Indians 3, Twins 4: It smelled funny from the start


8:29 PM – We join our heroes in Minneapolis, during the top of the second inning after an uneventful first. Much has been made in the booth of the fact that this is the Indians’ first trip back to Target Field since clinching their 2013 playoff spot.  That is somewhat hard to believe.  I find it much easier to believe that Roberto Perez just grounded into an inning-ending double play by rolling over on an off-speed pitch from a soft-tossing lefty because that’s JUST HOW WE ROLL.

Which is to say, tonight will be a battle of garbage men.  The Indians’ starter—one Glenn Anthony (TJ?) House—has a K% of only 15.2%. Were he qualified he would rank in the bottom 10 in the AL among whiff artists.  Meanwhile, Minnesota starter Kris Johnson will be making only his fourth career start in the Big Leagues, and has thus far managed to walk more than a batter every other inning with a fastball velocity just a tick over 90mph.  So he’ll probably throw a perfect game against us.

8:45 PM – I’m sure we’ll have more time to talk about why TJ House is, ultimately, just some dude that belongs in the back of a mediocre rotation, but let that inning serve as Exhibit A. Kendrys Morales and Josh Willingham lead off the inning with back-to-back singles.  Kurt Suzuki follows with an opposite field double to score them both.  Chris Colabello followed with a towering drive to right that looked to clip the foul pole for a HR.  Upon review the call is reversed and ruled foul.  House rallies to send down the next three to keep the damage to two runs, 2-0 Twinkies.

In an email chain with Craig, I’ve been pondering why some sorts of players naturally appeal to me, while others leave me a bit cold. When it comes to starting pitchers, I tend to value things like youth, velocity, upside, and strikeouts quite a bit.

TJ House is young, I guess.

8:53 PM – Now is as good a time as any to comment on the weird lineup that Francona has run out there tonight, if only because he’s just made a change.

First the change itself: Chris Dickerson, GOAT, pinch hit for Asdrubal Cabrera after the latter seemingly pulled his groin/hip making a routine play.  Now, normally, I would mock a player for hurting himself doing something as mundane as bending over.  But yesterday I ran for four miles on a sore hip flexor and now I can barely walk to get scotch so I’m going to cut Droobs some slack here because old folks gotta hang together.

Oh yeah, DickerGOAT drove in Mike Aviles to score the Indians’ first run. 2-1 Twins.

Back to that wacky lineup:

  1. Kipnis – 4
  2. Cabrera Dickerson – 6 8
  3. Gomes – DH
  4. Santana – 1B
  5. Raburn – LF
  6. Swisher – RF
  7. Perez – 2
  8. Chisenhall – 5
  9. Aviles – 8 6

Lots of weirdness there, and that’s assuming you’re even used to Kipnis leading off.  All three catchers are starting. (Also weird: we have three catchers.) Gomes is DHing for the second time this season. Swisher is in the outfield, which hasn’t yet happened in 2014. Mike Aviles as a starting centerfielder. Yan Gomes batting third. Lots here strikes me as…playful.

I tend to think batting orders are interesting diversions that are ultimately not worth the e-ink we spill over them.  On the other hand, this lineup is freaking weird.

QUOTE9:08 PM – House lets up two more doubles and another run in the bottom of the third; the Twins stretch the lead back to two: 3-1. House’s batting average on balls in play (BABiP) on the night is .417, which suggests some crummy luck.  But his BABiP for his career is .342, which might suggest some crummy skills.

At some point we might want to talk about BABiP in general. I think it gets used too often (present company certainly included) to wave away results that we don’t like.  “No no no. He’s not bad (or good). You see, his BABiP hasn’t normalized, and before you know it, he’ll be looking much better (or worse)!”

It’s a good enough story—one I rely on all the time, but I think it’s not nearly sophisticated enough to shed much light on anything other than mass generalizations.  Guess who leads the AL in BABiP for hitters? It’s Mike Trout—that lucky sonuvagun! Can’t wait for him to regress! He’ll probably be bagging groceries this time next year!

This is, of course, nonsense: Trout’s BABiP is high because he hits the bejeezus out of the ball, and balls with no bejeezus in them are incredibly hard to catch.

Similarly the sabermetric community is starting to realize that for pitchers not all batted ball tendencies regress to a mean around .300. Some pitchers throw more groundballs, which become hits far more often than flyballs (though they become home runs decidedly less often).  Some pitchers field their position well, reducing infield hits at a well above average rate. Relief pitchers, on the aggregate, somehow manage a BABiP that is consistently lower than their starting counterparts, year in and year out. Are they just waiting to regress since forever?

Anyway, BABiP has plenty of room for nuance.  But an honest and straightforward evaluation of TJ House probably does not. He’s not great.

9:22 PM – The Indians threaten but do not score. {Ctrl-C}

9:36 PM – House lets up two walks and another single, but manages to keep the Twins off the board in the fourth due largely to some sloppy baserunning.  He’s now at 70 pitches on the night with as many strikeouts as walks (2), and I still don’t know why Carlos Carrasco is in the bullpen and not the rotation.

Heading to the fifth, still 3-1 Twins.

9:48 PM – The Indians strike back for a run in the top of the fifth on a DickerGOAT single and Yan Gomes double. I was prepared to be clever and type {Ctrl-V}, but they saw that coming from a mile away.  3-2 Minnesota. Halfway there. Leg hurts. Need scotch.

