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A Season-Saving Start from Danny Salazar

Danny Salazar
Jason Miller/Getty Images

8:04 PM – We pick it up tonight heading to the bottom of the fourth with the Indians already up 2-0 on a first inning Carlos Santana home run.  Uh oh. This sounds like last night’s game. But instead of Carlos Carrasco doing wonderfully strange things, tonight we have Danny Salazar on the mound looking boringly good so far, managing his way out of his only spot of trouble in the top of the fourth.

It always feels a bit over-dramatic to call a regular season game a “must win”—especially when there are still four weeks left in the season with plenty of games against division foes to go.  But after the first two games of this series and the continued winning ways of the Royals, the Indians are as close to a “must win” as they’ve been all season.

All I’ve asked from my baseball teams is meaningful September baseball. It’s only fair that sometimes that feels like this—all raw nerves and fear.

8:17 PM – I’m not interested in debating anyone who wants to argue that Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley aren’t having outstanding offensive years.  But as for consensus, that’s about as far as our depth goes this year. We’re almost certainly going to need strong contributions from others in this last month if we’re going to win games at the requisite clip to make the playoffs.

Which brings me to Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes, who combined to score two more in the fourth and extend the Indians’ lead to 4-0.  After Kipnis works a one-out walk off Verlander, Chisenhall drives him in on a double to the left field corner. Chiz advances to third on an error. Then Gomes drops a bloop single beyond Victor’s reach at first base to score Lonnie.

Assuming our starting pitching can hold up—no small feat, to be sure—our playoff chances will largely come down to these three guys (and sure, throw Bourn in there too). There have been far too many games in the last month wherein the entire offense consisted of Santana home runs and Brantley doubles and hopefully a few seeing-eye singles from the rest of the crew. That won’t play much longer.

Anyway, over his last nine games Lonnie is hitting .444/.483/.667 with some flashes of his early season brilliance. Perhaps the ‘stache suits him well.

Quote8:39 PM – Salazar and Verlander work a scoreless fifth.  Still 4-0, heading to the sixth.

I’ve established something of a personal moratorium on commenting on the Indians attendance issues. It’s just not a rabbit hole I’m prepared to go down more than once a year or so. The vitriol it inspires, the unanswerable questions it poses, the frustrating divisions it seemingly engenders in otherwise amiable people—it can all be so disheartening. In addition to the effects, there is an open question as to whether the attendance can even be discussed intelligently. There are people I quite like and respect who feel that dredging up the issue is impossible to do with any degree of nuance or sophistication. That, in short, comments on attendance comprise clickbait of the most churlish sort, unworthy of serious time or consideration. Baseball’s first step toward the inevitability of Godwin’s Law.

Perhaps that’s why I’m burying these thoughts in a mid-game live recap that literally tens of people will read?

Anyway, I disagree with masses. I think the attendance is a problem that’s worth talking about. It’s a problem that didn’t get better when they signed fancy, high-priced free agents and it didn’t get better when they signed a charismatic, ring-bearing manager and it didn’t get better when they won 92 games, and it didn’t get better when they made the playoffs and it didn’t get better in a September division race. Last week the Kansas City Royals sold out their 41-year old ballpark for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in nearly 30 years. Tonight the Indians paid attendance is below 12,000, and half that many are in the stands.

There are people who will tell you there are completely logical reasons for the Indians to be drawing fewer fans than all but one other team. To me, that is beside the point. Whether or not you can explain the empty seats is strictly an academic exercise: the seats are still empty, and that is still an endemic, structural problem for professional sports team. Isn’t it a problem that season ticket holders can’t give their tickets away? Isn’t it a problem that a team has no financial incentive to win games? Isn’t it a problem that we appear disinterested in this sport, this team? Explain all you like, I suppose. I’m just tired of pretending the attendance isn’t atrociously embarrassing, and pretending it for the sole purpose of letting people cling to a self-image that no longer conforms with reality. “It’s not us, we swear! We have excellent reasons!”

I don’t have any answers, by the way, other than hot dogs and fireworks. It depresses me that after all the histrionics and protests to the contrary, when the mirror is finally held up, that’s what we really want: meat sticks and firecrackers. Tribe Town, indeed.

9:01 PM – Ooof. That took me farther astride than it should have, but luckily Danny Salazar is dealing, so we haven’t missed much.

