Things got a little nostalgic at Progressive Field over the weekend. Perhaps it was the Cleveland visits from 90s stars Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga that triggered the wistful memories. But more likely than not, it was the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, who after getting swept by the Indians in a three-game set, allowed the fans at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario to reminisce of the American League Championship Series nine months ago, in which the Indians dismantled the Blue Jays on their way to the World Series.
The Indians came into the series playing badly. They’d lost five-of-six on the road to two bad West Coast teams in the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, and while the A.L. Central is bad enough to cushion that, this team was looking less-and-less like a World Series contender, and more-and-more like an underachieving-future-ALDS-loser.
Enter the Toronto Blue Jays.
No, one series doesn’t fix a whole lot of concerns, but the Indians sorta looked like the team that most fans expected heading into the year. The starting pitching was top-notch, and the offense did it’s job, and then some. Toronto isn’t a great team to begin with, so let’s not jump down the “they’re fixed” path just yet, but it’s a great start to a long stretch of baseball without a day off. The Indians play 17-days in a row, and 23 of their next 24, including back-to-back series against potential playoff opponents in the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
Things are sure going to be getting interesting.
What happened in the series:
On Friday, the Indians returned home hoping to change course on their home field struggles, and their recent road trip debacle. They did just that, thanks to an old Blue Jays friend, Edwin Encarnacion, who launched is 20th homer on the season, as every Indians starter either scored a run, or had a hit.
Encarnacion drove in four, and Abraham Almonte drive in three, with his third home run as well. The big inning came in the seventh, when the Tribe put the game to bed with seven runs.
Trevor Bauer got the win, but still struggled enough to question whether or not he’s going to be long-for-the-rotation. You see, this other guy showed up on Saturday, but lets not get ahead of ourselves here. And I would be remissed if I didn’t mention Jose Ramirez, and his defense.
Cleveland 13, Toronto 3
On Saturday, the real fun started, as Danny Salazar returned to the hill, and arguably had his best start since joining the Indians in 2013. In a fantastic pitchers’ duel, Salazar and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman battled tooth-and-nail for seven innings. While I’ll get into Salazar’s performance more specifically in a second, he left the game with a 1-0 lead, and with memories of the All-Star Salazar dancing in everyone’s heads. Then Andrew Miller gave up a game-tying home run to Justin Smoak. It’s way too early to worry about Miller, but he’s had a pretty interesting season, if you compare him to his invincible, normal self. But Francisco Lindor saved the day, hitting a walk-off home run off of Danny Barnes in the 10th. I’ll end Saturday’s game with a couple of defensive gems, this time via Bradley Zimmer and Gio Urshela. Zimmer’s defense has been sublime, and while I still want Greg Allen in center, Zimmer may force everyone’s hand. He really made this look easy.
I’ve loved Urshela from the start, and while his offense will never be as good as I want it to be, his glove is made of gold, and always has been.
Oh, wait a second. While WFNY’s Josh Poloha wrote a quick hitter on the walk-off, here’s my take on it, and enough with this freakin’ Titanic garbage.
— Jim Pete (@JimPeteEHC) July 23, 2017
Cleveland 2, Toronto 1
On Sunday, the Indians got a fresh look at a pitcher that they might potentially be interested in as the deadline draws closer next weekend. Oh yeah, Corey Kluber pitched too. The Indians pummeled Happ to the tune of seven runs and nine hits, over six innings. And Kluber? Well, he was fine. He struck out 14 in 7 2/3 innings, while walking two, and giving up five hits. Kluber, who had his Friday start pushed back because of a stiff neck, looked like a guy who had some extra rest. I sure hope fans realize just how luck they are.
Michael Brantley hit his sixth homer of the year.
