August 2013

Covering the Bases: Game 133

829BravesFinal: Braves 3, Indians 1

FIRST: Sitting inside the visitors’ dugout on Tuesday afternoon, Indians center fielder Michael Bourn was asked how important the current nine-game stretch against the Braves, Tigers and Orioles was for Cleveland.

“Honestly?” Bourn replied. “I think it’s very important. It’ll tell what kind of team we have.”

Right now, the Indians look like a team that just isn’t ready.

Cleveland is a good team. It’s an interesting team. It just might not be a playoff team this season. When it’s all said and done, maybe the Tribe will find the resilience that has defined the team all season and make me eat my words here. That’d be just fine. Stranger things have happened.

After a three-game sweep in Atlanta, though, the Indians just don’t look ready.

August has once again been a trying month for the Tribe. No, this is nowhere close to the 5-24 disaster of a year ago, but the offensive drop-off over the past month has been jarring. It’s actually impressive that Cleveland has pulled off as many wins (12) as it has this month, considering the lineup’s team-wide problems. Tribe fans can thank the pitching staff for that.

Consider this: Cleveland’s pitching staff has posted the American League’s fourth-best ERA (3.37) for August, while holding hitters to a .669 OPS (second-best in the league). The staff also ranks fourth in the AL in strikeouts (220) and WHIP (1.30) for the month of August. Both the rotation and bullpen has more than done its part, and that included in Atlanta, where the Indians turned in a zero in 21 of 25 innings against the Braves.

“We’re making small mistakes that are unfortunately leading to close losses,” staff leader Justin Masterson said on Wednesday.

The mistakes…

Second inning Tuesday:
Danny Salazar gives up two-run, two-out triple to Elliot Johnson in 2-0 loss.

Second inning Wednesday:
Masterson walked the pitcher and then allowed two-run single to Jordan Shafer.

Ninth inning Wednesday:
Joe Smith gives up walk-off single to Chris Johnson in 3-2 loss.

Third inning Thursday:
Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a three-run homer to Brian McCann in a 3-1 loss.

“Right now, we’re in a stretch where if you make a mistake,” Jimenez said, “you’re probably going to pay for it with the game. We’re not scoring a lot of runs. That’s part of baseball.”

Scoring three runs in 27 innings and going 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position provided little to no margin for error for Cleveland’s pitchers throughout the three-game sweep at Turner Field. Now, it’s on to Detroit, which holds a 6.5-game lead in the division and has gone 13-3 against the Indians this season.

In August, the Indians rank 15th (last) in the American League on batting average (.227), on-base percentage (.295), slugging percentage (.354), OPS (.650) and runs scored (85) through 26 games. The Mark Reynolds Effect has been this: Cleveland’s month-by-month slugging percentage this season has been .465 (April), .421 (May), .395 (June), .391 (July) and .354 (August).

It has been a one-through-nine problem, too.

August slash lines for Cleveland’s regulars (top nine in at-bats):

CF Michael Bourn: .217/.265/.283 (106 AB)
1B Nick Swisher: .223/.304/.388 (103 AB)
2B Jason Kipnis: .258/.351/.340 (97 AB)
DH Carlos Santana: .225/.349/.404 (89 AB)
LF Michael Brantley: .227/.269/.309 (97 AB)
C Yan Gomes: .281/.369/.368 (57 AB)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera: .213/.260/.337 (89 AB)
3B Mike Aviles: .254/.250/.381 (63 AB)
RF Drew Stubbs: .246/.355/.385 (65 AB)

“Unfortunately, when this team is red hot, the whole team is red hot,” Jason Giambi said. “And, unfortunately, when we’re not red hot, we don’t swing the bat. We have a tougher time manufacturing, which is kind of weird with the speed that we have and the agility players that we have. You’d think we could overcome some of that and kind of steal a few wins here and there.

“For some reason, we just don’t push it over the top. I think that’s a team coming together and learning.”

SECOND: Help is on the way. Or, at least that’s what the Indians are hoping.

Late Thursday night, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reported that the D-backs and Indians agreed to a deal to send outfielder Jason Kubel to Cleveland in exchange for a Minor Leaguer and cash, according to a baseball source. The Indians did not have any comment, but the deal is expected to be made official on Friday.

The 31-year-old Kubel can help out in the outfield and at designated hitter, helping lengthen the Tribe nine in theory. Through 89 games with Arizona this season, Kubel has hit just .220/.288/.324/.612 with five homers and 32 RBI, while battling a variety of leg issues. Since the All-Star break, Kubel has hit just .137 (7-for-51) with no home runs, one walk, five RBI and 21 strikeouts in 25 games. He was designated for assignment on Tuesday.

All of that said, Kubel is one season removed from posting a .253/.327/.506/.833 slash line with 30 homers, 64 extra-base hits and 90 RBI for the D-backs. Across the 2008-12 seasons, he hit .269/.337/.478/.815 with an average of 22 homers and 84 RBI per season over those five years. Cleveland can only hope that it will catch some form of the 2008-12 Kubel, and not the banged-up, subpar version that showed up this season in Arizona.

THIRD: Let’s take a moment to recognize the work of Jimenez against the Braves, because really, aside from the home run he allowed to McCann, the right-hander was again strong for the Indians. Jimenez piled up 10 strikeouts, scattered seven hits, walked none and only allowed the three runs in seven innings of work.

It marked the first time in Jimenez’s career that he struck out at least 10 batters with no walks. It was his 14th career double-digit strikeout game and the first time he’s had at least two such outings in one year since 2010 (four times). He has struck out at least eight in three straight starts for the second time this season, tying a career best (he also had two such streaks in 2010). This was the first time had had 10 strikeouts in back-to-back starts in his career.

What’s been working?

“The fastball,” Jimenez said. “I’ve been able to throw the fastball consistently around 94-95 mph and then I’ve been able to locate it wherever I want. And then I’ve been throwing good breaking balls off my fastball.”

In the second inning, Jimenez struck out B.J. Upton swinging on a 97-mph heater. The Turner Field radar gun wasn’t running hot, either. The PITCHf/x date backed it up. Jimenez’s claim about his fastball is dead on, too. Over his past two starts, he has logged 61 four-seamers, compared to thrower fewer than 20 four-seamers in four of his previous five starts. He has also reduced the volume of sinkers and relied more on sliders and a changeup the past two turns.

In Indians history, there have been 46 double-digits strikeout streaks of at least two straight games. Bob Feller holds the club record with four consecutive 10-plus strikeout games from Sept. 23, 1938-April 21, 1939. Prior to Jimenez this month, CC Sabathia was the last two accomplish the feat by turning in three 10-plus strikeout games in a row from June 15-27, 2008. Thanks to the low run support, Jimenez is the first Tribe starter to go 0-2 in back-to-back 10-strikeout games since 1976 (Dennis Eckersley).

