Covering the Bases: Game 113
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.”
Tigers (66-45) at Indians (62-51)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field