There is a battle starting to simmer and promising to boil in the AL Central division. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians occupy the top two slots in the standings, large in part to the Tribe feasting on the Cincinnati Reds, and have now split the four games played amongst themselves during the season. With the Kansas City Royals battling injuries, Detroit Tigers battling inconsistent play, and the Minnesota Twins all but eliminated, the familiar rivalry between the two cities of C has been rekindled. On Monday, the ballclubs did what they had also done in early April by splitting a pair of games. The White Sox won 7-6 in the early game, while the Indians controlled the nightcap, 5-1.
So, while the White Sox cling to a 2.5-game lead early on, the Indians continue to insert themselves into the discussion as a legitimate contender who has continued to give the Southside Windy City team fits.
So, a professional sport team from Cleveland fell down big on Monday, made a big comeback, but ultimately came up short. The Tribe could not take advantage of their offense continuing to scorch every pitching staff outside of Boston in the month of May. Michael Clevinger took the mound for the second time as an Indian, but the results did not improve. In fact, the results were similar as he pitched well enough early until the bottom dropped out in his last inning.
Innings 1-4 for Clevinger: 8 IP, 4 ER, 9 SO, 3 BB
Innings 5 and 6 for Clevinger: 2.1 IP, 6 ER, 0 SO, 1 BB
Clevinger’s fastball velocity did dip 1.5 miles per hour late (from 96 miles per hour to just over 94 miles per hour), but the bigger issue is navigating the third time through the order. Clevinger posts a respectable 98 and 87 sOPS+1 the first two times through the order. However, hitters turn into a combination of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Miguel Cabrera the third time through the order as they are posting a 274 sOPS+ with a .500/.545/.900 slash line.
Adjusting to the advanced nature of MLB and the ever-changing approach of hitters against a pitcher will take Clevinger some time to master. Until then, perhaps he can induce more contact towards the left-side of the infield that third time through the order.
A complete shame that Clevinger’s struggles came in a game where the Indians offense was treating U.S. Cellular Field as a Little League park. Mike Napoli started off the muscular display with a home run off starter Matt Latos in the second inning. Marlon Byrd would add a two-run shot in the fifth inning, and Jose Ramirez would cap the scoring with his own two-run home run in the eighth off former Tribesman Matt Albers (after Napoli added to his RBI total by driving in Carlos Santana). And, the six runs the Indians scored were despite a meager 1-for-10 batting line with RISP, so there was opportunity for more.
And, the Indians bullpen did their part. Dan Otero and Austin Adams combined for three innings pitched without allowing an earned run. Unfortunately, manager Terry Francona’s move in the seventh inning to insert Rajai Davis into center field (for defensive purposes?) and Michael Martinez to move over to right field back-fired. Davis continued his struggles defensively by starting the inning off with an error. Jason Kipnis attempted to bail him out by forcing the issue on a weak ground ball, but came up with his own error instead. Martinez did his best to bail out the Indians with a great catch and throw ’em out double play, but the White Sox still plated what would be the insurance run they needed to squeak out the game.
There was a running theory that Ryan Merritt was called up to the 25-man roster to be at the ready for the inevitable Cody Anderson implosion on the mound. The thinking was that in his seven outings in 2016 (six of them starts), Anderson had pitched 32.2 innings, given up 51 hits, 10 home runs, and 29 runs. Despite his vastly improved fastball velocity and strikeout rate while reducing his walk rate, Anderson simply was too hittable, which was the reason he was only the 26th man on the roster (extra man allowed for the second game of a double-header).
Well, tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is a call up if you’re unable to pitch? The White Sox came out firing early, but their only opportunites came with two outs, which allowed Anderson to dodge all but one bullet that barely grazed him. After regaining his confidence, Anderson continued his attempts to convince the Indians he was the one, while the White Sox flailed about. Anderson would finish with season bests in innings pitched (seven), strikeouts (nine), while allowing a season-low in walks (zero), home runs (zero), and earned runs (one). With an emphasis on curveball usage, Anderson retired the last 13 batters he faced.
The power surge continued in Game 2 as Jose Ramirez quickly matched his home run total from the first game in the second inning off Erik Johnson, which helped mitigate a later miscue in the field that allowed Todd Frazier to score and ruin Cody Anderson’s shutout bid. Rajai Davis continued the trend of making up for defensive miscues with a two-run home run in the fifth would be all the Indians needed to win the game.
But, what would a game be without some Won On eBay craziness?
The veteran first used his trademark lightning bat-speed swing to crush a home run in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach. Then, fresh off an admitted incorrect force throw home instead of going for a double play against Boston, Uribe was at it again in the eighth. Bryan Shaw had gotten himself into a wee bit of trouble after an Austin Jackson line drive skimmed the tip of Chisenhall’s glove before skipping away. So, A-Jax sat on third base with a triple. Well, with one out (Shaw struck out Adam Eaton with an unfair curve ball that just buckled his knees) and up four runs, the proper play would be to get the easy out at first base. Instead, there was Uribe scooping dirt on Tyler Saladino hit and going home to cut down the speedy Austin Jackson. Chris Gimenez did his part to make Uribe look smart with a great tag.2
Love him or hate him, Uribe gonna Uribe. And, yes, there was a bat flip on the home run. Love this guy.
The helmetless horseman, Boom Boom, J-Ram, Little Uribe. The man goes by many monikers, but Jose Ramirez’s play has been fantastic at the plate and in the field in 2016 regardless of where he has been needed. In early May, it appeared J-Ram was overtaking Uribe at third base, but a jammed hand for him and a trip to the DL for Michael Brantley ended those thoughts in a hurry. He would be needed in left field more often and still used to spell the 37-year-old Uribe at third.
Quietly, Boom Boom is having an All-Star caliber season. The 23 year old switch-hitter has been the most consistent hitter on the Indians throughout the season. He is batting .293/.343./.439 for the season after batting .305/.317/.424 in April. The helmetless horseman is slightly better batting from the right side against southpaws, but he has great strike zone coverage and good numbers from both sides of the plate.
The 108 OPS+ and 117 wRC+ are blowing the projection systems away that were already thought to be kind. Such happens when a hitter continually increases his isolated power while decreasing his strikeout rate. From 2014-2016, J-Ram has seen his ISO go up from .084 to .121 to .146, while his K-rate has gone donw from 13.2% to 11% to 9.6%. Ramirez is turning into an offensive catalyst deserving of a higher spot in the batting order.
And, he is doing so while giving positive UZR/150 ratings at second base (22.3), third base (11.5), and left field (23.2).
It is time to start recognizing Jose Ramirez as one of the main stars of the Cleveland Indians.