Under the C: Kluber Cruises, Carlos Bruises, L.A. Loses

Lindor and Napoli August 11

Game One of the Indians’ longest home stand of the year provided an important reminder to the Cleveland faithful: no matter how inconsistent the team’s been over the past month or how rough the starting pitching looked last week, be grateful every day you’re not stuck watching this sad bastardization of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

With the slump-defying Corey Kluber on the hill, the Tribe’s five-run, first inning explosion off Halos spot-starter Jhoulys Chacin basically sealed the deal before the sun went down on Thursday night. It was a rare cake walk for Cleveland – rain delays and fluke foul ball injuries aside. Up until a meaningless Los Angeles run off Kyle Crockett in the ninth, the score was 14-3—a tally the Browns would be fortunate to duplicate on Friday.

Since Detroit had an off-day, the Indians (64-48) are now back to 4 games up in the AL Central. As scoreboard watchers are no doubt aware, winning the division is looking more and more imperative, as Seattle (6 straight wins) and Houston (2 wins yesterday alone) have joined Boston, Baltimore, and the Tigers in a crowded Wild Card picture. It’s a mess best left avoided. Dig the heels in on this home stand, gentlemen.

Post-Game Thoughts While Gymnasts Flip Around on the TV

The Santana Scare
For whatever reason, sitting in the dugout and sitting on the bench have long since become two very different things, with the latter seemingly reserved for Sandy Alomar and Tito’s bubble gum bucket. Carlos Santana, like most of his teammates, likes to park himself at the edge of the dugout steps when the Tribe is batting, putting him in a danger zone where even the protective railing screen thingy (patent apparently pending) isn’t sufficient to shield anyone from a line drive—such as the one smoked off the bat of Frankie Lindor in the fifth inning last night. Carlos tried to duck but took a shot off the back of the cranium—a scary moment which ended his day prematurely and might keep him on the bench, perhaps figuratively and literally, for the next few days. The official announcement was a “contusion of the head.” Sort of like saying there was smoke coming from inside a building and leaving it at that.

Anyway, it was a rough end to a day that had started rosily for Santana, as he led off the game with a home run for the fifth time this season, becoming the fourth Indians leadoff man to do so in team history. Only Grady Sizemore (7 times) did it more in one year than Carlos, who matched the personal bests of Kenny Lofton and Shin-Soo Choo. The achievement is made more impressive by the fact that Carlos has only led off in a little more than half the Indians’ games this season (61, to be exact). This means he’s started the game with a home run in almost 10 percent of his chances as a leadoff man, which is fairly crazy. Here’s hoping he still remembers all five of those bombs and clears the cobwebs out in short order. Here’s also hoping Lindor isn’t riddled with guilt to the point that he starts baby-arming throws like Steve Sax for the rest of the season, fearing another bit of errant friendly fire.

More Home Run Talk
Moments after Santana was helped into the clubhouse, the Indians went right back to teeing off against the Angels embarrassing pitching staff, as Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez—both hotter than the cinnamon center of a burnt Pop-Tart—clubbed back-to-back homers off Brett Oberholtzer (I forgot all about that guy!). Napoli has an 11-game hitting streak and was 4-for-4 in this one with two doubles (one somehow over the head of the mighty Mike Trout) and another bomb to the former Davey Tree Picnic Plaza. Ramirez extended his career-best hit streak to 15 and also set a new career high in home runs with his seventh—a surprising center-field shot not far from where Napoli’s landed.

For a team that was presumed to be on the light-hitting end of the spectrum heading into the season, it’s fairly incredible how much muscle the Indians line-up has flexed this summer. And that’s with two of your best power hitters of recent years—Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes—essentially lost in the upside down place. Ramirez joins Jason Kipnis, Rajai Davis, and Francisco Lindor on the list of Tribe players who’ve already set career highs in dingers this season (not counting the obvious Tyler Naquin), and Napoli and Santana each took a step closer to doing the same very soon.

2016 Indians Home Run Totals vs Player’s Previous Career High

Kipnis: 19 [17 in 2013] = +2
Lindor: 14 [12 in 2015] = +2
Davis: 10 [8 twice] = +2
Ramirez: 7 [6 in 2015] = +1
Naquin: 13 [N/A] = +13
Napoli: 29 [30 in 2011] = -1
Santana: 25 [27 twice] = -2
Chisenhall: 6 (13 in 2014) = -7

Lonnie is one of the few who looks like he’ll fall short this year, as a power surge has not accompanied his overall improvement at the dish. He drove in four runs last night, however, so nobody is complaining.

