Covering the Bases: Game 116

89KazmirFinal: Angels 5, Indians 2

FIRST: The Indians knew this might be coming for Scott Kazmir. They tried to delay it as long as possible, working extra days off here and there for the left-hander.

On Friday, Kazmir’s amazing comeback season finally caught up with him.

“I’m going through a little bit of a dead-arm stage,” Kazmir admitted after the Tribe’s fifth loss in a row.

That this development came on the day Kazmir faced the Angels seemed like a cruel joke by the baseball gods. After all, it was Los Angeles that released Kazmir on June 15, 2011, sending the lefty to the game’s gutter before he found his way into Cleveland’s rotation this year.

Kazmir denied that he put too much thought into the matchup heading into Friday.

“No. There wasn’t any hard feelings or anything like that,” he said. “I saw all those guys in Spring Training and got all that out of the way. It just seemed like it was business, going out there.”

It was Kazmir’s fall from grace in 2011 that, in a way, led to Friday’s setback. During that season, the lefty logged 17 innings between Triple-A and the Majors before the Angels parted ways with him. In 2012, Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters in Indy ball and then worked for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, amassing 86.2 innings between the stops.

This season, Kazmir has reached 114 innings for Cleveland.

After Kazmir’s previous start on Sunday in Miami, the Tribe’s initial plan was to give him one extra day, bringing him back on Saturday. In light of losing righty Corey Kluber to the disabled list, and the fact that Kazmir has been pitching so well, Cleveland changed course and brought the lefty back on normal rest to face the Angels on Friday.

Heading into Friday, Kazmir had gone 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .173 opponents’ batting average in his past nine starts for the Tribe.

He couldn’t keep that impressive run going.

Kazmir allowed five runs and labored through 40 pitches in the first inning and was pulled after giving up a single to the first batter faced in the fourth. After the game, Kazmir told Francona that he was feeling fatigued.

“He kind of owned up to that,” Francona said. “When I say ‘owned up to it,’ I mean he wanted to answer the bell today. He knew it was important, because of what happened to Klubes. But I think we’ll go back and see what we can do to try to give him maybe a couple days this time through. I think it’ll be good for him.

“I don’t think any of us thought he would go through the whole year and go every five days. I don’t think that was realistic. He’s not hurt. … We’re going to figure out a way to build a few days in here so we can get the Kaz that we had seen more often than not.”

SECOND: So where does Cleveland go from here?

At first, given Wednesday’s 14-inning loss and the abbreviated outing from Zach McAllister on Thursday, it appeared as though Carlos Carrasco was a one-day insurance policy to help the Indians get through Friday. Good thing he was up from Triple-A, because he answered with five shutout innings of relief, sparing an already worn-down bullpen.

“He was very good,” Francona said. “It was good for our whole team’s confidence. Any time you see
somebody go out there and do what he did, that’s terrific.”

After the game, and after the development involving Kazmir, Francona was asked if Carrasco was going to be heading back to Triple-A.

“No, he’ll stay here,” Francona replied.

It is not a stretch then to speculate that Carrasco could take Kazmir’s next start on Wednesday in Minnesota. Carrasco would be on his normal day to pitch and the Francona made a point to note that the team wants to give Kazmir some extra days.

THIRD: Back on July 23 in Seattle, I asked Francona about the slump of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who headed into that day hitting .143 in his previous 15 games. Cabrera then went out and hit .444 (8-for-18) with three extra-base hits and five RBI in his next four games.

On Thursday, following a 10-game stretch in which Cabrera hit just .122, I brought up Cabrera’s struggles again with the manager. The shortstop then went out and collected two doubles and two RBI in a loss to the Tigers.

So, prior to Friday’s game, I asked Francona if he’d like me to ask about Cabrera every day, since the shortstop seems to go get a couple hits each time I bring up a slump. Well, sure enough, Cabrera went out Friday and belted a home run in the loss to the Angels.

Sure, the last two games have been losses, but Cabrera’s production has been encouraging for the Indians.

“For us to get where we want,” Francona said, “we certainly need him to be right in the middle of it. With his switch-hitting ability, his baseball acumen, it’s good when he’s in the middle of stuff.”

In the sixth inning, Cabrera was helped off the field by a team trainer after turning a double play to end the top half of the frame. It didn’t look good initially, though it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was ailing the shortstop, especially considering Cabrera stayed in the game.

“He got a bunch of dirt in his eye, and I mean like a bunch,” Francona explained. “He was really having a tough time even kind of seeing where he was going. Like, they had to kind of walk him down the steps. It looked like he was limping, but he couldn’t really see very well.”

HOME: The Indians offense hasn’t performed well of late, scoring an average of just 2.4 runs per game over the past eight contests. Over that span, the offense has hit .210 (59-for-281) overall and .172 (10-for-58) with runners in scoring position.

Now, it is only fair to point out that Cleveland has happened to be in the midst of tough string of starting pitchers in the past eight games. The list includes Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and, on Friday, Jered Weaver.

That group has combined to go 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 57 strikeouts and only nine walks issued in 56.2 innings against the Indians over the past eight games.

Cleveland isn’t about to make any excuses, though.

“It’s the big leagues, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “That’s part of playing in the big leagues. You’re going to run into some pitchers that can pitch. Tonight, I thought we hit the ball pretty good. They just never found the holes. It happened against Detroit, too. But we just lost. There’s no excuse for it. We’re just in a little rut. We have to work our way out of it — simple as that.”

