Baseball is not a game that abides by even the most carefully thought through plans. Corey Kluber is supposed to be the lockdown ace who helps the Cleveland Indians start the season off strong. Baserunners are supposed to remember to tag up on fly balls. Runs are supposed to be scored when the bases are loaded with no outs.
The Indians, however, demonstrated their most important attribute on Opening Day. The team is capable of winning in a multitude of ways due to the overwhelming talent they possess in the rotation, bullpen, and lienup. On Monday, the Tribe showed off many of their new, refurbished, and old toys as they defeated the Texas Rangers, 8-5.
One of those new toys was third baseman Yandy Diaz who became the first Indians to make his first MLB appearance on Opening Day since Andy Allanson in 1986.1 Diaz celebrated by obtaining his first MLB hit and also a nifty diving catch.
Yu Darvish and Kluber will likely continue to be among the best starters in MLB throughout the 2017 season. Opening Day will simply not be a line item they will want to highlight on their resume. The starters combined to allow nine earned runs on 10 hits and eight walks, while throwing 207 pitches in just 12.1 innings pitched. They did combine for 10 strikeouts, but the four home runs allowed were damaging. Darvish was fortunate the numbers were not even worse as the Indians bailed him out in the fifth inning after he had loaded the bases with no outs (Francisco Lindor hit into a 1-2-3 double play, Michael Brantley grounded out).
Kluber reportedly was dealing with blisters on his throwing hand. Perhaps it explained why his fourseam fastball was sitting at just 90.3 miles per hour (93.36mph in 2016) or why so many of his pitches were finding the middle of the strike zone.
Rougned Odor, in particular, enjoyed the blistered Kluber. The nephew of Columbus Clippers hitting coach Rouglas Odor took no mercy on the Indians as he hit two of the three home runs Kluber allowed.
It was the shot Carlos Gomez knocked into the second deck in Arlington that had people most impressed as Statcast measued the blast to be 461 feet.
Carlos Gomez and all his glory… pic.twitter.com/XDIYfpXy98
— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 4, 2017
The Indians put great pressure on themselves to take full advantage on the basepaths in order to score as many runs as possible in 2016 to remain competitive offensively. While manager Terry Francona may keep that edict in place, it should be needed less as Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley have been added to what is now a potent lineup. Catcher Yan Gomes would end the game as the only starter to not reach base.
Down 5-1 in the fourth inning, Jose Ramirez started chipping away at the Rangers lead when he lifted a ball into the right-center gap seats. His 440 foot home run would only be the second longest shot on the day, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Just as important was the bottom third of the order putting continued pressure on the Rangers pitching staff. Of these hitters, right fielder Abraham Almonte dropped some jaws as the well-known impatient hitter saw a game-high 26 pitches in four at bats hitting out of the nine-hole. He was having such a great day that even when he struck out in the seventh inning, a passed ball allowed him to be safe at first (and score Yandy Diaz).
Encarnacion also had a chance to show off the Edwing when he hammered home the game-tying run in the eighth. From there, the Indians as Tyler Naquin, Almonte, Santana, and Brantley each recorded hits in the ninth inning to push the former four-run deficit to a three-run lead.
Anyone believing the passionate calls of those stating the bullpen prowess of the Indians were overstated cannot point to any evidence from Opening Day. Dan Otero, Boone Logan, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen showed the type of dominance expected from them as they completed three innings of work. They struck out six batters, allowed a mere two hits, and walked none.
Allen appeared insistent that Tribe fans do not forget just how good he can be despite the rise to prominence of Miller as he used each of his recorded outs to add to his career strikeout total.
Despite some uneven play and some worries about any lasting effects of blistered fingers for Kluber, Opening Day was a success for the Tribe. The Indians are undefeated, the offense and bullpen look unstoppable, and there are another 161 of these things before the team hopefully returns to the MLB postseason. There will be plenty of ups and downs along the journey, but baseball is back, which means life is good.
- h/t Jacob Rosen [↩]