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No (Gold) Glove for the Tribe

OutfieldBack in the early days of Spring Training, during the press conference to introduce Michael Bourn as Cleveland’s new star center fielder, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was asked for his thoughts on the team’s reconfigured, fleet-footed outfield.

Antonetti smiled and quipped: “We’re just going to move all the fences back. We’re going to make it 450 in left and 550 in center and 450 in right, so they can just go run and catch every ball.”

Antonetti and the Indians certainly had reason to be optimistic about the defensive potential of the new outfield alignment. Bourn up the middle, flanked by former center fielders Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs in left and right, respectively, gave Cleveland arguably one of the fastest outfields in baseball.

On Tuesday, though, the Indians came up empty-handed in the American League Gold Glove Awards in the outfield, and across the board. In fact, Cleveland did not have a single player among the three candidates at each position. Maybe that wasn’t much of a surprise after watching the team for the past six months, but the shutout would’ve seemed unlikely back in the spring.

The American League’s Gold Glove winners includes Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, Orioles third baseman Many Machado, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey.

The one position where I thought the Indians might have at least a candidate was left field. Brantley finished with no errors (he now owns the Cleveland franchise record for consecutive errorless games at 245 and counting) and ranked fourth in the American League with 11 outfield assists. Brantley manned the left-field corner at Progressive Field beautifully, cutting down baserunners at second base, or at least convincing them to stay put rather than attempt an extra base.

The AL candidates for left field, however, included Gordon, along with Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes and Detroit’s Andy Dirks. Gordon took home the honor after ranking first in assists (17) and ARM (per fangraphs.com), ending with just one error and ranking fourth among AL left fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 and Def (defensive runs). Gordon was deserving of the nod and, after a closer look at the metrics, it was justified to leave Brantley off the list of candidates. Texas’ David Murphy actually had a better argument for inclusion over Brantley.

Among AL left fielders with at least 500 innings, Brantley ranked seventh in UZR/150 (-4.9) and 12th (out of 13) in Defense (-10.8), according to fangraphs. That was a step back from 2012, when Brantley served as the Tribe’s primary center fielder and posted a UZR/150 of -0.6 (ranked 14th among MLB center fielders with at least 700 innings).

Brantley’s showing reflected that of the Indians’ outfield as a whole. Bourn, Brantley and Stubbs combined for a 31.8 UZR/150 rating in 2012, when they were each center fielders for the Braves, Indians and Reds, respectively. In 2013, when Brantley and Stubbs each moved out of center, the trio combined for a -9.6 UZR/150. Keeping the outfield fences right where they were wound up being a good thing for Cleveland.

Bourn went from being ranked first among MLB center fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 in 2012 (23.8) to being ranked 8th in the American League (-0.9) in 2013. Stubbs was baseball’s fifth-ranked center fielder in 2012 (9.0 UZR/150), but ranked sixth among AL right fielders in 2013 (-0.2). Stubbs also made six errors, which marked the second-highest total in the league. Josh Hamilton and Alejandro De Aza were tied for first in that dubious category with eight apiece.

The good news is that Cleveland’s outfield did improve overall in 2013 wen compared to 2012, as did the Tribe’s defense as a whole. Cleveland’s team-wide -4.5 UZR/150 was ranked 13th in the AL this past season, but the club was dead last (-6.8) in the previous season. The outfield, specifically, improved to -2.2 from -7.0 in the previous year.

Let’s take a look at some other positions for the Indians:

Catcher: The Indians might have a future Gold Glove candidate in the up-and-coming Yan Gomes, whose 40.8 caught-stealing rate was second in the AL (per baseball-reference.com). Among catchers with at least 500 innings, Gomes was tied with Chris Stewart for third in the AL in Defense (11.9), trailing only Perez and Matt Wieters. Carlos Santana, who saw more time at first base and DH in the second half, had a 0.5 Defense rating in 2013.

Infield: Among those with at least 500 innings… Nick Swisher ranked seventh in UZR/150 (2.2) among AL first basemen. … Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ranked 15th (out of 16) with a -16.8 UZR/150. … Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall ranked 11th (out of 14) with a -4.6 UZR/150. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis was second in the AL in double plays turned (45) and fourth in assists (395), but his -6.3 UZR/150 ranked 15th (out of 16) and he made 12 errors (tied for the second-most in the AL).

Gomes gives the Indians’ some defensive hope behind the dish, and the club has the potential to be solid up the middle if Kipnis focuses on improving his defense and Bourn can return to his career norm. Shortstop continues to be an issue with Cabrera, whose highlight-reel plays do not make up for the continued lack of range. Prospect Francisco Lindor should help shore up that spot within the next couple years. The adjustment to right field seemed to be a slight issue for Stubbs, though he might bounce back with a year of experience under his belt. Chisenhall certainly has plenty of room for growth at the hot corner. Swisher turned in some impressive plays at first base, where he was solid enough in his first year for the Tribe.

There is so much focus on the offense, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Tribe approaches upgrading its defense this winter.

–JB

Examining the Tribe bullpen with BER

UeharaIt doesn’t take too much number crunching to realize how good Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has been this season. Just scan his pitching line. It’s all right there in front of you. What this postseason has done, though, is help the country realize just how historically great the righty has been this year.

Examining Uehara’s numbers got me thinking again about a stat I’ve been contemplating for a couple seasons. I’m calling it Bullpen Efficiency Rate. Basically, a reliever’s job is to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible. I wanted a number that summed that up and wasn’t hard to calculate.

Here’s what I eventually settled on: (Outs + ROE) / (Batters Faced – IBB)

The goal here is to determine the percentage of time a reliever is efficient in creating the desired result. I added Reached On Error to Outs, because — generally speaking — a pitcher did his job in an ROE situation, whether that’s inducing a ground ball or creating a fly ball that is then misplayed by the fielder. For the second part, I subtracted Intentional Walks from Batters Faced, because that stat is extremely situational, and often called by the manager and out of the pitcher’s control.

After poring through both good and bad seasons by a wide range of relievers, here is the scale I came up with for the results:

86-90% = Unhuman
81-85% = Elite
76-80% = Great
71-75% = Good
66-70% = Poor
61-65% = Send Help

Here are the 2013 numbers for the Indians’ most-used relievers:

1. Joe Smith 74.7
2. Bryan Shaw 73.9
3. Marc Rzepczynski 73.8 (STL/CLE)
4. Matt Albers 73.6
5. Cody Allen 71.9
6. Nick Hagadone 71.2
7. Chris Perez 68.0
8. Vinnie Pestano 67.1
9. Rich Hill 65.9

That is why, in an earlier post, I went with Smith over Allen as my pick for the Tribe’s best reliever for 2013, even though their other numbers were very similar across the board. Shaw is a great example of how including ROE and IBB can alter the stat. Without ROE and IBB, his BER would be 71.2 percent. Shaw was a little snakebit, though, with seven ROE this past season. Take that and IBB into account and his BER spikes by 2.7 percent.

For comparison, Uehara posted a BER of 85.2 in 2013, giving him one of the greatest relief seasons in baseball history. The closest I could find — in a search of single relief seasons from 1950-2013 (min. 50 innings) , sorted by highest FIP – was Dennis Eckersley, who posted an 85.1 BER in his incredible 1990 season. The best FIP since 1950 belongs to Craig Kimbrel in 2012, when he had an 82.3 BER. Behind Kimbrel on that list are Eric Gagne (2003; 81.6 BER), Eckersley (1990) and Greg Holland (2013; 80.3 BER).

Mariano Rivera had an 83.0 BER in 2008, which was arguably the best season of his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. And the long-time Yankees closer had a 77.1 BER during his time in the big leagues.

