I have never seen anything like it. As if watching the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen—as the front office sits idly, collecting rabbits feet and crossing their fingers instead—had not been enough torture this season, Tuesday night hit its nadir. One night after Terry Francona potentially cost his team the game by inserting Josh Tomlin (he of the 8.26 FIP and one home run allowed per every ten at-bats) into the contest, the Indians manager somehow managed to outdo himself.
After Cody Allen imploded on the pile of dirt in the center of the diamond, Francona pulled the plug in attempt to save Trevor Bauer’s masterful, 12-strikeout shutout from evaporating into the ether of No Decision. What transpired would be Dan Otero, a right-handed pitcher, coming on to face Joey Votto, a very good left-handed batter who happened to have a .961 OPS against righties. As Otero emerged from the wall in right-center field, Francona and the Indians’ infield had the collective blank stare of someone listening to Yeezus for the first time. Turns out, it wasn’t supposed to be Otero warming up let alone coming into the game at that point; it was supposed to be Oliver Perez.
Not great, Bob.
Francona has a “Gomer” and a “Frankie” and a “Kippie” or sometimes just “Kip.” He has a “Josie” and a “Millsy” and when there were parties he had a “Nap.” These aw-shucks folksy nicknames, however, would get the best of him and Not Mickey Callaway as a call to have “OP” (Oliver Perez, a left-hander) warm up apparently sounded like “OT” (which apparently what they call Otero). The result: A base-clearing double and a disaster that saw a 4-0 victory come out of the other side as a 7-4 loss, Francona admitting to one of the most embarrassing sequence of events of the season,
After the Tomlin debacle (the latest one, anyway), I tweeted that the front office needed to figure out a way to take the “Cowboy” out of Tito’s toy chest. In an era where K-rate and missed bats are an integral part of bullpen success, having a guy throw flat, 85-mile per hour, taint-high fastballs was never going to be a recipe for success. But just as he did with Michael Martinez in the final at bat of Game 7 of the World Series (too soon?), Terry just can’t quit certain players. Less than 24 hours later, Tomlin was placed on the DL with what’s being called a “hamstring strain.”
Francona is the little kid at the pool who you tell to not run, so they do some bizarre, fast-paced speed walk that makes them look like penguins looped on 3x speed. How is it possible that the manager of a professional baseball team with playoff aspirations can, one night after inserting a clearly inadequate pitcher into the late innings, have a guy warm up in elevated, super visible, newly renovated bullpens and not realize that it’s a right-hander and not a lefty?
As fun as the Indians have been to watch at points this season—you don’t luck into five All-Stars—there has been entirely too much water-carrying rhetoric about this sort of lackadaisical decision making being tolerable because the team has a lead in the AL Central. Jason Kipnis (he of the .219/.307./.354 slash line) was batting entirely too high in the lineup through much of the first half of the season, but it’s totally OK because the Indians play in the AL Central. Josh Tomlin is one of four pitcher to allow 20 home runs despite having half of the innings pitched as the other three1 Francisco Mejia, meanwhile, has been given the Yandy Diaz treatment while Rajai Davis leaves six guys on base in one game and Greg Allen gets to get one hit in his last 11 at-bats, his slugging percentage dipping below .300 in the interim.
This is all well beyond an overreaction to one or two games. It’s a pattern of poor decision making, questionable lineup creation, and borderline negligence as it pertains to high-upside prospects.
That 12-game lead in the AL Central has suddenly evaporated to 8.5 games. The Indians’ 49-41 record is large in part to a 25-7 record against the lowly Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers; they are 24-34 against the rest of baseball. Even if you want to lazily toss out the “well, you play who’s on your schedule” and give them this same cake walk, they would be in third place in the AL East and fifth place in the AL West. Fans of Pythagoras will say this team should have 52 wins and that the bullpen has cost them even more than this, but to that it’s time to look at your front office.
All too often this team treats the trade deadline as if it’s the only day deals can be made. And while there isn’t a flurry of activity in the marketplace, no playoff-hopeful team has left more on the table (with such glaring holes) this season than the Cleveland Indians. Mike Chernoff rolled the dice that his bullpen could at least provide 80 percent of the dominance they did a season ago, and has come up snake eyes since the start. Mismanaging Andrew Miller’s injury2 is only the start. Getting him back at 100 percent still won’t fix what is transpiring on a nearly nightly basis.
The Cleveland Indians rank dead last in the major leagues with a bullpen ERA of 5.37. Dead. Last. Earlier this season, Chris Antonetti referenced the inability to do much at that juncture of the season, hoping the ship would just right itself. Instead, it’s careened even further off course, placing his team in a position of desperation on which every other team in baseball can capitalize.
If Hue Jackson or Ty Lue did what Terry Francona did on Tuesday night, the calls for their head would be piercing. Francona’s bullpen debacle made Jackson’s timeout-free QB sneak from the 4-yard line look like a highlight.
The Indians sold out multiple games this past weekend and rewarded fans with four consecutive losses, the most recent leading to a chorus of boos as fans left for the gates following such an epic collapse. We’ll soon see who was actually listening.
This Week in Actual Sportswriting:
- “How LeBron James’ Decision Instantly Changed the Lakers, Cavs” by Ramona Shelburne (ESPN)3
- “Mission Accomplished” by Tonya Malinowski (ESPN The Magazine)4
- “Holding Her Own” by Bonnie D. Ford (ESPNW)
- “The Country Where Futbol Comes First” by Candace Rose Rardon (Longreads)
This Week in Actual NonSportswriting:
- “Rising Seas: Florida is About to Be Wiped Off the Map” by Elizabeth Rush (The Guardian)
- “The Nutella Billionaires” by Noah Kirsch (Forbes)
- “Where is Barack Obama?” by Gabriel Debenedetti (New York Magazine)
And Finally, This Week in Bleacher Reporting:
Have a great Wednesday, kids.