Indians 5, Red Sox 3: Hot starts, turning corners, and streaking toward .500

Gomes Aviles

7:00 PM – My daughter is not happy that I’ve chosen to live recap the Indians game rather than Wheel of Fortune, but I’m bigger than her and a little richer so I get to decide. I’M A MAN. I’M FORTY! (But not really.)

That said, diapers, baths and bedtime stories are likely to interfere for these first few innings, so consider yourself forewarned in case I start spouting off about a very hungry caterpillar or some icky poo-poos.

The matchup looks not great: TJ House against Jake Peavy. Then again, the Indians are streaking with the best record in baseball at home.  That’s why they play the games, etc.

7:31 PM – It sure didn’t look like a good start, but it somehow turned into one.

To start the game, House lets up a leadoff single to Brock Holt—which sounds like a name in need of a reality television show—and follows it up by hitting Xander Bogaerts in the back to put two on with nobody out. That’s right: of the two names I could have paused over, I eschewed “Xander Bogaerts”; this live-recapping is a delicate art.

Somehow Pedroia, Ortiz and Gomes go down in order to end the threat.  Back in the saddle again.

And then? Well, then things go well:

  • Bourn single
  • Asdrubal single, Bourn to third (hit and run)
  • Brantley single, Bourn scores, Asdrubal to second
  • Kipnis bunt single, bases loaded
  • Lonnie Who Loves Baseball single, Asdrubal scores, bases loaded

At this point, the Indians are up 2-0 with the bases loaded and nobody out.  Run expectancy charts would suggest we should score between two and three more runs before the end of the inning.  Cue the onslaught:

  • Raburn GIDP, Brantley scores
  • Murhpy K swinging.

So I have some mixed feelings here. A 3-0 lead in the first inning is great—a very nice thing! But it should be more!  Perhaps we can discuss why Ryan Raburn is starting at DH against a RHP with a career wOBA platoon split approaching 45 points? Perhaps we can mention that only one night before we failed to score any follow-on runs after the first inning and nearly lost the game late? But I suppose we might also stop to enjoy our nice things while we have them.

8:06 PM – After both teams fail to score in the second after putting runners on, Boston breaks through in the top of the third on a Xander Bogaerts solo home run to left. I meant to say earlier that Bogaerts is probably the player most likely to destroy a pitcher like House from this lineup, but I forgot. You’ll have to trust me on my prescience.

Anyway, the Indians go 1-2-3 in the bottom half and Josephine goes to sleep without complaint. I’m all yours from here on out. 3-1 Good Guys.

8:15 PM – It has been posited that for something to be boring, it must not be entirely fleeting—after all, the observer needs sufficient time to complain.  As a counterpoint, I would introduce into evidence the fourth inning of tonight’s game: eight minutes, 15 pitches, six batters, six outs, three pop outs, two ground outs, and a strike out.  And horribly uninteresting.

8:34 PM – I’m still kind of bored: House is doing fine and just got Big Papi to fly out to end the top of the fifth, but let me talk about something else briefly while the bottom half unfolds.

Evaluating players is not a perfect science, and I’m by no means a perfect practitioner of it. One of my particular areas of myopia in this regard has to do with my reluctance to adjust my initial estimation of a player’s skills.  To wit: Michael Bourn.  Because Michael Bourn is no longer a great defender or a great base stealer, I tend to think he’s kind of crummy.  After all, we acquired him to prevent runs with his glove and add runs with his legs, and so far he’s been below average at both. Not great, Bob!

This evaluation of course leaves out some of the new things he’s doing that are quite lovely. For instance, did you know that Bourn’s current slugging percentage (.423) is higher than any mark he’s posted in his career? Or that consequently his wOBA is too (.336). I’m sure some (or most) of this is unsustainable: his .383 BABiP is a bit high, even for a speedster like him.  But I’m reminded that just because he didn’t turn into who I wanted him to be, it doesn’t mean he’s not good.

The more compelling case is, of course, Michael Brantley. I wanted and expected Brantley to be a premium on-base guy who would steal 35 bases a year with an 80% success rate and play elite centerfield. Basically, none of that has happened. Instead, he turned into one of the better pure hitters in baseball. It’s a tradeoff you’re more than happy to make. And one that reminds me of how little we know, even when we pretend otherwise.

Indians go in order, despite a foul bomb from Asdrubal. Still 3-1.

8:44 PM – House’s night is done, after 93 pitches, 5.2 innings pitched, 4Ks, 2BBs, 1ER, 6H. He leaves a runner on first for Rzepczynski coming on in relief.  Let’s talk about TJ, shall we?

For the season, House now has a 2.4 K/BB ratio, which is entirely pitchable, especially for a back of the rotation option. On the other hand, that’s on the back of a somewhat soft 5.8 K/9 and a walk-rate considerably lower than his minor league numbers would suggest.  He’s struggled with home runs in the Majors so far, as you might expect from someone who doesn’t miss bats. On the whole, he’s just a guy, as they say.  Not likely to dominate, but for the time being he’s a relatively stable option while we straighten out our higher upside options.

8:54 PM – Rzepczynski allows his inherited runner to score on a brutal HBP-single-WP sequence. And because of the wonders of official scoring, you can go ahead and bump that earned run number for TJ House up to two.  Heading to the bottom of the sixth, Tribe still up 3-2.

9:00 PM – Johnny Gomes looks like Charles Manson, but crazier and on more drugs.

9:04 PM – Lonnie breaks up Peavy’s streak of 14 consecutive batters retired with a single to center.  Raburn then softly grounds out to end the “threat”.

I mentioned earlier Peavy’s platoon splits in the context Ryan Raburn, DH; now let’s flip the coin to make a point about NEW-FANGLED STATISHTICS.

