Covering the Bases: Game 59
FIRST: Much like a good play, this Indians season has included three acts. The only problem is there are 162 games on the schedule — not 59. Cleveland needs to find a new scriptwriter.
The good side in that is that there are 100-plus games left for the Indians to make fans forget all about this ugly 16-game stretch of baseball. That’s what the club hopes to accomplish. Asked after the latest loss if he felt the Indians could compete for one of the two Wild Card playoff spots, Nick Swisher scoffed at the idea.
He wasn’t scoffing at making the playoffs. He didn’t like someone limiting the expectations. Swisher said the Indians have their sights on the division.
“Wild Card? I’m not thinking Wild Card, bro,” Swisher said. “This squad is different, man. This is a completely different team. Fifteen new faces. A completely different coaching staff. We’re going to go through our ups and downs, and we’ve got a lot of learning to do still.
“But, man, I think we’ve got so much talent in here. Maybe it’s just me that thinks that, bro. But I think everybody in this clubhouse agrees with me.”
Some Cleveland fans might scoff at all the scoffing. After all, the Indians were 30-15 and riding high on May 23 in 2011 when things began to fall apart. Last year, it was May 24 when the second-half slide was initiated. This season, May 21 is currently circled as the date when the good feelings of the first two months began to fade in a brutal slump.
It is up to the Indians to reverse the trend.
“I wouldn’t say we’re in a downward trend,” Indians starter Corey Kluber said. “I just think we’re going through a bit of a tough stretch now. I don’t think anybody is hitting the panic button. We have a long time left in the season, a long time for us to turn things around. It’s just a couple games in a bad stretch. Nobody in this clubhouse is reading any more into it than that.”
Let’s take a look at this season in three parts.
April 2-28: 8-13 record
Note: stretch runs through Game 1 doubleheader on April 28
Pitching: 4.65 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Rotation: 5-13, 5.72 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9
Bullpen: 3-0, 2.93 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
April 28-May 20: 18-4
Note: stretch begins with Game 2 of doubleheader on April 28
Pitching: 3.24 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Rotation: 13-4, 3.24 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Bullpen: 5-0, 3.23 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
May 21-June 5: 4-12
Pitching: 5.86 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
Rotation: 4-8, 4.55 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
Bullpen: 0-4, 8.47 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 4.7 BB/9
In the first section, it’s the rotation that was the primary culprit, though the offense had yet to really hit its stride. By the end of April, the rotation improved dramatically, the offense showed its full potential and the bullpen held steady. In the recent slump, the bullpen has been the main problem, but the rotation and offense have also lagged. Baseball is a game of ups and downs, but so far this Cleveland team has been all over the map.
SECOND: Kluber, despite having six runs (four earned) on his final pitching line, deserves some credit for the outing he gave the Indians on Wednesday. The first two runs allowed (on a Travis Hafner homer) in the first inning came after Michael Bourn’s uncharacteristic missed-catch error. In the second, Kluber admitted he hung some ill-time pitches that led to New York’s four-run outburst.
Following Brett Gardner’s three-run homer in the second, Kluber settled down and allowed two hits to the next 16 batters he faced. This was a game that likely would have slipped away from Kluber last year and led to an overworked bullpen. Instead, the starter went six, striking out seven across his final four innings.
Cleveland just couldn’t come back against lefty CC Sabathia, who turned in a complete game.
“We had to dig out of a hole, but he gave us a chance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That says a lot for him and his competitiveness. That’s just a pretty big hole to dig out of with CC pitching.”
THIRD: Swisher said Sabathia used an unexpected approach against the Indians in Wednesday’s game, throwing the hitters off early. The big lefty was perfect through 14 hitters before giving up a single to Mike Aviles, and Cleveland did not break through for its four runs until the sixth and seventh innings. Sabathia had nine strikeouts and one walk in the win.
“He was different today — way different,” Swisher said. “A lot of breaking balls first pitch, man. He was really spotting that up. You go into the batter’s box, and you’re used to seeing 94-95 mph, and all of a sudden you’re seeing these backdoor breaking balls coming.”
HOME: Within Cleveland’s late comeback attempt was a two-run, two-out home run from catcher Yan Gomes in the seventh inning. Over his past 13 games, Yanny Bench has hit .347 (17-for-49) with four homers, four doubles and 13 RBIs. He’s now hitting .368 (7-for-19) with three homers and six RBIs with two outs, .381 (8-for-21) with two homers and 12 RBIs with RISP, .444 (4-for-9) with one homer and four RBIs with RISP and two outs, and .667 (6-for-9) with three homers and six RBIs in at-bats ending on the first pitch.
Thursday: off-day, First-Year Player Draft
Friday: Indians (30-29) at Tigers (31-25)*
*does not include Wednesday’s result