Covering the Bases: Game 101

Final:

Twins 12, Indians 5

FIRST: There is a debate currently going on among Indians fans about whether the Indians should suddenly become sellers. They are a season-high 5 1/2 games out, so many feel it’s time to cut some pieces and try to get some prospects.

I’m not in this camp. It’s not because I think the Indians are a lock to turn things around and make a run at the playoffs this year, because that is looking like far too tall a task at this point. My opinion is based on the fact that the core is still young and talented enough to contend next year.

If the club doesn’t feel they can contend in 2013, well then fine. Sell, sell, sell. But I think the Indians believe that can be a factor in the postseason picture next season. And they should think that way, if you ask me. Despite issues last year and again this year, the Tribe has been in the mix. Have they been great? Hardly. But they’ve been in the hunt in the Central both last year and again this year.

I look at it this way…

The main core group currently revolves around Jason Kipnis (25 years old), Michael Brantley (25), Carlos Santana (26), Asdrubal Cabrera (26), Justin Masterson (27), Vinnie Pestano (27) and Chris Perez. You could even throw Lonnie Chisenhall (23), Zach McAllister (24) and Carlos Carrasco (25) in there, if you’d like. The oldest core piece, if you view him as such, is Ubaldo Jimenez at 28 years old.

Shin-Soo Choo is 30 years old and will be eligible for free agency after next season, so I’m not viewing him as a key part of the future core right now. It’s most likely that he’ll test free-agent waters after the 2013 campaign, which is why he’s a big source of trade speculation right now.

Roberto Hernandez is 31 years old and has a club option for next season, and right now it’s not clear if the club plans on picking that up.

The previous group mentioned is young and will form the main cast going into next year. Veterans such as Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman are not part of the 2013 plans. Those looming holes are more likely to be addressed via trades or free agency over the winter.

If the Indians could find takers for any of those players — specifically Lowe or Damon — they would probably make a deal. Right now, though, they have little value on the trade market. Cleveland could dangle Choo or Perez (whose salary will spike through arbitration this winter), but those players are also a big part of the 2013 plans. I doubt either will be dealt before Tuesday’s Deadline.

Well, let me rephrase. I doubt Choo or Perez would be traded for a package of prospects. I think Cleveland would prefer to match up with another buyer and target a need-for-need trade that could reel in players controllable beyond 2012, but who could impact the current Major League team.

Teams like the Giants and Pirates might fit that mold.

So, the clock is ticking, and Cleveland is exploring a variety of things behind the scenes. San Diego’s Chase Headley had been mentioned. So has Rays pitcher James Shields. The way I see it, the Indians will look to add, or they will stand relatively pat.

SECOND: That first item was only game-related in the sense that Cleveland dropped further away from first place, tossing some more fuel on the trade talk fire. Let’s get to this game, which was as forgettable, if not more so, than Friday’s debacle.

Justin Masterson was stellar out of the gates, retiring the first 11 batters he faced behind nine groundouts, one flyout and a strikeout. Over the next 17 batters, he gave up 10 runs (eight earned) on seven hits (four extra-base hits) with two walks, two stolen bases and one hit batsmen.

Ouch.

It was another performance that emphasized Cleveland’s continuous problems with getting consistent starting pitching. Masterson, who allowed eight of his 10 runs with two outs, dropped to 7-9 with a 4.47 ERA through 22 starts. He was 8-7 with a 2.57 ERA through 22 starts a year ago.

THIRD: Masterson’s cause was not helped by the pair of missed calls by two umpires in Friday’s game.

The first came in the fourth inning, when Masterson froze Josh Willingham and appeared to have caught him looking for a strikeout. Instead, home-plate ump Bill Welke ruled it a ball and, naturally, Willingham smashed the next pitch out of the yard for a two-run home run.

“It was definitely close, in my own mind,” Masterson said of the second ball call. “[Welke] said he had it away. It was close, but you have to come back and make another pitch.”

The next call — clearly blown when you watch the replay — came in the fifth.

Danny Valencia chopped a pitch to third baseman Jack Hannahan, who gloved it and threw across the diamond. The throw forced first baseman Casey Kotchman to step in front of the bag, but he kept a foot on the base as he stretched to make the catch.

First-base ump Chris Guccione called Valencia safe. Upon watching the replay, it was easy to see that, A) Kotchman had his foot on the base and caught the ball before Valencia arrived, and B) Valencia actually stepped over the base without stepping on it.

“It’s frustrating,” Hannahan said. “It was a high hopper. I stayed back on it and kind of rushed the throw. Casey made a great play and stayed on the base and we didn’t get the call. That led to three runs. When things are going bad, that’s the kind of stuff that happens.”

“That was an out. Not even close,” Acta said. “They’re human. He blew the call completely and it cost us three runs. But, they scored 12, so it wasn’t Chris Guccione’s fault that we didn’t win the game.”

HOME: The Indians thought they might be able to carry some good vibes into Minnesota after taking two of three in an emotional series against the Tigers at home. Instead, Cleveland arrived in town with a big ‘ol Motown hangover and has been outscored 23-5 through the first two games.

Consider this: Cleveland is 7-2 against Detroit this season, but just 2-6 in series played immediately following series against the Tigers. Masterson laughed when a reporter asked him how he would interpret the Tribe’s overwhelming struggles in the wake of the Tigers series.

“The coming of Christ is soon?” Masterson quipped. “Am I trying to interpret the signs?”

In all seriousness, though…

“These two games are not exactly the way you wanted things to happen,” Masterson said. “But it doesn’t mean we’re done or out of it.”

That is something Masterson firmly believes.

“We’re still not playing the best and we’re still right there,” Masterson said. “One of these days it’s going to come together for everybody. We’re all going to kind of hit a streak, or we’re going to put a couple together both offensively and pitching wise, and I think that’s going to take us to a good spot.

“We just really haven’t hit any of that this year. It’s bound to happen. Plus, in the Central, we’re close. Everything is close right there.”

On deck:

Indians (50-51) at Twins (42-58)
at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday at Target Field

–JB

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