Roberto Perez kept calling for it, so Josh Tomlin kept throwing it. The Indians starter fired curveball after curveball against the Blue Jays in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, and then he threw some more.
When the smoke cleared against the team from the Big Smoke, Tomlin had piled up a career-high 36 curves in another subduing of a great offense. Tomlin contained Boston’s bats in the AL Division Series and then quieted Toronto’s potent lineup one round later.
Toronto was thrown a curve, in a very literal sense.
“The game kind of dictates what you do,” Tomlin said. “It’s going to be tough for me to sit there and throw 87-88 [mph] to those guys all game long and be successful. They’re a good fastball-hitting team. They’re a good [mistake] hitting team. If you leave the ball over the middle of the plate, they’re going to do some damage and put up a crooked number in a hurry against you.
“So, it’s about executing pitches and it’s about trying to keep them off-balance as much as you can. I don’t have the stuff to just go out there and try to overpower anybody. So, some days it’ll be a cutter. Some days it’ll be a curveball. Some days, it’ll be a changeup. or, it might be a fastball, if I’m locating that day. My strategy or game plan is kind of dictated on how my stuff is playing that day.”
All of that said, this was part of a game plan. For all the talk over the past two days about Tomlin’s curve, and how it stifled the Blue Jays, nobody seemed to notice that ace Corey Kluber also set a career high in curveballs thrown (42) in Game 1 of the ALCS. One day later, Tomlin followed a similar pattern.
Why so many breaking balls? Well, Toronto — for all its power — ranked last in the Majors this season with a .161 batting average against curveballs. Blue Jays hitters Troy Tulowitzki (.208), Edwin Encarnacion (.195), Josh Donaldson (.195), Jose Bautista (.184) and Russell Martin (.100) all struggled against the pitch.
Here is how many curves Tomlin fired to each Blue Jays hitter:
Tomlin was also unpredictable, firing them in these counts:
Here is a look at where Tomlin put each of the 36 curves:
Toronto took 18 for balls, whiffed against six, took six for called strikes, fouled off five and put one in play. Helping matters was the fact that Tomlin was effective with his cutter and sinker. The Blue Jays went 3-for-13 against those pitches and pounded eight into the ground.
During the regular season, Tomlin averaged 15.4 percent curveballs across all his outings. That rate spiked to 42.4 percent against the Blue Jays. Toronto surely expected to see the pitch, considering Tomlin’s previous start against the Red Sox and how curve-happy Kluber was in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Tomlin vs. Red Sox in Game 3 of ALDS:
Tomlin vs. Blue Jays in Game 2 of ALCS:
Asked about Tomlin, Miller said: “He can pitch to a game plan better than anybody.”
Indians manager Terry Francona agreed, citing how much time Tomlin spent with pitching coach Mickey Callaway leading up to the start against the Blue Jays.
“The last couple days before we played, he was bending Mickey’s ear,” Francona said. “Even the night before he pitched. I saw him grabbing Mickey a couple times. When I’d see him, he was studying. He really, really paid attention.”
Might we expect to see a familiar approach from Trevor Bauer in Game 3 on Monday night? Well, Bauer’s curveball had a pitch value of 8.3 this season, making it MLB’s fifth-best curve this year, per Fangraphs. Kluber ranked first with a 21.8 rating. This year, Bauer made a lot of progress with the pitch, keeping it in the zone more, locking up batters, piling up strikeouts and posting a .132 opponents’ average with the curve.
It’s clearly a strength of Bauer’s, and remains a weakness for the Blue Jays.
“You don’t want to execute something that’s not to your strength,” Tomlin said. “There might be a game plan, but if it’s something you’re not comfortable doing, don’t do it. Both teams have the same amount of time. You both have that leeway to get prepared as much as you can.”
Tomlin watched Kluber’s start, studied the strengths and weaknesses of Toronto’s lineup, compared those to his own strengths, and wound up spinning more breaking balls than he ever had before in his pitching life.
Tomlin laughed when asked when he knew the curve was going to be that effective.
“When ‘Berto kept making me throw it,” Tomlin said. “He kept calling it and calling it. He did a good job. He had a good mix going all game long. The hitters will tell you if something is good or not.”
FIRST: Mike Napoli has been to the World Series. Twice. The veteran first baseman has a long history of playoff experience. Playing in front of packed houses with a season on the line is nothing new for Nap, but he couldn’t help but smile when asked about Thursday night.
“It was just a cool atmosphere,” Napoli said. “I’ve been fortunate to do it a long time, and it just doesn’t get old. The anxiety gets more and more every time. It was just a great team win and there were a lot of things that we did that probably went unseen.”
Let’s start there.
On the October stage, you never know who will emerge as a hero. I mean, consider the National League Wild Card Game one night earlier. OK, we all figured Madison Bumgarner would post, but Conor Gillaspie? In fact, those were the two of the first words I heard upon arriving to the stadium on Thursday afternoon. A veteran reporter turned and exclaimed: “Conor Gillaspie?!”
On Friday morning, there will probably be some Red Sox fans uttering a similar question.
Terry Francona’s bullpen management stole the show in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but Perez was tied into every facet of this win for Cleveland, which hadn’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2007 AL Championship Series. From the first to the ninth, Perez made an impact.
Perez’s contribution in the fifth inning, for example, was subtle, but critical.
“I think that was the biggest one,” Napoli said.
Perez led off the inning with a single to the left-field wall. It left his bat at 111 mph, marking the hardest ball he’s ever hit in the Statcast Era. That wasn’t even the most impressive part. Carlos Santana followed with a flyout to left, and Perez tagged up and moved up to second base. The throw from Andrew Benintendi was off line, though it looked like Perez caught him by surprise.
“The ball kept carrying,” Perez said. “I’m known as a slow runner. The guy hesitated. He was probably too confident that I wouldn’t try to run. That was a huge play.”
It was huge, because Jason Kipnis then delivered a single to center, allowing Perez to score from second base. That gave Cleveland a 5-3 lead and that little extra insurance — ignited by Perez’s sprint from first to second — proved paramount. Boston scored once more in the eighth, but that run via Perez and Kipnis held up as the game’s decisive blow.
SECOND: Perez also delivered at the plate, getting a three-run rally started in a third inning that had the stadium shaking.
Rick Porcello — the Cy Young candidate with the 0.93 HR/9 rate — locked horns with Perez for seven pitches to open the inning. The at-bat ended with a four-seamer over the middle, and Perez thanked Porcello with an opposite field blast that pulled the game into a 2-2 deadlock.
With that shot, Perez became the first player in Indians history to hit a home run in his first career postseason plate appearance. This is the same Perez that hit a whopping .183 in an injury-marred season for Cleveland.
“Early in the year, I kind of struggled,” Perez said. “But, later in the year, at the end of the season, I was really feeling [like] myself. I was getting more comfortable at the plate. Tonight, I put the ball in play, trying to have good ABs and good things will happen. That was the key.”
The Indians were hardly done in the third, though.
Two batters after Perez had the park rocking, Kipnis sent a towering shot to deep center field. The Tribe’s second baseman walked out of the box, admiring his work for a moment before trotting. Two pitches later, Francisco Lindor pulled a Porcello pitch out to right. Now, the place was in an all-out frenzy.
“After the first one, it was exciting,” Kipnis said. “After mine, it was even kind of getting nuts in there. And the third one, our dugout was kind of losing it. We played with a lot of energy. We played with a lot of emotion. That’s the way our team goes.”
THIRD: We might as well keep “Covering the Bases: Roberto Perez Addition” going, too.