Salazar just struck out Bryan Holaday to end the top of the seventh, still 4-0 Tribe.  Salazar’s line so far tonight is pretty sterling, especially considering the competition: 7IP, 7H, 6K, 0BB, 0ER.

In some ways, this start from Salazar is a far less bizarre sibling to Carrasco’s start last night. Both let up their share of hits due largely to high BABiPs—.625 for Carrasco last night and .350 so far tonight for Salazar.  But they managed to control damage through strikeouts and (most importantly) limiting walks.

Interestingly, six strikeouts in seven innings is actually sort of low for Salazar, considering his former whiffing ways.  But this is a trend that’s been going for some time now:

MonthK/9
Mar/Apr11.01
May9.39
Jul9.75
Aug7.96

Regardless, I’m happy to sacrifice some strikeouts for improved K/BB ratios, and Salazar’s 2.88 K/BB in August was above either of his early months this season.

Heading to the bottom of the seventh, Verlander still going, Tribe still up 4-0.

9:15 PM – Gomes leads off with a double to left, and advances to third on a wild pitch, but a Giambi strikeout and a Walters groundout threaten to strand him and keep Verlander alive.

Instead, Michael Bourn has a tremendous at bat leading to a sharp single to center to score Gomes.  Ramirez follows with a double to right center to score Bourn and knock Verlander from the game. Good guys take a 6-0 lead and Verlander’s gone.

9:19 PM – Brantley follows with a single off lefty Pat McCoy to score Ramirez. Santana ends the inning with fly out to center, but now the Indians are up 7-0.  All runs charged to Verlander. I wonder if that man will ever find anything to be happy about again?

9:25 PM – Salazar just retired the Tigers in the eighth on 10 pitches and sits at only 102 on the night.  For a guy who’s struggled with control/command (and therefore efficiency) for the entire year, this is as promising a sign as I could have hoped for—no walks, attacking and controlling the strikezone, managing his pitchcount, while still flashing filthy raw stuff. Can you even imagine if Salazar, Bauer, and Carrasco all put it together for six months next year behind Kluber? Happy thoughts….

9:35 PM – Lonnie’s one out double to right goes wasted, as the Indians go down in the bottom of the eighth.

Looks like Salazar is coming out for the ninth. Miggy due up.

9:38 PM – Well, I don’t think anyone in Cleveland will object to this, but Miggy was pinch hit for by something called “J. McCann”. He grounds out. One down.

9:42 PM – After Don Kelly drops a single in, Salazar strikes out J.D. Martinez on a 98 mph heater on his 113th pitch of the night. Final Countdown against Nick Castellanos.

9:43 PM – “Career high in pitches thrown for Danny Salazar.” ~ M. Underwood, professional counter.

9:45 PM – On his 118th pitch of the night, a changeup in the dirt, Salazar gets Castellanos swinging and completes his first CGSHO. Game over, 7-0 Tribe.

I just said this on Twitter, so I apologize for the self-plagiarism. I’ve seen Danny Salazar look more impressive than he looked tonight. I’ve seen him basically be unhittable and overpowering and a complete force of nature bursting with promise on the mound. In other words, I’ve felt awed by him. But none of that ever left me feeling all that reassured or confident that it wouldn’t all disappear tomorrow. Tonight he had the great stuff, but far more importantly, he was carefully pitching with it. You could see him working the bottom of the zone, in and out, changing eye levels and completely owning the strikezone from the first inning to the last.

What Danny Salazar did tonight, for perhaps the first time, was something that looked repeatable and projectable to me. God only knows, we’ll need it.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

  • Want to know why attendance is so bad?

    I’ve been saying this every time this debate comes up – This team is boring. It’s beyond boring to watch. Seeing them win games in which their offensive and defensive efforts can only be compared to a primate romancing a football only to be saved by a solid starting pitching performance and a decent bullpen is a sports equivalent to watching paint dry. Add in the fact that you can chisel in stone you’re in for nearly three hours of this and you can count a lot of people, including myself, out. I go to anywhere from 5-10 games a year and that still seems like too many.