On the other side of the equation, John Pacella posted the worst FIP in the sample I pulled from 1950-2013, back in 1982. His BER that year was 63.3. Another rough season was Mike DeJean in 1999, when he had a 66.4 BER. For Indians fans who want to forget all about the Brett Myers Experiment, his BER in 2013 for the Tribe was 67.0. As well as Hill did with inherited runners, his 65.9 BER shows how much trouble he got into throughout this past season. In theory, a lefty specialist should have a high BER, because he only faces a hitter or two before being pulled. Randy Choate (76.6 BER in 2013) comes to mind.

How did Cleveland compare as a team to other American League bullpens?

Here are the 2013 BER team rankings:

1. KC 75.5
2. TEX 73.9
3. MIN 73.8
4. TOR 73.5
5. BAL 73.4
6. TB 73.3
7. OAK 72.7
LEAGUE AVERAGE 72.3
8. NYY 72.1
9. BOS 71.8
10. CLE 71.7
11. CWS 71.5
12. DET 71.4
13. LAA 71.3
14. SEA 70.2
15. HOU 68.9

You’ll find that the league WHIP rankings come close to how BER shakes out for the American League. You could also run BER for a starting pitcher, or for a team’s pitching staff as a whole, but my goal here was to limit it to relievers. I wanted something to throw lefty specialists, closers, middle men, long men and other bullpen arms together with one stat to show the efficiency of their work. For a starting pitching, given the high volume of innings, the BER scale would likely include slightly lower percentages to gauge success. For example, Clayton Kershaw was at 79.4 percent this past season.

What does this mean for the Indians’ bullpen for 2014? It could mean that the back end will be fine in the hands of guys like Allen, Shaw and Rzepczynski, if Smith and Albers leave via free agency. It also shows how re-signing Smith and/or Albers has the potential to help stabilize things, and that improving the lefty relief options should be a priority. If Cleveland is in the market for a new closer (Perez isn’t a lock to return, or regain that role), it’s easy to run the candidates’ BER to see if it’s the kind of efficiency needed in the ninth inning.

Feel free to provide feedback. No stat is without its flaws.

UPDATE: A few readers have pointed out that this stat is essentially 1 minus on-base percentage against. That’s true and I’m not claiming to have reinvented the wheel here. It is a slight variation of that concept, and is simply a different way to look at it. Taking ROE and IBB into account changes the result by a small margin, but enough to arguably be deemed significant, especially in certain cases (such as the Shaw example given above).

–JB

“… and is livid with a fan!”

BartmanI put my head in my hands, my Cubs hat pushed back over my hair, and stared at the table. I don’t remember where I was exactly, or who I was with at the time. I do remember what I said.

“That was it. That was the moment.”

Cubs fans are fatalistic at heart. I remember. I was a diehard in my youth. You don’t look for the breaks that are going to go your way. Instead, you know the moment it will all fall apart.

My friends told me there were still five outs to go, that there would still be a Game 7 if the Cubs somehow lost this one. It didn’t matter. The Babe. The goat. The black cat. And, now, this fan down the left-field line.

“That was it. That was the moment.”

I wasn’t surprised when Alex Gonzalez booted the ground ball. I didn’t blink in eye as Mark Prior was left on the mound. When Kerry Wood couldn’t save Chicago in Game 7, I just accepted that I was going through what so many generations of Cubs fans had experienced before me.

The Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. In a cruel twist of fate, my Grandpa Bastian was born in 1909. He was a big a Cubs fan as they come, and he never saw them win a title. My dad was born in 1941, so he doesn’t remember their last trip to the Fall Classic in ’45. I came along in 1982 and now have a son of my own.

Four generations without knowing what it’s like to cheer on a champion.

These days, I live in Cleveland, covering the Indians for MLB.com. I no longer live and die with the Cubs. I don’t even consider myself a “fan” any more. I am, however, a fan of baseball more than I probably ever was throughout childhood. I just don’t root for one team. This freedom allows me to not only do my job objectively, but to find beauty in the nuances within any game I watch.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Bartman Game: Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. This is what we call “burying the lede” in my line of work. I didn’t mention Steve Bartman high in this post, because this isn’t really about him. He became an unfortunate symbol for more than a century’s worth of misery. Bartman became my generation’s Billy Goat. He was just someone to blame.

That’s human nature. Ten years can bring plenty of perspective, though.

It was so easy to blame Bartman at the time for reaching out and possibly interfering with a foul ball that Moises Alou may or may not have caught. When Alou slammed his glove to the ground and yelled, though, the outfielder made it clear where the fault rested: Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.

“Again in the air, down the left field line. Alou… reaching into the stands…. and couldn’t get it and is livid with a fan!”

It didn’t matter that other fans reached out for the ball, too. And the rest of us practically ignored the mistakes that followed on the field. The Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat and now the team had its scapegoat. That night, during my walk back to our house off Michigan State’s campus, I physically tore my Cubs hat apart in frustration.

One of my professors actually sent out an e-mail to our journalism class with the subject line: “Jordan needs a hug.”

I wasn’t angry at Bartman, specifically. Bartman just provided the moment, the moment after which everything fell apart. I was frustrated for my grandfather. I used to lie on my belly, feet up in the air, chin in my hands, watching Cubs games on WGN while my grandpa sat quietly in his recliner. There was a silent bond there, and I felt pain for him and the rest of Chicago’s fans that night.

It seems fitting that I’d wind up a baseball writer in Cleveland, which hasn’t had a World Series winner since 1948. Believe me, Tribe fans. I can reach back to my days as a fan and relate.

On Sunday night, when David Ortiz launched a game-tying grand slam into the Fenway Park bullpen — with Torii Hunter tumbling over the wall and a bullpen cop thrusting his arms into the air in celebration — I was reminded of just how awesome baseball can be. One day later, on this anniversary of that game in ’03, I’m reminded of how miserable it can be as well.

No one should still blame Bartman, though. He was a true fan with a great seat, listening to the game on his headphones while watching it unfold before him. I can’t imagine what kind of feelings ran through him as he listened to the broadcast moments after he reached for the ball. It’s easy to say we wouldn’t have lunged for it. I won’t say that. I probably would have tried to make the catch, too.

I remember being disgusted that he left Wrigley Field with a jacket over his head like a criminal, and that one of Chicago’s papers printed his personal information in the following days. As painful as that moment was, he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

The reality is that the anniversary stings because the Cubs haven’t won a playoff game since ’03 and the franchise has slipped back to its familiar ways. It stings because — two years later — the crosstown rival White Sox won the World Series. It stings because my generation of Cubs fans now had their own moment of misery.

Someday, this will all make things that much sweeter when the Cubs finally do win a championship.

I just hope Bartman is alive to see it happen.

–JB

Francona: “You don’t want it to be over.”

CATitoIndians general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona would much rather be in an alternative universe, talking about preparing for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.

Instead, after being ousted by the Rays in the AL Wild Card Game, Antonetti and Francona sat down with Cleveland reporters on Monday afternoon to talk about the season that was and the offseason ahead.

“You don’t want it to be over,” Francona said. “You want to leave on your own terms, and we weren’t able to do that. That stung a lot. But, I’ll still be able to take [a lot] away and be so proud of that group of players.”

It was an hour-long chat that covered just about every topic surrounding the Tribe as it begins its early winter. Francona said the sting of losing the Wild Card Game has lessened, but he has only caught bits and pieces of the other playoff games, because “part of you is a little bit jealous.”

Indians fans can surely relate.