On the October stage, a play in the first inning may in fact loom large when the smoke finally settles. That was indeed the case in Thursday’s first, when Dustin Pedroia opened with a double and Brock Holt followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Trevor Bauer bounced back with a strikeout of Mookie Betts before getting Big Papi to pop out into foul ground down the first-base line. Cleveland’s starter was one pitch from an escape, but Hanley Ramirez didn’t play along. He roped a pitch into the left-center gap, where rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin cut off the bouncer and swiftly fired it to Lindor.
“It was huge how Naquin got the ball to me as quick as he did,” Lindor said.
Lindor then made a great one-hop throw to the plate, where Perez gloved it and made a sweep tag on Holt, who tried to score from first. As Holt slid in headfirst, Perez nicked the runner on his leg with his glove. Umpire Brian Knight initially called Holt safe, but the ruling was overturned after a replay review.
“I got a good jump and just couldn’t make it there in time,” Holt said. “They did a good job of cutting that run down. … I had a pretty good lane to slide around there. Just a bang-bang play. I got in and touched the plate, but he tagged my leg or my foot. It was a good play by him.”
HOME: There was, of course, the bullpen’s performance. Francona handed the ball to Andrew Miller in the fifth inning and asked him, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen to cover the game’s fine 13 outs with little margin for error. They got the job done, becoming the storyline of the night, especially in the wake of The Showalter Game.
There was even less wiggle room for Allen, who took over with one out in the eighth and the Tribe clinging to a 5-4 lead. The close features a knuckle-curve that he often bounces in the dirt. Twice, Allen worked with a runner on base (David Ortiz made it to third in the eighth), but Perez kept the dirt balls from costing Cleveland.
“Roberto did an unbelievable job,” Allen said. “I probably bounced 17 breaking balls with guys on base and he swallowed them all up. Hats off to him. He had an unbelievable game.”
In the ninth, not only did Allen corral a bouncer from Allen, but the catcher chased down Sandy Leon after the third-strike swing and tagged him out up the first-base line for the second out. Allen went on to strike out the side, with the final blow being a failed check swing from Pedroia on a 3-2 knuckler in the dirt. Perez fired the ball to Napoli at first, getting the out and sealing the win.
“He had a great game,” Lindor said of Perez. “Tito trusts in him. I’m proud of him.”
Stay tuned for more…
Forget about Cleveland not scoring any runs in the 2013 American League Wild Card Game. Forget about Kenny Lofton being held up at third, and Cleveland blowing a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series in 2007. Forget about the 116-win Mariners and Jose Mesa and Tom Glavine and David Justice. Forget about Willie Mays’ catch.
At least for tonight.
At 8 p.m ET tonight, the Indians will open the AL Division Series against the Red Sox. Of course it’s the Red Sox, given all the playoff history between the clubs, and with manager Terry Francona now at the helm. This isn’t a one-and-done October tease. Cleveland is promised at least three games — two at home for starters — and maybe more, if the old Cuyahoga curses don’t stir with the autumn breeze.
Good or bad, these Indians will create new memories for their fans. The Tribe is hoping to follow the Cavs’ lead, righting some of the wrongs of Cleveland past. That quest begins tonight, with starter Trevor Bauer on the mound at Progressive Field.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Bauer said. “Something you grow up dreaming about doing, especially against a team as storied as the Red Sox, as good as the Red Sox are. It should be a lot of fun, I’m really looking forward to it.”
As you gear up for tonight’s game, here are stories from the past several days to catch you up on all the MLB.com and Indians.com coverage:
- Breaking down the ALDS roster, highlighted by Gomes making team (Bastian)
- Feature: How the Indians became the AL’s best baserunning team (Bastian)
- Feature: Miller faces team that sparked his career turnaround (Bastian)
- Feature: Bauer a constant through Cleveland’s rotation adversity (Bastian)
- Analysis: Breaking down Bauer’s evolution as a pitcher (Bastian)
- Five days that changed Cleveland’s season (Bastian)
- Red Sox a familiar October foe for Indians (Castrovince)
- Three reasons the Tribe can win it all (Bastian)
- October Confidential: Scouting the Red Sox (MLB.com)
- An ALDS position by position breakdown (Petriello)
- Indians bullpen already battled-tested for October (Bastian)
- From bullpen to Game 1 starter: Bauer earned Tribe’s trust (Beck)
- How the 2016 Indians were built (Mayo)
- Indians create, donate to Larry Doby Youth Fund (Weinrib)
- An ALDS Preview: Bauer vs. Porcello (Randhawa)
- Friendly rivalry: Francona, Farrell share bond (Browne)
- From Boston to Cleveland, fun follows Napoli (Castrovince)
- Salazar to rehab in Arizona, skip ALDS (Bastian)
- Cleveland, Boston ties extend well beyond Tito (Castrovince)
- Francona’s dad, Tito, to throw out first pitch (Bastian)
- Ziegler, Carew win Bob Feller Act of Valor Award (Macklin)
And from the season’s final week…
- A “perfect day” sets up home-field advantage for Tribe (Bastian)
- Francona thirsts for more than just division crown (Ringolsby)
- Sidelined Indians join in the Central-clinching party (Bastian)
- Nothing went planned for Indians, except title (Castrovince)
- Indians clinch first division title since 2007 (Bastian)
Stay tuned for more…
The Indians handled their end of the equation. Even with a division title wrapped up, this was no time to coast. They fought through a weekend sweep of the Royals, putting themselves in position to head home, if other teams played along.
Cleveland’s players weren’t about to go through the motions to end the regular season.
“We’re not one of those teams,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said after Sunday’s win. “We knew there was a possibility we could still clinch home-field. The only way we could do that was go about our business and worry about what we could control, and that was winning our games.”
The Indians did that. Now, the team plane waited for an itinerary. Cleveland would either be heading to Detroit for a makeup game on Monday, or going back home to get a few nights in their own beds ahead of the American League Division Series.
Cleveland needed Detroit and Boston to both lose for that last scenario to come to fruition. Indians manager Terry Francona had been monitoring the out-of-town scoreboard — all of Sunday’s games began at 3 p.m. ET — during the Tribe’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
“I was watching,” Francona said. “I always do, just because it kind of helps me relax. We’ll either shower and go home or shower and go to Detroit. Either way, I’m showering.”
After reporters wrapped up the postgame session with Francona, Detroit was finishing its game with Atlanta and Boston was still trying to beat Toronto. Many of Cleveland’s players had yet to get out of their uniforms completely.
In the middle of the visitors’ clubhouse at The K are a series of couches in a “U” formation. Hanging from a large blue pole in front of the seating area if a large flatscreen TV. The Red Sox game was on that one. On a blue post behind the couches is another screen. That one was playing the Tigers game.
There wasn’t an open seat to be had. Danny Salazar sat on one couch, on the edge of the cushion. Andrew Miller, who has been through postseasons before, leaned back, looking more relaxed. Kipnis, who still had his baseball pants on, with dirt caked around the knees, was watching Detroit’s game on his phone.
When Jim Johnson struck out Justin Upton to seal a 1-0 win for the Braves, the players erupted in cheers. Francisco Lindor shouted: “One down!” With the loss, the Tigers were officially eliminated from the playoffs. A Monday game no longer mattered for Detroit.
Like a tennis match, all the heads in the room turned at once to focus on Boston’s game.
The Blue Jays and Red Sox were knotted, 1-1, as the game dragged to the ninth inning. At one point during the last inning, catcher Chris Gimenez yelled, “Nervous!” Some players had pulled their locker chairs over to the middle of the room. Others stood. Rajai Davis, showered and fully dressed by this point, was sitting on a stationary bike behind the couches. Jose Ramirez sat on a coffee table.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Xander Bogaerts singled up the middle. Francona walked out of his office and remarked with disgust, “They got another hit?”
Finally, Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, who fired to first base for the game-ending out. In Kansas City, the Tribe’s players all jumped out of their seats and roared. There were hugs and high fives, shouts and smiles. The Indians did their part, and the stars aligned with the other teams, too.
