Royals 7, Indians 1: On and On it Goes, Chances Everywhere

cleveland-indians-v-kansas-city-20130917-021759-1748:18 PM – It’s been about two weeks since I wrote my post mortem on the Indians 2013 season—about how they always come up short and how I should’ve seen it coming.  Since then, of course, the North Shore Kids have put together a nice stretch of baseball while the two teams ahead of them in the race have fallen on tough times.  As a result, with a win tonight against the Kansas City Royals the Indians will move into sole possession of one of the two AL Wild Card spots (as Tampa Bay and Texas are playing each other, so unless I’m missing something, one of them is going to lose).

Swisher and Santana get to second and third base with two outs, but  Brantley grounds out to first to end the threat.  You hate to see any chances squandered against a pitcher of James Shields’ caliber.  Kazmir’s turn to hold serve, and we’re off.

8:36 PM – The Royals take the early lead on a combination of some bad defense, a tight strike zone, and a couple of hard hit balls.  With that combination, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t worse.

After an Alex Gordon groundout, Bonafacio reaches on a ball off of Kipnis’ glove—it’s ruled a single, but Kipnis had a decent shot at making the play and just booted it.  Bonafacio then steals second on a delay steal, which is a move I often employed as a high school baseball coach; it’s pretty embarrassing when it works in the Big Leagues.  A deep flyball from Hosmer moves Bonafacio to third, and Kazmir gets pinched on a few close pitches to Butler before he lines a single to center to score the game’s first run.  Kaz gets into it a bit with the home plate ump, who looks eager to toss him before Gomes intervenes.  After walking Salvador Perez on the next four pitches, Lorenzo Cain grounds out weakly to end the inning.  1-0 Royals, after one.

8:50 PM – Hard to tell if Kaz is settling in or if the bottom half of Kansas City’s lineup is just that bad. Either way, after an uneventful top of the second from the Indians, the Royals’ fearsome threesome of Maxwell, Carroll and Escobar go 1-2-3 with two strikeouts.

9:00 PM – We’re an hour in and the game seems to have hit its groove.  The Indians went down scoreless again, and again the home plate umpire seems to be getting creative with the strike zone.  Here’s the pitch called strike three on Kipnis to end the inning with one on (pitch 5).

Kipnis Strike 3

9:16 PM – You’re going to hear that Kazmir was not on his game tonight—that he’s too tired and not used to pitching this deep into a season.

That may be true, but it’s also worth pointing out that he struck out three guys in the third inning before the Royals scored another run.  How’s that, you ask? Shouldn’t three outs have gotten him out of the inning altogether? Well, yeah, except Gomes dropped the third strike on Alex Gordon, who came around to score the inning’s only run on a Salvador Perez RBI single. Kazmir is now at 64 pitches, five strikeouts, and one walk. It’s pretty clear he won’t be going too much longer in this one. 2-0 Royals.

9:35 PM – The Indians go down scoreless again, but not without putting some dents into James Shields’ armor.  They now have him up to 77 pitches through four innings, and that could mean his night may end fairly soon.

To give some context, here are the five highest pitches-per-plate-appearance by team this season:

Twins          4.03
Red Sox          4.03
Indians          3.97
Athletics          3.94
Mets          3.92

Kind of weird that the Mets and Twins are on the list, but the other three are all playoff contenders who are built to be patient teams who can work the strikezone.  Despite being held scoreless through four, the Indians are putting themselves in position to feast on some soft middle relievers if they can knock Shields out in the next inning or two.

9:43 PM – We’re through four innings, as Kaz sends ‘em down in relatively short order.  I’m just realizing that it’s almost 10:00 PM.  This game may be a long one.

9:46 PM – BOOM! Chisenhall leads off the fifth with a solo shot to right field to cut the Royals’ lead in half.  Let’s talk briefly about Lonnie.

I think it’s pretty clear that, as of right now, Lonnie has exactly one above average Major League skill: his power.  He has no batting eye or patience or defense or hit tool.  It’s all power with him, and you need an awful lot of power to overcome a sub-.300 on base percentage and crummy defense.

On the other hand, well, sometimes there’s a man stretch that shows you just what Lonnie could look like if he could put it together.  So far in September, Lonnie has a .348/.400/.739 line and has now hit three home runs and struck out only once in the month.  I’m not saying that this is really the sort of player Chisenhall will be, but it is the reason you wait a bit longer before you pull this zip cord on his career.  He may become LaPorta Lite, but I’m going to need a bit longer before jumping off that particular bridge.

9:56 PM – That inning really should’ve gotten us more than one run.