There will be stories from today’s sit-down on Indians.com today, and in the coming days, but here is a quick rundown of the issues addressed with the GM and manager:

  • Francona announced some changes to his coaching staff. Sandy Alomar Jr. will move from the bench coach role to first-base coaching duties, and Francona’s long-time friend Brad Mills will shift from the third-base coach box to the bench coach role. Mike Sarbaugh will move across the diamond from first base to third base. All the other coaching roles remain unchanged. It’s also worth noting that a change would also come if Alomar is interviewed and hired for one of the vacant managerial roles around the league. He’s already been rumored to be in the mix for the Cubs’ job.
  • Antonetti indicated that “all indications” are that 1B Nick Swisher, who was bothered by a left shoulder issue all season, will not need surgery. The GM said Swisher should be good to go for next season. Antonetti did note that many players underwent exit physicals and there will be some second opinions sought. The GM did not provide any specifics beyond that at this time.
  • It had been reported, here and elsewhere, that Ubaldo Jimenez’s $8 million option for 2014 was a mutual option. In a sense, it is, but Antonetti clarified the situation. When he was traded, Jimenez earned the right to void the option, according to his contract language. There was no specified deadline for that move, and Jimenez has not voided the option to date. If voided (the likely move), Cleveland could make a one-year qualifying offer in an effort to gain a compensatory Draft pick (if Jimenez also decline that offer). Confused yet? Just wait until after the World Series, when it will all be sorted out.
  • Antonetti said it is too early in the offseason to say specifically what kind of payroll the team is looking at for 2014. The GM said he will remain “aggressive” with his offseason moves, and is confident he’ll have enough resources, but he would not delve into details yet.
  • Antonetti and Francona both raved about an offense that would up fourth in the AL in runs scored when it was all said and done. Asked if the Indians still need a middle of the order bat, the manager replied, “It depends on how much pitching we have.” The GM mentioned multiple times that the Tribe can virtually bring back its entire position-player group for 2014.
  • Why did Swisher and Bourn underperform (by their career standards) this past season? Both the GM and manager said it might stem from trying to do too much after signing big contracts. In Swisher’s case, Francona said the shoulder also played a role. For Bourn, Antonetti cited getting used to the American League. Antonetti said the expectation is better performance and more consistency come 2014.
  • As for pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, Antonetti said the Indians may have “underestimated the magnitude of the changes he was undertaking with his delivery.” Bauer remains a work in progress, and he’s in a better spot now than at the start of this year, according to Antonetti, and the Indians still view the young pitcher as a big part of the team’s future.
  • Veteran Jason Giambi wants to come back as a player in 2014, which would be his 20th season. The Indians have mutual interest in retaining the 42-year-old part-time DH and pinch hitter. If Giambi decided he couldn’t keep playing, Francona and Antonetti said the Indians would still have interest in keeping “G” in the organization in some capacity.
  • Antonetti said the Tribe still believes 3B Lonnie Chisenhall will be a “very good Major League player.” That said, Francona noted that it was difficult to balance Chisenhall’s development (see: hitting left-handed pitching) with winning down the stretch this season. While they praised Chisenhall’s potential, I see third base as area that Cleveland will likely look for an upgrade for next season.
  • Antonetti and Francona believe former setup man Vinnie Pestano will be “determined” more than ever to reclaim his former prowess on the mound and role in the bullpen. Francona said Pestano’s struggles, after taking part in the World Baseball Classic, will not deter the team from allowing players to participate in the event in the future. Francona said Pestano calls himself a perfectionist, almost to a fault. “I guess the best way to cure that is to have a lot more good outings than bad outings,” said the manager.
  • Antonetti downplayed Chris Perez’s struggles in terms of potentially complicating the former closer’s arbitration situation (he made $7.3 million last year). The GM said Perez’s strong history as a closer will be “the lens” through which the team views his case. That said, Francona was asked if the Indians need a defined closer in time for the onset of Spring Training, and the manager replied, “It’s important on the first day of the season, or as you get into the season.”
  • The Indians obviously have decisions/negotiations upcoming with Jimenez and/or Kazmir (also a free agent) this winter. That said, the Indians like the rotation depth in place. Behind Justin Masterson are Cory Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister. Cleveland also has Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Bauer as potential options. Antonetti called that a great “foundation” for the starting staff. It seems clear that Cleveland will look to add more, whether that’s by retaining Big U and Kazmir, or by reeling in other options.
  • Yes, the Indians still view Carrasco as a starter. Francona said the Indians “need to exhaust every possibility with him as a starter.” The fastball and secondary stuff are there. I asked if Carrasco needed to maybe bring the mentality he had out of the bullpen to the rotation. Francona said, “That’s one way to put it, yeah.” And, hey, if it doesn’t pan out, Cleveland knows it has a potential weapon out of the ‘pen in Carrasco.
  • Francona raved about catcher Yan Gomes, who will likely be the starting catcher next season. Carlos Santana has expressed — through the media and to the team — that he doesn’t want to be a full-time DH. Francona said he talked to Santana about that very issue on Monday and noted that the Indians “communicate with him moving forward” about the situation behind the plate. Beyond that, Francona stayed away from any specific plans, but he did call Santana’s versatility and bat a “weapon” for the club.
  • Antonetti noted that Major League Baseball has ongoing negotiations with the Winter Leagues about the parameters for 40-man roster players participating. The GM said there will likely be players playing in winter ball this offseason, but he didn’t want to go into detail given the unsettled agreement between MLB and the leagues.
  • Francona said left fielder Michael Brantley “came as advertised — maybe a little bit better,” when it came to his professionalism, skill and willingness to do whatever the team needed of him. The manager said it was “fun to watch” Kipnis turn into “one of the better players in the league,” especially after the second baseman’s early-April slump that had some questioning his spot in the lineup.
  • As for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who turned in a subpar season and is under contract for $10 million next season, both Antonetti and Francona raved about his leadership, desire to win and the fact that he played while nicked up throughout this season. Francona said it might be something appreciated more behind the scenes than by people who strictly look at the numbers. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to hear Asdrubal’s name come up in trade rumors this winter.
  • Francona will head home to Arizona for the offseason, but he’ll make trips to Cleveland each month for meetings and offseason programs. “I’ll certainly come back for the weather,” quipped the manager.

A final thought from Antonetti, asked what he felt was the biggest accomplishment of 2013:

“Two things stand out: getting back to the postseason and re-establishing a winning culture. Those are things that were really important for us. It was a long process and it’s an ongoing process, but getting back to the postseason was meaningful for us as an organization. Obviously, it didn’t end the way we envisioned it. But, to get back, that’s the first step. The only way you can win a World Series is to get into the postseason. So that was encouraging, but the job that Tito and the staff did, kind of creating an unbelievable environment around the Major League team, and a winning environment from Day 1 of Spring Training, that set the table and the foundation for the year.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

In the books: stats, notes and picks

KipnisWalkoffWhen my wife informed me that the due date of our daughter was October 16, there was really only one thing to say.

“You know this means the Indians will make the playoffs, right?” I said.

It was an innocent joke back in the early days of the pregnancy. I’d quip that it’d take the biggest one-year turnaround in the 113-year history of the Cleveland franchise for the playoffs to interfere with the birth of our second kid. Then, after August, I joked that it’d take something in the neighborhood of 20 or more wins for the Tribe to make the playoffs.

Then, when the Indians kept winning, and winning, and winning, I told my wife not to worry. Do you know how rare it is for a team to win 10 games in a row to finish a season?

Talk about the ultimate jinx.

The Indians did make the playoffs — albeit for one game — and my wife was having contractions throughout that American League Wild Card Game against Tampa Bay. She had to turn the game off at one point, because it was too stressful. Well, we know how the rest of the story goes. The Indians lost, their miracle run ended, and the stress level around the Bastian household has died down, along with the contractions (for now).

Little Miss Bastian could arrive any day now… or a week from now. To be continued…

The Indians did enjoy their biggest one-year turnaround in team history, winning 24 more games than in the 2012 season (tying the 1986 Tribe’s one-year record for improvement, excluding strike-shortened campaigns). Cleveland did win 21 games in September — for the first time since 1948. And the Tribe became only the sixth team ever to end a season with at least 10 straight wins.

Talk about making me eat my words.