    Want to know why Detroit, a seemingly down trodden mess of a city, sells out games? Because it’s fun baseball to watch – they have miggy, hunter, vmart, scherzer and so on. Those are guys you want to go see pitch, or you skip a bathroom break because the heart of the lineup is up. The only guy I do that for is Brantley and that’s just because I want to see if anyone on this team is capable of ACTUALLY hitting .300. Now – go ahead with the flaming but that is the 100% truth.

  • Harv 21

    Buzzed from Salazar. Little in baseball is as exciting as when the home team guy with the electric stuff finally appears to harness it with his brain, rather than just flopping it around like guy trying to deal with a downed power line. e saw it with CC but it took him a long time.

    Also think we can figure out when Chiz is starting to streak: the willingness to dump pitches the other way and let them do what they do, rather than the closed-eye pull swing. He really has quick and clever bat when he trusts it.

    My man crush on Yan continues. This is supposed to be his sophomore slump year. Instead he’s wrecking this league on both offense and defense, and the concussion gave him a week of rest for the stretch run.

    As you say, these games are almost too tense to watch and we have to remember that this is a good thing. The greatest baseball game I ever attended was a ’95 playoff win against Seattle, where Assenmacher struck out 3 guys in an inning, including Griffey and Buhner, with men on base, and the game ending with men on and Lofton lunging to catch Edgar Martinez’s screaming liner in the gap. That game was not fun. Stadium seats are not designed for the fetal position.

  • JNeids

    Jon must have thrown the towel in around the time Brad Ausmus did – after something called “J. McCann” pinch hit for Miggy, something called “S. Moya” pinch hit for The Stick.
    Also, finally got to see the Brantley bobblehead in person today that I wanted to get so badly. Now I’m glad I didn’t go to the game Monday. It has to be the WORST bobblehead I have ever seen. It doesn’t look ANYTHING like Dr. Smooth, and his body position is just awkward. It looks like he’s catching and throwing at the same time. For shame.

  • nj0

    I don’t get baseball. Two months ago our rotation was in shambles, looking like the final nail in the coffin for this season and the main detriment towards any future success.

  • nj0

    Agree on Yan. He just goes. Outside of Brantely this year, he seems like the most consistent guy we have. He doesn’t get the praise he deserves because he’s just always playing well rather than crushing it then slumping for a while.

  • Chris Mc

    The attendance issue is simple economics, it doesn’t need a complex explanation. People have a certain amount of disposable income, and they clearly prefer to not spend it on the Indians. Blasting fans for not attending games is nonsensical and misguided. It’s their money, they’re free to spend it on entertainment as they please.

    The TV ratings are excellent, so people are interested and watching. However, unless they magically discover a way to be a more attractive live entertainment option than the other 2 teams in town, then nothing will change.

  • nj0

    You probably should have said this yesterday rather than after the complete game shutout, seven run effort. To each their own, but I don’t get the distinction between fun vs. non-fun baseball. How is Kluber, a Cy Young candidate, not a guy you want to go see pitch?

    I’ll agree that it’d be nice to have some flashier position players, but if the only way that people will go see the Tribe is if they have arguably the premier offensive player in baseball then that’s sort of sad. If this is the case then it reinforces what I’ve said dozens of times before – Cleveland just isn’t a baseball town.

  • Brian Six

    I’m with ya. I’ve been to about a game a month and plan on doing a few more in September, but I’ve been to a couple serious snoozers that make me want to be anywhere else. Tried packing the seats on Monday with my mustache-laden friends and it was all I could do to stay awake through the 8th when we left.
    Also, man do the games seem slow this year. Any time I go to a 7:05 game I don’t get home until midnight, and I don’t even live far away. I need sleep man; I prefer to stay at home and listen to the ninth inning while brushing my teeth at 11 pm in my pajamas.

  • nj0

    Also – what does it cost to get a cable package with the Indians? I know my parents got rid of their cable because they had gotten it for the Indians and it wasn’t included in the basic package. If people are paying a lot just to watch them on TV, then they’re more likely to not want to shell out more money to go to games.

  • nj0

    The speed of the game is a problem all over baseball. Pitch clock, please!

  • WFNYJon

    Carlos Carrasco wasn’t in the rotation two months ago 🙂

    While that’s a joke (sort of), it’s an instructive one. What the Indians have is young SP talent with gobs of upside, but they’re all struggling to actually achieve it (other than Kluber, I guess). When they all click, they look unstoppable. When they’re struggling, you want to pluck your eyeballs out with icepicks.