ON DECK:

Angels (52-62) at Indians (62-54)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

Turning Point: Game 114

87MiggyIn lieu of Covering the Bases, considering it’s already beyond 1 a.m. ET, I’ll break down a key moment in Wednesday’s 6-5, 14-inning loss to the Tigers…

The situation: With the Indians clinging to a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, rookie right-hander Danny Salazar sat at 102 pitches with two outs, a runner on first base and slugger Miguel Cabrera in the batter’s box.

The decision: Indians manager Terry Francona left Salazar in the game to face Cabrera.

The outcome: Cabrera launched the first pitch he received, a 96-mph fastball, deep to center field for a go-ahead, two-run home run. Cleveland tied the game with one run in the bottom of the eighth, but Detroit went on to win the game in the 14th inning.

The analysis: Salazar had three strikeouts in his first three meetings with Cabrera. In the first inning, the hard-throwing righty froze the slugger with an 88-mph changeup. In the third, Salazar blew a 99-mph heater by Cabrera’s swing. In the sixth, it was a 100-mph fastball that eluded Cabrera’s bat.

In the first at-bat, Cabrera watched all six pitches he received, getting a look at five fastballs (each in the 98-99 range) and the one changeup. In the second at-bat, Cabrera swung at all three fastballs he faced, fouling off two before the strikeout. In their third meeting, Cabrera fouled off a first-pitch fastball, saw two sliders (one that generated a swing-and-miss and one for a ball) before swinging through another heater.

So, following five watched fastballs, Cabrera had a 60-percent contact rate on the next five fastballs in the at-bats leading up to the home run. He saw three offspeed pitches, but spit at two of them. After three first-pitch fastballs in three at-bats, Cabrera was looking dead-red in his fourth at-bat.

This season, Cabrera had hit only .125 (1-for-8) when facing a starting pitcher for the fourth time, heading into Wednesday. That lone hit, however, was a home run. Over his career, Cabrera’s batting average has increased with each at-bat against a starting pitcher: .307 (first at-bat), .329 (second at-bat), .347 (third at-bat), .359 (fourth at-bat).

Salazar, who has had his innings closely watched all season, was over 100 pitches for the first time this year. He topped out at 89 pitches for Triple-A Columbus on June 4. Over 21 Minor League appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this year, Salazar averaged 70 pitches per start. In his most recent outing, he was pulled after 52 pitches.

The comments:

Francona, on leaving Salazar in to face Cabrera: “Because he was throwing about as well as you could. That would’ve been his last hitter, but to that point I would’ve had a hard time justifying having him not pitch. That’s how good I thought he was.”

Salazar, on the eighth-inning at-bat: “It was the fourth time I faced him. I wasn’t thinking too much. I [threw it] past him a couple times with my fastball. When I tried it again, fastball, I left it in the middle, and he hit it.”

Cabrera, on Salazar staying in the game: “I mean, I don’t want to face him the fourth time. He get me out the first three times. I was saying to myself, ‘It’s time to bring in the bullpen.’ And when they decided to leave him in there, I say, ‘Let’s grind out this at-bat, try to make something happen.’”

My verdict: To be honest, I was surprised Salazar was on the mound to start the eighth inning. In fact, I had already started writing his pitching line in my scorebook before I realized he was on the mound warming up for that frame. Once Francona stuck with him for the eighth, I wasn’t surprised he let him face Cabrera, given the three previous strikeouts. At that point, if you commit to him, you commit to him, in my opinion. To me, and this is obviously with the benefit of hindsight, the mistake was not going to the bullpen to begin the eighth inning.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 113

86TigersFinal: Tigers 5, Indians 1

FIRST: The Indians have done well this season at beating the teams they should beat. Maybe, just maybe, when the smoke clears on this season, that will be enough to put Cleveland in playoff position.

Then again, maybe it’s time for the Indians to start beating the teams they need to beat.

With Tuesday’s loss to the Tigers, the Indians dropped to 3-11 this season against the American League Central pacesetter. Think of it this way, if Cleveland had gone 7-7 in those games, the club would have a three-game lead atop the division standings.

“These guys have put it on us pretty good,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “We need to get them a couple times.”

Are the Indians slipping too far behind?

“No, it’s too early. It’s too early for that, man,” Swisher said. “I’ve been doing this for a little bit now. Normally, in a situation like this, it boils down to the last couple weeks. If you look at our schedule going down the last month of the season, we’ve got a chance to do something.”

What Swisher was referencing was Cleveland’s relatively easy schedule over the final weeks of the season. Consider that the Indians’ final 10 games are against teams currently with records under .500. In September, the Tribe plays 17 such games within 27 contests over the final month.

One look at Cleveland’s performance to date shows why this is important for the team’s chances.

As of this writing, the Indians were 34-14 (.708 winning percentage) against clubs with sub-.500 records and 28-37 (.431) against above-.500 teams. Cleveland plays 29 of its final 49 games against teams below the break-even mark.

Do the math.

If the Indians stay true to their winning percentages against both groups the rest of the way, the project to finish the season around 90-72. There’s obviously margin for error there, given the way baseball is, and Cleveland’s respective showing against the remaining teams on the schedule. The point is this: over the past decade, the fifth-best team in the American League (second Wild Card) has averaged 90.3 wins.

If the Indians continue to beat the teams they should beat, they have a fighting chance.

“We’ve got two more against these guys, but we’ve got another 50 games left,” Indians starter Justin Masterson said. “We’ve talked about it. Yeah, we want to win these games, and we’re definitely going to come out and hopefully split the series, but the main factor is going to be, as we continue on with the season, winning games we’re supposed to.