While Cleveland’s part in the 2013 season is over, it was a fun ride full of statistical tidbits. I’ll take you on a tour through some of the accomplishment by the team as a whole, and then I’ll give you my picks for the Indians’ player, pitcher, reliever and rookie of the year. My picks for the yearly MLB awards will follow as well.

Record: 92-70
Home: 51-30
Road: 41-40

Indians Offense (AL rank)

.255 average (8)
.327 on-base (5)
.410 slugging (8)
.737 OPS (7)
745 runs (t-4)
1,391 hits (10)
290 doubles (6)
23 triples (t-7)
171 home runs (8)
711 RBI (5)
562 walks (4)
1,283 strikeouts (11)
117 stolen bases (4)
484 extra-base hits (t-5)
2,240 total bases (9)

Back in January, I ran some numbers and came up with team-wide projections for the offense. At the time, I forecasted a .251/.325/.404/.729 slash line to go along with 756 runs, 280 doubles, 28 triples, 169 homers, 679 RBI, 575 walks, 1,304 strikeouts, 141 stolen bases and 477 extra-base hits. My projections came pretty close, but, that said, I compiled those before the Indians signed Michael Bourn. Moving on…

Notes: Cleveland set a franchise record with 1,283 strikeouts, breaking the previous mark of 1,269 (2011). … The Indians tied an MLB record with seven players having at least 100 strikeouts. The 2012 Orioles also accomplished that dubious feat. … This marked the eighth time since 1916 (first time since 1999) that an Indians team had 115 stolen bases, 560 walks and 745 runs. … The Tribe tied a club record with 10 players having at least 10 home runs. … Cleveland tied an MLB record (2000 Orioles) with 12 players having at least nine home runs. … This was the 22nd time since at least 1916 that an Indians team had four players with at least 15 stolen bases (first occurrence since 1993). … This year’s Indians tied the 1921 Cleveland club’s team record of having 10 players with at least 45 RBI.

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Indians pitching (AL rank)

92 wins (4)
3.82 ERA (7)
3.92 rot. ERA (6)
3.62 bullpen ERA (8)
38 saves (13)
1,441.1 innings (14)
1,359 hits (3)
662 runs (7)
611 earned runs (6)
147 home runs (2)
554 walks (14)
1,379 strikeouts (2)
.249 average (6)
1.33 WHIP (9)

Notes: This marked the 10th time since at least 1916 that an Indians team had at least 92 wins and an ERA no greater than 3.82. The previous team to do so was the 2005 squad. It hadn’t been accomplished since 1955 prior to that occurrence. … The 1,379 strikeouts were a single-season club record, flying by the previous mark of 1,218 (2001). … The 147 homers allowed marked the fewest given up since 2010. … The 147 homers and 1,360 hits allowed were the fewest in an 162-game season since 1968. That had been done five times (1965, ’66, ’67, ’68 and 2013). … Cleveland tied a club record with eight players having at least six wins (1963, ’64, ’95, 2013). … This marked the 16th time in American League history that a team had at least three pitchers with 10 wins, 150 innings and 160 strikeouts. Only the 1967 Tigers had four such pitchers on the same staff. … Cleveland matched a team record with five pitchers having at least 100 strikeouts (1966, ’76, 2005, 2013). … The Indians tied a club record with four pitchers having at least 135 strikeouts (’66, ’67, ’68, 2013). … The Indians tied a club record with three pitchers having at least 160 strikeouts (’66, 2000, 2013). … The Indians had two pitchers with at least 190 strikeouts for the fifth time (1965, ’66, ’67, ’68, 2013).

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Bastian’s 2013 picks

Indians Player of the Year: 2B Jason Kipnis

Slash line: .284/.366/.452/.818
Stats: 17 HR, 36 2B, 4 3B, 84 RBI, 76 BB, 86 R, 30 SB, 57 XBH, 160 H, 255 TB, 149 G
Advanced: 5.8 WAR, 101 RC, 6.2 RC/G, 133 OPS+, 31 RS%

You could’ve made a case for catcher Carlos Santana, who had a higher OPS (.832), more homers (20) and walks (93) and 100 runs created. His defense, however, drags his WAR down to 4.4 and his run-scoring percentage of 25% was lower than Kipnis. In the end, Kipnis’ blend of power and speed, his defense, and his ability to score at a higher rate won out for me.

Fun Fact: Kipnis became just the fourth player in Indians history to have at least 15 homers, 30 stolen bases, 75 walks and 85 runs in one season. The others include Grady Sizemore (2007, 2008), Roberto Alomar (1999, 2001) and Kenny Lofton (2000), Only 2008 Sizemore and Alomar (both years) added at least 80 RBI to the mix.

—————————————–

Indians Pitcher of the Year: RHP Justin Masterson

Stats: 14-10, 3.45 ERA, 32 G (29 GS), 193 IP, 195 K, 76 BB, 13 HR
More stats: 1.20 WHIP, 3 SHO, 9 SB, 17 HBP, 2.57 K/BB, 15.6 P/IP
Opponents’ slash: .222/.312/.312/.624
Advanced: 3.4 WAR, 109 ERA+, 3.35 FIP

Like with the Player of the Year, you could make a case for someone else here, too. Ubaldo Jimenez’s season, especially given his torrid finish, is worthy of consideration, and you could argue that his showing was the better of the two. I felt Masterson’s performance from start to finish (a finish that included being a valuable reliever in the final week) outweighed the overall production of Big U. Masterson had the shutouts, more innings, a better WHIP and opponents’ OPS, and the higher WAR. Had Jimenez not struggled so mightily early on in April, he might be the clear winner here.

Fun fact: This marked the 16th time (seventh pitcher) that an Indians pitcher ended a season with at least 190 innings, 195 strikeouts and three shutouts. That exclusive list includes Masterson (2013), Dennis Eckersley (1976), Gaylord Perry (1972, ’73, ’74), Sam McDowell (1965, ’66, ’68, ’69), Luis Tiant (1968), Herb Score (1956) and Bob Feller (1939, ’40, ’41, ’46, ’47).

—————————————–

Indians Reliever of the Year: RHP Joe Smith

Stats: 6-2, 2.29 ERA, 70 G, 63 IP, 54 K, 23 BB, 5 HR, 69 GO
More stats: 1.22 WHIP, 2.35 K/BB, 15.79 P/IP, 3 SV
Opponents’ slash: .235/.313/.330/.643
Advanced: 1.8 WAR, 165 ERA+, 3.60 FIP

This was an extremely hard choice. It would’ve been easy to pick rookie Cody Allen for this, but there are a few areas in which Smith won out for me. Since it’s not fair to compare Allen’s strikeouts to Smith, or Smith’s groundouts to Allen, I combined the two for a strikeouts/groundouts per nine innings. Smith led with a 17.6 compared to 17.1 for Allen. Smith had the lower opponents’ OPS, the better WAR and the better inherited-runners scoring percentage. I’ve also come up with an out-efficiency rate for relievers (there will be a blog post breaking this down in the near future), and Smith was the best in the Tribe bullpen, while Allen ranked fifth among the nine most-used Cleveland relievers.

Fun fact: Smith’s season marked one of just 11 in Indians history in which a reliever had an ERA no greater than 2.30 with 60 or more games logged. This was only the third time in Indians history that a reliever had 70-plus appearances with an ERA of 2.30 or better. The other two include Smith in 2011 and Derek Lilliquist in 1992.

—————————————–

Indians Rookie of the Year: RHP Cody Allen

Stats: 6-1, 2.43 ERA, 77 G, 70.1 IP, 88 K, 26 BB, 7 HR
More stats: 1.25 WHIP, 3.38 K/BB, 17.12 P/IP, 2 SV
Opponents’ slash: .233/.300/.380/.679
Advanced: 1.4 WAR, 155 ERA+, 2.99 FIP

As noted above, you could easily anoint Allen the Indians’ top reliever for 2013. And, if that’s how you feel, I wouldn’t argue with you. You could also make a case for Allen as the American League’s Rookie of the Year, considering there is not one player head and shoulder above the pack. In fact, the more I dig into it, the more Allen looks like the best RoY option to me.