“I’m Coming Home” began blaring through the clubhouse speakers, and the players all reacted in loud laughter.
“That’s exactly what we wanted,” Kipnis said amidst the celebration. “We went into today knowing that all we could do was take care of our game. It looked like we could have a perfect day. We were joking about it, saying it was going to be a perfect day today. It turned out to be that way. It’s awesome.”
Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Royals.
FIRST: There was a typo on the clubhouse video board that displayed the starting lineups for the Indians’ game against the Royals on Saturday.
The date was listed as Sept. 31.
Perhaps that was a bit fitting, considering Kansas City won’t be playing “October” baseball this year. Cleveland now wears the American League Central crown and is planning for a Division Series clash with the Red Sox, beginning Thursday.
But first, let me take you through what’s on the line Sunday.
Through Saturday’s action, Cleveland (93-67) has a half-game lead on Boston (93-68). That means, if the postseason started today, the Indians would open the ALDS on Thursday at Progressive Field. But, guess what? The playoffs don’t start today! There’s one more day of regular-season baseball, and maybe two for the Indians.
As you may recall, Cleveland’s game against the Tigers was postponed by rain on Thursday. With the Indians fighting for home-field in their ALDS pairing with Boston, and Detroit clinging to Wild Card hope, a makeup game may be needed on Monday. If that game impacts the Indians or Tigers in any way, it will be played. So…
Here’s what’s at stake on Sunday for Cleveland:
- If the Indians win and the Red Sox lose, Cleveland will have a 1.5-game lead. That would clinch home-field for the Indians in the ALDS. That would make Monday’s game unnecessary for the Tribe.
- If the Indians win and the Red Sox win, or the Indians lose and the Red Sox lose, that would preserve the half-game lead for Cleveland. Under that scenario, the Monday game is necessary for the Indians, who would need to beat Detroit to end with a one-game lead on Boston. If Cleveland loses in Detroit, ending in a tie with Boston, the Red Sox have the tiebreaker and would open at Fenway Park.
- If the Indians lose on Sunday and the Red Sox win, Boston would move a half-game ahead again, and Monday’s game wouldn’t be needed for the Tribe.
Even if Monday’s game isn’t needed for the Indians, it may be needed for the Tigers (86-74). The Orioles and Blue Jays are each 88-73, tied atop the AL Wild Card standings. With a loss Saturday, Detroit is now 1.5 back of both teams. So…
Here’s what’s at stake on Sunday for Detroit:
- If Detroit loses on Sunday, it is eliminated from the postseason picture.
- If Detroit wins, but both the Orioles and Blue Jays also win, the Tigers are eliminated from the postseason picture.
- If Detroit wins, and Toronto and Baltimore both lose, or one of Baltimore or Toronto lose, then the Tigers would move a half-game back of the second Wild Card spot. That would make Monday’s game necessary for Detroit, because a win over the Indians would pull the Tigers even with the second Wild Card team. That would initiate a tiebreaker game scenario before the AL Wild Card Game.
Got all that? Let’s just say I’ve got hotels booked for Wednesday through Tuesday in Boston. Nothing is settled, and it may still not be settled when the smoke clears on Sunday’s games. So, buckle up and stay tuned.
SECOND: Trevor Bauer began this season in the bullpen. Now, the right-hander will be starting for Cleveland in its first postseason game since 2013. That’s how we all predicted the storyline would play out, right?
After the righty’s six-inning performance against the Royals, Indians manager Terry Francona delivered the good news: Bauer will start Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday. Francona’s timing needs a little work, though.
“When he came out of the game,” Francona said, “I told him why I was taking him out, because he was going to start Game 1. But, he was kind of in the middle of beating up the dugout.”
“So much for that feel-good moment,” he quipped.
Bauer was still fuming over the sixth inning, when he allowed a couple extra-base hits and a pair of runs to let the Royals back into the game. Overall, though, it was a solid showing from the right-hander. He was charged with three runs on six hits and ended with nine strikeouts against two walks. The first run he allowed came via three singles — one off his glove and two of the seeing-eye variety.
“I thought again I threw the ball better than the results show,” Bauer said. “So, I guess at some point, things will start going my way and the results will match how I pitch. Hopefully, that’s next outing.”
Going with Bauer for Game 1 was probably the right move for Cleveland. Had Kluber ended his Cy Young-caliber campaign healthy and on a high note, the ace would — without question — be the Game 1 starter. But, he didn’t. Kluber left his Monday start after four innings due to a mild quadriceps strain.
With Cleveland using a three-man rotation for the DS round, the Game 1 starter would be required to pitch on three-days’ rest for Game 4, if necessary. As detailed on Friday on Indians, Bauer is not only willing to tackle that possibility, but looks to be better situated to handle it right now. Kluber is coming off a injury, albeit a minor one, and this would put him on a normal routine for Game 2 and Game 5, if needed.
Kluber can now work off the mound Sunday, and again Tuesday, to prepare at a good pace for Game 2.
“Klubes really wanted to pitch Thursday,” Francona said. “We’ve been talking about it for three or four days. I just kind of overruled him. I think, in fact, I know it’s the right thing for everybody. I didn’t think it was fair to Kluber to have him sit for 10 days and then pitch two games in four days. He certainly wanted to. And it’s not just me. Kind of [after] talking to everybody, I kind of took it out of his hands. So, now he can prepare for Game 2 and he doesn’t have the anxiety of worrying about rushing.”
Here would be the probable pitchers:
Game 1 (Thursday): Bauer
Game 2 (Friday): Kluber
Game 3 (Oct. 9): Josh Tomlin
Game 4 (Oct. 10): Bauer
Game 5 (Oct. 12): Kluber
THIRD: When Rajai Davis draws a walk, he wants to make sure the pitcher knows he just made a mistake. There have been times where Davis almost does a bat flip on a free pass. In the eighth on Saturday, he went with the dramatic bat drop.
After lefty Matt Strahm missed inside, Davis took the pitch and let the bat drop from his hands about the same time the baseball popped into the catcher’s glove. The Indians outfielder was removing his elbow protector before Drew Butera even had a chance to grab the ball from his mitt.
When that happens, the scoreboard might as well put in big letters: “Rajai’s going to steal a base now.”
“That’s kind of why I [pimp it] when I walk, when I do walk,” Davis said with a grin. “Because everybody knows what’s coming. Might as well let everybody know, ‘Here it comes.'”
For the 43rd time this season, Davis pulled off a successful steal. He swiped second With Coco Crisp batting, and then scored when Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield bobbled a grounder from Abe Almonte. That gave the Tribe a 4-3 lead that it would not relinquish.
“Raj can change the game,” Francona said. “That’s a situation where they know he’s running, but he still has the ability [to pull it off]. We don’t even have Coco bunting, because we think he can steal it. That doesn’t happen very often. He’s just that good a base stealer.”
Davis is a big reason behind Cleveland being the best baserunning team in the American League this season.
The Indians rank first in BsR (17.1), stolen bases (134), steals of second (104) and steals of third (29). And, entering Saturday, they were first in extra-bases taken rate (45%), bases taken (182) and stolen base success rate (81%). Cleveland’s run-scoring rate of 32% was second to only Boston (34%).
Davis leads the AL in steals and BsR (10.0).
“When I get on base,” Davis said, “I just kind of feel like I’m at home.”
HOME: Rookie Mike Clevinger will not be in the ALDS rotation, but the right-hander looks like a sure bet to be in the postseason bullpen.
In the seventh inning on Saturday, Francona found a great spot to give Clevinger a solid audition, too. With one out, Kansas City put runners on first and second base against Jeff Manship. At that point, Francona called upon Clevinger. He induced a fielder’s choice groundout and then recorded a strikeout to escape the game, preserving a 3-3 tie.
