoot for at least 90 wins for any hopes of the Wild Card, not least because of how many teams will be fighting over what looks to be a single spot. (The AL West is basically running away with the first Wild Card, at this point.) That means the Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners, Tigers/Royals, and Indians will all be fighting for a single spot in the one-game playoff. One of those teams is bound to take ahold of this race and dominate. At least that’s what I keep figuring.
This is all making me wonder if our easier route to the playoffs might not be through the Division. After all, our schedule certainly affords us ample opportunity to beat a path past Detroit and Kansas City. Right now, both the Tigers and the Royals are projected to finish with 89-90 wins. That could potentially fall if we beat up on them, but right now it means we need to get to at least 90. I keep coming back to it, and don’t really see a way around it. 90 wins or bust. Just win, baby.
9:31 PM – Perhaps this game has settled in? We’re now heading to the top of the fifth, still 4-2 Indians. The intervening innings have not been particularly smooth for either hurler—additional base runners galore and all that—but the scoring has subsided for the time being. I admit that TJ House is looking more appealing to me with each vacant frame.
Gosh, I find myself wondering. Why NOT him?
9:49 PM – Oh. Right. That.
Dayan Viciedo turns on a pitch for a ground rule double to left to lead off the bottom of the fifth. After House retires the next two, threatening to get out of the inning unscathed, Adam Eaton dumps a single to right center to score Viciedo. Alexi Ramirez follows with a two-run home run to left center to put the White Sox up 5-4.
Just like that, House’s night is done. CC Lee coming on to limit the damage.
9:53 PM – I like to point out when Matt and Rick make good points, because, you know, it seems kind considering all the grief I give them. Anyway, Matt pointed out how much House has struggled the third time through the lineup. Being an inquisitive soul, I decided to do some recon. Here are his career MLB numbers:
- 1st time through lineup: .297/.343/.366
- 2nd time through lineup: .263/.318/.434
- 3rd time through lineup: .359/.431/.578
Lee induces a groundout from Abreu to end the inning.
10:03 PM – Quintana gets himself into trouble immediately, and gets pulled for Matt Lindstrom.
Sooooooooo. Tyler Holt against Matt Lindstrom. Men on first and second. Game arguably on the li…OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO TRY TO BUNT AGAIN!!!1111one11!!
Holt squares twice. He fouls both off, to get behind 0-2. He then waves at the third pitch to strike out. I am furious. As evidenced by my terse sentence structure. Some of these. Aren’t even. Complete sentences.
10:11 PM – I still hate those bunt attempts, but I have to move on, because “good” stuff happened. “Good” stuff.
After Holt’s strikeout (which was nonsense that was completely precipitated by a bunt call that had no rational standing), Roberto Perez did this:
Which, as you can plainly see, was not great. Then he did this. Also, not great:
For the record, Rick “thought he was going to make it.” Because of course he did.
Anyway, Indians back up 6-5. I can’t believe that one of these teams is going to receive credit for winning this complete abdication of a baseball game.
10:19 PM – The White Sox knock Lee right out of the game with a lead off double and a walk to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Rzepczynski coming on to face Gillaspie and if there is a God in this vast and meaningless universe he will be bunting.
10:23 PM – No bunt, but Scrabble strikes him out anyway. Verdict: agnosticism. Which feels like the exact word I’d use to describe this game, actually.
10:26 PM – Scott Atchison comes on and induces a GIDP to end the inning and preserve the Indians 6-5 lead. I’m so excited. I’m so scared.
10:37 PM – After a one out walk to Santana and an infield hit from Kipnis, the Indians try to get something cooking in the seventh. I am, of course, terrified that Aviles is about to put down a bunt.
10:38 PM – No such luck. Both Aviles and Walters pop out weakly to the infield. Going to the bottom of the seventh, still 6-5.
10:46 PM – The bad news is that Atchison has allowed the first two White Sox to reach base safely. The good news is that I’m now able to demonstrate that I’m not a hypocrite: were I the manager of the White Sox, I would likely consider bunting with Adam Eaton to move the runners up to second and third with one out.
10:47 PM – They do. The sac bunt “works”. Now I’m regretting my magnanimity.
10:51 PM – I can’t do extra innings, you guys. This game is too horrible.
Groundball to the hole where Jose Ramirez makes a great play to get Alexi at first, but the run scores from third. After an intentional walk to Jose Abreu, Avasail Garcia grounds out to short. Tied back up at six apiece, heading to the top of the eighth.
10:58 PM – BUNTS FOR EVERYONE!!!
For the record, I’m borderline fine with this one too. After a four-pitch walk to Chris Dickerson to lead off the inning, Roberto Perez bunts him over to second. On the one hand, I’d have liked to make the struggling pitcher throw some strikes before giving him a free out. On the other, Roberto Perez is not a great hitter, and we’re in that late/close part of the game where one run means a lot. Overall, I give this bunt a “tolerable” rating, which is better than I can say for some of the rest of them.
Anyway, former Indian farmhand Zach Putnam on to face Bourn, with one out and Dickerson on second.
11:05 PM – No such luck. Bourn flies out to left and Ramirez grounds out to third to end the inning.
11:16 PM – Atchison, Hagadone and Shaw combine to send the White Sox down 1-2-3 in the eighth.
I’m coming to terms with the possibility that this may become an extra-inning game. I have no contingency plan for this possibility, beyond self-contempt. My only hope is the heart of the order, coming up in the top of the ninth.
11:25 PM – Welp. That could’ve gone better. Line out, strike out, strike out. Heading to the bottom of the ninth, still tied.
I love baseball as much as anyone I know but this is starting to feel like one of those Escher paintings where all the stairways just lead to more stairways that go around and around in a neverending cycle that leads nowhere. Except in this version their are people bunting all over the stairs.
11:33 PM – Bryan Shaw sends them down in order, and the rough outline of fear that has been hanging over me for at least an hour has now become a stark reality: this horrible, horrible baseball game–already three and a half hours old–will be going to extra innings. Congratulations Satan. 10th inning coming at you.
11:37 PM – Lonnie Chisenhall leads off the tenth with a pinch-hit double to the wall in right. I interrupt the inning only because–in what can only be described as thematic closure–I expect a sacrifice bunt.
11:42 PM – Sure enough, the bunt is attempted twice, amassing two strikes for young Zach Walters.
THANK GOD FOR TWO STRIKES!
Walters works the count full and then clobbers a pitch to right center for a two-run home run. The Indians take the 8-6 lead, and there’s a chance I get to go to sleep tonight!
11:51 PM – Cueto gets the Sox out of the inning without further damage. Cody Allen coming on for the save, in a game that’s suddenly become a bit more tolerable.
11:53 PM – That’s odd. After pitching 1.1 innings, Bryan Shaw comes back out for the bottom of the tenth. This despite a seemingly healthy Cody Allen coming off an off-day. I don’t like the signals this sends one bit.
11:59 PM – Bryan Shaw ain’t concerned one bit. He sends the Sox down 1-2-3 and the Indians take the game, 8-6.
This game was too sloppy by far. They will not win 70% of their games with this sort of performance. On the other hand, a win is a win is a win. We need as many as we can get, and at this point I’ll take them however they come.
- I’m not including the make-up game against LAA in these numbers. [↩]