After Chiz’s home run, Bourn laid down a bunt single to get aboard with no outs.  A really good start.

Nick Swisher strikeout swinging.

Jason Kipnis strikeout swinging.

Carlos Santana strikeout looking.

They can’t all be winners, but man, that’s rough to see you three best hitters go down like lambs to the slaughter.

Shields now at 10 strikeouts and 94 pitches. Kazmir coming out for the bottom of the fifth.

10:02 PM – Kazmir sends them down in order, and all of a sudden it looks like he’s likely to outlast Shields in this game.  Still 2-1 Royals heading to the sixth.

10:20 PM – After another scoreless inning from the Indians, the umpiring crew once again puts Kazmir behind the eight-ball to start the bottom of the sixth.

A bad call gives Salvador Perez a lead-off triple, and Lorenzo Cain follows with another, making it 3-1 Royals and ending Kazmir’s night. His line isn’t half-bad: six strikeouts, one walk, and no home runs, but some bad calls and shoddy defense were enough to do him in. Albers coming on to stop the bleeding.

10:32 PM – Albers hit a main artery! There’s blood everywhere!

Well, not really, but things didn’t get much better. David Lough promptly singles in Cain, and, after a Moustakas fly out to center, Escobar reaches base on a lazy throw from Asdrubal pulled Santana off the bag at first, and the runners advance to second and third on a deep fly to right from Alex Gordon.  4-1 Royals. Exeunt Albers.

10:37 PM – Oh god it’s Hagadone.  That’ll probably solve it, huh?

As if on cue, Lonnie Chisenhall boots a soft grounder that allows the Royals’ fifth run to score.  Mercifully the inning ends on a liner off Hosmer’s bat toward Carlos Santana.  Bucking the trend, he catches it for the out.

10:48 PM – I’m not gonna lie: I kinda spaced out there.  I think the Indians got somebody on base, but nothing really happened. It’s still 5-1 Royals, but I’m sort of obsessed with this Royals fan right now:


He seems nice.  REALLY NICE.

11:08 PM – Ho Hum. This game is still boring. More bad defense. More bad pitching. Carlos Carrasco and Rich Hill.  Et Cetera.  Get it out of your system, gentlemen. 7-1 Royals.  Really happy I’m still awake for this, you guys OHMYGODTHERESSTILLTWOINNINGSLEFT!!!???!!one!!??

11:19 PM – I’m trying you guys, but we’re going on three and a half hours and we’re not even to the ninth inning yet.  Let’s try this.

Luke Hochevar just struck out the side to retire the Indians IN THE TOP OF THE EIGHTH.

Anyway, is there any reason that Carlos Carrasco can’t successfully transition to this sort of setup role (or even closer) next season?  Consider:

  • Carrasco and Hochevar both struggled as starters, despite good pedigree and scouting information;
  • Both have excellent velocity with good off-speed offerings;
  • With Joe Smith a free agent and Chris Perez hopefully out the door, Carrasco should be given some decent leash next season to find a spot in the pen.

I’m not sure this works out quite as well for Carrasco as it did for Hochevar (for one thing, if he really is a head case, I’m not sure increasing the leverage is a good strategy), but it’s certainly something worth watching.

11: 31PM – Hallelujah! Holy sh*t! Where’s the Tylenol? We’ve made it to the ninth inning!  Vinnie Pestano looked really shaky, as does our entire bullpen at this point, but the end is in sight.  Still 7-1 Royals.  I have every reason to believe this game will end before midnight.

11:39 PM – For once, at least, it went quick. Gomes and Ramirez both strike out swinging, giving the Royals pitchers 17 strikeouts on the night. If that sounds like a lot, you would be correct.

We should note that this offense is not nearly as bad as they looked tonight.  For one, they were going against James Shields, who’s pretty stinking good.  And for two, they’ve been hitting the ball fairly well this month, averaging more than 5 runs per game with a team OPS close to .800.  One game does not a pattern make.

On the other hand, let me count the areas of legitimate concern. Our infield defense is not good, and it’s that much worse when Swisher plays in the outfield.  Our bullpen is borderline unwatchable; s there one guy down there you really trust right now?  And I’m just not sure about how this rotation makes it through the grind of the next three weeks (and hopefully more) with the innings limits and tired arms and little injuries that keep popping up.

And yet, here I am writing a second-draft of an obituary I first penned two weeks back. Despite all their deficiencies, I don’t think this team is going to bow out any time soon.  They’ll be interesting to the end, and on at least that one account they can say they’re giving us what we asked for.

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)