9:56 PM – House walked another, but the inning felt so great: four up, three down. No threats of scoring no relying on outfield assists to record substantial numbers of outs. Who cares if he’s walked more batters than he struck out and allowed nearly two base runners per inning?*  The house, the house, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!

*You do. Because this is not good.

10:02 PM – The Indians do not threaten and do not score. Variety is the spice of life. (An aside on this theme: I found some bourbon.)

10:10 PM – CC Lee comes on to replace House, but after getting Josh Willingham to fly out to deep center he allows consecutive singles to Suzuki and Colabello. Francona goes to Nick Hagadone, likely to be optioned back to Columbus tomorrow, to face the lefty Chris Parmalee.

10:14 PM – Matt and Rick seem like really nice guys who seemingly know almost nothing about how math works. They are having an honest conversation about whether or not Francona should have brought in a right hander to face Parmalee, because “this season he’s actually better against lefties!”

That’s stupid.  I just can’t believe how stupid that is.  This season, against left handed pitching, Chris Parmalee has 15 hits and one walk in 45 plate appearances. FIFTEEN THINGS HAPPENED. LET’S CHANGE OUR ENTIRE WORLDVIEW! His BABiP in those plate appearances is .483, which, as previously discussed, is higher than Mike Trout’s by more than .100 points. He has walked once! If just five of those hits that fell in had instead been outs, he’d be hitting .227. For his career his platoon splits would indicate a 40 point OPS swing, taking him from slightly above league average against righties to six percent below against lefties. But no, you’re right! Let’s make decisions as if those 45 plate appearances mean anything other than the nothingness they so clearly signify! Because who needs math anyway! Math’s a jerk. Never picks up a check. Doesn’t help his wife clean up the house. Thinks Daughtry is awesome.

Hagadone strikes out Parmalee and induces a weak popup from Escobar to end the inning.

10:31 PM – {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V} {Ctrl-V}!!!!!!

Kipnis gets to third with one out, but DickerGOAT and Gomes both go down swinging, to strand him. That was a good chance, seemingly wasted. Heading to the bottom of the seventh, still 3-2 Twins.

10:35 PM – Hmm. This tweet just made its way into my timeline:

Asdrubal’s leg injury. Hmm.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

10:36 PM –  Oh. Nvm.

Axford on.

10:40 PM – Ax sends ‘em down in order on 11 pitches, including a strikeout of Plouffe to end the inning. You can see why they wanted him to close: he’s got the stuff.  But, well:

And now I’m just embedding all of Twitter into this recap. I think I can do that with something called a “widget”. Will research and get back to you.

Santana, Raburn (Brantley?), and Swish coming up in the eighth.

10:47 PM – Brantley steps to the on-deck circle, so they’re going for it here. Also, was potentially wrong about the widget thing.

Santana leads off with a smash into the shift in short right and is retired, but Brantley follows with a rocket to right center for a double. Swisher coming up.

10:49 PM – Ugh. Swisher pulls one hard on the ground that moves Brantley to third, but now there are two outs. That’s three really hard-hit balls with nothing to show yet. Going to need a two-out hit from Roberto Perez.

10:51 PM – Never a doubt! Perez shoots a liner back up the middle to plate Brantley. Extra innings are now a thing that might happen, which is sort of a bittersweet moment for the live-blogger.

10:55 PM – Lonnie flies out to left and we’re knotted at 3, heading to the ninth. Am I too old to show up to the office, unshaven and smelling of grain alcohol? Is anyone?

11:00 PM – Matt Underwood just astutely pointed out that the Indians will likely face the Twins closer in the ninth inning. “One way or another, you’re going to see Glen Perkins in this game. You’d just prefer it still be tied.”

He’s not the best colorman in the league for nothing, folks!

11:03 PM – Ruh roh. After a questionable ball call on Josh Willingham, Bryan Shaw serves one up and Willingham takes him deep to left for a 4-3 Twins lead.

Now I feel bad about fearing extra innings. Also, what will my excuse be for the bourbon smell?

11:05 PM – Aviles makes a nice play to his right to end the inning. Aviles, Kipnis, and DickerGOAT coming up for the Tribe. The only question is will Dickerson’s HR be a solo shot or not?

11:10 PM – Aviles flyout to left. As Rick points out, they’re scoring their runs with two outs, so we really shouldn’t be too worried. Kipnis should prolly just surrender this at bat so we can get two outs quicker and really take control of this inning!

11:11 PM – Kip grounds out to short. DickerGOAT is our only hope.

11:12 PM – “They both had three runs, so somebody was going to get to four. It just happened to be the Twins.” ~ M. Underwood, professional broadcaster, logician

11:13 PM – Dickerson goes down swinging, and maintains a batting average of .407, so he’s ok.

The Indians are now 3-2 after the All-Star break. It feels like it should be better than that after so handily rolling over the Tigers for those first three games. But this team is what it is, and that’s a team that’s going to struggle to keep its head above water for long stretches. The holes are too ubiquitous: TJ House is part of it, but so is Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera and  Jason Kipnis and a bullpen that has pitched more innings than any other in the AL.

Tomorrow is Danny Salazar, and with him the reminder that things could always be better if we only have the patience to get there.

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)