“If we can’t do that, there’s no point even if we beat Detroit. That’s kind of the main factor. I think our goal is one game at a time, and definitely split the series, because every time out we want to win a series.”

SECOND: You might remember the name Russ Adams. He was a first-round pick by the Blue Jays way back when and came up as a highly-touted shortstop prospect. Adams never panned out, hitting .247 with a .372 slugging percentage in parts of five seasons in the bigs.

But, you know what? He owned Jon Garland.

Adams hit .571 with a 2.000 slugging percentage against Garland, belting three home runs in seven at-bats.

It’s something you can’t explain.

“There’s always a guy,” Masterson said.

Masterson’s guy is Don Kelly, who might be earning a reputation as Don Bleepin’ Kelly around Cleveland these days. In 24 career at-bats against Masterson, the light-hitting Kelly (.232/.292/.348 career slash line, entering Tuesday) has posted a .458 average with three home runs, eight RBI and no strikeouts.

“He loves facing me,” Masterson said. “If I was Superman, he’d be my kryptonite. … He salivates when I get up there.”

Kelly was at it again on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with a three-run home run that served as the dagger in Detroit’s five-run fifth inning. Even Kelly is scratching his head over his ownership over Cleveland’s big sinkerballer.

“He’s nasty,” Kelly said. “Obviously he’s a great pitcher. I can’t explain it. I just see him well. I mean, when you have a guy who throws 96 mph with a sinker, slider, changeup, it’s just one of those things that I guess I just see the ball well.”

If Kelly was a secret weapon at one point, he certainly isn’t any longer.

“He’s definitely been a thorn in our side,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There was a reason he wasplaying tonight, and that was why.”

THIRD: Could the Indians be in the middle of a Kid Fernandez hangover?

In Tuesday’s loss, Cleveland ended with just one run on four hits against Detroit. Granted, the Indians were going up against ace Justin Verlander (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K), but this has been a trend of late for the Tribe. Over the past five games, the Indians have hit .211 (35-for-166) with no homers, six extra-base hits, 47 strikeouts and just nine runs scored (1.8 per game).

That stretch started on Friday, when Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez blanked the Tribe over eight innings and piled up 14 strikeouts in the process.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s who we’re facing,” Swisher said. “We’re just not getting the job done — that’s it. So regardless of whoever is on the mound, we’ve got to find a way to get the job done.”

HOME: Off the field, the Indians were dealt a big blow roughly a half-hour before Tuesday’s first pitch. That’s when Cleveland announced that starter Corey Kluber, whose emergence has been one of the great storylines of the season for the team, was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right middle finger.

Francona indicated that Kluber injured the finger while throwing a breaking ball in the eighth inning of his outing against the Tigers on Monday, when he went 7 1/3 shutout frames. The Indians have not  revealed too much information as of yet, but the club has noted that the injury is similar to the one sustained earlier this season by righty Zach McAllister.

“I don’t know what him and McAllister were drinking,” Masterson said. “Hopefully they don’t share that with anybody else.”

McAllister needed seven weeks to return from his injury. If that timetable holds true for Kluber, he could possibly be back around the final week of the season. So, this is a season-threatening injury for a starter who has been one of the most reliable arms for the Tribe over the past few months.

“It’s disappointing in a lot of ways,” Francona said. “We’re right in the thick of things and we’re running Corey Kluber out there, feeling pretty good about ourselves. And his growth has been amazing. I’m disappointed for him. It makes it harder for us. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it — just makes it harder.”

Rookie Danny Salazar will start on Wednesday, but Francona wouldn’t guarantee anything beyond that outing. Cleveland has been closely monitoring Salazar’s innings all season. Maybe Salazar will stick around for a few starts or, don’t look now, but Daisuke Matsuzaka has posted a 2.06 ERA with 31 strikeouts and five walks in 35 innings across his past five starts at Triple-A. Just sayin’.

“It’s just so disappointing,” Masterson said of losing Kluber. “Hopefully, it can be one of those where we can take a few weeks, get him back on track and have him, because he’ll be a big part as we continue on. What’s great is who we have coming in tomorrow to pitch in Salazar. The strength that we have is definitely some depth in pitching. That will definitely help out. But he’s going to be well missed.”

ON DECK:

Tigers (66-45) at Indians (62-51)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Month in review: July

RotationJulyMaybe it took three months of ups and downs for Cleveland’s rotation to hit its stride. Or, maybe July was the best-case scenario, and regression should be anticipated across August and September. Whatever it was, the Indians enjoyed the heck out of their arms in July.

Led by the quartet of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland’s starting staff led the club to another 15-win month, keeping the Tribe in both the division and Wild Card hunt. That foursome combined to go 7-2 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in July, piling up 113 strikeouts in 129.2 innings.

Masterson made the American League All-Star team and continues to dominate with his signature sinker, and a slider that is currently valued as the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs.com. Kluber’s emergence continued, Kazmir finally found what he’s been looking for this year, and Jimenez kept his bend-but-don’t-break approach going.

The Indians also got righty Zach McAllister back from the disabled list after the All-Star break and received a stellar Major League debut from prospect Danny Salazar on July 11. We’ll just go ahead and ignore the Carlos Carrasco fiasco on July 6, and skip right to the month-by-month breakdown of the Tribe’s rotation this season:

April: 8-13, 5.09 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .778 OPS
May: 13-8, 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .710 OPS
June: 9-11, 4.68 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, .779 OPS
July: 8-4, 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .619 OPS

That’s not a good showing, it’s great showing from the starting staff in July. It was one of the best performances by a starting staff in the American League for the month and one of the better one-month showings by a Tribe rotation in the past 50 years (as you’ll read below).

