Covering the Bases: Game 95
FIRST: It feels like Jason Kipnis has been right in the middle of a majority of Cleveland’s offensive rallies in this first half. Things were no different on Sunday, when the Tribe’s All-Star second baseman went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks to go along with two RBI.
It was a nice send-off for Kipnis, who was packing his bags after the game for his trip to New York for his first Midsummer Classic.
“I’m getting real excited now,” Kipnis said. “I hadn’t really given it too much thought yet. Hasn’t really clicked in yet. Probably will once I land in New York, but at the same time, it’s still going to be a break for me a little bit. I’ll be able to see my family, get some friends that are going down there.
“It’s going to be such a neat experience, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
As the season’s first “half” rolls to a close, Kipnis heads to Citi Field sporting a .301/.383/.514 slash line to go along with .13 home runs, 23 doubles, three triples, 57 RBI, 53 runs, 45 walks and 21 stolen bases in 84 games played. With that first-half showing, Kipnis finds himself in elite company in Cleveland history.
Kipnis joins Kenny Lofton (1994) as the only Indians players since 1916 to boast at least a .300 average, 20 stolen bases and 39 extra-base hits in a first half. In ’94, Lofton hit .374 with 45 stolen bases and 41 extra-base hits in 83 games. Kipnis also joins Roberto Alomar (1999) as the only Tribe hitters since 1916 to have at least 20 stolen bases, 35 extra-base hits, 45 walks and 55 RBI. In ’99, Alomar had 21 stolen bases, 36 extra-base hits, 55 walks and 60 RBI in 86 games.
“He’s been awesome,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “That’s why he’s an All-Star. He’s done such a great job for us. He’s stepped up when we needed him, and I could not be more happy that he’s representing us in the All-Star Game.
“It seems like if he rolls, we roll. He’s kind of table-setting our lineup and it’s a lot of fun to hit behind him.”
The numbers back up Swisher’s comment, too. When Kipnis has at least one hit this season, the Indians have a 39-23 record. When Kipnis scores at least one run, Cleveland is 31-9. When the second baseman steals at least one base, the Tribe is 13-6.
SECOND: The way Indians manager Terry Francona sees it, the way his club has performed in the first half has set the team up for an exciting second half.
“I feel like we’ve played, up to this point, well enough where every game starting on Friday counts a lot,” Francona said. “That’s exciting. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. … We’re coming back, and every game we play is so meaningful, and that’s a fun way to play baseball.”
You could call this Cleveland squad Team Streak.
They opened the season with an 8-13 record, then went 18-4, followed by 15-5, 0-4 and 6-2 (or, 6-6, to roll into the break, if you’d rather view it that way). I only split the 0-4 and 6-2 stretch to show the slump and response. That recent four-game losing streak ended with a pair of routs at the hands of the Tigers, and was followed by a closed-door meeting by the players.
The Indians got back to their brand of ball before the break.
“It was nice that we could help the city of Cleveland kind of step back off the ledge after the Detroit series,” Kipnis said. “So, that’s good. No, we knew that we had this break coming up and four days to rest for a bunch of guys that could use it, both physically and mentally.”
The Tribe offense ends the first half with a .258/.330/.418 slash line with 73 stolen bases, 104 homers, 292 extra-base hits, 334 walks, 454 runs (4.8 per game), 782 strikeouts and 1,339 total bases. This is the first time since 1999 that an Indians team had a slash line at least that good to go along with at least the same marks in stolen bases, homers and walks.
The pitching staff is 51-44 with a 4.31 ERA overall. The rotation has gone 34-34 with a 4.42 ERA and the bullpen is 17-10 with a 4.10 ERA. The team’s overall rate of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings is the best mark in a first half in team history, well ahead of the second-best rate of 7.8 in 2000. The team’s 2.21:1 strikeout-to-walk ration is the fourth-best mark in club history for a first half.
The Indians have 51 wins in a first half for only the seventh time since 1916, though it is worth noting that the team also played more games (95) than in those previous six occurrences. The team’s .537 winning percentage is the 39th-best mark in a first half for the team, and is seventh among the seasons that included at least 51 first-half wins.
It should be an entertaining and interesting second half.
“We’ve got a good team,” Kipnis said. “We got a lot of depth and a lot of guys here that I think is going to prevent [a collapse] from happening. Not necessarily guaranteeing we’re going to win games, but I think we’re going to be a lot more consistent with our schedule coming up, and I think we’re going to go out and put some good, tough AB’s out there and win some games.”
THIRD: The Indians rotation had posted a 1.81 ERA over the team’s past seven games, heading into Sunday’s first-half finale with the Royals. Ubaldo Jimenez ended that impressive run by allowing four runs on eight hits in four innings of a no-decision for the Tribe.
I recently detailed the enigmatic first half turned in by The Big U, and Sunday’s effort only added to the curious nature of his performance this season.
Jimenez entered the afternoon with a 4-1 record and a 2.88 ERA over his last nine starts, which included 45 strikeouts and 29 walks across 50 innings. With the All-Star break looming, Francona decided to turn the ballgame over to the bullpen when Jimenez reached 76 pitches. That’s the fewest he’s thrown in a start since April 21.
“Tough day,” Francona said. “We battled back, and [against James] Shields, you don’t want to give an inch. And on a normal day, you probably have to stay with him a little longer. But, because we have four days off, we knew we could empty the bullpen, and that ended up helping us win a game.”
It also allowed for the Major League debut of C.C. Lee, who turned in 1.1 shutout innings for the Indians.
“I wanted to get him in the game before the break,” Francona said. “The game was, it wasn’t one of those where it’s a blowout either way. His stuff is exceptional. He looked a little nervous, which I think is to be expected. But I thought he handled himself really well, and I know everybody was excited for him.”
HOME: Indians closer Chris Perez isn’t heading to his third straight All-Star Game, but the right-hander has pitched like an All-Star heading into the break. In 10 appearances since coming off the disabled list, Perez has posted a 0.90 ERA (1 ER/10 IP) and a 1.10 WHIP with eight strikeouts, eight hits allowed and three walks for the Tribe.
If Perez can again bring some stability to the ninth inning, that would be a godsend for a Cleveland club that has had its share of issues late in games this season.
“I think he feels good,” Francona said. “He should feel good about himself. He’s bounced back now and pitched a bunch. He’s maintained his stuff, location. He’s done really well.”
American League (38-43-2) at National League (43-38-2)
84th All-Star Game on FOX at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Citi Field