Brandon Guyer found his swing.
and Lindor kept the hot hitting rolling with a 3-for-4 night. Oh wait, another bare-handed defensive play? You don’t say…
Cleveland 8, Toronto 1
The Indians didn’t gain an inch on the Kansas City Royals though, who have won five in a row, and seem intent on making one more playoff run before blowing things up. The Indians are 1 1/2 games up on the Royals, and while KC isn’t as good as Cleveland, this series momentum has to continue. Kansas City playing well only helps the Indians past 2017, but if the Indians don’t watch themselves, the Royals will make it interesting.
One start is not the answer to a full year of injuries and struggles. It’s not. So while I’m about to wax poetic about how amazing this start was, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I know the Indians’ front office would love for “Good Salazar” to be back for good. But let’s get real for a second. The Body of Work just isn’t there yet. Unfortunately, the Indians only have a couple of starts to go with before making a decision on trading for a starter. So, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
But boy, oh boy, was this start enticing for Salazar.
Let’s start with a couple of fun little tidbits. Salazar went seven full innings and threw 86 pitches. That alone allowed me to hire a marching band to celebrate, but it gets way better. His last four pitches in the seventh, a Josh Donaldson strikeout, were 96, 95.3, 96.5, and 97.2, and were all four-seam fastballs.
There were a lot of concerns regarding Salazar’s velocity, and he answered a ton of those questions on Saturday. Salazar ended the day with 10 strikeouts, gave up one hit, and walked… well…
He didn’t walk a batter. The last time Salazar went more than an inning in a start, without giving up a walk was June 29, 2016 at Atlanta.
Of Salazar’s 86 pitches, 60 were fastballs (72%), averaging 96.67 MPH. While he didn’t throw his offspeed pitches much (the split-change-13 pitches-15 1/2%/slider-9 pitchers-11%/Curve-1 pitch), the 10 mile per hour difference was sorta fun to watch. When you consider Salazar’s arguable best pitch, that split-change, is coming at hitters at a touch over 88 MPH, combined with the liquid heat fastball that we haven’t seen consistently since last year, it’s going to cause hitters some problems.
How is this different from prior to this start? Over the first three months of the season, Salazar only threw his fastball a touch under 60% of the time, while he threw his split change 31%, and the slider/curve a touch over 10%. His fastball mix averaged 95.5, his offspeed stuff at 87, and his slider, curve came in at 84. In other words, he’s throwing more fastballs, and he’s throwing everything harder. In Saturday’s start, Salazar threw 15% less change-ups. It seems clear he was looking to throw strikes, and throw strikes he did.
Part of it is likely health, and the other part of it is likely what he was working on in the minors. While folks knock Salazar’s arsenal as being light, when he’s locating his fastball, throwing everything hard, and giving just the right mix of offspeed and breaking balls, he’s as good as it gets. In other words, keep it simple.
Salazar’s next start, likely next Friday at Chicago, will be telling. With the deadline three days after that start, it could be the hand that the Indians use to decide what, if anything they are going to be doing at the deadline. Two good Salazar starts in a row might be enough to convince the Indians not to go for another starter, or at least a stud starter. It could allow them to either make a less substantial move for No. 4 starter, focus on the bullpen, or wait until the waiver period, if they deal for a starter at all. Regardless, Salazar’s start was a fantastic sign, at just the right time. Remember, it was a year ago, almost to the day, that the signs from Salazar trended in a different direction.
Keep your fingers crossed that this is the real deal. It sure looked like it on Saturday.
The six-man rotation
Last year, the Indians lost both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar due to late season injuries. This year, the Indians are toying with a six-man rotation. Part of it is because Salazar is back and seemingly healthy. Part of it is likely lessons learned from 2016. While Mickey Callaway and Terry Francona have both stated that this six-man rotation idea is temporary, there’s really nothing bad about utilizing it over the next four weeks, if only to help keep everyone healthy. I know pitching time-tables are finicky, but so is health. Watching Clayton Kershaw come up lame-ish this weekend brought back 2016 memories.
A lot of times, Tito Francona gets backed into some really good ideas. This is one of them. Stick with the six man.
