The baseball that the Cleveland Indians took part in this past Friday and Saturday became a microcosm for the Tribe’s 2017 season. The club headed into the All-Star break having won three-of-four, they had five All-Stars, saw Jose Ramirez go 2-for-2 in the All-Star Game, and Andrew Miller get the wipe out save.
With Terry Francona returning to the club heading into the second half of the season, with the team getting a much needed break, and with Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber kicking off the series against the Oakland Athletics on Friday and Saturday, the term ‘jump start’ certainly didn’t feel like hyperbole.
Sitting here on Monday, that all seems almost humorous, doesn’t it? The A’s, in last place in the American League West and already selling off pieces, swept the Indians and put to sleep all of the ‘Indians haven’t lost four-in-a-row-since-god-knows-when’ narrative.
Seriously, have you ever felt this crazy mix of emotions? This team feels like it’s under performing. This team is going to win the American League Central. Is it that expectations are ridiculously high? I don’t know the answer to that. Not sure how high expectations shouldn’t be when you are a hit away from a World Series championship, lose nothing, sign Edwin Encarnacion, and have five players in the All-Star game.
What happened in the series:
On Friday, Carrasco looked pretty good. He struck out ten, and only gave up six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, two of those hits were solo home runs, and his offense provided him with three singles, a double, and one walk. In other words, it was an ugly, ugly night. The only news of note from this game was that Sonny Gray, a potential Indians trade target, pitched a gem. I just can’t decide if it was legit, or if the Indians’ bats weren’t left somewhere between Cleveland, Miami and Oakland.
On Saturday, Corey Kluber once again struck out double-digit A’s, and Edwin Encarnacion blasted his team-leading 19th home run.
Kluber struck out 12 in 7 1/3 innings pitched, and was his normal dominant self, but once again, minus Encarnacion, the Indians’ couldn’t muster any runs for their starter. A’s rookie, and Top 100 prospect, Matt Chapman, hit two home runs off Kluber, and Khris Davis hit a walk-off homer off of Indians reliever Bryan Shaw, giving the A’s a 5-3 win.
This game was frustration personified, as Francona took heat for leaving in Kluber, and Shaw took heat for giving up the two-run homer. I’ll get into that in a second.
On Sunday, Trevor Bauer decided that he needed a lot more rest after his All Star Break, so he decided to get shelled in the first inning. Yeah, he didn’t make it out of the first inning. The A’s won the game 7-3, but the Francisco Lindor lit up the sky with three doubles, and Abraham Almonte hit a jack as well.
In other news, Jose Ramirez is still hitting fifth.
Now, I’ve been preaching that the Indians schedule is the easiest in Major League baseball, based on percentages. Unfortunately, I’m just waiting for the Indians to actually beat the teams they are supposed to.
1. Is it possible the Francisco Lindor has gotten out of his first half slump? Look at the swings:
The first hit is down and in, and Lindor is able to slow his swing down, while still getting the hips through, getting full extension. He then uses his speed to beat the throw. If you’re struggling, this is the sorta hit that you want. The second hit is right in the wheel house, and Lindor barrels it to right center. Just a really great swing, with the hips all the way through, ahead of the shoulder turn. This should have been a home run. The third hit is a similar location to the second hit. The difference is that the second hit came off of a 95 MPH fastball, while this was an 80 MPH off speed gopher. Lindor almost pauses a second with his hips when he realizes it’s not a fastball, then almost replicates his last swing, this time going to left center. The final double, Lindor is all over again. The pitch is maybe a tad inside the other two, but Lindor gets around it, and pulls it down the line. I’m not sure if this means he’s back, because three of the four hits came belt high, and close to center, but the swing sure looked pure, and I was particularly impressed with his single, in which he had to alter his swing. I’m not there yet with Lindor, but good signs indeed.
2. There are these moments in Cleveland sports that really make you stop and smell the coffee, and these past two seasons have really clicked home for me, with regards to Corey Kluber. His 2014 Cy Young year was so damn sublime, that most didn’t believe he could do it again. He struggled in the best way possible in 2015, and finished 9th in Cy voting, while going 9-16. As “bad” as many thought he was that year, he was still a 6.0 fWAR pitcher. In 2016, he had as much claim on the Cy Young as anyone, and in many ways, while his year wasn’t as good as 2015, his elite performance in the playoffs, hoisting the Indians onto one shoulder (Miller used a shoulder as well), and nearly carrying them to a World Championship. This year, Kluber has a 2.87 ERA, a 2.5 FIP, and a 2.57 xFIP, with 12 K/9, and 2.15 BB/9. His Cy Young saw a 2.44 ERA, a 2.35 FIP and a 2.57 xFIP, with a 10.27 K/9, and a 1.95 BB/9. Somehow, Kluber isn’t losing anything. There aren’t many folks that can say they saw a better pitcher, consistently, than Kluber has been over the past 3 1/2 seasons, so drink it in folks. This is elite level stuff.