Here is a look at the month that was for the Indians…

Record: 15-10
Home: 12-4
Road: 3-6

AL Central standings as of Aug. 1:

1. Tigers 61-45 (–)
2. Indians 59-48 (2.5)
3. Royals 53-51 (7)
4. Twins 45-59 (15)
5. White Sox 40-65 (20.5)

Offense (AL rank)

.257 average (8)
.335 on-base (4)
.390 slugging (9)
.725 OPS (8)
117 runs (5)
212 hits (9)
40 doubles (9)
2 triples (t-9)
22 home runs (11)
112 RBI (5)
92 walks (3)
173 strikeouts (9)
15 stolen bases (9)
64 extra-base hits (t-10)
322 total bases (10)

Notes: The Indians turned in a unique July in terms of run production and patience. This marked only the fourth time since the start of the 2000 season that Cleveland ended July with at least 15 stolen bases, 90 walks and 115 runs scored. The Tribe also did so in July in 2004, 2001 and 2000. I limited the monthly search to July due to the All-Star break.

Pitching (AL rank)

15 wins (t-3)
3.43 ERA (5)
3.22 rot. ERA (2)
3.88 bullpen ERA (10)
9 saves (t-4)
223 innings (11)
187 hits (2)
94 runs (5)
85 earned runs (4)
14 home runs (1)
87 walks (14)
188 strikeouts (t-7)
.226 average (2)
1.23 WHIP (4)

Notes: This was one of the better months for an Indians pitching staff over the past five decades. It marked the first time since August of 1968 that a Cleveland staff ended any one month with at least 15 wins and 188 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.45 or better and an opponents’ batting average under .230. Dating back to 1969, the only other months with 15 wins, a 3.45 ERA or better and an opponents’ average under .230 by a Tribe staff were May 1989 and June 1971. This marked the first time since August of 1988 that an Indians staff had no more than 14 homers yielded with at least 200 innings logged.

INDIANS PLAYER HONORS

Player of the month: LF Michael Brantley
Stats: .318/.396/.482/.878, 2 HR, 6 2B, 1 3B, 13 RBI, 10 BB, 8 K, 15 R, 27 H, 24 games

Notes: Dating back to the start of the 2000 season, only four Indians players have enjoyed a month with at least nine extra-base hits, 10 walks, 27 hits and no more than eight strikeouts. Prior to Brantley this July, the others to achieve that feat for Cleveland were Victor Martinez (April 2009, June 2004), Omar Vizquel (Apri 2002, July 2000) and Kenny Lofton (August 2000).

Previous 2013 winners: C Carlos Santana (co-winner, April), INF Mark Reynolds (co-winner, April), 2B Jason Kipnis (May, June)

Pitcher of the month: LHP Scott Kazmir
Stats: 2-0, 2.75 ERA, 36 IP, 27 K, 11 BB, 1.03 WHIP, .198 AVG, 6 starts

Notes: Kazmir is the first Indians left-hander to piece together a month with at least 35 innings, an ERA of 2.75 or better and an opponents’ batting average under .200 since Cliff Lee accomplished the feat in April 2008. The last Cleveland pitcher to do so was right-hander Justin Masterson in July 2011.

Previous 2013 winners: Masterson (April, May), RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (June)

Reliever of the month: RHP Chris Perez
Stats: 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 8 saves, 15 IP, 11 K, 3 BB, 0.93 WHIP, .200 AVG, 14 games

Notes: Perez has been dominant since coming off the disabled list, following a bout with a right shoulder injury. In fact, there is only one other reliever in Indians history to have a month with at least eight saves to go along with an ERA of 0.60 or better and a WHIP under 1.00. Besides Perez in July, Jose Mesa also accomplished that feat in August 1995.

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Joe Smith (April), RHP Cody Allen (May), RHP Vinnie Pestano (June)

Game of the month (hitter): Brantley, July 7, during 9-6 win over Tigers
Stat line: 3-for-5 with 2 HR, 3 XBH, 3 R, 5 RBI, 10 TB

Notes: Brantley became the first Indians hitter to have at least two homers, three runs, five RBI and 10 total bases in one game since Shin-Soo Choo did so vs. Kansas City on Sept. 17, 2010. The last player do it against Detroit was Travis Hafner on Juy 4, 2005. You have to to all the way back to Carlos Baerga on June 17, 1993 to find another Tribesmen with that stat line, plus three extra-base hits, in a game against the Tigers.

Game of the month (pitcher): Kazmir, July 24, during 10-1 win over Mariners
Stat line: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 83 Game score

Notes: This marked the first time in Kazmir’s career that he turned in eight innings with no more than one hit surrendered. He only has two career games with at least seven innings and one hit allowed, and both came this season. He became the first Tribe lefty to give up no more than one hit in at least eight innings since Billy Traber did so vs. the Yankees on July 8, 2003. Rick Waits previously accomplished the same feat on April 7, 1979 against the Red Sox. The last righty to go at least eight innings with only one hit allowed for Cleveland was Kevin Millwood on May 9, 2005 against the Angels.

