Month in review: May

KipMayThe sixth pitch that Jason Kipnis saw in May was a 77-mph curveball from Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle. Cleveland’s second baseman pulled the ball to right field for a leadoff home run.

Just like that, Kipnis and the Tribe were off and running in what developed into a historical month on a number of fronts.

“I can’t tell you how much a different calendar month does for a baseball player’s psyche,” Kipnis said after the win over Toronto on May 1. “When you say it turns a page, it really does.”

Reminded of that comment after Cleveland’s win over the Mariners on May 31, Kipnis laughed.

“Let’s hope I was full of crap here now that it turns to June,” Kipnis quipped.

KipTOBstreakIn May, Cleveland bounced back from an April that was plagued by bad offense, worse defense and inconsistent starting pitching. Kipnis led the charge by becoming the first Indians batter since 1938 (Jeff Heath) to turn in a month with 50-plus hits and 30-plus runs. Kipnis posted a .511 on-base percentage for the month and set a unique Cleveland record in the process, reaching base three-plus times in eight straight games from May 9-17 (See the chart to the right).

On the mound, ace Corey Kluber shurgged off an 0-5 start to the season with an incredible end to the month, posting 18 strikeouts against St. Louis on May 13, 50 strikeouts in his final four outings and 60 for the month. That helped power a solid month for the rotation and, in turn, helped the bullpen show improvement over a very rocky April.

Cleveland saw designated hitter Nick Swisher and catcher Yan Gomes return to the lineup after injury issues. And, while neither were offensive catalysts so to speak, they provided more balance for a Tribe lineup that labored mightily against lefty pitching in the season’s first month. The lineup was also given a boost when manager Terry Francona moved Kipnis into the leadoff spot and put Michael Bourn lower in the lineup. Both players have thrived since the changes.

Most importantly, Cleveland’s May has them back in a solid position standings-wise with four months to play.

“It was a fun month,” Kipnis said, “not only for me, but for our team as well. We’re finally turning it around, putting things together. All these things wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if we were losing games. It’s a lot more fun when I get to enjoy them.”

Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…

Overall: 17-12
Record at home: 8-7
Record on road: 9-5

Offense (AL rank)

.265 AVG (4)
.351 OBP (1)
.429 SLG (4)
.780 OPS (3)
146 R (t-2)
262 H (t-3)
28 HR (t-7)
99 XBH (3)
142 RBI (2)
18 SB (t-3)
130 BB (1)
194 K (t-4)
424 TB (3)
5.9 WAR (2)

Notes: After ranking in the bottom third in most categories in April (1.4 offensive WAR as a team), the Indians bounced back in a big way in May. The offense was ignited by Kipnis, but a drastic improvement against lefties (.638 OPS, 26th in MLB, in April; .824 OPS, 3rd in MLB, in May) went a long way, too. Ryan Raburn (.895 OPS) and David Murphy (.880) embraced their platoon roles in May and Bourn (.751) had one of his best months since joining Cleveland. Cleveland excelled in drawing walks (130, compared to 95 for the AL’s second-ranked Tigers). It marked the most walks in a month by a CLE team since Sept/Oct 2000 (131). It marked the first time an MLB team had 130-plus walks and 99-plus extra-base hits in a month since the A’s did so in April 2013. The last Indians team to have 130-plus walks and 64-plus doubles in a month before this May? The 1939 Tribe in September that season.

Pitching (AL rank)

17 wins (3)
3.66 ERA (7)
4.26 rot. ERA (9)
2.56 rel. ERA (5)
8 saves (t-7)
260.2 IP (4)
34 HR (t-12)
74 BB (6)
282 K (1)
.238 AVG (3)
1.19 WHIP (3)
3.58 FIP (2)
3.7 WAR (2)

Notes: The Indians ranked first in strikeouts (282) by a wide margin in the AL, whose second-ranked team was Tampa Bay (248). There’s a good reason, too. Cleveland’s 282 strikeouts in May were the fifth-highest total in one month in MLB history, only falling behind the 2012 Rays (294 in September), 2014 Rays (287 in June), 2002 Cubs (286 in August) and 2012 Phillies (285 in September). Cleveland’s previous record for one month was 280, set in May 2013. Third now is the 269 punchouts the Indians had in September 2014. So, the three best strikeout months in team history have now come under manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Before 2013, the record was 264 by the Indians’ staff in July 1964. This also marked the first time in Cleveland history that it had four pitchers (Kluber, 60; Carlos Carrasco, 43; Danny Salazar, 43; and Trevor Bauer, 37) that the team had four pitchers record 35+ strikeouts in the same month.