3. Danny Salazar looked really good in Columbus over the weekend. First off, it’s freakin’ Columbus, so I’m not going to jump to the “He’s FIXED” conclusion just yet, but I do have some insight into how they ramp pitchers up in the minors. Often, the “ramping up” of a starter in the minors can look painful, while at the same time, be exactly what the doctor ordered. A pitcher can get shelled, but hit all his marks with the arsenal he’s allowed to provide. While watching High A in Kinston and Carolina for 17 years, I saw plenty of pitchers come through that the big league club had “working on something.” I’ve watched velocity pitchers never hit 91 or 92, because they were working on off speed stuff. I’ve had pitchers get shellacked, then smile for interviews because they were hitting spots, or able to completely unwind without fear of injury. This is likely what Salazar was doing during the early stages of his DL-stint. In his Mahoning Valley start last week, he looked more like the Salazar of old, and was hitting 95 on the gun. He followed that up with his Sunday start in Columbus, giving up three hits and three walks, while striking out nine. Okay, the Mudhens are pretty terrible offensively (second to last in the league, hitting at a .244 clip), but it could be worse. In the end, it only counts at the big league level, but if Salazar is anything like first half, 2016 Danny, the Indians are going to get their biggest “trade return” on Salazar’s return.
1. I know, I know, I say this over and over again, but I’m not going to stop until people just hop on board. JOSE RAMIREZ SHOULDN’T BE HITTING FIFTH FOR ANY DAMN REASON, LET ALONE TO PROTECT EDWIN ENCARNACION! It’s ridiculous thinking. Protecting hitters, to some, are mystical, and to others, a real thing. I’m not going to get into that debate here. Let’s just assume that JRam does provide Edwin Encarnacion protection, is that even a good reason to put him at five? Isn’t there another hitter on the team, that’s somewhat valuable, that could provide him the same protection? Isn’t there a veteran that could take that mantle? JRam, after struggling in Oakland, still has a .326/.381/.588 slash. He has a 153 wRC+, and has a 3.8 fWAR. He’s not even arguably the best hitting Cleveland Indians’ player on the roster. That means he should be hitting 1-3. That’s not even a debate. He should hit there for a variety of reasons, which starts with the simple (gets more at bats). By the way, if you believe in hitters protecting other hitters, isn’t that what you spend $60 million dollars for? Regardless, JRam hitting fifth is pure idiocy. I love getting Zimmer at bats in the lead off role, as I’ve mentioned in the past, but I also would really like to see JRam get regular at bats there. Just wasting opportunities for the best hitter, to get more at bats. And c’mon, wouldn’t Michael Brantley and/or Jason Kipnis be okay with this as the veterans in the locker room? Oh wait, they don’t have Mike Napoli anymore (god, that’s such a bad take coming from one of the actual veterans of the locker room, that’s been to the damn World Series).
2. Okay, so we really need to address this “He left Kluber in too long,” and “Bryan Shaw sucks” stuff. Now, this isn’t me getting on a pedestal and preaching either, because we got that, ad nauseam, this past weekend from social media “experts” that were dressed up as our Dads. We all know the “if it works” and “if it doesn’t” tropes that dominate the world today, so here’s my simple take. If Corey Kluber wants to stay in a baseball game at 97 pitches, how the hell do you question that? As fans, it’s certainly within the realm to bash a move when it doesn’t work, whether it makes sense, or not. So, this one tilts on the Kluber side, but who cares if you want to bash it. YOU SHOULD BE PISSED. HE GAVE UP A GAME-TYING HOME RUN TO A ROOKIE. And as to Bryan Shaw giving up the game-losing, walk-off homer. Shaw really does deserve better. I’m not a Shaw fan, and I should be. Whether you think he’s league average, or one of the best set-up dudes in the league, he’s probably better than you think. But again, he gave up the flippin’ game-losing home run. It’s okay if you’re pissed off. It’s honestly okay if you blame Shaw, or Tito, or Kluber or Miller. It’s the point of all this, right? We all get to have opinions, and we all get to look down on players we don’t like, and social media experts that know everything. I mean, I know everything… so I’m always right… but past that…
3. So, is Salazar just reclaiming his rotation spot? Clevinger took his spot, and has been the best of the Bauer/Tomlin/Clevinger trio. I’m not saying his projections keep him there, but do you just put Clevinger in the pen, because he can handle it? Salazar pitched on Sunday, and so did Bauer, which means Salazar could just take over Bauer’s slot? If you asked most people, they’d probably pick Tomlin, but do you then slot Tomlin in the pen? What about a six-man rotation? Would Francona do that, and should you put Kluber and Carrasco on six days rest instead of the normal five? It seems like we have a weird conundrum, don’t we. My bet is Bauer moves to the pen, but not sure why, or even if that makes the most sense.
“The past cannot be changed…”
I keep preaching to anyone that will listen that the Indians are going to run off ten games, and make everyone forget about everything. So when the hell is this going to happen? Yo Edwin Encarnacion, since you’re getting all this JRam protection, how about you go out there and just destroy the league, all by yourself, for about two months. How does that sound?
Oh, and #JRaMVP.