Covering the Bases: Game 28
Final: Angels 7, Indians 1
FIRST: Nick Swisher has been around long enough to know the drill. When he saw reporters waiting for him on Wednesday night, the Indians first baseman asked if they needed him, agreed to an interview and then launched into his own Q&A before any reporters said a word.
“I already know the first question,” Swisher began. “‘What was [C.J. Wilson] doing against us?’ He was mixing his pitches. He was up and down. He was changing speeds and throwing a lot more strikes than we’re normally used to seeing.
“The second question is: ‘What do you think you guys are going to have to do to turn this around?’ Things aren’t really going the way that we’d like right now, but there’s no quit in this team. There’s always fight. We’ve got a nice off-day tomorrow. It’s big-time needed.
“Hopefully, we just go home, relax a little bit, get our minds right and get ready to go on Friday.”
I probably would’ve led off with some variation of Question No. 2. We can get to Wilson in a little bit. For starters, the focus has to be on the fact that Cleveland went 0-6 on its road trip through San Francisco and Anaheim. After going 0-for-California, the Tribe heads home for Thursday’s off-day and a weekend series against the White Sox.
Two things arrive at an opportune time for the Indians. Thursday’s off-day will be well received by the players — a chance to take their minds off the game for 24 hours — and the calendar will flip to May. When a player or team is going through a terrible month, there is something mentally refreshing about seeing the new month arrive.
“Obviously, it’s only the month of April. It’s done,” Swisher said. “But, to get out of the gates the way we did, that’s not the way that we play baseball. We’ve got to get back to fundamentals, start playing some clean games and taking advantage of what we’re given.”
Cleveland’s 11-17, last-place April showing was punctuated by the six-game losing streak against the Giants and Angels. On the trip, no area of the team was without fault. Offensively, the Indians hit .183 (35-for-191) with 13 runs scored (2.2 per game) and a .167 (6-for-36) showing with runners in scoring position. On the mound, the Tribe posted a 5.55 ERA in 48.2 innings (5.50 ERA for the starters and 5.65 ERA for the relievers). In the field, Cleveland made four errors, plus a handful of missed plays that did not get the official “E” in the box score.
(It’s possible Kipnis is placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday. Then again, Francona hinted that the Indians might wait longer than that. Here’s a thought: Cleveland doesn’t need a replacement starter for Carrasco until Tuesday, so perhaps the decision with Kipnis will be delayed until then. The Indians can go with their eight-man bullpen and versatile three-man bench. Then, if Kipnis indeed does need to be DL’d, Cleveland can back-date it to when he was hurt, and call up a replacement starter to avoid an extra roster move.)
All the Indians can do now if put the trip behind them as quickly as possible.
“We have to,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “My feelings about our team don’t change on a road trip. It was a really tough trip. There’s no way around it. We’re going to have to be strong enough now to go home and be able to look at our record for a little while and not be happy with it, knowing that the best way to remedy it is to play better. We’re going to have to be strong, because this was a tough trip. Not a lot went right for us.”
SECOND: As for Wilson, the Angels’ veteran left-hander spun eight strong innings, retiring 18 in a row to finish his outing. Wilson struck out eight, walked only one and yielded just one run in his 117-pitch performance. Once again on this trip, and for the second time by a lefty, the opposing starter settled in and quieted Cleveland’s limping lineup.
“He was very aggressive with different fastballs,” Francona said. “He was cutting it, changing speeds with it. And then off of that, a breaking ball. He was just so aggressive in the zone and working ahead. He was just attacking.”
There was a lot of attacking of the Tribe’s offense over the past six games.
Cleveland made Tim Linecum work on Saturday and chased him from the game before the end of the fifth, but the opposing starters had solid overall success against the Indians on the trip. Combined, Tim Hudson, Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Tyler Skaggs, Jered Weaver and Wilson went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 3.44 strikeout-to-walk ration in 39 innings (six-plus per start) against Cleveland.
Was it a case of great pitching? Or, was it a case of poor in-game adjusting by the Indians? Both are true, but the answer varied game by game.
“There always are [two sides to it],” Francona said. “But again, the only side that I really care about is us winning. There’s always more to it. We had a tough trip. Now, we have to go fix it. And we’ll do that.”
THIRD: The Indians were baseball’s best-hitting team against left-handed pitchers in 2013. Among all Major League teams, Cleveland ranked first in average (.271), on-base percentage (.341) and OPS (.766), as well as third in slugging percentage (.425), when facing southpaws during last season’s Wild Card-clinching campaign.
Cleveland did that with mostly the same roster as this season, but the team is currently one of the Majors’ worst teams against lefties. For the month of April, the Indians posted a .207/.283/.315 slash line against left-handers in 333 at-bats. What’s been the issue? The main problem has been a lack of production from last season’s lefty killers.
Ryan Raburn hit .308 against lefties last year, but hit just .147 against them in the first month. Yan Gomes went from .327 in 2013 to .194 this April. Carlos Santana (.299 in ’13 and .132 this April) and Swisher (from .295 to .171) have also been slow out of the gates against southpaw pitching.
“Well, right now, we don’t have really anybody [hot],’ Francona said. “The guys that do a lot of damage — Swish right-handed, Raburn — we’re just still searching. We don’t have anybody really very hot. Other teams, they know how to navigate through lineups, too. We’ve got to be that team that keeps that line moving. Right now, we’re not.”
HOME: The Indians caught a bad case of Error Flu in the first month of the season, too. Gomes’ throwing error into center field on Howie Kendrick’s stolen base in the third inning Wednesday marked Cleveland’s AL-high 26th error of the season. The Indians have had at least one official error in 19 of their 28 games. They also have 10 errors in the last 10 games, as well as 18 errors in the past 17 games.
Gomes remains the most surprising culprit. Cleveland’s catcher is a plus defender, and his caught-stealing rate remains strong, but he has seven errors in the season’s early going.
“I just think he’s so quick,” Francona said. “There’s times when he knows he has to be perfect. If a guy has a good jump, he tries to maybe be a little too quick. He’s throwing runners out probably as good as anybody in the league. He just tries to be quick. It’s out of caring and trying to be perfect.”
EXTRA: Talk about a bummer of a postgame post. There had to be some semblance of a silver lining within the putrid road trip, right? Danny Salazar looked to have possibly turned a corner on Saturday in San Francisco, where he spun seven strong innings with eight strikeouts, one walk and one run allowed in a no-decision. Michael Brantley was pitched incredibly tough in San Fran, but then snapped out of an 0-for-17 slump on Tuesday. And then, there’s Carlos Santana. After it felt like he was 0-for-April, Santana went 4-for-11 with two home runs and six RBIs in the series against the Angels. His mini-breakout came in a sweep at the hands of L.A., but it’d be huge for Cleveland if his swing is finally coming around.
NOTE: I will be off this weekend for the White Sox series. Keep checking Indians.com for all the updates and latest news.
White Sox (14-15) at Indians (11-17)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field