“That’s exactly why we put him in. We wanted to see,” Francona said. “Just because a guy gives up runs maybe as a starter doesn’t mean [he can’t have success]. I don’t think you put him in the penalty box, if you think he can help you somewhere. That’s exactly whey we pitched him and he did a really good job.”
Oh, and closer Cody Allen made Butera look foolish…
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 7-2 win over the Royals
FIRST: The first pitch that Yordano Ventura threw to Francisco Lindor in the fifth inning on Friday night tailed low and inside, striking the Indians’ shortstop on the front leg.
Lindor smiled, because that’s what he always does, but he did so while standing in the face of catcher Drew Butera. This was a come-on-man, smile. Home-plate umpire Greg Gibson quickly got between Lindor and Butera, just to make sure nothing escalated. Nothing did, and Lindor took his base.
Did Lindor think Ventura hit him on purpose?
“Next question,” said the shortstop.
If there was intent, it probably stemmed from what happened in the third inning. That is when Lindor pulled a pitch from Ventura off the right-field wall for a double, ending a drought during which the Tribe’s shortstop had no hits in 27 at-bats. He hadn’t collected a hit since a first-inning single on Sept. 16. So, when he doubled off Ventura, Lindor smiled, because that’s what he always does, and thrust his arms in the air in celebration.
This wasn’t showboating by Lindor. This was relief. And, when Lindor pulled into second base and looked to the dugout, he saw his teammates on the top step, celebrating with him. Jesus Aguilar grabbed the railing and shouted. Trevor Bauer was grinning wide and raising his arms, too. There were cheers and clapping and Lindor reacted like a guy who, well, hadn’t had a hit since Sept. 16.
“It felt good. It felt good,” Lindor said. “It felt even better when I looked to the dugout and everybody had their hands up. It was pretty good. It was pretty awesome. That’s why I love this team. They were behind me the whole entire time.”
Lindor said the slump was wearing on him.
“To be honest, yeah, I thought about it,” he said. “There were times I was like, ‘Wow, am I going to get a hit?’ But, the team was always supportive. Nobody ever even mentioned it to me. Everybody was just going along like nothing was happening, and we kept on winning, and everybody kept on doing their job.
“I felt like I was having good at-bats, and that helped me a lot. The coaches, nobody really mentioned it. That helped me a lot, so I just continued to do the same thing.”
Did Ventura take the celebration the wrong way?
“Next question,” Lindor repeated.
There was no retaliation on the part of the Indians, but Lindor got his revenge. In the seventh inning, he pulled a pitch from Brian Flynn to deep left, where it soared over the wall for a three-run home run. With an exit velocity of 112 mph, it was the hardest ball that Lindor has ever put in play in the Majors.
“That’s good to know,” he said with a smirk.
“That is about the best way possible [to retaliate],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think Frankie had a little extra motivation in that at-bat, as he should.”
SECOND: Indians ace Corey Kluber is out at the moment due to an injury, as are right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Cleveland is still fighting for home-field advantage in its American League Division Series matchup, and is currently playing the reigning World Series champions.
That was the landscape for rookie Ryan Merritt — a 16th-round pick by Cleveland in the 2011 MLB Draft — for his first Major League start on Friday.
No pressure, kid.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was pretty nervous,” Merritt said. “I’ve put in a lot of time and worked really hard to get here. So, this is the biggest step. This is the big leagues. I definitely was nervous.”
Billy Burns greeted Merritt with a broken-bat leadoff single in the first inning. Whit Merrifield then moved him to second with a bunt. The strategy worked, as Eric Hosmer gave K.C. a quick 1-0 lead with an RBI single to right. Kendrys Morales followed suit, pushing a pitch into right for another base hit. Four batters, three hits, one run.
“The first couple hitters hit the ball hard,” Francona said. “But, he didn’t back off.”
Maybe it was rookie jitters out of the chute. Or, maybe it was just rust. Merritt’s only three MLB appearances came on May 30, Aug. 4 and Sept. 12, and now he was asked to start for the Indians with ALDS seeding on the line.
Well, as Francona said, Merritt didn’t back away from the challenge. Over the years, that’s been Merritt’s M.O. His competitiveness is often the first attribute mentioned by front-office members. Against the Royals, that held true. The little lefty from Celina, Texas, didn’t allow anything following Morales’ hit.
The Royals went 0-for-13 the rest of the way off the 24-year-old, strike-pumping southpaw.
“He did a heck of a job,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “He went out there, competed and he threw strikes. He got a lot of ground balls. It never seemed like he lost his poise or anything. He just controlled the situation. He did a heck of a job for us.”
Merritt logged 62 pitches in five innings, strikeout out four and walking none. That gave Cleveland’s offense time to go to work, and set things up nicely for Francona to get his main relievers some work. After the five-inning outing, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Allen all made appearances.
“Today worked out so well. We were really fortunate,” Francona said. “Merritt pitched so well that it set it up for the rest of the game. And we were going to pitch those guys anyway, but to let them pitch with a lead was good. Nobody got over-extended and we used them all, the last four, which was good.”
And Merritt picked up his first career win as a result.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” he said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. But, I’m sure later tonight or tomorrow it’ll sink in.”
THIRD: After the last out of a win, the catcher typically meets the pitcher between the mound and the plate for a handshake. Friday was no exception, but the postgame ritual carried a little more weight this time.
Popping out of the crouch was Yan Gomes, who logged his first game action since July 17. The Indians made a surprising move prior to Friday’s game, activating the catcher from the 60-day DL after he sustained a non-displaced fracture in his throwing hand. Gomes defied the odds, putting in work behind the scenes that convinced Cleveland to take him off the shelf.
Gomes entered the game in the seventh and caught the rest of the game. At the end, Allen got to shake his hand and give him a quick hug.
“It’s incredible, what he’s been able to do,” Allen said. “He’s had some tough, tough breaks this year. Some unfortunate things happened to him. For him to just continue to grind and grind and grind, trying to figure out a way to help this team, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Asked how good it was to see Gomes behind the plate again, Allen smiled.
“It’s awesome,” said the closer. “The guys we’ve had with him gone have done a tremendous job for us, but Yan’s been the guy here for a few years now. The first thing I said to him after the game was, ‘Hey, man. It’s good to see you.’ It was pretty cool.”
Francona was thrilled to have a situation that allowed him to put Gomes in the game.
“I still am amazed that he’s doing this,” said the manager. “Then, you watch him, he looked great. And we’re not going to let him hit yet. He’s dying to, but I think we’ve got to let this thing play itself out a little bit more. But, knowing that he can be back there defensively is a lift in itself.”
HOME: Merritt’s outing, Lindor’s big day, solid relief work and a near cycle for Carlos Santana (he went 3-for-5 with a single, double and triple in the win) helped the Indians take care of their end of things for the AL postseason picture.
Out of Cleveland’s hands was the fact that the Rangers won, securing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Indians are now fighting the Red Sox for the right to open their AL Division Series at home.
The Indians are now 92-67, putting them a half-game behind Boston (93-67). If Boston goes 0-2 and Cleveland goes 2-0 over the next two days, the Indians will open at home. If Boston goes 1-1 and the Indians go 2-0, or Boston goes 0-2 and the Indians go 1-1, Cleveland will have a half-game lead through Sunday. That would make Monday’s makeup game with Detroit necessary for the Indians. A win on Monday would then secure home-field in the first round for the Tribe. If the Indians end Sunday a half-game back of Boston, Monday doesn’t matter for Cleveland, because the Red Sox own the tiebreaker.
Got it? Of course, even if the Indians-Red Sox seeding is settled through Sunday, Monday’s game will be played if it impacts the AL Wild Card race for the Tigers in any way. As of this writing, Baltimore owns the top Wild Card spot and Toronto has the second seed, with Detroit a half-game behind, and Seattle one game back.