Over his past 17 starts, dating back to May 27, Jimenez has posted a 2.98 ERA with a .240 opponents’ batting average and 8.9 K/9 over 96.2 IP. He’s gone 6-6 in that span with a 1.44 WHIP, playing damage control while dealing with low run support.

HOME: Whether the Indians do or don’t make the postseason this year, I hope Cleveland fans are able to appreciate the special season at hand. When frustrated over a tough loss, it is always good to remember that the Indians lost 94 games last season. Going from a 90-plus loss showing to contending for a postseason spot a year later is an impressive feat. Yes, Cleveland’s highest-paid players have underperformed, and there’s frustration currently residing in the clubhouse and within the fan base, but this season will still be a memorable one when it’s all said and done.

At 71-62, the Indians are on pace to finish with 86 wins, if the team’s .534 winning percentage holds true down the stretch. That would be an 18-win improvement over 2012. Excluding strike-shortened seasons, there have only been seven one-year turnarounds of at least 18 wins in Cleveland’s franchise history, which dates to 1901.

24 wins: 1985 to 1986
20 wins: 1915 to 1916
19 wins: 1991 to 1992
19 wins: 1953 to 1954
19 wins: 1928 to 1929
18 wins: 2006 to 2007
18 wins: 1925 to 1926

Maybe the Indians turn this around this weekend in Detroit and down the stretch in September. Maybe they don’t (the team looks a hitter or two short of being a legitimate contender right now). Either way, this team has been a fun one to watch and cover, and it should be an interesting stretch run in September.

NOTE: It is MLBastian Jr.’s birthday this weekend, so I will be back in Ohio and not in Detroit. Make sure to keep checking Indians.com, and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter, for updates throughout the three-game series at Comerica Park.

ON DECK:

Indians (71-62) at Tigers (78-56)
at 7:08 p.m. ET Friday at Comerica Park

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 132

828AsdrubalFinal: Braves 3, Indians 2

FIRST: There was no excuse for the baserunning blunder Asdrubal Cabrera made on Wednesday night, and the Indians shortstop did not make one.

“That was really bad for the team,” Cabrera said. “I’ve got nothing else to say about that. It was my fault. That’s it.”

The situation was as follows…

With two outs and runners on the corners, Michael Brantley was in the batter’s box for the Indians with the game caught in a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning. Cabrera, on first base, sprinted for second base to attempt a steal.

Brantley swung. Cabrera stopped.

Thinking the ball was fouled off, and chopped behind the catcher, Cabrera halted dead in his tracks and took his time walking back to first base. One problem, Braves catcher Brian McCann caught the ball, it was live and he threw it back to reliever Luis Avilan. Cabrera — had he kept running — could have possibly completed the stolen base.

“They weren’t throwing through. We just couldn’t take the base,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We’re trying to yell. It’s kind of a frustrating feeling. He thought it was a foul ball and there’s nothing you can do. You’re too far away. Everybody was yelling, but he thought it was foul.”

It ended the inning, stopped the comeback, and cost Cleveland a key win.

SECOND: The game’s decisive moment came in the bottom of the ninth, when Chris Johnson delivered a walk-off single to left field to propel Atlanta to the win.

The inning began with a strikeout of Joey Terdoslavich and continued with an infield single from Jordan Schafer. The base hit went to the left of the mound, chopping in such a way that the spin essentially stopped the ball before Cabrera could get to it in time. Just a tough-luck infield single. Schafer stole second base, and Smith then induced a flyout to Justin Upton.

This set up a choice: pitch to the left-handed Freddie Freeman or the right-handed Johnson?

Entering Wednesday, Freeman was hitting .311 with 16 homers and 85 RBI while Johnson was batting .331 with 10 homers and 57 RBI. Pick your poison. This season, lefty hitters have posted a .732 OPS off the sidearming Smith compared to a .564 OPS by righties.

Smith opted to intentionally walk Freeman.

“Multiple reasons,” Francona said. “I know Chris Johnson is a good hitter, but it makes sense to let Smitty face CJ instead of Freeman.”

Johnson made the Indians pay with his game-winning single.

“It’s obviously not personal,” Johnson said. “It’s Freddie Freeman hitting in front of me with a base open with a righty on the mound.  But, yeah, any time somebody gets walked in front of you on purpose to pitch to you instead, you want to come up big, and that’s what I did.”

THIRD: The Indians have now gone 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position through two games against the Braves. The two runs scored by the Tribe marked the 15th time in the past 24 games that the club scored three or fewer runs. It should come as no surprise that Cleveland has gone 3-12 in those games.

The Indians have one of the better overall offenses in the American League this season (Really. Look it up.), but the lineup has regressed substantially in the second half. The massive slump of slugger Mark Reynolds, leading to his release, has led to an offense that has struggled in the power and run production department.

Entering Wednesday, the Indians ranked 14th in the AL in OPS (.748) and 13th in runs scored (141) in the second half. In the first half, Cleveland ranked sixth and fourth, respectively, in those categories. Francona was asked if the second-half woes on offense was becoming troubling.

“Man, you just try to figure out the game tonight,” Francona said. “Regardless of what’s going on — who’s hitting or who’s not — you try to put a lineup together, play the game and figure out a way to win. We’re getting good pitching and, because of that, we’re staying in games and giving ourselves a chance.”

HOME: Justin Masterson, standup guy that he is, tried to shoulder the responsibility for this defeat. In reality, despite some command woes, the big sinkerballer pitched well enough to win. Over six innings, he held the Braves to two runs on five hits, ending with six strikeouts and four walks.

Why did Masterson blame himself for the loss?

The right-hander pointed to the second inning, when he allowed a two-out double to Andrelton Simmons and followed with a walk to pitcher Paul Maholm to load the bases. That one-two punch led to Schafer delivering a two-run single on a sinker.

“I’m the reason we lost the game,” Masterson said. “In the second inning, I had two outs, Andrelton Simmons in a good count. Lose him, hang a slider to him, he hits it for a double and I’ve got the pitcher up next. I walk him and then Schafer makes a good play on a sinker away to score those two runs. That was kind of the turning point.”

In tight games, little mistakes become more glaring.

“We’re making small mistakes that are unfortunately leading to close losses,” Masterson said. “In one sense you’re excited, because we’re right there. We’re in every single game we’re going after. We’re more or less losing ballgames. We’re not always getting beat. We’re losing ballgames. That’s the unfortunate part of it.”

ON DECK:

Indians (71-61) at Braves (80-52)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Turner Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 131

827SalazarFinal: Braves 2, Indians 0

FIRST: It appears that The Salazar Rules are in full effect.

After four innings and 77 pitches against the Braves, right-hander Danny Salazar was pulled from his start by manager Terry Francona. This falls in line with the way Cleveland has handled the 23-year-old pitcher of late. In his previous outing, Salazar was lifted after 75 pitches (five innings). The time before that, it was 71 pitches (four innings).