WFNY’s Michael Bode has been hot-and-heavy for Clevinger becoming a main cog in the Indians rotation. What’s always fun about these conversations regarding a player like Clevinger are the stories we don’t know about, but the ones that make all the difference in the world. Over the weekend, The Athletic’s Travis Sawchik1 discussed one of those stories regarding the Mike Clevinger resurgence.
You see, Mike Clevinger found his curveball, and where he found it is a fantastic story. You see, a former high school coach of Clevinger’s, Scott Marabell, invited Clevinger over to teach him some fishing techniques. Okay, it wasn’t Marabell that did the teaching, and it wasn’t fishing he was teaching. I’m just not sure you’re going to like Marabell’s neighbor, who came over to refine Clevinger’s fastball:
It turns out the former Indians’ starter2 decided to impart some of his curveball wisdom onto Clevinger.
Read Sawchik’s article. It really is fascinating, but before you do, just take a look at the difference in outcomes. Here’s a look at pitch outcomes over Clevinger’s career:
Note the curveball usage. Clevinger, prior to 2017, threw 62 measurable curveballs, with a 9.68 Whiff rate. What about 2017? I warn you, this is insane:
Yeah, Clevinger has already thrown 126 curveballs, in only 13 more innings of work, and his whiff rate has nearly tripled. Really good stuff, and a great piece from Travis Sawchik.
The Bullpen needs help?
It probably doesn’t because Andrew Miller is still one of the best two or three relievers in baseball. He gave up the game tying home run on Saturday, which pissed me off to no end. Yeah, the same way that Bryan Shaw’s misgivings irk the hell out of me, and the same way that any bullpen reliever pisses me off. Miller just pisses me off less.
My point is, as I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: bullpens are massively volatile. Andrew Miller is so damn special because he’s wipeout good. He rarely struggles, and when he does, it’s so few and far between, that it rarely stands out.
The Indians bullpen is really, really good, but a bullpen can never be good enough. I really want the Indians to go out and get a couple of bullpen arms. My first call would be to the New York Mets, and I would order in bulk. They have lefty Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed, and while they aren’t guys I would normally call for, they would sure up the bullpen pretty nicely. You’d have your lefty to replace Logan, and Reed would really sure up the set-up role. I’m sure there’d be cost there, but if you can grab those two, and Reed is a rental, without donating a top 50 prospect, I think you ponder it. Reed will be in demand though, and the Mets are wonky. They’d want us to take Asdrubal, and the ONLY reason I’d consider it is if they’d accept player in the 10-20 range of our system.
Call Baltimore, and ignore Britton. Peter Angelos is a holy terror, but if you can make a deal, go and do it. There are relievers out there that could bolster a pen, in Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens. The only lefty worth discussing is Britton, and while it would be scary fun to have him added to the Indians pen, the cost would be Tristan McKenzie or Francisco Mejia, and no thank you to that…mostly.
There are likely others, but that’s where I’d start. If you can get a steal, go for it. If Chris Antonetti feels like they can take the next step, go big. Get a Brad Hand from San Diego, or a Britton from Baltimore. The Indians aren’t far, and the bullpen is one of the best in baseball. Like last year, let’s make it the best.
Of course, on Sirius/XM radio today, Chris Antonetti was reported as saying that the Indians were “going to be active at the trade deadline,” and that they were looking for the “right pitcher,” and “bench players.”
You have to imagine this is a bullpen arm, right?
I’m never getting off this bandwagon. He should be hitting in the Top 4 of the order, and I honestly don’t care where, and for who. I don’t care if you just take away the lead-off hitter, and slide everyone up a slot, making the top four look like this:
- Michael Brantley
- Edwin Encarnacion
- Jose Ramirez
I don’t care if you take up Zack Meisel’s musings, and hit Brantley lead-off, which would look like this:
- Francisco Lindor
Those four dudes are always going to be the best hitters on the team this year. You could make a case for Chisenhall or Kipnis. Chis was hot before his injury, but doesn’t have the backlog as a top-of-the-order hitter. Kipnis has the backlog, but has sucked this year. In other words, it will take the rest of a healthy season for them to even be considered, and then you’d be talking about a reshuffle.
