Covering the Bases: Game 55
Some notes and quotes about Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Royals.
FIRST: Place. How’s that sound?
The American League Central is beginning to play out the way we all expected. The top four teams — each of which has spent time in first place at some point this season — are clustered closely together.
Right now, though, your Indians are atop the division.
The Tribe headed into this series after a rough 2-4 showing to open this homestand. The second of those wins, however, was a walk-off victory. And, it was a walk-off that arrived on the day Marlon Byrd was sent packing with a 162-game suspension. It was a much-needed win on an emotional day, and it came at a great time, given that the then-first-place Royals were coming to town.
“It’s a good end to a really long day,” Indians manager Terry Francona said that night. “You can’t help but have emotions when you’re dealing with some of the stuff we did. It’s a nice way to end the day. I think we’re all going to sleep good.”
The Tribe should sleep well Sunday night, too, especially considering a three-hour rain delay in the sixth inning interrupted play. Now, it’s off to Seattle for the start of a 10-game swing against the Mariners, Angels and Royals.
In this set against Kansas City, Cleveland had a chance to gain some ground. The Indians went ahead and swept the Royals, turning a 2.5-game deficit in the division into a 1.5-game lead.
Before the rain arrived, Corey Kluber led the way to the win column with six stellar innings. After a pair of first-inning singles, Kansas City went 0-for-16 against the right-hander with six strikeouts and five outs via grounders.
During the four-game sweep, the Indians’ pitching staff posted a 1.50 ERA with a 3.1 K/BB ratio and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Over 36 innings against the Royals, Cleveland’s pitchers allowed a .198/.257/.294 opponents’ slash line. Kansas City managed only six runs on 25 hits, including six extra-base hits.
On the other side of the coin, the Tribe offense posted a .308/.354/.608 slash line to go along with 25 runs and 40 hits, including 19 extra-base hits. That includes a season-high seven extra-base hits in Sunday’s win.
SECOND: With a sweep of the Royals on the line, the Indians had a favorable matchup with Kluber squaring off against right-hander Chris Young in Sunday’s finale.
This marked Young’s first start for Kansas City since May 9. He had a stint on the disabled list, but the righty had also been extremely homer prone in his time in the Royals’ rotation. That aspect came into play in a big way in Cleveland’s win.
Mike Napoli started the party with a leadoff shot in the fourth and the Indians belted three more long balls in the fifth. Those came off the bats of Tyler Naquin, Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor — each pulled shots to the right-field seats.
With that showing, Young has now allowed 3.73 home runs per nine innings this season. Among the 162 pitchers with at least 30 innings logged in the Majors this year (as of this writing), Young has the highest HR/9. The right-hander’s negative 0.8 fWAR is also the lowest in baseball.
THIRD: Naquin didn’t win the longest drive competition — Santana’s shot traveled 441 feet, per Statcast — but the rookie did have the hardest-hit homer of the night.
Naquin’s leadoff blast against Young rocketed off his bat at 109 mph and carried to the first row of the second deck.
The home run was the third in as many days for Naquin, who was called back up from Triple-A on Wednesday after Byrd exited stage left. Dealing with being sent back and forth between The Show and the farm can be tough on a young player, but Naquin has looked more relaxed this time around in Francona’s view.
“I do think he’s in a better place,” Francona said before Sunday’s game. “Early in the year, he was finding ways to get hits. You can tell, like he was trying not to swing at those breaking balls in the dirt. Now, he’s taking [pitches] a little bit better. You can tell he’s a little bit more relaxed. It looks like things are starting to slow down a little bit.”
Naquin became the first Cleveland rookie to homer in three straight games since Jason Kipnis accomplished the feat in four consecutive games from July 31-Aug. 3, 2011.
HOME: There is no place like it for Napoli.
With his 1-for-4 showing on Sunday, Napoli ended this 10-game homestand with six home runs and a dozen RBIs for the Tribe. In that span, he also posted an .805 slugging percentage. His opposite-field shot in the fourth (Napoli’s first oppo taco of the season) came with a 103-mph exit velo and flew 355 feet, per Statcast.
According to Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel, it was not only Napoli’s first opposite-field homer of the year, but his first since April 25 last season.
The recent homestand was also just a continuation of Napoli’s play at Progressive Field to this point this year. Through 29 games at home, the first baseman has hit .284 with 10 of his 14 home runs and 32 of his 42 RBIs. Napoli has a .637 slugging percentage in front of the local audience, too.
And, yes, after his homer, Napoli made a call to the bullpen. No, we still don’t know who he’s calling out there.
Stay tuned for more…