The only time Salazar has gone over 100 pitches this year (and in his career, according to the pitcher) was when he logged 103 against Detroit on Aug. 7. Prior to that, he averaged roughly 70 pitches per outing throughout his Minor League slate earlier this season.

Even before Salazar’s start in Atlanta, here is what Francona had to say:

“He’s coming off Tommy John and we need to recognize that, be cognizant of that,” said the manager. “We’re on the same page organizationally. It’s just, in the middle of a game, when you know he can get guys out, but the kid has a long career, sometimes you have to kind of give yourself a kick in the pants to do the right thing.”

With an eight-man bullpen, which includes a former starter in Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe can certainly afford to pull Salazar after four. That was especially the case Tuesday — one day after the Indians enjoyed a scheduled day off. With a rested bullpen, Francona did not need to unnecessarily increase the pitch count of a highly-touted prospect that has already surpassed a career high for innings in one year.

That said, can the Indians afford to keep plowing forward — while trying to contend — with one of their starters essentially limited to four or  five innings?

My guess is that the Tribe does so at least until rosters expand in September. That’s when someone like Josh Tomlin could potentially be added as a spot starter (or sixth starter) to provide some extra rest for guys like Salazar and/or Scott Kazmir (also dealing with a higher workload than in recent years). The Tribe could also use the expanded roster to add a reliever or two to the mix to help the situation.

“We’re in a position with him right now where, when he has long innings,” Francona said, “we owe it to him and to the organization to keep an eye on him. There’s going to be a day when we can turn him loose and let that four [innings] turn into six or seven, but not right now.”

“His next start will be in September,” the manager added later. “So that will ease it a lot. It’s just kind of common sense. We’re coming off an off-day so we can manage it. We’ve been able to manage it. He’s only made four or five starts, so we’ve been able to manage it.”

SECOND: Little things loom much larger in a game with only two runs scored.

Consider the situation that arose with two outs in the second inning. With Salazar on the mound, the Braves put runners on the corners for No. 8-hitter Elliot Johnson. The pitcher was looming in the on-deck circle, so an intentional walk to Johnson was certainly one way to go.

That said, it is also worth noting that Johnson headed into the night with a .186 average and a .465 OPS on the season. He was also hitting .180 (.456) vs. right-handed pitchers and .076 (.192) over his past 36 games, entering Tuesday.

All things considered, Francona said pitching to Johnson was the way to go.

“The idea,” Francona said, “is you really have an advantage when you have an eight-hole hitter and you have the pitcher up behind him. Second and third, maybe [you walk Johnson]. But a guy that’s hitting .180-something, that’s a real good time to pitch. You set up the next inning also.”

Of course, now that we all have the benefit of hindsight, it proved to be the game’s turning point.

Salazar threw five straight fastballs to Johnson and then catcher Carlos Santana called for an offspeed pitch. The rookie right-hander shook off the catcher and stuck with a fastball, which Johnson sent to the wall in right-center field. Right fielder Drew Stubbs couldn’t make the catch and Johnson wound up with a two-run, game-deciding triple.

“I was a little bit disappointed in myself,” Salazar said. “I felt great tonight, but I couldn’t find my release point. Changeup, fastball, slider — everything was up. Santana was calling for offspeed pitches. I just didn’t trust myself to throw it and I just tried to throw the fastball away [to Johnson].”

THIRD: Credit where credit is due: nice job by the Tribe bullpen tonight. Marc Rzepczynski, Matt Albers and Carlos Carrasco teamed for four shutout, hitless innings of relief after Salazar’s four innings. The Indians relief corps now has a 2.65 ERA over 139.1 innings in the past 43 games.

“They were tremendous,” Francona said of the relievers’ work against the Braves. “They zig-zagged through the rest of the game and gave us a chance, because they were so good. That was impressive.”

HOME: Facing rookie lefty Alex Wood, though, the Indians’ offense went quiet. The 22-year-old 2012 Draftee scattered five hits and issued four walks, but held Cleveland to an 0-for-6 showing with runners in scoring position and an 0-for-10 showing with runners on base.

“There was a lot of deception in his delivery,” Francona said, “and there’s some late movement. He’s not a real hard thrower, but there’s a ton of deception. We had a couple chances, but not a lot going.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles said there were no excuses.

“I know me, personally,” Aviles said, “I had four people on base where I could’ve gotten a hit that could’ve changed things. I think we left 10 people on base. I throw myself under the bus here. We have to do better with people on base, because our pitchers did their job. Danny gave up two runs. I’ll take that from a starter all day. And the bullpen came in and threw up zeros.

“They did their job. We, including myself, especially myself, just didn’t do ours. There’s no sugarcoating it. At the end of the day, we had people on base and we had a chance to do what we needed to do. We just didn’t do it.”

Cleveland has scored three runs or fewer in 14 of the past 23 games.

ON DECK:

Indians (71-60) at Braves (79-52)
at 7:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Turner Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 118

811BournFinal: Indians 6, Angels 5

FIRST: Resiliency has been a trademark of this Tribe club all season. After losing six games in a row, including being swept in a four-game series by the Tigers, the Indians came back from a five-run hole for a comeback win over L.A. on Sunday.

Michael Bourn, who played a key role in the comeback, was asked if a single win in August can save a team’s season.

“I wouldn’t count it out. I wouldn’t say no to that,” Bourn said. “Certain games are key games in a season. This could’ve been one of them. We’ll see in the future. We’ll go back and look at it when everything is said and done and see where we’re at.”

The Indians needed any kind of win — no doubt. But, perhaps what the team needed was this kind of win. Cleveland was down 5-0 by the fourth inning, Justin Masterson was gone before the fifth and the Tribe seemed dead and buried and on its way to its first 0-7 homestand since 1990.

And then…

“One minute we’re getting one-hit,” Mike Aviles said. “Next thing you know, it’s 5-4, and then it’s 5-5 and all of a sudden we’re ahead.”

It was a game that served as a microcosm of Cleveland’s season.

The Indians lost five in a row in April, and then answered with a 19-6 win over Houston to jump-start a 28-game stretch with 21 wins. The Tribe went 4-16 in a stretch between May and June, and then won two road games in Texas to ignite a 15-5 run. The Indians lost four in a row, including a pair of lackluster games at home against the Tigers on July 5-6, before winning six of eight before the All-Star break.

After the All-Star break, it was a 1-5 start through Minnesota and Seattle. Scott Kazmir then turned in a gem on the road against the Mariners to begin an eight-game winning streak, and an 11-game run with 10 victories. That include two wins to end a three-game series in Miami, which began with Jose Fernandez striking out 14 Indians hitters in an eight-inning, three-hit performance.

“We’ve been doing it quite a bit this year,” Aviles said of overcoming adversity. “Just not lately.”