—————————————————————

MINOR LEAGUE STANDOUTS FOR JULY

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 3B Ryan Rohlinger
Stats: .318/.402/.400/.802, 1 HR, 4 2B, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 12 R, 27 H, 25 games

Previous 2013 winners: OF Jeremy Hermida (April), Phelps (May, June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 2-0, 0.82 ERA, 22 IP, 31 K, 2 BB, 0.68 WHIP, .176 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Preston Guilmet (April, June), RHP Carlos Carrasco (May)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Carlos Moncrief
Stats: .317/.377/.574/.951, 4 HR, 6 2B, 4 3B, 21 RBI, 19 R, 32 H, 26 games

Previous 2013 winners: 1B/DH Chun Chen (April), C Roberto Perez (May), Moncrief (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Matt Packer
Stats: 4-1, 2.83 ERA, 35 IP, 33 K, 8 BB, 1.17 WHIP, .252, 6 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP T.J. House (April), RHP Jose Flores (May), Packer (June)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: 3B Paddy Matera
Stats: .329/.480/.553/1.033, 3 HR, 8 2B, 17 RBI, 14 BB, 21 R, 25 H, 24 games

Previous 2013 winners: SS Francisco Lindor (April), OF Luigi Rodriguez (May), 2B Joe Wendle (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cody Anderson
Stats: 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 28 IP, 21 K, 7 BB, 1.18 WHIP, .263 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: Anderson (April, May, June)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 1B Joseph Sever
Stats: .318/.353/.542/.896, 5 HR, 7 2B, 41 3B, 24 RBI, 19 R, 34 H, 26 games

Previous 2013 winners: OF Logan Vick (April), OF LeVon Washington (May), 2B Yhoxian Medina (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP D.J. Brown
Stats: 1.76 ERA, 15.1 IP, 17 K, 1 BB, 0.72 WHIP, .192 AVG, 8 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Michael Peoples (April), LHP Ryan Merritt (May), RHP Josh Martin (June)

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .383/.431/.673/1.104, 7 HR, 10 2B, 21 RBI, 15 R, 41 H, 29 games

Previous 2013 winners: INF Claudio Bautista (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Kyle Crockett
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 8.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, 0.84 WHIP, .161 AVG, 7 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP Harold Guerrero (June)

Arizona League (Rookie) Indians

Player of the Month: OF Clint Frazier
Stats: .300/.354/.529/.883, 2 HR, 4 2B, 3 3B, 12 RBI, 13 R, 21 H, 18 games

Previous 2013 winners: Frazier (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Sean Brady
Stats: 1.38 ERA, 13 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 0.92 WHIP, .217 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: LHP Anderson Polanco (June)

Dominican Summer League (Rookie) Indians

Player of the Month: OF Hector Caro
Stats: .348/.375/.435/.810, 4 2B, 9 RBI, 7 R, 16 H, 14 games

Previous 2013 winners: 2B Erlin Cerda (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Francisco Lopez
Stats: 3.66 ERA, 19.2 IP, 23 K, 10 BB, 1.32 WHIP, .219 AVG, 5 games

Previous 2013 winners: RHP Edward Estrella (June)

Previously…

Month in review: June
Month in review: May
Month in review: April

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 107

731MobFinal: Indians 6, White Sox 5

FIRST: Is the magic back at Progressive Field? At the very least, it’s here for the moment. And it’s been an absolute blast for the men inside the Tribe’s clubhouse and the fans who have been in attendance lately.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland pulled off a 6-5 victory in 10 innings courtesy of a walk-off home run from Carlos Santana. The catcher ripped a 3-2 pitch into the right-field seats, hustled around the bases, tossed his helmet high into the air and jumped into the traditional mob scene at home plate.

“Kind of boring, don’t you think?” deadpanned Indians utility man Mike Aviles.

Santana shot into the Cleveland night marked the Major League-leading fifth walk-off home run of the season for the Tribe. Since 1994, when Jacobs/Progressive Field opened, the Indians have led the Majors with 69 walk-off home runs.

This season’s heroes: Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi and Santana. Eight different players (Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and the previously mentioned group) have delivered Cleveland’s nine walk-off wins this season. It’s been an entire team effort in that regard, and that’s the way the club likes it.

“The thing about it, which I enjoy, is the fact that every night it’s somebody different,” Aviles said. “That shows you the kind of chemistry we have. We’re always rooting for each other. It shows you the type of depth we possess right now. It’s a fun way to win every night. Something different.”

Cleveland had a 3-0 lead through five innings, headed into the ninth deadlocked 3-3 and then watched the White Sox grab a 5-3 lead behind a two-out rally against reliever Cody Allen. The Tribe battled back for a pair of runs in the home half of the ninth, both coming on sacrifice flies (via Michael Bourn and Kipnis). That set the stage for Santana.

“We’re not really worried about who the hero is,” Bourn said. “We’re worried about just trying to win the game. In baseball, every man gets his chance.”

Off the bat, Indians manager Terry Francona wasn’t sure Santana had a homer.

That changed when bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. started high-fiving the manager.

“Sandy knows this ballpark better than I do,” Francona said.

SECOND: Indians starter Corey Kluber cruised into the ninth inning with less than 90 pitches and was at 95 after Conor Gillaspie delivered a two-out single to left field. At that juncture, Francona opted to hand the ball to Allen.

Kluber already logged a career-high 8.2 innings and was set to face White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo in the ninth. Viciedo was 0-for-3, but Francona felt the outfielder had been solid contact at times in his three previous plate appearances against Kluber.

In hindsight, Francona admitted to making a mistake in pulling Kluber from the game.

