The only irony in the Indians taking three of four against the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, was that the only non-shutout in their three wins was the one in which staff ace Corey Kluber pitched. The irony continued after the Tribe lost Game 1 of the four-game series 4-1 on an eighth inning, two out, three-run homer off of Nick Goody. The Indians headed into the weekend having lost 4 of 5, yet somehow extended their lead from three to 3 1/2 games over the rest of the A.L. Central. After they swept the final three games of the series, the Indians current lead stands at 4 1/2 games, with the streaking Minnesota Twins in second place, 1/2 game ahead of the Kansas City Royals.
While this season still feels like a woulda, coulda, shoulda, the reality is that the Indians have been mired in a mud pit of injuries. Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller, Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber have all spent significant time on the DL this season. With less than two months of baseball left, does this season really just become a “let’s just get to the playoffs and let our rotation do the rest,” or can the Indians finally put away a division that should already be pondering 2018 and beyond?
Who the hell knows, but it sure was fun winning three in a row.
What happened this weekend:
On Friday, Carlos Carrasco flirted with no-hitter. It wasn’t to be, but the Indians still shut down the Rays 5-0, and Carrasco struck out ten Rays in eight innings.
Edwin Encarnacion broke up battling perfect games in the fifth inning with a lead-off solo shot to deep center, and the Indians would go on to score four more runs in the inning, giving them their final 5-0 tally.
Oh, and just in case your were forgetting about Gio Urshela’s glove…
On Saturday, Mike Clevinger started his first game since July, and made the most of it, going seven strong innings, striking out nine, and walking only one hitter.
The Indians 3-0 victory came thanks to the bat of their new left fielder, Jay Bruce. Bruce drove in the games first run with a “Tropicana Field double,” on a short fly ball to left, that dropped in between third baseman Trevor Plouffe, and left fielder Corey Dickerson.
Bruce also drove in the final run of the game, roping a single over the pulled in, shifted infield. On a side note, Bruce drove in Jose Ramirez on both plays, and they officially became a buddy duo, who needs to star in a movie together. C’mon, who in Cleveland isn’t going to go see THAT flick.
On Sunday, Kluber won his 11th game, when Austin Jackson broke up a 3-3 tie with his fourth home run of the season. Jackson fell behind 0-2 in the count to former Indians’ reliever Tommy Hunter, but battled through eight pitches to get the count full, before giving the Indians their 4-3 lead.
Kluber struggled a bit in this game in comparison to recent streak of starts dating back to his return from the DL on June 1st. Kluber struck out nine in the game, which is his 14th straight game with at least eight strikeouts or better.
Jay Bruce (RBI Double) and Edwin Encarnacion (solo home run) were both at it again as well.
- Jay Bruce really looks like the real deal. Bruce is 5 for 12 in his first four games, with two doubles. He’s also made a couple of really nice plays in the field, continuing a plus season in the outfield as well. While nobody is ever going to consider Jay Bruce to be a superstar outfielder, I couldn’t help but think of a tweet that Yahoo Sports Jeff Passan posted about a year ago1. This also connected to another piece I read on Jay Bruce a week later, written by former Indians beat writer, August Fagerstrom. Fagerstrom, currently a baseball operations analyst for the Milwaukee Brewers, noted that same tweet by Jeff Passan, and took it a step further. Fagerstrom noted that “Bruce was once a premium defender, at least that’s what the numbers say.” He followed that up with a later comment that “Bruce was highly regarded in the field.” I only notate this because his solid year defensively in 2017 isn’t really an aberration. While it’s surprising, to some (baseball scouts, and a current MLB analyst), Bruce’s defense is returning to pre-2014 knee injury standards. If he can maintain his offense in the second half, which he’s struggled with in recent years, he should be a 1+ fWAR player, if not more, through the final two months of the season.
- The Indians starting rotation continues to buy the bullpen plenty of time while ace reliever Andrew Miller continues to work towards health. The Indians starters have gone seven or more innings in eight of ten starts, and have gone five or more in all ten. With Salazar back, Bauer continuing what looks like the best season of his career (already with back-to-back 2+ WAR seasons, and growing), and Carrasco and Kluber being, well, Carrasco and Kluber, it does lend a little credence to the “get us to the playoffs” mentality, doesn’t it.
- Lindor is slashing again. In the second half of the season, Lindor’s wRC+ jumped from 99 to 141, with a .319/.379/.522 slash line. His BABIP has also taken an 80 point jump, so we’re clearly seeing a player who is starting to revert to his real self, as opposed to the player stuck in a two month slump. Lindor is closing in on JRam for the team fWAR lead, down 4.0 to 3.3, as Ramirez has found himself in a second half slump as well.
- Jason Kipnis continues this weird path in 2017, that feels sorta like his weird path in 2014, when he was just hurt all year, and while he never stopped playing, he almost hurt the team struggling to find anything offensively. Kipnis not only is struggling, but is continually getting plugged into the top of the line-up. I know, the pooh-pooh heads will say, “HOW DARE YOU SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT TERRY FRANCONA. HE’S A MAJOR LEAGUE MANAGER, AND YOU…YOU…YOU HAVE TWO FIRST NAMES. Blah. I wouldn’t say a thing if he didn’t handle other players differently. If a player is struggling, don’t put him in a situation to fail. The Indians will overcome it, because they are pretty damn talented, but the term “overcome” should involve players not playing, not players being placed into situations that aren’t optimal.
- Lonnie Chisenhall is going to get Triple A reps at third. I’ll leave it there.
- JRam is slumping. I leave that there as well.
Hattery and I did a podcast. It’s posted. More on this tomorrow…when it really posts…;).
- the tweet is located within the fangraphs link provided [↩]