That brings us to this week, leading up to Sunday.

Cleveland was three outs away from being two games out of first place, and then…

Monday: Chris Perez blows a save in the ninth inning to send Indians to loss to Tigers.
Tuesday: Starter Corey Kluber lands on the disabled list and Tribe loses again.
Wednesday: Indians drop a 14-inning heartbreaker to the Tigers.
Thursday: Tribe cuts Mark Reynolds and is dealt a sweep at hands of Detroit.
Friday: Scott Kazmir experiences a “dead arm” and Indians lose to Angels.
Saturday: Four errors by Tribe, four-run eighth by Angels turns a close game into a rout.

One blow after another and Sunday was no different for five innings.

“The situation we’re in right now, it hasn’t worked out for us,” Nick Swisher said. “But to get down 5-0 early, it kind of felt, ‘Hey, man. It’s been the same thing all week long.’”

The Indians changed the script. In the sixth inning, after Jerome Williams allowed just one hit to the first 18 batters he faced, the sequence went single (Bourn), home run (Swisher), walk (Jason Kipnis), home run (Aviles). In the seventh, Carlos Santana tied things up with a homer off JC Gutierrez and Bourn later delivered the go-ahead single.

“Bang, couple balls hit good, and next thing you know, we’re in it,” Francona said. “We tie it, and then we take the lead.”

Can a win of this nature be good for a team?

“It’s got to be,” Francona said.

SECOND: It’s kind of an odd thought, but the Indians might not win Sunday’s game if Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t ejected by home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Cabrera misplayed a sharp ground from Grant Green in the second inning and, in the same frame, was unable to reach a grounder up the middle from Mike Trout (a dive attempt might’ve helped) that wound up being a two-run single. Cabrera then led off the bottom of the second and struck out swinging. The fourth pitch (a low breaking ball) was ruled a strike, so a possible 3-1 count instead turned into a 2-2 count.

Cabrera swung through Williams’ fifth pitch for the strikeout and immediately had words for Carapazza, who had zero patience.

Francona wasn’t pleased about the swiftness of Cabrera’s ejection.

“I asked [Carapazza], ‘Did he say something out of [line]? He said, ‘No,’” Francona said. “He said he just argued strikes and balls. I just [think] maybe that was a younger umpire maybe trying to show his authority a little bit. I thought he got a little aggressive there. I don’t think he needed to throw him out.”

It worked out all right for the Indians, considering Aviles entered and launched the two-run home run that pulled the Tribe within one in the sixth.

THIRD: For all the grief fans and we in the media have given the Tribe’s bullpen this season, it’s only fair to tip the ol’ cap for the group’s role in Sunday’s win. Masterson endured arguably his worst start (4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 HBP, 101 pitches) of the season, and the bullpen helped bail him out with 4.2 shutout innings with just one hit allowed.

Lefty Rich Hill followed Masterson with one inning and righty Matt Albers came next with 1.2 frames. That put the offense in position to rally, which it did, setting things up nicely for setup man Joe Smith (eighth) and Perez (ninth). It seemed fitting that Perez was on the mound to seal the win, when it was his blown save that began the losing streak.

Perez had no comment.

HOME: Throughout this season, the Indians have had a handful of players-only meetings, including one on Thursday after the sweep by Detroit. On Saturday night, following the Tribe’s sixth loss in a row — one helped by some sloppy play in the field — it was Francona called a meeting.

His message?

“It’s just basically how we want to play the game,” Francona said. “It’s not always going to be perfect, but we have to fight through frustration.”

Cleveland still had some issues in the field, and certainly on the mound early, but the Tribe finally showed some fight and looked fed up with this slump in the final few innings. Is it possible that Francona’s meeting played a role in the team’s play?

“Well, we won,” Bourn said with a smile. “So I guess you could say it worked. He has our back in all the situations that we’re in. He’s behind us. He’s not against us, but sometimes he’s got to let us know what time it is. We don’t mind it as a team. It might’ve picked us up and got us going.”

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Minnesota for the Tribe’s series against the Twins. I’m actually taking a few days to help Mrs. MLB paint and decorate the room for Baby Girl Bastian, who is due smack in the middle of the Indians’ October push (if the team pulls off a late-season comeback, that is). Talk about the ultimate jinx on my part. I will meet up with the team for continued Indians.com coverage when they arrive on the West Coast.

ON DECK:

Indians (63-55) at Twins (52-63)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Monday at Target Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 116

89KazmirFinal: Angels 5, Indians 2

FIRST: The Indians knew this might be coming for Scott Kazmir. They tried to delay it as long as possible, working extra days off here and there for the left-hander.

On Friday, Kazmir’s amazing comeback season finally caught up with him.

“I’m going through a little bit of a dead-arm stage,” Kazmir admitted after the Tribe’s fifth loss in a row.

That this development came on the day Kazmir faced the Angels seemed like a cruel joke by the baseball gods. After all, it was Los Angeles that released Kazmir on June 15, 2011, sending the lefty to the game’s gutter before he found his way into Cleveland’s rotation this year.

Kazmir denied that he put too much thought into the matchup heading into Friday.

“No. There wasn’t any hard feelings or anything like that,” he said. “I saw all those guys in Spring Training and got all that out of the way. It just seemed like it was business, going out there.”

It was Kazmir’s fall from grace in 2011 that, in a way, led to Friday’s setback. During that season, the lefty logged 17 innings between Triple-A and the Majors before the Angels parted ways with him. In 2012, Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters in Indy ball and then worked for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, amassing 86.2 innings between the stops.

This season, Kazmir has reached 114 innings for Cleveland.

After Kazmir’s previous start on Sunday in Miami, the Tribe’s initial plan was to give him one extra day, bringing him back on Saturday. In light of losing righty Corey Kluber to the disabled list, and the fact that Kazmir has been pitching so well, Cleveland changed course and brought the lefty back on normal rest to face the Angels on Friday.

Heading into Friday, Kazmir had gone 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .173 opponents’ batting average in his past nine starts for the Tribe.

He couldn’t keep that impressive run going.

Kazmir allowed five runs and labored through 40 pitches in the first inning and was pulled after giving up a single to the first batter faced in the fourth. After the game, Kazmir told Francona that he was feeling fatigued.

“He kind of owned up to that,” Francona said. “When I say ‘owned up to it,’ I mean he wanted to answer the bell today. He knew it was important, because of what happened to Klubes. But I think we’ll go back and see what we can do to try to give him maybe a couple days this time through. I think it’ll be good for him.

“I don’t think any of us thought he would go through the whole year and go every five days. I don’t think that was realistic. He’s not hurt. … We’re going to figure out a way to build a few days in here so we can get the Kaz that we had seen more often than not.”

SECOND: So where does Cleveland go from here?

