Covering the Bases: Sept. 22

RoyalsFinal:

Indians 4, Royals 3 (10 innings)
Royals 2, Indians 0

FIRST: This was a disappointing day for the Indians. There is no getting around it. Cleveland needed to essentially win out to have a serious shot at October baseball and Kansas City got in the way of that in an oddly-arranged evening at Progressive Field.

First, the Indians staved off a 10th-inning rally to win the conclusion of the Aug. 31 suspended game in Kansas City. Then, the Royals picked up a victory over the Tribe behind a strong start from lefty Danny Duffy, though there were missed chances at the plate and in the field that cost Cleveland.

“It’s not very often you don’t score and come away with a split,” Indians manager Terry Francona quipped.

The Indians’ season isn’t done in terms of mathematics. Ask the odds makers, though, and they’d advise you to push your chips to a different corner. The reality is that Cleveland has only five games left and they are now facing a 3.5-game deficit with the A’s, Royals, Mariners and Yankees are still in play in the Wild Card picture.

So, what is Cleveland to do now?

“We really need help from other teams,” Indians infielder Mike Aviles said. “We need Seattle to lose, we need the Royals to lose, Tigers to lose. The bottom line is we have to take care of what we can, which means winning some games and figure out how to win.”

The Indians have two games left in this series against Kansas City, so the potential still exists to slice the deficit to 1.5 games before the Royals head out of town. Then, with three games left against Tampa Bay, a heartbeat would still exist for this fading season for the Tribe.

Are they any positives for Cleveland’s fatigued fan base to pull from this? Definitely. The Indians have now pieced together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01, and the future looks brighter with players liker Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley leading the way. Given all the injuries and issues this year, the fact that the Indians are still in this thing, even remotely, is pretty remarkable.

That said, no one around the ballclub is ready to look back at this season with games still on the docket.

“We’re so locked in in trying to win,” Francona said. “We can summarize when it’s time. Right now, we have to try to find a way to win.”

SECOND: Offensively, this game had a similar feel as the American League Wild Card Game a year ago. Well, except for the wild playing environment Cleveland had that night last October. The sea of red-clad fans packing Progressive Field was amazing for that game. For Monday’s critical games vs. Kansas City? The announced crowd was 10,458.

That’s a rant for another day. For now, I’ll just stick to saying it was as disappointing of a showing in the stands as it was in the batter’s box. Cleveland went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine and having another runner thrown out in a pick-off, caught-stealing. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, and came away with nothing.

That missed chance came against lefty Danny Duffy, who is a solid starter, but one who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 due to a shoulder issue.

“It was upsetting more than anything,” said Aviles, who flew out to end the first. “We’ve got a guy, bases loaded, who hasn’t pitched in awhile. We’ve got him on the ropes and, if we can get some runs early, [maybe we] rattle his cage.”

The lack of offense made the fact that Chris Gimenez and rookie Tyler Holt were in the starting lineup at first base and in right field, respectively, more glaring. Francona was limited in constructing his lineup, though.

Jason Kipnis and David Murphy (both on the bench) have battled injuries in recent weeks and neither were presented with a great matchup with the left-handed Duffy on the mound. Platoon-advantage wise, the same goes for Jason Giambi. Carlos Santana, who has fought a quad issue in the second half, was in the order as the DH. Rookies Zach Walters (.157) and Jesus Aguilar (.143) were on the bench. Walters also recently dealt with an intercostal strain.

“We have to keep an eye on these guys a little bit,” Francona said, “[and] try to mix and match the best we can. … Our guys have done a really good job. Kip stretched the whole time, knowing he was probably going to hit at some point. Everybody’s a little banged up. You just do the best you can.”

In arguably the biggest game of the season for the Indians — then again, which game lately hasn’t fallen into that category — such depth issues hurt the on-field production.

THIRD: The absent offense spoiled another solid effort from right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The right-hander rejoined the rotation on Aug. 10 and has given Cleveland its surprise of the season.

Against the Royals, Carrasco allowed two runs on seven hits in 7.1 innings, striking out nine and walking one along the way. In his nine starts since returning to a starting role, he has posted a 1.32 ERA with a .80 WHIP and a .183 opponents’ batting average. Across 61.1 innings in that span, the righty has 68 strikeouts against eight walks.

“I thought he was really good,” Francona said. “This is the first game in a while where it’s been cold. He was having a tough time gripping the ball. You could tell. He left a couple pitches where they weren’t going where he wanted. Then, he dialed it in. The two runs he gave up, they were both hard-hit, but if we’re able to [make a few] plays, we’re still playing.”

HOME: Francona was referring to the fact that the two runs Carrasco surrendered came on balls that skipped off a defender’s glove. In the first inning, Gimenez had a line drive from Eric Hosmer bounce off his glove and into right field for an RBI single. In the fifth, Alcides Escobar sent a sharp grounder to the right of shortstop Jose Ramirez, who couldn’t corral the ball with a backhanded swipe.

“We should’ve made those plays right there. That cost me two runs,” Carrasco said. “I thought they had a pretty good chance of making them, but sometimes we don’t make those plays. That can cost us.”

Here was Francona’s take: “The ball Hosmer hit was scalded, but it hit the end of his glove. The ball to Jose, that would have been a really nice play. They’re makable, it just happened awful quick. They were both hit really hard, kind of do or die.”

On deck:

Royals (85-71) at Indians (82-75)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

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