For his career, Ryan Raburn has hit .254 against right handed pitchers and .258 against left handed pitchers.  Effectively, there is no difference between those numbers. You might be tempted to conclude, therefore, that he has no real platoon split, and that I’m simply being a crank about this stuff.

Of course, such a conclusion would ignore all those NEW-FANGLED STATISHTICS.  For instance, Raburn’s OPS against left handed pitchers is more than 100 points higher than it is against righties, mostly because he walks almost twice as much and slugs 71 points better against southpaws.  All this results in a wOBA that is 41 points better against lefties.

To put this as simply as we can, Raburn against lefties performs about 17 percent better than the average hitter; against righties, he’s about 12 percent worse.  Not all new fangles are bad fangles, I swear.

9:11 PM – You had the feeling that the Indians couldn’t keep wasting chances and get away with it, and sure enough the Red Sox tie it at three in the top of the seventh off Scott Atchison on consecutive doubles from Bogaerts and Pedroia.  After an intentional walk to Ortiz and a Charlie Manson pop out to short, Atchison gets pulled.

Hagadone coming on to face Pierzynski.  Maybe he can finally learn to punch something softer than a wall?

9:20 PM – Hagadone strikes out Pierzynski and Hassan to end the inning—both swinging wildly.  A whole new ballgame heading to the bottom of the seventh, 3-3.

I can’t remember what the Twitteratti thinks of Nick Hagadone, but my suspicion is that I like him a bit more than most.  This is likely because I fetishize strikeout pitchers—especially strikeout relievers—often to the exclusion of reason.  Hagadone has control issues.  He might have attitude problems.  He certainly has funny looking ears. But he can also make guys swing and miss, and this is valuable in high leverage situations. He has a long way to go, but he’s got the raw stuff to succeed.  So outings like these are doubly welcome–important both for today, and promising for tomorrow.

9:29 PM – I am not one of those people who insists that all bunts are stupid.

But that bunt was stupid.

With men on first and second and nobody out, Aviles bunted back to Peavy, who threw to third for the force out.  Aviles was then nearly thrown out at first for a full-blown disaster, but the throw was offline.  So basically a free out for Boston and nothing gained for us.

And let’s be clear as to why this was stupid.  It is not because it didn’t work.  It was stupid because, in the seventh inning, we decided to play for one run instead of a big inning, which is a silly thing to do.  Let’s look again at the run expectancy chart:


Notice that even a “successful” sac bunt marginally lowers our run expectancy (from 1.556 runs to 1.447). Now, sometimes this is an ok thing to do.  Sometimes, you only need a single run, and as the chart below shows, you’re more likely to score a single run after the sacrifice (69.8% after versus 64.3% before):


But in the seventh inning, you don’t want a single run—even in a tie game.  Not when you have a shaky bullpen, no Bryan Shaw, and an overworked/nonexistent closer.  You want to destroy them if you can, and we had a chance here. Instead, we gave away an out for what looks to be dubious reasoning.

9:32 PM – And Michael Bourn proves the point by doubling home both runners.  Had the sacrifice worked…he would’ve doubled home both runners.  Did I mention I hate that bunt attempt?

Anyway, Indians go up 5-3, still only one out (that perhaps needn’t have been so prodigally tossed aside).

9:41 PM – Asdrubal and Brantley go down swinging to end the inning.  Cody Allen warming. Two-inning save?

9:44 PM – Nope. Hagadone back out to start the eighth, and retires Bradley Jr. on a groundball to second.

9:49 PM – Hagadone strikes out the aspiring reality television star and gets lifted for Cody Allen.  Two outs in the eighth, so a four out save opportunity for Allen.

9:53 PM – Bogaerts flies out to center. Three outs to go.

10:04 PM – I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to write about this inning, but now the Indians have loaded the bases with one out and I should probably discuss it, but words will not do this justice.

Kipnis leads off with a single to left off of lefty Craig Breslow (‘member him?).  After a Chisenhall pop out, Kip takes off for second on first movement and Breslow picks him off.  Except Brock Holt (who, let’s be honest, is really too short for baseball AND reality television) throws the ball into Kipnis’ back. Safe at second.

Then Raburn pounds a groundball to short, whereupon Kipnis takes off for third, despite EVERYTHING ABOUT THE GAME OF BASEBALL.  He gets in a run down, but Boston’s infielders forget how to throw for the second time in the same inning, and Kipnis ends back at second, with Raburn aboard at first.

Next David Murphy, who seems like such a nice man, singles to left.

So here we are: 10:04 PM, bases loaded, one out.  Words are breaking down.

10:07 PM – Drat. All those broken words and Gomes grounds into a double play to end the inning. On to the ninth, Indians still up 5-3.

10:11 PM – Pedroia leads off with a fly ball off the end of the bat to center. One out, Papi coming up with the bases empty. Isn’t it nice to be up by more than one run?

10:12 PM – Ortiz flies out to center as well. Sizemore coming up to pinch hit.

10:14 PM – Ballgame! Allen strikes out Sizemore swinging on a nasty curveball to end it.  The Indians have won five in a row and pull within a game of .500 on the season.

It’s easy, amid streaks like these, to pretend this team isn’t so flawed. But the question marks are the same as they ever were.  Do we have a back end of the rotation? Will Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana ever contribute? Can Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw really pitch in every game?

As nice as it is to be winning again, we should remember that tomorrow we will have to extend our winning streak to six games just get back to where we were on the first day of the season.  Until the more structural uncertainties of the team are addressed, we’ll play very much like a team that will hover around .500.

If last year taught us anything though, it’s that teams can transform themselves from average to dominant during the course of the season. I would suggest that these last five games are not necessarily indicative of a dominant team—not just yet.  But such transformations take time, and they have to begin somewhere, sometime.