At first, given Wednesday’s 14-inning loss and the abbreviated outing from Zach McAllister on Thursday, it appeared as though Carlos Carrasco was a one-day insurance policy to help the Indians get through Friday. Good thing he was up from Triple-A, because he answered with five shutout innings of relief, sparing an already worn-down bullpen.

“He was very good,” Francona said. “It was good for our whole team’s confidence. Any time you see
somebody go out there and do what he did, that’s terrific.”

After the game, and after the development involving Kazmir, Francona was asked if Carrasco was going to be heading back to Triple-A.

“No, he’ll stay here,” Francona replied.

It is not a stretch then to speculate that Carrasco could take Kazmir’s next start on Wednesday in Minnesota. Carrasco would be on his normal day to pitch and the Francona made a point to note that the team wants to give Kazmir some extra days.

THIRD: Back on July 23 in Seattle, I asked Francona about the slump of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who headed into that day hitting .143 in his previous 15 games. Cabrera then went out and hit .444 (8-for-18) with three extra-base hits and five RBI in his next four games.

On Thursday, following a 10-game stretch in which Cabrera hit just .122, I brought up Cabrera’s struggles again with the manager. The shortstop then went out and collected two doubles and two RBI in a loss to the Tigers.

So, prior to Friday’s game, I asked Francona if he’d like me to ask about Cabrera every day, since the shortstop seems to go get a couple hits each time I bring up a slump. Well, sure enough, Cabrera went out Friday and belted a home run in the loss to the Angels.

Sure, the last two games have been losses, but Cabrera’s production has been encouraging for the Indians.

“For us to get where we want,” Francona said, “we certainly need him to be right in the middle of it. With his switch-hitting ability, his baseball acumen, it’s good when he’s in the middle of stuff.”

In the sixth inning, Cabrera was helped off the field by a team trainer after turning a double play to end the top half of the frame. It didn’t look good initially, though it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was ailing the shortstop, especially considering Cabrera stayed in the game.

“He got a bunch of dirt in his eye, and I mean like a bunch,” Francona explained. “He was really having a tough time even kind of seeing where he was going. Like, they had to kind of walk him down the steps. It looked like he was limping, but he couldn’t really see very well.”

HOME: The Indians offense hasn’t performed well of late, scoring an average of just 2.4 runs per game over the past eight contests. Over that span, the offense has hit .210 (59-for-281) overall and .172 (10-for-58) with runners in scoring position.

Now, it is only fair to point out that Cleveland has happened to be in the midst of tough string of starting pitchers in the past eight games. The list includes Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and, on Friday, Jered Weaver.

That group has combined to go 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 57 strikeouts and only nine walks issued in 56.2 innings against the Indians over the past eight games.

Cleveland isn’t about to make any excuses, though.

“It’s the big leagues, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “That’s part of playing in the big leagues. You’re going to run into some pitchers that can pitch. Tonight, I thought we hit the ball pretty good. They just never found the holes. It happened against Detroit, too. But we just lost. There’s no excuse for it. We’re just in a little rut. We have to work our way out of it — simple as that.”

ON DECK:

Angels (52-62) at Indians (62-54)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

Turning Point: Game 114

87MiggyIn lieu of Covering the Bases, considering it’s already beyond 1 a.m. ET, I’ll break down a key moment in Wednesday’s 6-5, 14-inning loss to the Tigers…

The situation: With the Indians clinging to a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, rookie right-hander Danny Salazar sat at 102 pitches with two outs, a runner on first base and slugger Miguel Cabrera in the batter’s box.

The decision: Indians manager Terry Francona left Salazar in the game to face Cabrera.

The outcome: Cabrera launched the first pitch he received, a 96-mph fastball, deep to center field for a go-ahead, two-run home run. Cleveland tied the game with one run in the bottom of the eighth, but Detroit went on to win the game in the 14th inning.

The analysis: Salazar had three strikeouts in his first three meetings with Cabrera. In the first inning, the hard-throwing righty froze the slugger with an 88-mph changeup. In the third, Salazar blew a 99-mph heater by Cabrera’s swing. In the sixth, it was a 100-mph fastball that eluded Cabrera’s bat.

In the first at-bat, Cabrera watched all six pitches he received, getting a look at five fastballs (each in the 98-99 range) and the one changeup. In the second at-bat, Cabrera swung at all three fastballs he faced, fouling off two before the strikeout. In their third meeting, Cabrera fouled off a first-pitch fastball, saw two sliders (one that generated a swing-and-miss and one for a ball) before swinging through another heater.

So, following five watched fastballs, Cabrera had a 60-percent contact rate on the next five fastballs in the at-bats leading up to the home run. He saw three offspeed pitches, but spit at two of them. After three first-pitch fastballs in three at-bats, Cabrera was looking dead-red in his fourth at-bat.

This season, Cabrera had hit only .125 (1-for-8) when facing a starting pitcher for the fourth time, heading into Wednesday. That lone hit, however, was a home run. Over his career, Cabrera’s batting average has increased with each at-bat against a starting pitcher: .307 (first at-bat), .329 (second at-bat), .347 (third at-bat), .359 (fourth at-bat).

Salazar, who has had his innings closely watched all season, was over 100 pitches for the first time this year. He topped out at 89 pitches for Triple-A Columbus on June 4. Over 21 Minor League appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this year, Salazar averaged 70 pitches per start. In his most recent outing, he was pulled after 52 pitches.

The comments:

Francona, on leaving Salazar in to face Cabrera: “Because he was throwing about as well as you could. That would’ve been his last hitter, but to that point I would’ve had a hard time justifying having him not pitch. That’s how good I thought he was.”

Salazar, on the eighth-inning at-bat: “It was the fourth time I faced him. I wasn’t thinking too much. I [threw it] past him a couple times with my fastball. When I tried it again, fastball, I left it in the middle, and he hit it.”

Cabrera, on Salazar staying in the game: “I mean, I don’t want to face him the fourth time. He get me out the first three times. I was saying to myself, ‘It’s time to bring in the bullpen.’ And when they decided to leave him in there, I say, ‘Let’s grind out this at-bat, try to make something happen.’”

My verdict: To be honest, I was surprised Salazar was on the mound to start the eighth inning. In fact, I had already started writing his pitching line in my scorebook before I realized he was on the mound warming up for that frame. Once Francona stuck with him for the eighth, I wasn’t surprised he let him face Cabrera, given the three previous strikeouts. At that point, if you commit to him, you commit to him, in my opinion. To me, and this is obviously with the benefit of hindsight, the mistake was not going to the bullpen to begin the eighth inning.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 113

86TigersFinal: Tigers 5, Indians 1

FIRST: The Indians have done well this season at beating the teams they should beat. Maybe, just maybe, when the smoke clears on this season, that will be enough to put Cleveland in playoff position.

Then again, maybe it’s time for the Indians to start beating the teams they need to beat.