  • Chris Mc

    I cut my cable about a year ago, so I’m not entirely sure what the minimum is that you can pay to watch the Indians.

    I’m perfectly content with sitting out in my backyard during summer nights listening to Hamilton on an AM radio and having a few beers with friends, as opposed to paying to listen to Underwood stumble his way blindly through game after game.

  • JNeids
  • nj0

    Radio is the best way to consume baseball.

  • I’ll fully admit Kluber has been a revelation this year. I’m not saying across the board none of these guys are worth going to see but this team lacks serious marquee talent. I can’t think too many people are willing to throw stacks of cash for games in which Mcallister is pitching or the B squad is in minus guys like Brantley, Yan, Bourne, or Santana are out there.
    My distinction between fun and non-fun baseball are as follows
    1. Either score more than two runs in a nine inning, 3+ hour long game OR
    2. Pitch gloriously and play lights out eye popping defense and frustrate the heck out of the other team.
    3. Don’t appear to be hanging on by a thread for 162 games a year.

    Misguided? Sure, but I bet there are tons of people that feel the exact same.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ve been saying that for awhile as well and it doesn’t help when two of your better players, Kluber and Brantley, have limiting personalities. But to be fair Kipnis has twice their personality unfortunately he’s having an off year. I still say he’s playing hurt.

  • I’ll second that. As well as disallowing the batter to leave the box after every single pitch – I’m looking at you Nick Swisher.

  • nj0

    We’re definitely more about a roster of 25 decent-to-good guys rather than the stars and slop model. I get the frustration and understand the arguments for why people don’t go… but it’s the extent to which people don’t go. I mean, like 9000 people while playing meaningful games in September? That’s…. whatever legitimate reasons you come up with, that’s still ridiculously sad and pathetic. We’re the fan base Rachel Phelps dreamed about.

  • nj0

    Yes. What’s stupid to me is that there are already written rules about how quickly the pitcher needs to pitch. Just enforce those.

    Another point – games in September get even longer because of the call-ups and the extra arms in the bullpen.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Not only this but I believe I heard that three of the worst teams in attendance reside in the AL Central: Cleveland, Minnesota and surprisingly Chicago. I also heard someone talk about geographical realignment but it would be huge. The cities with two teams playing in the same division with each other Mets-Yankes, Cubs-White Sox. The Indians would move to a division with Minnesota, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Could be interesting certainly a lot fairer to market size.

  • nj0

    He’s playing pudgy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Pudge Rodriguez was good before and after I’m just sayin’!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well I’m sure the Cavaliers will draw just fine but to be fair they somehow managed crowds even when they stunk the past four years.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    In person is the best. I’d rather go to a baseball game then watch it on television and I’d rather watch a football game then attend.

  • Chris Mc

    It’s a subjective argument. I have a hard time sitting in a plastic seat for 3+ hours when the pace at an average baseball game is so slow.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Jump around, jump up jump up and get down!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZaz7OqyTHQ

  • nobody

    Well, the bigger problem with drawing 9000 in September (or any month) is that a AAA team could easily draw that. The Indians have far more talent than that (based on their record). I’m afraid there might be a point where they move the team to Columbus or Las Vegas due to attendance issues.

  • Seed

    This team, I swear. Going into the final month where you look at the lineup and see three to four guys that should be playing in Columbus, I’ve tried to keep my excitement at a minimal level. But they just keep winning. They keep holding on. Something about Terry Francona, he gets these kids to turn up the juice in September. If they make it to the playoffs again, there is no doubt he is Manager of the Year AGAIN.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    And lets hope playoffs mean more then one game. If the Indians do make it all the kudos in the world to Francona who I maintain continues to be one of the best managers in baseball. I also think for the Indians stand a better chance at the playoffs by winning the division as opposed to a wild card but at that point it really won’t matter.

  • dchabz

    The bottom line is that we need more marquee talent to get people to come watch. It is boring to watch in person when your team scores 2 – 3 runs per night. I love baseball, I go all the time, but I can understand why people don’t want to go to the games in person.