Fasten your seat belts.
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox
FIRST: Nothing has come easy for this Indians team, so why should we have expected anything to be different on Sunday?
Throughout the game against the White Sox, Cleveland kept posting updates from Kansas City’s game in Detroit. First, the Royals were up, 2-0, and the Progressive Field crowd roared. Then it was 4-0. The cheers got even louder. A Kansas City win, combined with a Tribe victory, would net an American League Central crown for Cleveland.
The players knew exactly where the chips stood.
“They were putting it on the scoreboard and you could hear the fans getting loud,” Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. “I’ll be honest with you. [The scoreboard is right] there. You can see it. You can say you don’t see it, but it’s up there. You see Detroit’s losing early in the game, 4-0, and we have a chance to do this at home.
“So it’s there. It’s very easy to look up there and kind of gaze and see if they’re winning or losing, and see what we have to do.”
All the Indians had to do was win. Carlos Rodon saw to it that Cleveland didn’t.
The lefty shut down the Tribe’s bats, costing the club the opportunity to wrap up its first division title since 2007 on its own field. When the final pitch was thrown, there was a smattering of boos from the disappointed audience. The Indians provided 53 home wins (the most in ballpark history with the exception of the 54-win showing in 1995) and a Major League-leading 11 walk-off victories. The fans wanted one more.
“Of course, you want to do it in front of the home crowd,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It would’ve been fun to give high-fives down the line, all that stuff. But, we’ll push it back until tomorrow in Detroit, hopefully.”
The Royals held on to win, dropping Detroit’s record to 83-72. At 90-65, the Indians are at the very least assured a tie for the AL Central crown right now. Detroit would need to win out, and Cleveland would need to lose out, for that to occur. Due to wins for the Orioles and Blue Jays on Sunday, the Indians did not clinch a postseason berth.
As for home-field, the Red Sox have won 11 in a row and now have a 92-64 record, putting them 1.5 games ahead of the Indians. Right now, Cleveland would be heading to Boston to start the AL Division Series. The Rangers (92-64) are knotted with the Red Sox record wise, and went 3-3 against Boston this year, but still have the tiebreaker.
Here are the tiebreaker rules for home-field advantage:
Determining Home-Field Advantage in Two-Team Tiebreakers
1. Head-to-head winning percentage during the regular season.
2. Higher winning percentage in intradivision games.
3. Higher winning percentage in intraleague games.
4. Higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games.
5. Higher winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such additional game was not between the two tied clubs. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken.
So, nothing is settled. That said, one win over the next four days in Detroit will give the Indians a Central championship. Cleveland ends the season with a three-game road series against the Royals.
“We have a resilient group in that clubhouse,” Tomlin said. “We’re ready for the next challenge, if it has to be in Detroit or Kansas City. [Wherever] it may be, we need to get it done. ”
SECOND: Indians manager Terry Francona had been looking for a day to give shortstop Francisco Lindor a day off. Lindor has looked a little tired of late and headed into the afternoon with no hits in his past 25 plate appearances.
Francona pulled the trigger on an off-day for his All-Star shortstop on Sunday, putting utility man Michael Martinez in the lineup’s No. 9 spot and at short. Naturally, Martinez slipped up twice (one in the field and one at the plate), costing Cleveland.
The first misstep arrived in the fifth inning, when the Indians had a promising rally going after Brandon Guyer led off with a single and Coco Crisp followed with a walk. At that juncture, while struggling to get anything going against Rodon, catcher Chris Gimenez used a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up 90 feet apiece.
That wasn’t the worst idea, but it seemed ill-timed with Martinez (career 39 OPS+) standing in the on-deck circle. I would’ve rather seen Gimenez swing away, and that feeling was backed up when Martinez popped out to shallow right, not deep enough for a sacrifice fly. Rajai Davis then struck out to end the inning.
The next setback came in the seventh, when Justin Morneau sent a chopper to Martinez at short. He made a throwing error on the play, allowing the leadoff man to reach base. Later in the inning with one out, Avisail Garcia reached on a seeing-eye single up the middle and Omar Narvaez loaded the bases with an infield dribbler.
Carlos Sanchez followed with a fly ball that would’ve been the third out of the inning. Instead, the White Sox got a sac fly and a 2-0 lead.
After Crisp’s walk, the Indians had a 54.5 percent win probability, according to Fangraphs.com. That dropped to 42.3 percent after Martinez’s flyout and then to 33.2 percent after the Davis strikeout. Had Gimenez been bunting to bring up the top of the order, I wouldn’t have minded it so much. In this particular situation, it cost the Tribe.
THIRD: Lost in the shuffled on Sunday, due to Cleveland’s bats going quiet and the anticipated celebration being postponed, was another strong outing by Tomlin.
Tomlin went 6.2 innings for the second start in a row and gave up two runs (only one earned) on five hits. Since his 0-5 August, in which Tomlin posted an 11.48 ERA, he has turned in a tidy 1.40 ERA in 19.2 innings. Over that span, the righty has seven strikeouts, no walks and has held batters to a .214 average.
Francona said Tomlin’s latest was encouraging.
“Very much so,” said the manager. “He’s building each start and he’s holding his stuff, so that’s really good.”
Tomlin’s lone strikeout on Sunday came in the seventh against slugger Todd Frazier, who tipped his cap to the pitcher as he left the box.
“I wasn’t sure why he was doing that,” Tomlin said. “I know I appreciate it.”
Of course, Frazier did get the best of Tomlin in the fifth. One of the Indians starter’s skills is practically eliminating the running game. In the fifth inning, though, Frazier singled and then stole second base off Tomlin and catcher Chris Gimenez. Three batters later, Frazier scored from second on a two-out single by Carlos Sanchez.
“He likes to take a walking lead and then go,” Tomlin said. “And I knew that. That’s why I picked over a couple times. I knew at some point in that at-bat, if I don’t pay attention to him, that he probably could have went, or was going to go or try to attempt to steal a base. In that situation I was just trying to attack the hitter.
“Throwing over there a couple times, I was just trying to hold the ball as long as I could and then go. Apparently, he got that walking lead and then went. He’s done that to us a couple times. I was very aware of what he wants to do and how he does steal bases, but the times I picked over there, he wasn’t really doing it. Bad guessing on my part.”
HOME: Small mistakes like that were magnified on Sunday in light of how Rodon was dealing for the White Sox.
The lefty worked eight innings and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts. It marked the first time in his career that he logged at least eight shutout frames, too. Rodon allowed only two hits, and worked around the potential harm of three walks issued. Goodnight,Tribe.
“”He’s a young pitcher and he’s getting better with starts,” Francona said. “We’ve seen a lot of him, because he’s in our division. His offspeed is better, even his delivery is smoothing out and, like a lot of young pitchers that have talent, you’re starting to see him gain experience. He’s pretty good.”
In his brief career against the Indians, Rodon now has a 2.45 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 55 innings.
“He’s one of those guys you’ve got to get to early,” Kipnis said, “kind of like a little Verlander, when he gets tougher as he goes further in the game and picks up some velo. I mean, we just ran into a hot pitcher today. He was on his stuff. He pitched a great game.”
And in case you missed it, here is Cleveland’s reaction to the passing of Jose Fernandez:
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 10-4 win over the White Sox
FIRST: When reporters gathered around Jose Ramirez’s locker on Friday night, following another big night for the Indians third baseman, he donned a bright red shirt.
Across the chest was his likeness, a frozen image of Ramirez — sans helmet — pointing with both hands after delivering a hit. The shirt is black and red, but there is a splash of yellow atop Ramirez’s head. No rendering of Ramirez would be complete with out that mess of red-orange hair. Below his image were three bold white words: “YES WAY JOSE.”