With Tuesday’s loss to the Tigers, the Indians dropped to 3-11 this season against the American League Central pacesetter. Think of it this way, if Cleveland had gone 7-7 in those games, the club would have a three-game lead atop the division standings.

“These guys have put it on us pretty good,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “We need to get them a couple times.”

Are the Indians slipping too far behind?

“No, it’s too early. It’s too early for that, man,” Swisher said. “I’ve been doing this for a little bit now. Normally, in a situation like this, it boils down to the last couple weeks. If you look at our schedule going down the last month of the season, we’ve got a chance to do something.”

What Swisher was referencing was Cleveland’s relatively easy schedule over the final weeks of the season. Consider that the Indians’ final 10 games are against teams currently with records under .500. In September, the Tribe plays 17 such games within 27 contests over the final month.

One look at Cleveland’s performance to date shows why this is important for the team’s chances.

As of this writing, the Indians were 34-14 (.708 winning percentage) against clubs with sub-.500 records and 28-37 (.431) against above-.500 teams. Cleveland plays 29 of its final 49 games against teams below the break-even mark.

Do the math.

If the Indians stay true to their winning percentages against both groups the rest of the way, the project to finish the season around 90-72. There’s obviously margin for error there, given the way baseball is, and Cleveland’s respective showing against the remaining teams on the schedule. The point is this: over the past decade, the fifth-best team in the American League (second Wild Card) has averaged 90.3 wins.

If the Indians continue to beat the teams they should beat, they have a fighting chance.

“We’ve got two more against these guys, but we’ve got another 50 games left,” Indians starter Justin Masterson said. “We’ve talked about it. Yeah, we want to win these games, and we’re definitely going to come out and hopefully split the series, but the main factor is going to be, as we continue on with the season, winning games we’re supposed to.

“If we can’t do that, there’s no point even if we beat Detroit. That’s kind of the main factor. I think our goal is one game at a time, and definitely split the series, because every time out we want to win a series.”

SECOND: You might remember the name Russ Adams. He was a first-round pick by the Blue Jays way back when and came up as a highly-touted shortstop prospect. Adams never panned out, hitting .247 with a .372 slugging percentage in parts of five seasons in the bigs.

But, you know what? He owned Jon Garland.

Adams hit .571 with a 2.000 slugging percentage against Garland, belting three home runs in seven at-bats.

It’s something you can’t explain.

“There’s always a guy,” Masterson said.

Masterson’s guy is Don Kelly, who might be earning a reputation as Don Bleepin’ Kelly around Cleveland these days. In 24 career at-bats against Masterson, the light-hitting Kelly (.232/.292/.348 career slash line, entering Tuesday) has posted a .458 average with three home runs, eight RBI and no strikeouts.

“He loves facing me,” Masterson said. “If I was Superman, he’d be my kryptonite. … He salivates when I get up there.”

Kelly was at it again on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with a three-run home run that served as the dagger in Detroit’s five-run fifth inning. Even Kelly is scratching his head over his ownership over Cleveland’s big sinkerballer.

“He’s nasty,” Kelly said. “Obviously he’s a great pitcher. I can’t explain it. I just see him well. I mean, when you have a guy who throws 96 mph with a sinker, slider, changeup, it’s just one of those things that I guess I just see the ball well.”

If Kelly was a secret weapon at one point, he certainly isn’t any longer.

“He’s definitely been a thorn in our side,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There was a reason he wasplaying tonight, and that was why.”

THIRD: Could the Indians be in the middle of a Kid Fernandez hangover?

In Tuesday’s loss, Cleveland ended with just one run on four hits against Detroit. Granted, the Indians were going up against ace Justin Verlander (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K), but this has been a trend of late for the Tribe. Over the past five games, the Indians have hit .211 (35-for-166) with no homers, six extra-base hits, 47 strikeouts and just nine runs scored (1.8 per game).

That stretch started on Friday, when Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez blanked the Tribe over eight innings and piled up 14 strikeouts in the process.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s who we’re facing,” Swisher said. “We’re just not getting the job done — that’s it. So regardless of whoever is on the mound, we’ve got to find a way to get the job done.”

HOME: Off the field, the Indians were dealt a big blow roughly a half-hour before Tuesday’s first pitch. That’s when Cleveland announced that starter Corey Kluber, whose emergence has been one of the great storylines of the season for the team, was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right middle finger.

Francona indicated that Kluber injured the finger while throwing a breaking ball in the eighth inning of his outing against the Tigers on Monday, when he went 7 1/3 shutout frames. The Indians have not  revealed too much information as of yet, but the club has noted that the injury is similar to the one sustained earlier this season by righty Zach McAllister.

“I don’t know what him and McAllister were drinking,” Masterson said. “Hopefully they don’t share that with anybody else.”

McAllister needed seven weeks to return from his injury. If that timetable holds true for Kluber, he could possibly be back around the final week of the season. So, this is a season-threatening injury for a starter who has been one of the most reliable arms for the Tribe over the past few months.

“It’s disappointing in a lot of ways,” Francona said. “We’re right in the thick of things and we’re running Corey Kluber out there, feeling pretty good about ourselves. And his growth has been amazing. I’m disappointed for him. It makes it harder for us. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it — just makes it harder.”

Rookie Danny Salazar will start on Wednesday, but Francona wouldn’t guarantee anything beyond that outing. Cleveland has been closely monitoring Salazar’s innings all season. Maybe Salazar will stick around for a few starts or, don’t look now, but Daisuke Matsuzaka has posted a 2.06 ERA with 31 strikeouts and five walks in 35 innings across his past five starts at Triple-A. Just sayin’.

“It’s just so disappointing,” Masterson said of losing Kluber. “Hopefully, it can be one of those where we can take a few weeks, get him back on track and have him, because he’ll be a big part as we continue on. What’s great is who we have coming in tomorrow to pitch in Salazar. The strength that we have is definitely some depth in pitching. That will definitely help out. But he’s going to be well missed.”

ON DECK:

Tigers (66-45) at Indians (62-51)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Month in review: July

RotationJulyMaybe it took three months of ups and downs for Cleveland’s rotation to hit its stride. Or, maybe July was the best-case scenario, and regression should be anticipated across August and September. Whatever it was, the Indians enjoyed the heck out of their arms in July.

Led by the quartet of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland’s starting staff led the club to another 15-win month, keeping the Tribe in both the division and Wild Card hunt. That foursome combined to go 7-2 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in July, piling up 113 strikeouts in 129.2 innings.

Masterson made the American League All-Star team and continues to dominate with his signature sinker, and a slider that is currently valued as the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs.com. Kluber’s emergence continued, Kazmir finally found what he’s been looking for this year, and Jimenez kept his bend-but-don’t-break approach going.

