Pitch by pitch. Plate appearance by plate appearance. Playoff baseball is here and hasn’t lost its luster in the stress department. The edges of our seat become worn from overuse, waiting for that first breakthrough from either side.
Game One of the American League Division Series between the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros was no different. Heavyweights Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber went to work, with neither allowing a hit through the first three innings. Corey Kluber blinked first, though, allowing a mammoth shot to Alex Bregman to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning.
Alex Bregman sent a 107.1 mile per hour missile into the left field seats. He capitalized on a beach ball of an offering, which was clearly intended to be on the outer edge of the plate. In fact, Corey Kluber spent the first three innings of the game establishing his plan of attack – hard and away. Fastballs and cutters dominated the pitch mix, with all but one pitch dedicated to the outer half of the plate against righties.
The Houston Astros top four hitters are all righties, so the first inning tipped Kluber’s hand in terms of attack plan.
All but one of these pitches were away, with most coming low and away. The culprit that became the Bregman homer in the bottom half of the fourth inning was a significant deviation from his earlier offerings. After that homer, command issues were more prevalent. He walked the next hitter and found himself in full counts on the two hitters after that. The problems that plagued him throughout the regular season – a relative inability to put hitters away in 0-2 counts – reared their ugly head.
A loud out by Carlos Correa lent way to a dribbling single up the middle by Tyler White, putting Astros at first and second with two outs. Then Josh Reddick sent a weakly hit flare over the outstretched glove of Yonder Alonso, bringing home a second run in the inning.
As Adam Cimber, who could be a sneakily effective piece in the series, warmed up in the bullpen, Corey Kluber unleashed a nasty slider that Martin Maldonado is still wondering how he missed to end a pivotal fourth inning. Unfortunately for Indians fans, things spiraled even more out of control from there.
In a questionable decision, Terry Francona allowed Kluber to remain in the game to start the fifth inning to face an elite bat in George Springer. Yes, questionable is the correct word. In a five game playoff series with two off days, it’s all arms on deck. Kluber demonstrated clearly in the fourth inning that he didn’t quite have it. Springer went out and got a pitch on the lower half, sending it deep over the fence in left-center.
In a downright stupid decision, Terry Francona stuck with Kluber. There is absolutely no way that Kluber should have been in that game to face Jose Altuve. As questionable as the Indians bullpen has been throughout 2018, a fresh arm was direly needed. The predictable result? A line drive homer into the Crawford boxes.
The tide started to turn in the top of the sixth. Yan Gomes went to the dish and made Justin Verlander work harder than he had all day. After a ten pitch at bat in the third that ended in a strikeout, Gomes induced yet another lengthy battle with Verlander. After fouling several pitches off and working a full count, Gomes professionally lined a base hit into right field. A Lindor first-pitch single and a Brantley walk loaded the bases for Jose Ramirez.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch made the decision to go get his reliever Ryan Pressly, formerly of the Minnesota Twins, to face J-Ram. The first offering was a curveball that made it about 54 feet before bouncing to the backstop, allowing the Indians first run to score. A weak ground out from Jose Ramirez followed, cutting the Astros lead in half.
Enter Cody Allen. Francona called on him to face a lefty for reasons that cannot be ascertained, but the end result of that decision played out in Indians favor. Then, Allen held true to form, inexplicably giving up a homer to the worst hitter in the Astros lineup, Martin Maldonado.
Yet, that wasn’t enough. Francona continued the theme of pushing his luck allowing Allen to face Springer, who blooped a single over the arms of a sprinting Jose Ramirez.
Enter Trevor Bauer. Not shy about wasting a Trevor Bauer inning down three runs, Terry Francona called on the electric righty to stop the bleeding. Bauer entered and a hit party ensued. A single by Bregman brought home Springer, followed by a Yuli Gurriel double.
The Indians were left with six outs chasing four runs. Those last six outs were netted in easy fashion by Lance McCullers and Robert Osuna. The Astros even pushed across a seventh run for good measure, after the white flagged was waved upon the entrance of Dan Otero.
So, the Indians will head into tomorrow’s Game Two facing a 1-0 series deficit. Corey Kluber was not sharp. Terry Francona looked like he was drawing pitchers’ names out of a hat. The Indians offense failed to put a charge into anything.
Tomorrow is a new day, however, with Carlos Carrasco ready to deal against Gerrit Cole at 4:37 ET. Perhaps Cookie will delve into an outing that eliminates the odd bullpen decisions.