“He was very efficient,” Francona said. “I just thought, where we had gotten to that point in the game, Viciedo had had three looks at him and had some pretty good swings. It ended up not being a real good move on my part, but that was the reason.”

That was because Allen allowed two hits — one being a two-run single to Jeff Kepinger — and a walk before escaping the inning. It is worth noting that rookie umpire D.J. Reyburn’s strike zone seemed to tighten up with Allen on the hill in that critical situation. Allen might’ve struck out Keppinger looking had some close calls gone the other way.

“You want every pitch,” Francona said. “I just thought the zone got a little tighter than it had been. But, every teams wants every call.”

And Allen didn’t use it as an excuse.

“It should never have gotten to that point,” said the pitcher.

THIRD: Cleveland’s key push in the bottom of the ninth was ignited by a leadoff double by Michael Brantley against Addison Reed. Veteran Jason Giambi then came off the bench and was hit by a pitch to bring Drew Stubbs to the plate with no outs, and the Indians down, 5-3.

“I always think we have a chance,” Francona said. “We set up the inning. We knew what we wanted to
do. And when ‘G’ got nicked with that pitch, it’s like, ‘OK, at least we have a chance.’ Any time you have the tying run at the plate, you always feel like you have a chance.”

Stubbs squared around to bunt, did so successfully and narrowly beat out the throw to first base to load the bases for the top of the order. What followed put Cleveland in a position to collect another dramatic victory at home, where the team has won 10 in a row.

“It’s nice when you do some things and you get rewarded for it,” Francona said. “Stubby getting a
bunt down and then, on top of that, beating it out. When you do the little things right, it leads to some big things. It’s fun to see everybody contribute.”

HOME: Of course, the Tigers put an 11-1 beatdown on the Nationals tonight, keeping Cleveland’s deficit in the division at 2.5 games. The Indians have won a season-high seven games in a row, but they have only gained one game on Detroit in that span.

“We’re watching Detroit beat teams 11-1,” said Allen, shaking his head. “And we’re losing leads, getting leads, losing leads and walking off. We’ll win a few games here straight up eventually.”

“Beat’s losing,” Francona said.

And, the winning streak hasn’t been for naught.

Take a look at the American League Wild Card standings:

1. Tampa Bay/Boston 64-44 (–)
2. Cleveland 59-48 (–)
3. Baltimore 59-49 (0.5 GB)
4. Texas 59-49 (0.5 GB)
5. New York 55-51 (3.5 GB)

That’s right. If the postseason started today, your Indians would be in the playoffs.

Now, about August…

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-65) at Indians (59-48)
at 12:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 106

730RaburnFinal: Indians 7, White Sox 4

FIRST: The Indians had the Bullpen Mafia in recent seasons. Now, Cleveland has the Bench Mob.

Tuesday’s win was another entry into this season’s growing list of heroics from the men who occupy the bench. Backup catcher Yan Gomes had two hits, including a two-run double, and utility man Ryan Raburn delivered the game’s big blow: a two-run, two-out, go-ahead pinch-hit single in the eighth.

“This is a night where maybe Chris deserves part of the win,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Francona was referring to GM Chris Antonetti, who had a brilliant offseason in terms of assembling a versatile, productive bench.

Antonetti reeled in utility man Mike Aviles and Gomes from the Blue Jays in a trade for reliever Esmil Rogers. The GM netted Raburn and veteran Jason Giambi on Minor League contracts, and they each won jobs on the big league roster during Spring Training.

What has that group done to this point?

Aviles: .265/.296/.385/.681, 6 HR, 10 2B, 29 RBI, 80 G (234 AB)
Giambi: .197/.302/.409/.711, 7 HR, 6 2B, 24 RBI, 46 G (127 AB)
Gomes: .291/.325/.520/.845, 7 HR, 9 2B, 2 3B, 26 RBI, 44 G (148 AB)
Raburn: .272/.369/.544/.914, 11 HR, 13 2B, 33 RBI, 61 G (169 AB)

For those scoring at home, that’s 31 homers, 38 doubles, 71 extra-base hits and 112 RBI in 678 at-bats by that foursome. That’d be an MVP-contending season right there. The group boasts a rate of 6.1 at-bats per RBI. To put that into perspective, if that were an American League hitter, he’d rank 14th overall, sandwiched between Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols.

None of that takes into account the defensive side of things.

Aviles has given the Indians a legitimate backup shortstop after the club cycled through five (Brent Lillibridge, Jason Donald, Juan Diaz, Jack Hannahan and Cord Phelps) in that role in 2012. Aviles can also man second and third base, and the outfield, if needed. Likewise, Raburn can hold his own at multiple infield spots and the corner outfield positions.

Gomes headed into Tuesday’s game as the Majors’ leader with a 55-percent caught-stealing rate and the Tribe’s pitching staff had a 3.88 ERA with him behind the plate.

“It’s awesome, man,” Raburn said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bench this productive. It’s great to see guys that can come up and step up and contribute. It seems like everybody off the bench has come in and helped, whether it’s playing a game or two here and there, coming off the bench for a pinch hit, and helping the ballclub.”

Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Indians were the only team in the Majors to have five players (Aviles, Giambi, Gomes, Giambi and Lonnie Chisenhall) with at least six homers and 20 RBI in under 250 at-bats. The Padres were the only other team in baseball with as many as four players to achieve those qualifiers.

“That’s a nice way to play,” said Francona, referring to having a versatile and productive bench. “That’s a nice way to play. Our bench is very productive in a number of ways. And one of them is the way the complement each other.”