The Indians also got righty Zach McAllister back from the disabled list after the All-Star break and received a stellar Major League debut from prospect Danny Salazar on July 11. We’ll just go ahead and ignore the Carlos Carrasco fiasco on July 6, and skip right to the month-by-month breakdown of the Tribe’s rotation this season:

April: 8-13, 5.09 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .778 OPS
May: 13-8, 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .710 OPS
June: 9-11, 4.68 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, .779 OPS
July: 8-4, 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .619 OPS

That’s not a good showing, it’s great showing from the starting staff in July. It was one of the best performances by a starting staff in the American League for the month and one of the better one-month showings by a Tribe rotation in the past 50 years (as you’ll read below).

Here is a look at the month that was for the Indians…

Record: 15-10
Home: 12-4
Road: 3-6

AL Central standings as of Aug. 1:

1. Tigers 61-45 (–)
2. Indians 59-48 (2.5)
3. Royals 53-51 (7)
4. Twins 45-59 (15)
5. White Sox 40-65 (20.5)

Offense (AL rank)

.257 average (8)
.335 on-base (4)
.390 slugging (9)
.725 OPS (8)
117 runs (5)
212 hits (9)
40 doubles (9)
2 triples (t-9)
22 home runs (11)
112 RBI (5)
92 walks (3)
173 strikeouts (9)
15 stolen bases (9)
64 extra-base hits (t-10)
322 total bases (10)

Notes: The Indians turned in a unique July in terms of run production and patience. This marked only the fourth time since the start of the 2000 season that Cleveland ended July with at least 15 stolen bases, 90 walks and 115 runs scored. The Tribe also did so in July in 2004, 2001 and 2000. I limited the monthly search to July due to the All-Star break.

Pitching (AL rank)

15 wins (t-3)
3.43 ERA (5)
3.22 rot. ERA (2)
3.88 bullpen ERA (10)
9 saves (t-4)
223 innings (11)
187 hits (2)
94 runs (5)
85 earned runs (4)
14 home runs (1)
87 walks (14)
188 strikeouts (t-7)
.226 average (2)
1.23 WHIP (4)

Notes: This was one of the better months for an Indians pitching staff over the past five decades. It marked the first time since August of 1968 that a Cleveland staff ended any one month with at least 15 wins and 188 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.45 or better and an opponents’ batting average under .230. Dating back to 1969, the only other months with 15 wins, a 3.45 ERA or better and an opponents’ average under .230 by a Tribe staff were May 1989 and June 1971. This marked the first time since August of 1988 that an Indians staff had no more than 14 homers yielded with at least 200 innings logged.

INDIANS PLAYER HONORS

Player of the month: LF Michael Brantley
Stats: .318/.396/.482/.878, 2 HR, 6 2B, 1 3B, 13 RBI, 10 BB, 8 K, 15 R, 27 H, 24 games

Notes: Dating back to the start of the 2000 season, only four Indians players have enjoyed a month with at least nine extra-base hits, 10 walks, 27 hits and no more than eight strikeouts. Prior to Brantley this July, the others to achieve that feat for Cleveland were Victor Martinez (April 2009, June 2004), Omar Vizquel (Apri 2002, July 2000) and Kenny Lofton (August 2000).

Previous 2013 winners: C Carlos Santana (co-winner, April), INF Mark Reynolds (co-winner, April), 2B Jason Kipnis (May, June)

Pitcher of the month: LHP Scott Kazmir
Stats: 2-0, 2.75 ERA, 36 IP, 27 K, 11 BB, 1.03 WHIP, .198 AVG, 6 starts

Notes: Kazmir is the first Indians left-hander to piece together a month with at least 35 innings, an ERA of 2.75 or better and an opponents’ batting average under .200 since Cliff Lee accomplished the feat in April 2008. The last Cleveland pitcher to do so was right-hander Justin Masterson in July 2011.

Previous 2013 winners: Masterson (April, May), RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (June)

Reliever of the month: RHP Chris Perez
Stats: 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 8 saves, 15 IP, 11 K, 3 BB, 0.93 WHIP, .200 AVG, 14 games

Notes: Perez has been dominant since coming off the disabled list, following a bout with a right shoulder injury. In fact, there is only one other reliever in Indians history to have a month with at least eight saves to go along with an ERA of 0.60 or better and a WHIP under 1.00. Besides Perez in July, Jose Mesa also accomplished that feat in August 1995.

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Joe Smith (April), RHP Cody Allen (May), RHP Vinnie Pestano (June)

Game of the month (hitter): Brantley, July 7, during 9-6 win over Tigers
Stat line: 3-for-5 with 2 HR, 3 XBH, 3 R, 5 RBI, 10 TB

Notes: Brantley became the first Indians hitter to have at least two homers, three runs, five RBI and 10 total bases in one game since Shin-Soo Choo did so vs. Kansas City on Sept. 17, 2010. The last player do it against Detroit was Travis Hafner on Juy 4, 2005. You have to to all the way back to Carlos Baerga on June 17, 1993 to find another Tribesmen with that stat line, plus three extra-base hits, in a game against the Tigers.

Game of the month (pitcher): Kazmir, July 24, during 10-1 win over Mariners
Stat line: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 83 Game score

Notes: This marked the first time in Kazmir’s career that he turned in eight innings with no more than one hit surrendered. He only has two career games with at least seven innings and one hit allowed, and both came this season. He became the first Tribe lefty to give up no more than one hit in at least eight innings since Billy Traber did so vs. the Yankees on July 8, 2003. Rick Waits previously accomplished the same feat on April 7, 1979 against the Red Sox. The last righty to go at least eight innings with only one hit allowed for Cleveland was Kevin Millwood on May 9, 2005 against the Angels.

—————————————————————

MINOR LEAGUE STANDOUTS FOR JULY

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 3B Ryan Rohlinger
Stats: .318/.402/.400/.802, 1 HR, 4 2B, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 12 R, 27 H, 25 games

Previous 2013 winners: OF Jeremy Hermida (April), Phelps (May, June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 2-0, 0.82 ERA, 22 IP, 31 K, 2 BB, 0.68 WHIP, .176 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Preston Guilmet (April, June), RHP Carlos Carrasco (May)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Carlos Moncrief
Stats: .317/.377/.574/.951, 4 HR, 6 2B, 4 3B, 21 RBI, 19 R, 32 H, 26 games

Previous 2013 winners: 1B/DH Chun Chen (April), C Roberto Perez (May), Moncrief (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Matt Packer
Stats: 4-1, 2.83 ERA, 35 IP, 33 K, 8 BB, 1.17 WHIP, .252, 6 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP T.J. House (April), RHP Jose Flores (May), Packer (June)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: 3B Paddy Matera
Stats: .329/.480/.553/1.033, 3 HR, 8 2B, 17 RBI, 14 BB, 21 R, 25 H, 24 games