Fun fact: Allen’s 88 strikeouts were the most for a Tribe reliever since Paul Shuey’s 103 in 1999. The right-hander’s 77 appearances are the second-most games in a single-season in Cleveland history. Only Bob Howry logged more work for the Indians in 2005.

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American League picks

Most Valuable Player
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2. Mike Trout, Angels
3. Josh Donaldson, A’s

Cy Young Award
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
3. Bartolo Colon, A’s

Rookie of the Year
1. Cody Allen, Indians
2. Chris Archer, Rays
3. Wil Myers, Rays

Manager of the Year
1. Terry Francona, Indians
2. John Farrell, Red Sox
3. Ned Yost, Royals

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National League picks

Most Valuable Player
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
2. Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
3. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Cy Young Award
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
3. Cliff Lee, Phillies

Rookie of the Year
1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
3. Shelby Miller, Cardinals

Manager of the Year
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
2. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves

Debate away…

–JB

Month in review: September

MuralWhen the Indians returned home after their final series of the regular season, a new mural was added to a wall in the hallway leading into the clubhouse. It was a snapshot of the home-plate mob that awaited veteran Jason Giambi after his miracle walk-off homer on Sept. 24.

You see Giambi — the 42-year-old slugger described as a kind of “player coach” by his teammates — coasting toward the pile. You can spot All-Stars Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson, along with team leaders such as Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles. Also in the shot are guys who played important roles down the stretch, if only for a game or two. Guys like Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez. And you see guys who enjoyed breakout seasons or burst onto the scene this season. Guys like catcher Yan Gomes and pitcher Danny Salazar.

This one still shot serves as the perfect summation for an incredible September that helped the Tribe capture the American League’s top Wild Card spot. Cleveland’s one-game postseason experience was short-lived, but this season should be one that fans remember for ages.

In September, the offense clicked and the pitching staff was the best in the American League. The Indians rattled of 21 wins in September for the first time since 1948 and became only the sixth team in the Modern Era (since 1900) to end a season with a winning streak of at least 10 games.

Justin Masterson was lost to an oblique injury, and then Ubaldo Jimenez turned into the AL’s top pitcher. Chris Perez lost his closer’s job on the final weekend, but right-hander Bryan Shaw turned into an unflappable force out of the bullpen. Nick Swisher found his power stroke and the Indians cruised to one of the greatest finishes in team history.

One year ago, Cleveland endured the worst single month in club history with a 5-24 August. One year later, the Indians pieced together one of their greatest months in more than a century of baseball along the shores of Lake Erie.

Here is a glance at the Tribe’s amazing September…

Record: 21-6
Home: 11-4
Road: 10-2

Offense (AL rank)

.267 average (5)
.342 on-base (3)
.431 slugging (3)
.773 OPS (3)
140 runs (3)
239 hits (10)
47 doubles (10)
6 triples (t-3)
29 home runs (5)
132 RBI (3)
100 walks (3)
207 strikeouts (5)
21 stolen bases (3)
82 extra-base hits (6)
385 total bases (6)

Notes: The Tribe’s .267/.342/.431 slash line was the team’s best for a single month since April 2011. … Cleveland hadn’t turned in a slash line at least that good, combined with at least 20 stolen bases and 100 walks, since Sept. 2000. … This marked only the 25th time in franchise history that the Indians enjoyed a month with at least 20 stolen bases, 80 extra-base hits, 100 walks and 140 runs scored.

Pitching (AL rank)

21 wins (1)
2.84 ERA (1)
2.83 rot. ERA (1)
2.85 bullpen ERA (4)
6 saves (t-8)
241 innings (t-11)
238 hits (7)
83 runs (1)
76 earned runs (1)
19 home runs (t-2)
70 walks (t-2)
262 strikeouts (2)
.259 average (11)
1.28 WHIP (8)

Notes: This marked only the ninth time in franchise history that the Indians had a month with at least 21 wins and an ERA no greater than 2.84. The last such month was June 1965. The last Indians team to have 21 wins, an ERA of 2.84 or better plus no more than 70 walks issued was Sept. 1920. … Cleveland’s 3.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio was its best mark for one month in team history. Second: 3.14 in June 1963. … Cleveland’s top four months by strikeouts: 1. 280 in May 2013, 2. 264 in August 1967, 3. 264 in July 1964, 4. 262 in Sept. 2013.

INDIANS PLAYER HONORS

Player of the month: 1B Nick Swisher
Stats: .263/.353/.515/.869, 7 HR, 4 2B, 17 RBI, 15 BB, 15 R, 26 H, 26 games

Notes: Prior to Swisher this past September, the last three Indians players to have a month with at least seven homers, 15 walks and 17 RBI were Shin-Soo Choo (Sept. 2010), Grady Sizemore (July 2008) and Travis Hafner (three times in 2006).

Previous 2013 winners:

April — C Carlos Santana, INF Mark Reynolds
May — 2B Jason Kipnis
June — 2B Jason Kipnis
July — LF Michael Brantley
August — C Yan Gomes

Pitcher of the month: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
Stats: 4-0, 1.09 ERA, 41.1 IP, 51 K, 7 BB, 1.02 WHIP, .230 AVG, 6 starts

Notes: Jimenez joined Luis Tiant (July 1968) and Pedro Ramos (July 1963) as the only Indians pitchers in team history with at least 50 strikeouts and 10 or fewer walks in a single calendar month. … This marked only the 13th time since at least 1916 that a pitcher had a month with at least 50 strikeouts, no more than 10 walks and an ERA no greater than 1.10. The others on the list include: R.A. Dickey (June 2012), Justin Verlander (June 2011), Johan Santana (Sept. 2004), Pedro Martinez (July 2002, May 2000, Sept. 1999), Randy Johnson (April 2000), Roger Clemens (Aug. 1998, July 1997), Frank Tanana (May 1977), Tom Seaver (July 1973) and Juan Marichal (June 1967).

Previous 2013 winners:

April — RHP Justin Masterson
May — RHP Justin Masterson
June — RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
July — LHP Scott Kazmir
August — RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

Reliever of the month: RHP Bryan Shaw
Stats: 5-0, 0.00 ERA, 15.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, 0.65 WHIP, .154 AVG, 13 games

Notes: Shaw joined Atlanta’s Brad Clontz (July 1995) as the only relievers since at least 1916 to have at least five wins and a 0.00 ERA in a single calendar month. … In Indians history, Shaw and Frank Funk (May 1961) are the only relievers to notch at least five wins in one month.

Previous 2013 winners:

April — RHP Joe Smith
May — RHP Cody Allen
June — RHP Vinnie Pestano
July — RHP Chris Perez
August — LHP Marc Rzepczynski

Game of the month (hitter): Jason Giambi, Sept. 24, during 5-4 win over White Sox
Stat line: 1-for-1 with 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI

Notes: For the second time this season, the 42-year-old Giambi became the oldest player in baseball history to belt a walk-off home run, breaking a record previously held by Hank Aaron (1976). It marked his third pinch-hit homer of the year, tying a franchise record last achieved by Ron Kittle in 1987. Giambi became only the 13th players since 1950 to have at least 10 walk-off home runs.

Game of the month (pitcher): Ubaldo Jimenez, Sept. 29, during 5-1 win over Twins
Stat line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K

Notes: This marked the 11th time in Indians history that a pitcher had at least 13 strikeouts with no more than one walk in 6.2 or more innings. Bartolo Colon was the last to do so on Sept. 18, 2000. Jimenez had the fewest innings among those 11 occurrences. … Jimenez joined CC Sabathia (Sept. 14, 2007) and Sam McDowell (Sept. 18, 1966) as the only pitchers in team history with at least 13 strikeouts in seven or fewer innings. … This was the fourth time in MLB history that a pitcher had at least 13 strikeouts, no more than one walk and no more than 6.2 innings logged. The others: Kelvim Escobar (June 12, 2007), Randy Johnson (June 3, 2001) and Pedro Martinez (April 19, 2001).