What about Zimmer?
I’m all for playing around with Zimmer as a lead-off hitter. That said, he’s not one of your four best hitters… yet.
GET JRAM IN THE DANG TOP OF THE ORDER, MOVE ENCARNACION TO THE THREE-HOLE, SO YOU CAN PROTECT HIM (EVEN THOUGH THAT’S RIDICULOUS) WITH THE NEW FOUR HITTER. JUST FREAKIN’ DO IT SO I CAN STOP GETTING PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS.
Was this a down? I guess it was. The line-up pisses me off.
Carlos Santana hate
Carlos Santana is having his worst season as a member of the Cleveland Indians, and he’s still going to be around a 2 fWAR player. I’m not going to get into the metrics of it. I’m not going to write another piece about it. It’s been done.
No, Carlos Santana isn’t a typical bomber that sits in the four-spot of your lineup. No, Carlos Santana isn’t going to be knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame. But Carlos Santana is a really good offensive baseball player. He walks a ton. He hits a bunch of home runs (I know, not 30, WHO FREAKIN’ CARES), and a lot of doubles too. He drives up pitch counts, and yeah, he strikes out a bit too.
What’s my point here?
People are using 2017 as a lightning rod for “I told you so,” and it makes my stomach turn. If you’re that blinded by old time stats, fine. If you don’t ever want to at least peak into not NEW statistics, but good statistics. That’s fine as well.
I was talking to a friend of mine from high school, who used to talk about sabermetrics way too much for my own good way back when they were a twinkle in many an eye. I asked him last night for a comparison, and he begrudgingly gave me one, then wanted to take it back.
“Jim, he reminds me of the Dodgers old third baseman, Ron Cey, just different positions. Cey was much better defensively, but their offensive profiles are pretty damn near the same.”
As a kid, I hated the Dodgers, and Ron Cey was at the top of the list. Cey was nicknamed “The Penguin,” because of his interesting build. His knees were about five inches above his ankles, so he was short (5’10”) for a baseball player, and walked funny. But he could field (worked his ass off to do it), and he could hit.
He was the clean-up hitter for those fabulous 70s Dodgers teams (and eventually, the Cubs), only hit 30 homers+ once, and walked as much as he struck out, which wasn’t much.
Cey was great. Made the All-Star team multiple times, and while he wasn’t the stand-out player on that team offensively, he certainly was the heartbeat.
So is Santana. Unfortunately for Carlos, he was brought up as a catcher to maximize his offense. I really wish the Indians could go back and make him a first baseman in the minors. They didn’t, and it really killed his defensive abilities. Sometimes he looks great, and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s just not a good defender.
But boy, does he work his ass off. Boy does he do what the team asks him to. And boy, do people underestimate his offense.
Drives me freaking nuts.
“Success isn’t always about greatness, but consistency…”
I don’t expect the Indians to sweep everybody. I don’t expect the Indians to win every game. I do expect the Indians to win every series. They are that good. They should be that good. I hope to hell this Toronto series jump starts them. Since I’ve started doing these weekend updates, they’ve gone 3-0, 0-3, and 2-1 in each series. It’s like they’re freakin’ neurotic.
It makes me freakin’ neurotic.
Wait…it’s TRADE DEADLINE WEEK?
Oh, and #JRaMVP
- if you don’t know about Travis, you need to. He’s arguably the best Indians’ feature writer going today, and has a fantastic mix of storytelling, and sabermetrics, that make his style and voice unique. Check him out at The Athletic [↩]
- well, you know, he was a starter mostly with the Phillies, and then the Astros, and then the White Sox, but had that really weird stretch with the Indians in which he sapped the Tribe of $7 million, sucked, and disappeared forever, until now [↩]