Player of the Month: Kipnis
Stats: .429/.511/.706/1.217, 15 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 16 BB, 30 R, 51 H, 29 games
Analysis: MLB.com’s August Fagerstrom looked at Kipnis’ swing in April

Previous winners: OF Michael Brantley (April)

Notes: As noted above, this was not only a great month, but one of the greatest months in Indians history. You could argue it was one of the best months in baseball history, actually. Do you know how many instances there are of a hitter having a .429+ average, 15+ doubles, 30+ runs, 51+ hits and a 1.217+ OPS? I wouldn’t expect you know, but it’s four. Kipnis joined Joe Cronin (June 1933), Chuck Klein (July 1930) and Tris Speaker (July 1923) on that list. Need more? Here’s the story from his final game in May with a bunch more information.

Pitcher of the Month: Kluber
Stats: 3-2, 2.95 ERA, 42.2 IP, 60 K, 6 BB, .233 AVG, 1.01 WHIP, 6 starts
Analysis: Fagerstrom recently broke down Kluber’s ability to paint the corners

Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April)

Notes: After an inconsistent April, beep-beep-boop, Klubot was functioning properly in May. In fact, Kluber’s rate of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings was the best for a single month in team history (minimum 30 innings). He topped his own recod of 12.6 K/9, set in May 2014. Kluber joined Sam McDowell (8 times) and Bob Feller (8 times) as the only pitchers in team history with at least two career months with 60-plus strikeouts. Kluber also joined Clayton Kershaw (June 2014), Curt Schilling (twice in 2002), Pedro Martinez (September 1999), Jim Kaat (September 1967), Sandy Koufax (September 1963) and Juan Marichal (September 1963) as the only pitchers with a month consisting of 60-plus strikeouts and no more than six walks. Look at the names on that list again. Wow.

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 2.35 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 6 BB, .167 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 7 saves, 15 games

Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April)

Notes: Allen looked much better in May than he did in April, and that’s a great thing for a Cleveland bullpen looking for more consistency and stability. The hard-throwing righty joined Jim Kern (June 1977) and Gary Bell (June 1965) as the only Cleveland pitchers with 20-plus strikeouts and seven-plus saves in the same month.

Game of the Month (hitter): Kipnis
May 3 vs. Blue Jays: 4-for-5, 1 HR, 1 2B, 2 RBIs, 3 runs, 8 total bases

Notes: There was nothing particularly historic about this game. It was just one example of Kipnis’ outstanding month. This marked one of his 16 multi-hit games for May, and one of two four-hit games in the month.

Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24)

Game of the Month (pitcher): Kluber
May 13 vs. Cardinals: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 18 K, 98 Game Score

Notes: This was one of the greatest singular pitching performances in baseball history. In fact, Kluber’s gem was the only one in MLB history with a 98 Game Score with no more than eight innings logged. Kluber joined Randy Johnson (Sept. 27, 1992) as the only pitchers in MLB history with 18-plus strikeouts in no more than eight innings. It was the first time a pitcher had 18-plus strikeouts since 2004 (Ben Sheets) and first time in the AL since 1998 (Roger Clemens). The 18 strikeouts also matched Bob Feller’s 1938 franchise record for a nine-inning game. Here’s more on his achievements in that game.

Previous winners: Bauer (April 9)

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Minor League standouts for May

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: OF James Ramsey
Stats: .296/.402/.500/.902, 4 HR, 8 2B, 12 RBI, 18 BB, 28 games

Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP C.C. Lee
Stats: 1.64 ERA, 11 IP, 18 K, 1 BB, .179 AVG, 0.73 WHIP, 9 games

Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: SS Erik Gonzalez
Stats: .291/.320/.504/.824, 3 HR, 16 XBH, 16 R, 27 games

Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Josh Martin
Stats: 0.59 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 5 BB, .125 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 8 games

Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April)

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the Month: OF Brad Zimmer
Stats: .296/.402/.472/.874, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 13 RBI, 27 R, 16 BB, 12 SB, 29 games

Previous winners: Zimmer (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Adam Plutko
Stats: 1.38 ERA, 26 IP, 28 K, 2 BB, .196 AVG, 0.77 WHIP, 4 starts

Previous winners: Plutko (April)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 2B Claudio Bautista
Stats: .364/.417/.527/.944, 3 HR, 9 2B, 21 RBI, 10 BB, 4 SB, 40 H, 19 R, 26 games

Previous winners: None (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Nick Pasquale
Stats: 0.79 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 K, 1 BB, .205 AVG, 0.79 WHIP, 6 games

Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April)

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Month in review: April

–JB

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