Even More Home Run Talk
Corey Kluber had more run support last night than he had all of last season combined (that’s not actually true, but it feels true, which is good enough these days). In turn, the Klubot was the steady-as-he-goes ace once again, giving up 3 runs across 6 solid innings to improve to 12-8. Hey, do you realize that Cy Kluber now leads the team in wins all the sudden? That kind of snuck up on us a bit, didn’t it? While we were all arguing about whether Salazar or Carrasco was emerging as the true new leader of the staff, Kluber just held the fort down over this rough stretch and re-emerged, yet again, as the man. A Sports Illustrated piece even just ranked him the current leader in the 2016 AL Cy Young race.

…Which is why it’s ridiculous that I am choosing now to focus on the home runs he surrendered last night.

The Mike Trout bomb in the first inning actually gave the Angels a very short-lived lead, while a third inning blast by former New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was merely a curiosity. It marked just the 12th time in 125 career starts that Kluber has given up multiple homers in a game. Since 2011, Kluber has the 5th lowest HR/9 rate (0.78) among AL pitchers with at least 100 starts. This year has been a little bit quirky, not in that he’s giving up more homers than usual (he isn’t), but in who he is giving them up to. Weirdly, 6 of the 13 home runs he’s allowed in 2016 have been hit by catchers (???), and 3 of the 13 have come off the bats of banjo-hitting lightweights with no more than 3 homers on the season, including Pennington last night. Is this a trend worth following going forward? Nope.

As far as the Cy Young race goes, though, if history is any indication, it might actually be J.A. Happ’s award to lose. While the world was thinking about all things unrelated to J.A. Happ, the journeyman Toronto southpaw has gone 16-3 with an ERA under 3.00. If he hangs around that mark and wins 20 (a rarity these days), he may get the votes of the traditionalist voters who still think Ws mean something.

Catching Hell
Roberto Perez collected a double last night, raising his average into the triple digits for the first time this year at an even .100. Cleveland catchers are hitting .168 this season as a group across 407 ABs. That’s not very good! In fact, the Arizona Diamondbacks PITCHING STAFF has a higher collective batting average on the season (.188) than the Indians catchers, and that’s over a substantial 213 ABs. Solid.

A Halo of a Bad Team
Anaheim still has a lot of pop in its lineup, and the defense up the middle with Simmons and Trout probably has no equal. Everything else, however, is bad news. Both Ji-Man Choi in left field and Jefry Marte at first base had horrific games in the field, misjudging balls and throwing their mitts at things the way a startled elderly woman throws a newspaper at a spider. And the pitching… it’s ugly. Chacin was forced into a spot start because the L.A. rotation is in shambles. Jered Weaver is still technically their ace with a 5.19 ERA, the Tim Lincecum re-animation project was a failure, and if you were wondering, this is where Ricky Nolasco now spends his time. Everyone else is on the DL, including closer Huston Street, who also has completely melted down and had the worst season of his career. The team’s closer-in-waiting, our old buddy Joe Smith, became a Cub at the deadline.

Almonte Got a Raw Deal
Fans who were tossing their Twitter venom at Abe Almonte a month ago seem to be warming to the guy now that he’s hitting .297 (3-for-3 last night) and providing plenty of platoon punch in the Indians line-up. The question is, should this guy be playing as much as he is?

Argument One: Yes. Your only goal right now should be giving yourself the best chance to win every night and secure a playoff spot. Almonte is hitting well, adventures in right field aside, and he ought to be in there.

Argument Two: No. Because of Abe’s PED suspension, he won’t be able to suit up for the Indians in the postseason. With this in mind, shouldn’t we be preparing the other outfielders for their assignments in October—be it Brandon Guyer as the right-handed platoon man, or Naquin and Chiz seeing more left-handed pitching?

There used to be an argument three: “It’s all good because Abe is just keeping the seat warm for Michael Brantley.” I think we’ve all moved on from that fantasy now, so, what do you think? Ride the hot hand and focus on the here and now, or start prepping for the realities of what lies ahead?