Previously…

Month in review: August
Month in review: July
Month in review: June
Month in review:
May
Month in review:
April

–JB

Wild Card autopsy

1004WCHas the sting of the Indians’ 4-0 loss to the Rays in the Wild Card Game worn off yet? No? Well, it will. I promise. Pretty soon, if you Tribe fans have not reached this stage yet, you’ll be able to realize what a spectacular and surprising season this was for the Indians.

From 94 losses to 92 wins, and a place in the postseason (as short-lived as it was). It was a fun ride and one that now sets up some higher expectations for 2014. We weren’t sure what to make of this revamped Cleveland roster back in the spring. Now we know they were good enough to contend, despite some flaws.

Before I begin looking back at the season that was, here’s a glance at the Wild Card Game:

  • For the first time this season, Indians regulars Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis were each at least 0-for-4 in the same game. Making matters worse, Asdrubal Cabrera was also 0-for-4 in Cleveland’s lone playoff game.
  • On the positive side, Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall combined for five hits. Chisenhall, who went 3-for-4, actually joined Matt Williams (Game 4 of the 1997 World Series) as the only Indians third basemen to have at least three hits in a postseason game.
  • This marked the first time in Cleveland postseason history that the team had at least nine hits, but scored no runs. In regular-season play, the Indians only have two games in their history with at least nine hits, including three doubles, with no runs scored: June 9, 1938 and June 13, 1920.
  • The last time the Indians had at least nine hits with three doubles and lost in a playoff game was Game 1 of the 1997 World Series.
  • Rays pitcher Alex Cobb turned in 6.2 shutout innings, becoming the first pitcher to do that against the Indians in a playoff game since Game 4 of the 1998 ALCS (Orlando Hernandez).
  • Cobb is the first pitcher to have 6.2 shutout innings with at least eight hits allowed in a playoff game against Cleveland. The closest? Burleigh Grimes allowed seven hits in nine shutout innings against the Tribe in Game 2 of the 1920 World Series.
  • Only five pitchers, including Cobb, have allowed at least eight hits in at least 6.2 innings against the Indians in a postseason game. The others: David Wells (1996 ALDS), Randy Johnson (1995 ALCS), Bob Wolcott (1995 ALCS), Johnny Antonelli (1954 World Series).
  • In the regular season, only four pitchers have turned in a line of at least 6.2 shutout IP with eight hits and three doubles allowed against the Indians and won. The list: Nick Blackburn (2008), Mickey Lolich (1972), Lefty Grove (1938) and Bob Shawkey (1920).

Here are some links to stories from Game 162 through the Wild Card Game:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 161

928KazmirFinal: Indians 5, Twins 1

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona has been saying for the past couple of weeks that his team is buckling up and trying to do everything possible to get a win. Well, buckle up, Cleveland. It has come down to Game No. 162 for your Tribe.

With one game left on the planned regular-season schedule, the Indians hold a one-game lead over the Rays and Rangers for the top Wild Card spot. Win Sunday and the Indians will host Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. Lose Sunday and, well…

… let’s run through Sunday’s Wild Card possibilities:

  1. Indians win, Rays win, Rangers win: Cleveland hosts the Wild Card Game on Wednesday and awaits the winner of a Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker game on Monday in Texas. This is also the scenario in the event that all three clubs lose on Sunday.
  2. Indians win, Rays win, Rangers lose: Indians host the Rays in the Wild Card Game Wednesday
  3. Indians win, Rays lose, Rangers win: Indians host the Rangers in the Wild Card Game Wednesday.
  4. Indians win, Rays lose, Rangers lose: Indians await the winner of the Monday Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker played in Texas.
  5. Indians lose, Rays win, Rangers win: three-way tie initiates two tiebreaker play-in games for Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. It begins with Tampa Bay at Cleveland on Monday. The loser then would play at Texas on Tuesday. The winners of the Monday and Tuesday games then play in the Wild Card Game Wednesday at the home site of the team with the better head-to-head record.
  6. Indians lose, Rays win, Rangers lose: Indians head to Tampa Bay for the Wild Card Game on Wednesday. This is due to Tampa Bay’s 4-2 record against Cleveland this season.
  7. Indians lose, Rays lose, Rangers win: Texas heads to Cleveland for Wednesday’s Wild Card Game. The Tribe owns the tiebreaker with a 5-1 record against the Rangers this year.

“We need to win tomorrow,” Indians veteran Jason Giambi said after Saturday’s victory. “That’s the biggest thing we need to do, is take care of that. I don’t like all the scenarios, how it works out. We just need to concentrate and play a great game tomorrow and go from there.”

Saturday’s win upped Cleveland’s winning streak to a season-high nine games, giving the Tribe 14 wins in its past 16 contests. The Indians are now 20-6 in September, marking the franchise’s first 20-win showing in September since 1948. Cleveland hadn’t won 20 games in any one month since 1995, when the club posted 21 in August and 20 in June.

The Indians have now turned in a 23-win improvement over last year’s 69-94 showing. That is the second-largest year-to-year win jump in the club’s 113-year history, excluding strike-shortened seasons. Cleveland could tie its record (set in 1986) with a win on Sunday. Francona is only the ninth manager since 1969 to oversee a turnaround of at least 23 wins in his first season at the helm.

The Indians are also one win shy of completing another four-game sweep, which would give the team seven such broomings this season. The last team to have at least seven series sweeps of four or more games was the 1943 Cardinals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“Losing 94 games to winning 90 plus,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “Man, how could you not be super stoked about that? It’s kind of one of those seasons that doesn’t come along very often. For us, obviously we don’t want to be that flash in a pan that just pops out one season.

“Just to be in the spot that we’re in right now, I’m ecstatic. I think it’s such an amazing time of year. Just to be able to be part of this crew, part of this team, and hopefully that resurrection that we’re working towards, it’s such an honor to be here.”

SECOND: If it seems like Scott Kazmir has been striking hitters out at record pace, that’s because he has been in September.

In Saturday’s outing against the Twins, who have whiffed 1,400-plus times and have already set their club record for strikeouts, Kazmir piled up 11 punchouts. That gives the Cleveland left-hander 43 strikeouts in 28 innings this month. His rate of 13.82 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest in team history for a single month (minimum three starts).

Here are the Top 10 on that list:

13.82: Scott Kazmir (Sept. 2013)
13.30: Bartolo Colon (May 2000)
12.86: Sam McDowell (April 1965)
12.74: Sam McDowell (July 1966)
11.92: Luis Tiant (Sept. 1968)
11.88: Luis Tiant (May 1967)
11.88: Danny Salazar (Sept. 2013)
11.84: Sam McDowell (May 1965)
11.74: Sonny Siebert (June 1965)
11.60: Sam McDowell (Sept. 1966)

According to baseball-reference, there have actually only been nine pitchers (min.  three starts and 20+ IP) since at least 1916 to record a K/9 rate of 13.80 or better for a single month. That list includes Randy Johnson (five times), Pedro Martinez (five), Kerry Wood (two), Nolan Ryan (one), Rich Harden (one), Brandon Morrow (one), Yovani Gallardo (one), Justin Verlander (one) and now Kazmir.

Kazmir is the first Indians pitcher in team history to have 40-plus strikeouts in fewer than 30 innings in a month.

“It’s fastball command, to start off with,” Kazmir said. “I was able to attack the strike zone and command. I feel like I keep saying this over and over, but it’s the truth. I feel like I’m going out there and getting them in swing mode and, once I get two strikes, I have quite a few pitches that I’m able to set them down with.”

