The near total eclipse of the Kansas City Royals

Do you remember when the Chicago White Sox Melky Cabrera went 4-for-5 against the Cleveland Indians on July 29, prompting the Kansas City Royals to trade for the outfielder prior to the trade deadline? While Cabrera has been a solid addition since the split (.291/.337/.818), the Royals have begun to slide into the oblivion of the American League Wild Card chase. On the day of the Cabrera trade, the Royals stood only two games in back of the Indians in the Central. After Sunday’s victory over the Indians, holding off a Tribe sweep of the series, the Royals were hanging on by their fingertips, 6 1/2 games back.

It’s an oddity I suppose, to mention a trade that really had no effect on the weekend series. Sure, Cabrera went 3-for-4 in the opening game, three meaningless singles in a 10-1 loss against Corey Kluber’s Tribe, but Cabrera was truly a non-issue in a series that was mostly dominated by the division leaders.

The Royals have gone all in, and while doing so should keep them somewhat competitive in the Wild Card stretch run, it’s likely that the organization has strapped itself for years to come. While a Tribe sweep would have been demoralizing, the one-step forward, and two-steps back approach that the Royals have taken in going 7-13 since the Cabrera trade has been fun to watch from the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

What happened this weekend:

On Friday, Jay Bruce showcased what a good late season trade looks like. At no cost to the Indians in their deal with the New York Mets, Bruce’s offense has been a centerpiece of an Indians August run that’s seen them go 8-2 since Bruce’s first start with Tribe on June 11. Bruce’s two home runs led the Indians to a 10-1 smashing of the Royals, that was as emphatic as you could get.

Bruce hit a two-run homer in the first, and a three-run homer in the seventh, that completely broke the game open for starter Corey Kluber.

While Kluber got the win, the Indians’ ace righty didn’t make it through the sixth inning, thanks to a sprained ankle after Kluber raced to cover first base on a sixth inning ground out. Kluber made the play, and stayed in for another batter, but his day was essentially finished.

While Kluber’s somewhat meaningless 14-game streak of having at least eight strikeouts came to an end, the injury has so-far proven to be just as meaningless. After throwing a side-session on Sunday, Kluber was already cleared to make his next start against Boston on Wednesday.

What was most impressive about the Indians win on Friday night was more than just the Bruce addition. It was just how methodically the Indians just beat down the Royals. They beat the Royals with defense…

…they beat the Royals with offense…

…and they beat the Royals with pitching. After Kluber left the game, Andrew Miller returned, and the rest of the bullpen combined to pitch 3 2/3 shutout innings.

Oh, and yeah, Giovanny Urshela did some things too…again.

On Saturday, Trevor Bauer battled through another really good start, and the Indians offense and defense once again put on a steady showcase in shutting out the Royals 5-0 on Saturday.

The offense had a little bit of Bruce again, but was a full course of the entire Indians line-up.

What’s really stood out to me over the past few weeks though, has been the Indians’ defense. It’s not the best in the league, but it has been really, really good.

On Sunday, Danny Salazar had his first rough start since returning from the DL in July. After five outstanding outings, the Royals were able to touch up Salazar in their 7-4 victory over the Indians. Salazar gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

According to the charts, Salazar abandoned his four-seamer, depending mostly on a sinker/slider mix, which divulged from his mix in his previous five games considerably.

His five games leading up to Sunday:

Sunday’s game:

While Salazar hasn’t been four-seam dependent in every start since returning, it has been his clear goto pitch since his return. One start does not imply worry, regarding velocity shifts or usage. It’s just something to keep an eye on going forward. I’ll have a much more detailed piece this week.

Three up:

  1. The Indians rotation has been spectacular. While it’s hard to believe that the Indians rotation can continue to be this good straight through the playoffs, it doesn’t really have to be. If the Indians rotation is just as good as it’s supposed to be, combined with a bullpen that with some rest, is as good as it gets, and you are already in the World Series conversation. When you include the way this offense has been playing of late, and realize that all of the pieces either aren’t there, or up to standard, and it’s really easy to get excited. But I keep coming back to this rotation. When the Indians dealt for Andrew Miller last year, he was supposed to be a fantastic addition to a pen that would be able to bridge the gap for Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, and Bauer in the playoffs. Salazar and Carrasco went down before the playoffs, and Bauer’s drone did the rest. On this past road trip, prior to Salazar’s start, the Indians rotation was 8-0 with a 1.61 ERA, and as good as that is, you can really dial it all back to the beginning of the season. The Indians starters lead the league in fWAR, FIP, and xFIP. They lead the league in strikeouts, and K/9…obviously. They are top five in every meaningful category, and this is a “coming on strong” top five we’re talking about here. STAY…HEALTHY…PLEASE!!
  2. Carlos Santana continues to hit the ball, while the rest of the team has somewhat evened out. With Bruce hitting, and some really key hits from guys like Austin Jackson, the offense has looked rock solid. But Santana is a guy that has always been fine blending into the scenery a bit, which is exactly what he’s been doing. Over the past eight games, Santana has a ridiculous .448/.556/.793 split, with two homers, two doubles, and yes, even a triple. He’s also been playing a rock solid first base this year, both via the eye test, and the numbers (7 DRS, 1.9 UZR, 2.3 UZR/150). It certainly seems like the right time for Santana to pick things up during his contract year.
  3. Andrew Miller is back. That is all.

Three down:

  1. It seems silly to discuss the Indians’ offense at all, especially after they scored 19 runs in a three game series against the Royals, and have scored 88 runs in the 18 games played in the month of August. So in that respect, I’m not really that worried. This is a team that just seems to bludgeon opponents from every angle, with players that just know how to hit. It’s a stark contrast to the beginning of the year, when this team was carried by a couple of guys, and couldn’t seem to find a big. It seems different. Sure, Santana and Bruce are hitting right now, but most of the Indians games are won by a variety of key offense. So why is this down? What’s going on with JRam and Lindor? I could add some more names there, but hopefully things will pick up for the duo offensively, as the season comes to a close. If they pick things up? Oh boy…
  2. The Twins aren’t going away, are they? With only three games left against the Twinkies, it’s been damn frustrating watching them hang around. They’re five games back, and have a schedule a little less easy than the Indians. I’m not all that concerned about the Twins, and having a team sticking around does add to the necessity to stay razor focused, but enough already. Paul Molitor is that good a manager.
  3. Still bummed that Chris Sale and Kluber aren’t facing off on Wednesday. It must be fear…;).