  • Seed

    After the first two games against Detroit this week I was ready to let go of the Tribe this year. But last night made me hold on hope of October baseball in Cleveland. Is the Tribe ready to make this song the theme of the 2014?
    http://youtu.be/uIbXvaE39wM

  • Dave Gruss

    Avid baseball fans can appreciate pitcher duals and the strategy that goes into winning games. For the common baseball fan they want excitement, big bats, offense, and star players. Back in the 90s when Cleveland was at it’s prime and attendance was high, we had several marquee players who were hitting .300+BA, 100+RBI’s, or 30+HR’s. Hasn’t been since 2010 that we had one player hit any of those offensive marks. The decline of attendance started in 2001 when Cleveland began having only one or two players hitting any of those markers.

  • bupalos

    There are a bunch of factors and just a ton to say on the attendance issue, but really I think most of it just boils down to the recent history of the franchise.We’ve come off our “sleeping giant” period into a seemingly endless float in the middle, punctuated by some remarkable runs that only seem in the end to show how unlikely a real top-tier resurgence is given MLB economics. If I set out to demoralize an MLB fanbase, our rags to riches to austerity path would probably be my chosen instrument. Because of the long season and long games, baseball takes a greater emotional investment, and I think our fanbase has a little more sad wisdom about the nature of that investment.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ok something else wrong with baseball:

    http://dlisted.com/2014/09/04/hot-slut-of-the-day-410/

  • Steve

    I don’t think it’s that simple. The cheaper Indians games to attend don’t draw well, while the overpriced Friday night games that feature dollar dogs and fireworks do. People want to spend their disposable income on “meat sticks and firecrackers”. I’m not sure how you solve that issue, unless its dollar dogs and fireworks every night.

  • WFNY_DP

    It also doesn’t help that, even though they were the right moves, gone are names people know like Masterson and Cabrera replaced by Walters and Holt.

  • Steve

    ” But as for consensus, that’s about as far as our depth goes this year”

    No love for the best catcher in the AL? And I’d be inclined to argue that Chisenhall’s bat is coming around. I have no idea how he’s gotten around on the sliders low and away in KC and last night, but I think he’s going to be a big help these last few weeks.

  • mgbode

    Not sure about easily. At least on average. Only 3 minor league teams averaged more than 9K fans per game last year.

    http://ballparkdigest.com/201309096619/attendance/news/2013-affiliated-attendance-by-average

  • mgbode

    that decline is across MLB though. believe we are still 7th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored per game.

  • mgbode

    I also refuse to let go of the hope of what Chisenhall may become.

  • WFNYJon

    I tend to agree with you on both counts, but do you really think there’s consensus that either are having great offensive seasons? MOst of what I read is how Chiz is the same old hacker and Gomes’ 2nd half brilliance has seemingly gone largely unnoticed.

  • Chris Mc

    Call it being really slow at work, so here are the promotions for the top 15 games attended this year. $1 meat sticks aren’t as big a draw as I thought they might be.

    (edit: Didn’t mean to attach that twice. Sorry mods.)

  • mgbode

    I am curious as to why non-promotional weekday games against the Angels and Mariners would out-draw many of the weekend games.

  • Hopwin

    Saw part of the Angels game the other night, park was a ghost town. Not sure it is a CLE problem.

  • Chris Mc

    I can’t find the “flex pricing” information about previous games, but I’d suspect that May have something to do with it.

  • Steve

    We can’t even get consensus in this town on the fact that Santana is good bat, so yes, I’d have to agree with you.

    I get the negative reviews on Chisenhall, he looks awful some nights. But Gomes? How the hell is he going so under the radar locally and nationally?

  • Steve

    So, I’ve got different way different numbers.

    Top 10 per B-Ref – Opening Day, 6/21 v DET,7/4 v KC, 6/20 v DET, 7/10 v NY, 8/2 v TEX, 8/16 v BAL, 8/15 v BAL, 8/1 v TEX, 6/22 v DET. five dollar dog nights, Vizquel/HoF, Thome statue, both Rock N’Blast nights, and the ever popular Crafting at the Ballpark game.

  • Chris Mc

    Yeah i pulled my first numbers from here and tried to match up the game number with the date

    http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=mlb/teams/031/attendance.aspx?team=031

    Apparently that didn’t work. So people really do like sparkly things and $1 meatsticks on friday and saturday nights. I stand corrected.