Kazmir now has 162 strikeouts in 158 innings this season, giving the Indians three pitchers (Justin Masterson, 193; Ubaldo Jimenez, 181) with at least 160 strikeouts this year. That ties a club record, also set by the 2000 (Dave Burba, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley) and 1966 (Gary Bell, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert) clubs.

THIRD: Twins right-hander Cole Devries headed into Saturday’s start with an 11.70 ERA this season, but he looked just fine as he breezed through the first 11 Tribe hitters without allowing a hit. In that span, De Vries struck out seven, including five in a six-batter span at one point.

Were the Indians feeling the heat?

“What was it, the third inning?” Swisher said with a laugh. “No, we weren’t stressed at that point.”

Jason Kipnis snapped Cleveland out of its funk with a two-out single in the fourth inning and then Carlos Santana absolutely crushed a 1-1 pitch from De Vries for a home run to right field. One inning later, Michael Bourn delivered a two-run triple (even though instant replay appeared to show Mike Aviles was out at the plate on the play) and Kipnis added an RBI single.

All five of Cleveland’s runs came with two outs — the Tribe ranks fifth in the Majors with 292 two-out runs this year — and the Indians are now averaging 6.9 runs over their past seven games.

“We just want to continue to keep this roll going,” Swisher said. “This is so much fun, man.”

HOME: The Indians are now a Major League-best 55-18 this season against teams with a sub-.500 records. There was plenty of talk leading up to September about the favorable schedule down the stretch, and Cleveland has taken full advantage of its slate these past few weeks. That said, the team is tired of hearing about its cushy schedule.

“Hey,” Swisher said, “why don’t I just say this as a direct quote to everybody else. No one was [complaining] about the schedule when we lost [94] games last year. That’s enough of that schedule stuff, man. For real. You still have to win the games. No one was talking about scheduling when we were going through playing the Yankees, Boston, Detroit back to back. Nobody said anything then.

“Hey, if everybody feels that way, make it an even schedule. Make everybody play everybody the same amount of times so nobody can complain about it. You would like to think that a lot of people would be excited for an organization like us. We’re kind of rejuvenated. We’ve got ourselves a new thing. If people want to hate on us for the last scheduling part, we can’t control that. We didn’t do the scheduling.

“Either way, man, I’ve heard enough of that. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to win the ballgames regardless of who you’re playing. For us, it just so happened that the last two weeks or so it kind of worked out in our favor a little bit. That still doesn’t mean anything. These guys could play spoiler tomorrow. They’ve got young guys fighting for jobs next year.”

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE

1. Cleveland 91-70 — (+1)
2. Texas 90-71 — (-1)
2. Tampa Bay 90-71 (-1)

ON DECK:

Indians (91-70) at Twins (66-95)
at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday at Target Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 159

926CLEFinal: Indians 6, Twins 5

FIRST: There are to things to note from the immediate aftermath of this win that felt like a loss.

The first  is that Indians manager Terry Francona, who always goes great lengths to defend and support his players, was non-committal when it came to sticking with Chris Perez in the closer role. The second item of note is that Perez swung by the manager’s office after giving up four runs in the ninth and told Francona he doesn’t want to keep hurting the team.

“He popped his head in here after the game and was actually really good about it,” Francona said. “He was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cost us games, because I’m not locating.’ We’ll figure it out.”

So, the Indians plan on figuring it out.

Francona emphasized that “five or 10 minutes after the game” is not the time to make any decisions. With GM Chris Antonetti in town, though, you can bet that they’ll meet and weight their options for the ninth inning, especially with a Wild Card playoff berth within reach.

This is not a two-bad-outings situation for Perez. This, now, is two bad months. Dating back to Aug. 1, Perez has posted a 7.52 ERA to go along with a .345 opponents’ average (30-for-87) with a 1.87 WHIP in 20.1 innings. Within that span, he has allowed seven home runs, including three in his past two appearances.

On Tuesday, Jason Giambi bailed Perez out after his blown save with a pinch-hit, walk-off miracle shot against the White Sox. On Thursday at Target Field, sidearmer Joe Smith picked Perez up by striking out pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia to end the game, sealing Cleveland’s seventh win in a row.

There is no denying Perez’s track record. His 124 saves for Cleveland are the third-most for a pitcher in team history. He saved 39 a year ago in a 68-win season, saved 36 in 2011 and made the All-Star team in both years. Shoot, across the first four months this season, he had a 2.41 ERA and a .206 opponents’ average. There has always been a bit of drama, but Perez has always been good.

Lately, however, that has not been the case.

And now there are possible postseason games on the line.

“He felt bad,” Francona said of his chat with Perez. “It was actually very team oriented. That’s what you’re looking for. He’s having a tough time and he’s owning up to it, and he doesn’t want to cost us wins.”

So what are the Indians’ options? Smith obviously comes to mind, as does Cody Allen, though at 76 appearances, he has been worked hard to this point. The most intriguing possibility would seem to be sinkerballer Justin Masterson, who is in a relief role right now. Of course, given the recent oblique injury, it is not clear if Masterson could appear in consecutive games.

Francona was asked if, save situation or any other situation, Perez would be available to pitch on Friday.

“I don’t know that, either,” answered the manager. “We’ll see. Again, we’ll take stock like we do every day and have a lot more rational thinking. That’s the way to do things.”

SECOND: In my office at home, I have a Minnie Minoso bobblehead on a shelf above my desk. That was my mom’s favorite player, though from his White Sox days, not from his time in Cleveland. Sorry, Ma grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Nobody’s perfect.

With that in mind, what Michael Brantley has now accomplished for the Indians is pretty cool in my book. He is the first Indians batter since Minoso in 1959 to enjoy four consecutive games with at least three hits and at least one RBI. It has only been done four times in Indians history.

The Major League record (at least since 1916) is five such games in a row by Gee Walker in 1936. Going back to 1950, it has only happened 12 times.

Not since Kenny Lofton in 1995 has a Cleveland hitter churned out three-plus hits in four straight games.

“He’s staying on the ball,” Francona said of Brantley. “He’s staying through the ball. He’s using the whole ball park, and it couldn’t come at a better time.”

Brantley’s hitting a smooth .500 (20-for-40) over his past 10 games for Cleveland.

Not to be overlooked, Yan Gomes went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer and two runs scored.

THIRD: Zach McAllister gave the Indians 4.1 shutout innings, holding the Twins to six hits and ending with three strikeouts and two walks. With one out in the fifth, McAllister gave up a walk to Alex Presley and a single to Brian Dozier, convincing Francona to turn to the bullpen.

There was a little more to the move than was immediately apparent, though.

“His [left] side was kind of stiff,” Francona said. “He was having a hard time getting out all the way to extension. He was kind of dodging traffic the whole night. His heart was in the right place. I jus thought that he had given us enough and it wouldn’t be fair to him to let him give up runs.

“I just thought it was time. If I’d have been managing with my heart, I’d have left him in.”

McAllister said he was a bit surprised Francona had such a quick hook.

“A little bit,” said the pitcher. “As a starter, you definitely want a chance to get the win out there and try to stay in the game as long as you can. But it’s September now, we have a lot of guys in the bullpen and every game’s an important one. You can’t question anything. I understand why.”

Bryan Shaw has been the hot hand this month — no runs allowed in 15.1 IP with 15 strikeouts and two walks — and he continued his run against the Twins. After taking over for McAllister, Shaw needed only one pitch to induce an inning-ending double play off the bat of Ryan Doumit.

HOME: The way the game ended, it was easy to forget one pretty important fact…

… the Indians won.

“And that’s what we set out to do,” Francona said. “That got a little closer than we wanted, but we won. Any time you hear music playing, especially this time of year, [it's good]. But that was a little nerve-wracking.”