SECOND: In the third inning, a slice of baseball history took place.

Gomes settled into the batter’s box for the Indians to face Andre Rienzo of the White Sox. It marked the first time in Major League history that two players born in Brazil squared off. Gomes received an 89-mph slider, and the catcher welcomed Rienzo to The Show with a single up the middle.

Rienzo came off the mound, and motioned toward Gomes, who was smiling at first base.

“We’re both just looking at each other, laughing,” Gomes said with a smile. “He was just kind of like, ‘Come on, man. If you’re going to get a base hit, get a little harder one than that.’ But I mean, hey, a base hit’s a base hit.”

The game was broadcast in their home country on ESPN Brazil.

“It was awesome,” Gomes said. “Such a huge thing for our country. I’ve been saying this all year, and it’s just going to get better.”

In seven innings, Rienzo held the Indians to three runs (none earned) on five hits, finishing with six strikeouts and three walks. He became the first starting pitcher to go at least seven innings with no earned runs allowed in a big league debut against Cleveland since Detroit’s Andy Van Hekken on Sept. 3, 2002.

“He was impressive,” Francona said. “He threw fastballs down, up, by design. He hrew a breaking ball that was as good. He commanded it. He threw some for strikes where he had to get back into the count. He threw some that were in and out of the zone when he got ahead. He was really impressive.”

THIRD: That lefty Scott Kazmir turned in the worst performance from the rotation in the past 18 games says a lot about how strong the starting staff has been of late. Kazmir allowed a season-high nine hits in five innings, during which he was charged with four runs with three strikeouts and no walks.

With that, the rotation’s ERA has “ballooned” to 2.08 (26 earned runs in 112.2 IP) over the past 18 games, dating back to July 8.

“I don’t think he felt real good about his stuff tonight,” Francona said of Kazmir. “It was just one of
those nights where he came out and he was having a little bit of trouble getting loose. But, to his credit, he hung in there.”

So did the Tribe’s bullpen, which followed with four shutout innings to give the offense time to come back against Chicago. Right-hander Matt Albers led the way with 2.2 scoreless frames, lowering his season ERA to 2.75 for the Indians.

HOME: A key moment that could easily be overlooked took place just prior to Raburn’s momentum-swinging pinch-hit single in the eighth inning. After Carlos Santana came through with a two-out base hit, to put runners on the corners with two outs, Francona sent the fleet-footed Drew Stubbs to first base to pinch run.

While Raburn was hitting against White Sox righty Matt Lindstom, Stubbs swiped second base.

“Lindstrom’s got real good stuff,” Francona said, “but he doesn’t necessarily hold runners the best. We
have one of the best base stealers in the game. That’s just our best chance to go ahead.”

It proved to be a crucial move, considering Raburn followed with his base hit to center field. Asdrubal Cabrera scored easily from third and Stubbs, thanks to the stolen base, sprinted home ahead of the throw to push Cleveland to a 5-4 lead. Gomes then put the game away with a two-run double.

“If Raburn gets the hit and he doesn’t steal, maybe we’re still playing,” Francona said. “Who knows? It put us in a really good position.”

EXTRA INNING: Following the game, Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano had an emotional goodbye with his teammates. Pestano wasn’t traded, but he was optioned to Triple-A, according to a source. That vacates a spot on the active roster, possibly for lefty Marc Rzepczynski (acquired from the Cardinals on Tuesday) or another player coming via trade. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-64) at Indians (58-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 105

729GiambiFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 2

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona knows there isn’t much else he can say to convey his appreciation and respect for what Jason Giambi brings to his team.

Francona just isn’t sure he’s got it right, yet.

“You could fill up a book,” Francona said, “because I keep trying to say how I feel about him, and I just don’t feel like I ever quite get there. That’s how valuable I feel like he is to our team.”

On Monday night, Giambi entered off the bench as a pinch-hitter for Mark Reynolds to face White Sox reliever Ramon Troncoso. The veteran lefty received a 1-1 slider that floated high in the zone, and he deposited it into the bushes beyond the center-field wall.

What followed was frenzy.

Giambi made his way around the bases, and then jumped into the pack of teammates at the plate. His jersey was tugged, his hair tousled, and Nick Swisher leapt into his arms. Francona also greeted Giambi with a bear hug, and the aging slugger thanked his manager by hoisting him into the air.

“It was fun until it hurt,” Francona said.

Swisher later drenched Giambi with a cooler filled with water.

“I might catch pneumonia,” Giambi joked. “I’m a little old to be dunked with cold water.”

If you thought Giambi was a little too old to be swatting walk-off home runs, well, you would’ve been right. In fact, he just became the oldest player in baseball history to launch a walk-off blast, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Oldest players to hit a walk-off home run
1. Jason Giambi (42 years, 202 days), 2013
2. Hank Aaron (42 years, 157 days), 1976
3. Tony Perez (42 years, 110 days), 1984

Giambi headed into his ninth-inning at-bat with a .056 (1-for-18) average over his previous seven games. In the 19 games prior to that stretch, the 42-year-old designated hitter posted a .289/.418/.622/1.040 slash line over 45 at-bats. And, while his overall season line (.194/.301/.411) isn’t that pretty, Giambi has been productive.

Consider that Giambi now has an at-bats per RBI rate of 5.17 through 124 ABs. Among Major League hitters with at least 120 at-bats this season, Giambi entered Monday’s game ranked 20th with a rate of 5.35 AB/RBI. Among American League hitters, Giambi ranked ninth.