The expression is fitting, because while Ramirez’s offensive contributions were once surprising, they have become more expected. Friday night was a perfect example. Ramirez went 2-for-5 with a home run, double and four RBIs, and he didn’t even feel like the story. It was just another solid night for Cleveland’s team MVP.
“It’s really exciting, especially because we’re having such good results,” Ramirez said of the team’s play of late. “We’re always trying to win and we’re always trying to keep on moving forward and thanks to God it’s going well.”
With his latest showing, Ramirez leapfrogged Texas’ Adrian Beltre on the Win Probability Added leaderboard.
WPA leaders (American League)
1. Mike Trout, 6.60
2. Josh Donaldson, 4.62
3. David Ortiz, 4.35
4. Jose Ramirez, 4.07
Ramirez’s 124 wRC+ is second on the Indians to only Carlos Santana (130), who is also red hot of late for Cleveland (on base four times Friday and batting .600 in his past five games). Through 145 games, Ramirez is now batting .315/.367/.469 with 11 homers, 44 doubles, three doubles, 75 RBIs, 82 runs and 22 stolen bases.
Now, in my opinion, Trout should win the AL MVP. It’s not even a question in my mind. But, it will be interesting to see which Cleveland batters garner votes. You could make a case for Francisco Lindor as the team’s most valuable player, and there are stats to back it up. Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis and Santana have also been outstanding.
In the wake of the loss of Michael Brantley, though, Ramirez’s performance has been nothing short of remarkable.
SECOND: You’ve probably heard Trevor Bauer say it after starts more than once this year, or in seasons past. Teams will pile up runs, and the pitcher will say he hit his spot. It was a good pitch. Sometimes, he even acts baffled that the batter delivered.
Well, Bauer was well within bounds to say that on Friday.
Let’s start with the most unbelievable one. In the fifth inning, Bauer started Avisail Garcia off with an inside fastball, drawing an excuse-me swing. The White Sox outfielder sliced the pitch down the right-field line, where it decided not stay just inside the line and keep going. It then barely cleared the wall for a two-run homer.
I’ll be honest, off the bat, I watched the ball for a moment and then looked down. I just assumed it was going to hook foul. Nope. And it didn’t just feel like a lucky hit. The numbers back it up. Garcia’s two-run shot had an exit velocity of 95.2 mph with a launch angle of 38 degrees. The expected batting average on that particular type of ball in play was .106. Garcia defied the odds.
“That was ridiculous,” Bauer said. “He hit it. I jammed the crap out of him. He looked to left field, because he thought he pulled it. I have no idea how that was a homer. That’s the way things are going for me personally right now. I can’t seem to keep from giving up runs.”
The balls in play with the 15 lowest expected batting average on Friday night resulted in 14 outs, and that crazy home run. On top of that, the previous play was similarly fluky. Todd Frazier sent a pitch into the left-field corner for a double. That one had an 81.9 mph exit velo and 26-degree launch angle. That one had an expected average of .137.
The other home run allowed by Bauer was a two-run shot by Melky Cabrera in the first inning. That one was was more legitimate. It came with an E.V. of 100 and had a 21.3 launch angle and a projected distance of 395 feet. Cabrera just took a good swing on an inside fastball off the plate. Take a look:
That’s a tip-your-cap homer right there.
“The other one wasn’t even a strike,” Bauer said. “So, I don’t know. I try to get people to chase balls and they leave the yard. It’s frustrating. I’m trying to do the things that make me successful. I’m trying to work ahead. I’m trying to be aggressive, throw pitches for strikes.”
THIRD: None of the above is to say that Bauer had a bad outing. In fact, the right-hander’s performance was solid, especially when the flukiness of the fifth inning is taken into account.
Bauer logged 7.2 innings, and held Chicago at bay enough to buy time for the offense to mount a comeback. The starter’s effort also allowed Indians manager Terry Francona to only use Zach McAllister out of the bullpen for 1.1 innings. With a bullpen day looming on Saturday, that was big for the Tribe.
“I was able to keep my pitch count down, which is big for tomorrow,” Bauer said. “We have a lot of capable guys in our ‘pen right now, but we used one reliever tonight to keep everybody fresh right now, and hopefully we can get another win tomorrow.”
The homers aside, Francona liked what he saw from Bauer.
“He made a couple mistakes that he paid for,” Francona said. “But, other than that, he was really pretty good. Fortunately, it not only allowed our offense to kind of come back and tie it, and then spread it out, but he really did pitch pretty good.
“The line’s a little bit skewed because of those, but I think he only had two walks and didn’t have a real high pitch count. He’s durable as all get out. He has a way of kind of hanging in there.”
HOME: The win had contributions up and down the lineup. Besides Ramirez and Santana, Lindor chipped in a sacrifice fly and Coco Crisp delivered three RBIs and three hits, including a go-ahead, two-run double in the fifth inning.
And then, there was Napoli.
Following an 0-for-21 slump, Napoli came through with a single in each of his at-bats in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. The last two in that sequence knocked in a run for the Indians. They weren’t the big flies that Indians fans have grown accustomed to seeing, but Cleveland can hope the hits start getting the slugger back on a roll.
“He did such a good job tonight of kind of shortening up,” Francona said, “and not trying to get it all back in one swing. He hit the ball the other way a couple times. He stayed up the middle. You watch. The longer ones will come. They’ll fall, though. I thought he had a really good approach tonight.”
With that approach, Napoli now has achieved 100 RBIs on the season. He became the first Indians batter to reach the century mark since Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez did so in 2007. At 34 years old, Napoli is the oldest Cleveland hitter to drive in 100 since Luke Easter way back in 1951.
“It’s something nice,” Napoli said of the milestone. “To be able to do it and be on a winning team, it’s even better. I can’t do it without the people around me. We’ve been complementing each other really well as a lineup. They give me the opportunities to get
EXTRAS: The Indians are now 90-63 and have a seven-game lead in the division with nine games to play. Cleveland’s magic number is down to three, meaning the team can clinch as early as Sunday. Beyond the division crown, though, the Tribe is in the hunt for home-field. And, given the Indians’ 53-26 record at home, that’s a big deal. Texas is a half-game ahead at 91-63 and Boston is a half-game behind at 90-64.
“I check it every night. I look at it during the game,” Napoli said of the scoreboard. “It’s just what it is. You definitely want them to lose. We want the No. 1 seed. We can’t control what they do, but it’s nice to see if they’re down in the game or if they’re losing or
something. We’ve still got to take care of ourselves and win our game.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Royals
FIRST: Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate what Bryan Shaw has been able to do for the Indians.
For four consecutive seasons, Shaw has logged 70 or more games for Cleveland. Fans always seem to latch on to one player to illogically criticize and Shaw, for whatever reason, has become a social-media punching bag for some fans. It’s a cruel existence for a reliever. One bad outing gets remembered more than a quiet, prolonged scoreless streak.
Here’s a hot take for you: Bryan Shaw has been pretty darned reliable.
Shaw was out there again on Thursday night, breezing through the eighth inning to set up a save for Cody Allen. More often than not, that’s been the combination under the watch of Indians manager Terry Francona. And no one in baseball has been relied upon more than Shaw since Tito came to town.
“Over a four-year period,” Francona said, “I’d bet you Bryan’s pitched more than probably any pitcher in baseball.”
That’s a fact.
Over the 2013-16 seasons, Shaw has logged 297 appearances, which rank first among all pitchers in baseball. The right-hander’s innings workload (280.1) ranks third among Major League relievers in that span. From 2012-2016, Shaw also leads baseball with 361 appearances, and is fifth in that five-year span with 339.2 innings pitched. Shaw has a 2.95 ERA over the past four years and a 3.05 ERA over the past five.