Previous 2013 winners: SS Francisco Lindor (April), OF Luigi Rodriguez (May), 2B Joe Wendle (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cody Anderson
Stats: 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 28 IP, 21 K, 7 BB, 1.18 WHIP, .263 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: Anderson (April, May, June)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 1B Joseph Sever
Stats: .318/.353/.542/.896, 5 HR, 7 2B, 41 3B, 24 RBI, 19 R, 34 H, 26 games

Previous 2013 winners: OF Logan Vick (April), OF LeVon Washington (May), 2B Yhoxian Medina (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP D.J. Brown
Stats: 1.76 ERA, 15.1 IP, 17 K, 1 BB, 0.72 WHIP, .192 AVG, 8 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Michael Peoples (April), LHP Ryan Merritt (May), RHP Josh Martin (June)

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .383/.431/.673/1.104, 7 HR, 10 2B, 21 RBI, 15 R, 41 H, 29 games

Previous 2013 winners: INF Claudio Bautista (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Kyle Crockett
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 8.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, 0.84 WHIP, .161 AVG, 7 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP Harold Guerrero (June)

Arizona League (Rookie) Indians

Player of the Month: OF Clint Frazier
Stats: .300/.354/.529/.883, 2 HR, 4 2B, 3 3B, 12 RBI, 13 R, 21 H, 18 games

Previous 2013 winners: Frazier (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Sean Brady
Stats: 1.38 ERA, 13 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 0.92 WHIP, .217 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP Anderson Polanco (June)

Dominican Summer League (Rookie) Indians

Player of the Month: OF Hector Caro
Stats: .348/.375/.435/.810, 4 2B, 9 RBI, 7 R, 16 H, 14 games

Previous 2013 winners: 2B Erlin Cerda (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Francisco Lopez
Stats: 3.66 ERA, 19.2 IP, 23 K, 10 BB, 1.32 WHIP, .219 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Edward Estrella (June)

Previously…

Month in review: June
Month in review: May
Month in review: April

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 107

731MobFinal: Indians 6, White Sox 5

FIRST: Is the magic back at Progressive Field? At the very least, it’s here for the moment. And it’s been an absolute blast for the men inside the Tribe’s clubhouse and the fans who have been in attendance lately.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland pulled off a 6-5 victory in 10 innings courtesy of a walk-off home run from Carlos Santana. The catcher ripped a 3-2 pitch into the right-field seats, hustled around the bases, tossed his helmet high into the air and jumped into the traditional mob scene at home plate.

“Kind of boring, don’t you think?” deadpanned Indians utility man Mike Aviles.

Santana shot into the Cleveland night marked the Major League-leading fifth walk-off home run of the season for the Tribe. Since 1994, when Jacobs/Progressive Field opened, the Indians have led the Majors with 69 walk-off home runs.

This season’s heroes: Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi and Santana. Eight different players (Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and the previously mentioned group) have delivered Cleveland’s nine walk-off wins this season. It’s been an entire team effort in that regard, and that’s the way the club likes it.

“The thing about it, which I enjoy, is the fact that every night it’s somebody different,” Aviles said. “That shows you the kind of chemistry we have. We’re always rooting for each other. It shows you the type of depth we possess right now. It’s a fun way to win every night. Something different.”

Cleveland had a 3-0 lead through five innings, headed into the ninth deadlocked 3-3 and then watched the White Sox grab a 5-3 lead behind a two-out rally against reliever Cody Allen. The Tribe battled back for a pair of runs in the home half of the ninth, both coming on sacrifice flies (via Michael Bourn and Kipnis). That set the stage for Santana.

“We’re not really worried about who the hero is,” Bourn said. “We’re worried about just trying to win the game. In baseball, every man gets his chance.”

Off the bat, Indians manager Terry Francona wasn’t sure Santana had a homer.

That changed when bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. started high-fiving the manager.

“Sandy knows this ballpark better than I do,” Francona said.

SECOND: Indians starter Corey Kluber cruised into the ninth inning with less than 90 pitches and was at 95 after Conor Gillaspie delivered a two-out single to left field. At that juncture, Francona opted to hand the ball to Allen.

Kluber already logged a career-high 8.2 innings and was set to face White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo in the ninth. Viciedo was 0-for-3, but Francona felt the outfielder had been solid contact at times in his three previous plate appearances against Kluber.

In hindsight, Francona admitted to making a mistake in pulling Kluber from the game.

“He was very efficient,” Francona said. “I just thought, where we had gotten to that point in the game, Viciedo had had three looks at him and had some pretty good swings. It ended up not being a real good move on my part, but that was the reason.”

That was because Allen allowed two hits — one being a two-run single to Jeff Kepinger — and a walk before escaping the inning. It is worth noting that rookie umpire D.J. Reyburn’s strike zone seemed to tighten up with Allen on the hill in that critical situation. Allen might’ve struck out Keppinger looking had some close calls gone the other way.

“You want every pitch,” Francona said. “I just thought the zone got a little tighter than it had been. But, every teams wants every call.”

And Allen didn’t use it as an excuse.

“It should never have gotten to that point,” said the pitcher.

THIRD: Cleveland’s key push in the bottom of the ninth was ignited by a leadoff double by Michael Brantley against Addison Reed. Veteran Jason Giambi then came off the bench and was hit by a pitch to bring Drew Stubbs to the plate with no outs, and the Indians down, 5-3.

“I always think we have a chance,” Francona said. “We set up the inning. We knew what we wanted to
do. And when ‘G’ got nicked with that pitch, it’s like, ‘OK, at least we have a chance.’ Any time you have the tying run at the plate, you always feel like you have a chance.”

Stubbs squared around to bunt, did so successfully and narrowly beat out the throw to first base to load the bases for the top of the order. What followed put Cleveland in a position to collect another dramatic victory at home, where the team has won 10 in a row.

“It’s nice when you do some things and you get rewarded for it,” Francona said. “Stubby getting a
bunt down and then, on top of that, beating it out. When you do the little things right, it leads to some big things. It’s fun to see everybody contribute.”

HOME: Of course, the Tigers put an 11-1 beatdown on the Nationals tonight, keeping Cleveland’s deficit in the division at 2.5 games. The Indians have won a season-high seven games in a row, but they have only gained one game on Detroit in that span.

“We’re watching Detroit beat teams 11-1,” said Allen, shaking his head. “And we’re losing leads, getting leads, losing leads and walking off. We’ll win a few games here straight up eventually.”

“Beat’s losing,” Francona said.

And, the winning streak hasn’t been for naught.

Take a look at the American League Wild Card standings:

1. Tampa Bay/Boston 64-44 (–)
2. Cleveland 59-48 (–)
3. Baltimore 59-49 (0.5 GB)
4. Texas 59-49 (0.5 GB)
5. New York 55-51 (3.5 GB)

That’s right. If the postseason started today, your Indians would be in the playoffs.

Now, about August…

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-65) at Indians (59-48)
at 12:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

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