The Indians have now won 12 of 14 to improve to 18-6 in September. Cleveland also has posted a 21-win improvement from a season ago, marking the second-largest year-to-year jump in victories in franchise history. Excluding strike-shortened seasons, the club record is a 24-win jump from 1985 to ’86.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE

1. Tampa Bay 90-69 (+1)
2. Cleveland 89-70 (–-)
3. Texas 88-71 (-1)

ON DECK:

Indians (89-70) at Twins (66-93)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Target Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 158

925SwishKipFinal: Indians 7, White Sox 2

FIRST: The next four games will decide the Indians’ fate in the American League Wild Card race.

After routing the White Sox, improving Cleveland’s record to 17-6 this month and to 17-2 against Chicago this year, the Indians packed their bags and readied for the road ahead in Minnesota. It might’ve seemed like an opportune time for manager Terry Francona to meet with his players and give a speech to rally the ol’ troops.

Nooo,” Francona said. “No, I want to stay out of the way, man. I don’t want to mess it up. They’re doing just fine. They’re doing OK.”

And what are Francona’s thoughts on the upcoming trip to the Twin Cities?

“They have a place where I always buy shirts,” replied the manager.

If that doesn’t sum up Francona’s horse-blinders approach to managing, I don’t know what will.

Here’s what we know. We know the Indians are one game behind the Rays for the AL’s top Wild Card and one game ahead of the Rangers for the second. We know that Cleveland just went 6-0 on its homestand, sweeping away the Astros and White Sox to set up a third straight meeting with a team playing for a top Draft pick next summer.

“We did what we needed to do,” Francona said.

And We know that the Indians are exactly where they want to be at this moment.

“You’ve got to be excited,” Indians veteran Jason Giambi said. “Any time that you have control of your own destiny, that’s what it’s all about. We’ve just got to go out there and play baseball. We don’t have to scoreboard watch. We don’t have to do anything but go play baseball.”

The Twins can be a pesky club, and no one should underestimate the fight in a team managed by Ron Gardenhire, but Minnesota is also playing poorly right now. Over their last 15 games overall, the Twins’ pitching staff has posted a 6.60 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and a 1.61 K/BB ratio. In the past 13 home games, the Twins’ offense has hit .245 with an average of 2.6 runs and 12.5 strikeouts per contest.

“Every team is a Major League Baseball team for a reason,” Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said. “They’re going to have good players on the other side. Our job is to be better than them that day. We took care of our business at home this time and played great in front of a great fan crowd. It was nice.

“Now we just have to go on the road and continue to do what we’re doing.”

Notes from Wednesday’s win…

  • At 88 wins, the Indians have improved by 20 wins over last season (68-94). Excluding strike-shortened years, that puts this team into a tie with the 1915-16 teams for the second-largest year-to-year win jump in the franchise’s 113-year history. The record is a 24-game improvement from 1985 to 1986.
  • With a 17-2 record against the White Sox this season, the Indians became the fifth team since 1969 to achieve 17 wins over one opponent in a single year. The others: 1974 Braves (vs. Padres), 1986 Mets (over Pirates), 2006 A’s (over Mariners), 2013 Rangers (over Astros) and your Indians.
  • Cleveland has 14 consecutive wins over the White Sox, marking a franchise record against Chicago. It’s also the first 14-game winning streak over a single opponent for the Tribe since running off 14 straight against the Kansas City A’s in 1960.
  • The Indians ended the planned regular-season schedule with 51 wins, marking the most at home since also having 51 in 2007, which was a pretty good year for the Tribe

SECOND: The Indians again benefited from the September resurgence of Nick Swisher (two-run homer in fifth) and Asdrubal Cabrera (two-run single in seventh), but it was Brantley who served as the catalyst for Cleveland’s lineup once again.

Filling in at leadoff for Michael Bourn — sidelined for the moment with a sprained right wrist — Brantley went 3-for-5 with an RBI single and a double. It marked his third consecutive three-hit game for the Indians, who have won 11 of 13.

“It’s nice, because he sprays the ball all over the field,” Francona said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a righty or a lefty. With Bourny out, he hits leadoff. You can hit him anywhere in the order. It’s nice to have him heating up.”

Brantley has hit .692 (9-for-13) in his last three games with five RBI, .588 (10-for-17) with two homers and seven RBI in his last four games and .486 (17-for-35) with eight RBI in his past nine games for the Tribe.

In each of the past three games, Brantley has actually achieved at least three hits and one RBI, which has only been accomplished by an Indians hitter in at least three straight games 20 times since 1916. The team record in that time period for consecutive games with at least three hits and an RBI is four (Minnie Minoso, 1959; Ken Keltner, 1939; Joe Vosmik, 1935).

THIRD: Rookie right-hander Danny Salazar gave the Indians a solid effort against the White Sox, limiting them to two runs on six hits in 5.1 innings. Salazar ended with eight strikeouts and one walk in the effort and finished with 89 pitches.

Salazar said it has been nice not to feel so restricted with his pitch count.

“Yeah, now I don’t look at the scoreboard,” Salazar said with a smile.

Salazar now has a rate of 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings through 10 starts this season. That is the highest-single-season rate among all Indians pitchers with at least 3 starts, dating back to 1901.

Here is the list of those with a K/9 higher than 10.00 for a single-season (min. 3 starts):

11.25: Salazar, 2013
11.03: Bob Feller, 1936
10.71: Sam McDowell, 1965
10.54: Herb Score, 1958
10.42: McDowell, 1966
10.15: Barolo Colon, 2000

“I think the mound if the most comfortable place in the world for him,” Francona said. “This kid has come a long way. I don’t think any of us hold our breath. We think this kid is part of what we’re doing. It’s fun. I think he’s done a tremendous job.

“He’s very poised. If I had his stuff, I would be, too.”

HOME: With a five-run cushion in the ninth inning, the Indians ran into the perfect opportunity for sinkerballer Justin Masterson to make his return from the strained left oblique he suffered on Sept. 2. Masterson jogged in from the bullpen and received a standing ovation and loud cheers from the crowd on hand.

“That was kind of cool,” Francona said of the fans’ response.

Masterson struck out two, allowed one hit and induced a groundout to seal the victory. He was around 93-94 mph with his fastball and logged 17 pitches, including a sharp slider.

“It was nice,” Masterson said. “I warmed up nice and came out and tried to throw 300 mph. But it worked out well.”

Masterson will continue to be utilized as a reliever, at least for the rest of the regular season.

“It kind of went to our ace getting hurt to all of a sudden having a weapon,” Francona said. “And we will use him. We just need to get him as many outings as we can that make sense, while winning and managing the game. He can be a big part of what we’re doing.”

EXTRA: The Indians drew 30,942 in the home finale to finish the season with 1,572,926 in announced attendance this season. That is a 9.8 percent decrease in attendance from 2012, even though the team currently has a 23-percent increase in wins. Let’s put any negatives aside, though, to focus on the strong turnout in these past few home games, and how much it meant to the players.

“It was great. It was amazing,” said Bourn, who has been vocal about the attendance this season. “It was amazing for the fans, amazing for us. It was something good to be a part of and we hope that it ain’t the last game here.”

Giambi, who received a much-deserved standing ovation as he stepped to the plate in the second inning, was also pleased with the turnout.

“That’s exciting,” Giambi said. “I know they’ve been watching, because I’ve walked around town and everybody has been unbelievable. I know TV ratings are through the roof. It’s exciting to have them come, it definitely is. I’ve always said, when this place gets people in it, there’s some energy.”

Francona echoed that sentiment.

“It was really kind of electric,” said the manager. “Hopefully we’ll play more games here, because I think they showed their appreciation of our team’s effort, and they seemed very excited. It’s a lot of fun when it’s like that here.”

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE

1. Tampa Bay 89-69 (+1)
2. Cleveland 88-70 (–-)
3. Texas 87-71 (-1)

ON DECK:

Indians (88-70) at Twins (66-92)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

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