Shaw’s four seasons with 70-plus appearances are a franchise record, and he is one of only 14 active pitchers to have at least four years with that many outings.
“One, you’ve got to be good,” Francona said of Shaw’s high volume of games. “Two, you’ve got to be resilient. To me, it’s something that, that’s why I probably do get protective of him, because he takes the ball when a lot of other pitchers may not take the ball. There’s something to be said for that.
“And, he’s throwing harder now than he was at the beginning of the year. It’s amazing to me.”
That is also a fact. Shaw averaged 94.3 mph with his cutter on Thursday night and topped out at 95.9 mph. The righty’s pitch velocity has ticked up over the past few months, and is indeed higher than it was back at the start of the season. Shaw’s velo is also noticeably higher than it was last season.
Take a look at the monthly breakdown of Shaw’s cutter velo over the past two years:
Shaw is not only throwing harder. He’s also been more effective as the season has progressed.
Remember Shaw’s four-run meltdown on July 18 in Kansas City? When fans called for his head, and reporters asked Francona if he was thinking of making a change? Well, since that game, Shaw has a 0.70 ERA with 24 strikeouts and nine walks in 29 appearances (25.2 IP). Shoot, even if you include that mess of an outing, Shaw has a 1.36 ERA in his last 43 games (39.2 IP), dating back to a rough three-game stretch in June.
The Andrew Miller Effect has also helped Shaw.
Prior to Miller’s arrival, Shaw faced left-handed batters 43-percent of the time (71 of 165 opponent at-bats) and allowed an .826 OPS to those hitters. Since the start of August, when Miller came on board, Shaw has faced lefties 35-percent (23 of 66 at-bats) of the time, limiting them to a .553 OPS.
Likewise, Shaw’s showing against righties in the A.M. (After Miller) has improved over in the P.M. (Pre-Miller). Since the big lefty joined the ‘pen, Shaw has held righties to a .521 OPS (43 at-bats). That mark was .671 (94 at-bats) before August.
“It’s uncanny,” Indians reliever Dan Otero said of Shaw’s ability to balance performance with a high workload. “I can’t even say how amazing that is as a reliever, to keep his arm, his mind in that shape to be able to do that. I think some of it maybe is he doesn’t think about it too much. I think that helps him.
“It’s impressive to watch. You don’t see many relievers do that, go 70-75 games, three-four years in a row. He’s been able to do it and effectively.”
SECOND: Let’s get back to The Andrew Miller Effect for a moment.
Adding Miller to Cleveland’s bullpen was not only a tremendous move due to his skills as an elite relief ace. It was also a great addition due to the ripple effect it has had throughout the rest of the relief corps. In Miller, Francona has a pitcher willing to work in any inning, and able to handle multi-inning situations, if needed.
Due to that mentality and ability on Miller’s part, Francona can better mix and match with the rest of his arms. He can determine whether a particular part of an opposing lineup is better suited for Otero or Shaw or Allen or Zach McAllister. Shaw doesn’t need to be locked in to the eighth inning, nor Allen for the ninth.
“Bringing in a guy like Miller into the bullpen has to help any bullpen,” Otero said, “especially here, where you already had two stalwarts down there in Cody and Bryan, what they’ve done the last few years. I think Tito has the confidence in pretty much everybody down there. I don’t think he shies away from anybody.”
Cleveland’s bullpen is easily a Top Five group in the American League on the season as a whole, depending on what stats you favor. The relief corps ranks first in ERA, and third in FIP and opponents’ average overall. Since Miller’s arrival, it’s fair to argue that the Tribe ‘pen has turned into the best in the AL, and right near the top of baseball.
The five arms shouldering the load since Aug. 1 have been Otero (25 IP), Miller (25 IP), McAllister (21 IP), Shaw (20 IP) and Allen (18.2 IP). That quintet has combined for a 1.81 ERA, 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 9.8 K/9 in 109.2 IP. They have 119 strikeouts against 25 walks in that time period.
Let’s play, “Guess The ERA” now. I’m going to give you the five ERAs of the relievers I just mentioned, and you have to guess which average belongs to each pitcher. Ready?
B) 1.80 (two pitchers)
(Answer at the bottom of this post)
THIRD: All this bullpen talk begs the question: Did we just see a postseason teaser on Thursday night?
Everyone knows the issues facing Cleveland’s rotation by now. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar injured, it’s Kluber and Bauer and pray for showers, right? But, maybe the saying should be, “Give ’em five, and ‘Pen keeps you alive.” Or, something. It needs some work.
The point here is that, given the strength and depth of the Tribe bullpen, an effective five-inning start might just be enough. All four starters (Kluber, Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger) are capable of logging more than five frames, but Francona might be able to feel more comfortable having a quick hook with the weapons he has in the ‘pen.
“There’s a whole lot of depth down there,” Allen said. “The end of the game is tough, trying to piece together certain guys against certain hitters for a while, for four innings. It can be challenging, but we have the right pieces down there to do it.
“Obviously, with our rotation — even the guys that are in it right now like Clev and Tomlin — we feel confident that they’re going to go out there and get us into the seventh every time they toe the rubber. And our defense is a strength. And our offense, when we’re playing well, we score a lot of runs late. That takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen.”
In Thursday’s win, Clevinger logged 80 pitches in five innings, holding the Royals to two runs. When he bowed out of the ballgame, Cleveland and K.C. were knotted, 2-2. Otero then worked two innings, Shaw handled the eighth and Allen slammed the door. Along the way, the offense grabbed a lead.
It worked. And it’s worked in the postseason in the past (more on that in the story on Indians.com). Just ask the Royals.
HOME: The race is on. With 10 games to go, Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli have 34 home runs apiece.
Santana’s latest shot was the decisive blow in Thursday’s game. In the sixth inning, he drilled an 0-1 pitch from Dollon gee out to right field for a tie-breaking, three-run blast. That moved him into a tied for the team lead in long balls with Napoli.
Napoli has been in a bit of a funk again, going 0-for-4 on Thursday to increase his drought to 0-for-20. In the dozen games before that cold spell, Napoli had five homers and a .605 slugging percentage (albeit with a .209 average). The Indians have seen Nap get plenty hot after slumps, though. His homers tend to come in bunches.
Santana, meanwhile, has hit .350 (21-for-60) with five doubles, six homers, 11 runs and 15 RBIs in his last 12 games. He’s also had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in that stretch. Thursday was a classic Santana performance: one walk, one double and one homer.
Santana and Napoli are the first Tribe teammates to have at least 34 bombs apiece since Jim Thome and Juan Gonzalez accomplished the feat in 2001. Thome also did it in 2000 (alongside Manny Ramirez) and in 1996 (with Albert Belle). Those are the only four such occurrences in club history.
“When we went into the year,” Francona said, “everybody said, ‘How are you going to score? How are you going to score?’ Then without [Michael] Brantley you’re kind of thinking, ‘Is this going to stretch?’ And then you look up and you’ve got two guys who have hit 30.
“It’s been fun. I’m happy for Carlos, because he’s made an effort in so many areas to be better than he was. An you don’t see that that often in a veteran player. He’s done a really good job.”
Answer: Allen (A), Miller and Otero (B), McAllister (C), Shaw (D)
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Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Royals
FIRST: Terrance Gore is a weapon for the Royals. When a game is close, and he dons a blue helmet for Kansas City and heads to a base as a pinch-runner, everyone knows what it about to happen.
“As soon as they brought Gore in,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said on Wednesday night, “I knew he was going to come in and try to steal a base.”
Gore did it to Perez on Tuesday night. Cheslor Cuthbert reached with a single up the middle, Gore put on his helmet and headed to first base, and the fleet-footed outfielder quickly swiped second base. Perez would get a shot at redemption 24 hours later.
In the ninth inning in this one, Salvador Perez led off with a towering homer off closer Cody Allen, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 4-3. Alex Gordon followed with a walk, prompting Royals manager Ned Yost to send Gore to first as a pinch-runner. That put K.C. just 90 feet from having the tying run in scoring position, and with no outs.
Perez knew the Royals’ plan. Allen knew the Royals’ plan. The whole stadium was just waiting for Gore to take off.
“On my end, all I’m trying to do is just disrupt his timing as much as possible,” Allen said. “I don’t want him to get a good jump. Jumps come off the pitchers. So, a guy that quick, that good at what he does, you’re trying your best just to kind of let his feet sink into the ground a little bit right there, so he doesn’t get a good jump.”
Allen fired over to first baseman Mike Napoli twice, varying the time between tosses. For his first pitch to Alcides Escobar, the closer waited eight seconds after coming set, and checked the runner subtly four times, before firing a ball. On the 1-0 offering, Allen again stayed still on the mound after coming set for several seconds.
Then, when Allen went into his motion, Gore bolted for second.
“The last thing you want to do right there,” Allen said, “is you’re so worried so much about the runner that you get 2-0 to a hitter like Escobar, or you throw one right down the middle as Gore is running and he gets a base hit. So, I’m just trying to do as good a job as I can to just disrupt his timing and get the ball to Roberto.”
According to Statcast, Gore had a lead of 11.1 feet and a first-step time of 0.2 seconds. The runner hit a top speed of 21.7 mph and got to second base in 3.6 seconds. Allen had a release time (start of motion to release of ball) of 1.04 seconds, which was under the 1.11 average for right-handed pitchers. And Perez had an exchange time of 0.5 seconds.
Add all that up, and the ball popped into shortstop Francisco Lindor’s glove before Gore arrived at the bag.
After the tag and the out call, Lindor stood up and motioned to Perez before shouting, and pumping his arms in celebration. At home plate, the catcher emphatically pumped his fist, too. Not only was this a critical out at a crucial time, this marked the first time in Gore’s Major League career (regular season) that he had been thrown out.
“I was pumped,” Perez said. “Especially when you no one had caught him stealing. For me, I was able to throw him out. It was good for me and good for the team, too.”
Now, it’s not like Gore had never been caught stealing before. He was nabbed five times in the Minors this year, in fact. And, at the MLB level, Gore was caught once during the American League Division Series last year. For his professional career, Gore boasted an impressive 92-percent (272-for-297) success rate prior to Wednesday.
In the regular season, Gore had been a perfect 17-for-17.
“I’m not frickin’ God,” Gore quipped with Kansas City reporters. “I just got a terrible jump. If you watch the video, it was pretty bad. I wouldn’t have gone, but in that situation I still felt like I had a chance.”
Allen raved about Perez’s throw.
“Honestly, between him and Yan [Gomes],” Allen said, “those are the two best-throwing catchers that I’ve seen in the big leagues. That’s a credit [to them]. Those guys really work at what they do and they take a lot of pride in it. He freaking caught it, got rid of it and put it right on the bag.
“That was probably the quickest I’ve ever been to the plate. Roberto’s put up some really low numbers, but … he put it on the bag. That was huge. He bailed me out right there.”
Allen retired the next two batters to seal the win.
“When we got the tack-on run [in the eighth],” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “I told Millsy, I said, ‘Boy, good, that’ll take Gore out of the game.’ It figures. And Perez, everybody will be talking about the throw, because it was a great throw, but Cody also gave him a chance.”
SECOND: The AL Cy Young race didn’t become any easier to call on Wednesday night.
Indians ace Corey Kluber picked up his 18th win after turning in 6.1 solid innings against the Royals. The right-hander struck out nine, including five in a row between the fifth and sixth, and seven within the final dozen batters he faced. Kluber ended with two runs allowed on six hits in a 102-pitch effort.
“He’s so consistent,” Francona said. “He’s the same guy every five days. I mean that as the biggest compliment you can give somebody. He probably had a few more pitches in him.”
Here is a glance at the primary AL Cy Young contenders:
Yeah, this race remains too close to call.
Among those seven — I chose that group due to being the only pitchers with a 4.0+ fWAR at the moment — Tanaka and Sale also pitched on Wednesday. Tanaka beat the Rays with a six-inning outing, in which he allowed four runs. Sale took a loss against the Phillies after giving up six runs in four innings.
Kluber appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on.
After opening the year 0-3 with a 6.19 ERA through his first three starts, Kluber has gone 18-6 with a 2.81 ERA, .235 opponents’ average, 1.11 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 4.0 K/BB in 28 turns (192 IP). Since the start of June, when Kluber was 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA, he is 14-3 with a 2.56 ERA, .200 opponents’ average, 1.01 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 20 starts (137.1 IP).
The more recent benchmark has been July 3, when Kluber coughed up up five runs in 3.1 innings in Toronto. Since then? The righty has gone 10-1 with a 2.32 ERA, .208 opponents’ average, 1.05 WHIP, 10.2 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 14 starts (97 IP).
THIRD: The point has been made before, but it doesn’t cease to be any less remarkable. The Indians lost Michael Brantley and have essentially replaced him with Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez’s incredible season continues to mirror Brantley’s production.
After his 3-for-3, three-double day against the Royals, consider where the Dr. Smooth vs. Dr. Clutch situation stands. Let’s just look at Brantley from a year ago compared to what Ramirez has done in his place this year.
2015 Brantley: .310/.379/.480 (596 plate appearances)
2016 Ramirez: .315/.367/.462 (581 plate appearances)
2015 Brantley: .15 HR, 45 2B, 15 SB, 84 RBI, 68 R, 60 BB, 51 K, 164 H
2016 Ramirez: 10 HR, 42 2B, 22 SB, 71 RBI, 79 R, 43 BB, 60 K, 167 H
“He’s been so consistent,” Francona said of Ramirez. “Right-handed, left-handed, he’s shooting the ball all over the ballpark, making plays at third.”
Ramirez currently ranks third on the Indians in fWAR (4.1), and second in OPS (.830) and wRC+ (122). Among qualified American League hitters, Ramirez ranks fifth in Win Probability Added (3.83), trailing Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran. There are a few MVP candidates in that class. Another, Mookie Betts, ranks just behind Ramirez in that area.
A year after hiting .219 with a .631 OPS, Ramirez is batting .315 with an .830 OPS.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Allen said. “I think everybody forgets how young he was when he first came up. There was a lot thrown on his plate the last couple years. He’s an extremely talented player. He has a lot of ability. And, for him, I’m sure the game’s slowed down quite a bit this year. He’s done a remarkable job day in, day out. We’re lucky to have him.”
HOME: Could Wednesday have been a glimpse into potential postseason usage for Cleveland’s pitching staff?
With the bullpen the Indians are featuring right now, Francona isn’t afraid to go to the group early in a tight game. Kluber was at 102 pitches when he was pulled from the game in the seventh. The ace is capable of handling more, and would have gone longer, but Miller was warm, Cleveland had a two-run lead, and KC had a runner on second.
“When we get Miller up,” Francona said, “because he had thrown [1 2/3 innings] last night, I wanted to get him in so we don’t waste it.”
Kluber was fine with that, too.
“I didn’t have any problem coming out of the game right there,” Kluber said. “With the guys we’ve got in our bullpen and the way they’ve been pitching lately, there’s no second-guessing there.”
Miller got the next two out, Bryan Shaw worked a one-two-three eighth, and Allen got the save after allowing the leadoff home run. In a postseason setting — especially in games featuring Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin or Mike Clevinger — Cleveland might only need five innings from its starter.
Wednesday showed that, even with Kluber, Francona can have a slightly quicker hook given the relief weapons he’s wielding right now.
Stay tuned for more…