American League leaders in AB/RBI
minimum 120 at-bats, entering Monday
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3.82, 378 at-bats
2. Chris Davis, 3.94, 382 at-bats
3. Edwin Encarnacion, 4.70, 385 at-bats
4. David Ortiz, 4.76, 319 at-bats
5. Mark DeRosa, 5.11, 138 at-bats
6. Wil Myers, 5.15, 134 at-bats
7. Mike Carp, 5.18, 145 at-bats
8. Ryan Raburn, 5.29, 164 at-bats
9. Jason Giambi, 5.35, 123 at-bats
10. Prince Fielder, 5.36, 402 at-bats

“He has a pretty big presence in the batter’s box,” Francona said. “I think people, when I get asked a lot, they look at his batting average. You look at his run production for his at-bats, it’s tremendous. And what he does, before he even steps in the batter’s box, you can’t put a price on it.”

Said Swisher: “Whether he gets one at-bat a week or he gets 10-15 at-bats a week, any time a guy like that is successful, the atmosphere is off the charts, man. We were so happy for him. That’s what we brought him here to do. The guy is still built like a Greek god. He can still hit the ball a quarter mile. We saw that tonight.

“Not only that, he’s done so much for everybody in this locker room. In a sense, he’s almost like a player coach, in a way, just because he has so much knowledge. A lot of us, we almost wish we could have the career he’s had. To have a guy like that in our locker room, and for him to hit the game-winning home run, it was electric.”

SECOND: Giambi ended the evening with an exclamation point, but until then the starting pitching was poised to steal the storyline once again.

Right-hander Zach McAllister, making his second start since coming off the disabled list due to a finger injury, gave the Tribe seven strong innings. McAllister scattered five hits and limited the White Sox to two runs, mixing in two strikeouts and one walk in a 90-pitch effort.

“He wanted to stay in,” Francona said. “I thought, just, second start back, not to push it. He gave up just the two, and that was with two outs. I thought he really threw the ball well. He used both sides of the plate. The more reps he gets, the sharper he’s going to get.”

With that outing, the Indians’ starting staff is now 8-2 (McAllister took a no-decision) with a 1.84 ERA over 107.2 innings in 17 games, dating back to July 8.

Cleveland did, however, see its impressive scoreless streak come to a close at 26 innings. After back-to-back shutouts by Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, McAllister blanked Chicago for five innings before flinching in the sixth. The 26 straight shutout innings were the most for the Indians since a 31-inning run in 2008. Those represent the two longest streaks for the team over the past 14 seasons.

Herb Score, Mike Garcia and Bob Lemon remain the last three Indians pitchers to piece together three consecutive shutouts, doing so in 1956.

THIRD: Fortunately for the Indians, a blown call in the eighth inning turned into a footnote rather than a critical turning point.

With one out, Alexei Ramirez reached on a fielding error by reliever Cody Allen and then, according to second-base umpire D.J. Reyburn, stole second. Replays clearly showed that second baseman Jason Kipnis received a perfect throw from catcher Carlos Santana and tagged Ramirez on the left arm before he made contact with the bag.

Kipnis was heated and Francona came out to argue the play.

The Indians retired the next two batters, rendering the call moot in the grand scheme of things.

“I don’t think he was safe,” Francona said. “That would have been a tough one to take.”

Asked what Reyburn’s explanation was, Francona didn’t have an answer.

“I wasn’t listening. I don’t know,” said the manager. “That would have been a really hard one to digest. I’d have probably ended up getting thrown out on the next pitching change.”

HOME: Within that eighth inning, Francona summoned left-hander Rich Hill from the bullpen to face slugger Adam Dunn with Ramirez on third base. Ramirez, representing the go-ahead run, advanced on a flyout to right field from Alex Rios.

Hill worked the count full before freezing Dunn with a 93-mph sinker for an inning-ending strikeout.

It was a critical out for a pitcher facing much scrutiny these days. With Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline approaching, Cleveland is hunting for left-handed relief help. That has been an inconsistent aspect of the roster, and Hill is the lone lefty in the ‘pen at the moment.

“That was huge,” Francona said of Hill’s strikeout. “That’s why he’s here. Again, when he’s successful in those areas, it makes our bullpen a lot better.”

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-63) at Indians (57-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Indians eyeing lefty relief

The Indians continue to hunt for left-handed relief help for their bullpen.

One possible fit is Giants lefty Javier Lopez, who played under Indians manager Terry Francona during their days with the Red Sox. The 36-year-old southpaw is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, making him a likely target for Cleveland. The Indians had a scout following San Francisco earlier this month.

The Indians declined comment on potential interest in the reliever.

In 45 appearances, Lopez has posted a 1.42 ERA for the Giants. He has held left-handed hitters to a .172 average (.466 OPS) in 71 plate appearances, compared to a .281 (.712) mark in 40 plate appearances vs. right-handed batters.

Entering Monday, Cleveland’s left-handed relievers had combined for a 6.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season.

The New York Post reported that Cleveland has had talks with Colorado about lefty reliever Josh Outman, who has limited lefty hitters to a .224 average and .576 OPS, to go along with a 7.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, through 84 plate appearances this season.

The Indians may have been looking at veteran lefty Scott Downs, but the Braves acquired him from the Angels on Monday in exchange for reliever Cory Rasmus.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 104

728UbaldoFinal: Indians 6, Rangers 0

FIRST: As well as the Indians have been playing of late, they’ve essentially been stuck in neutral in terms of the standings. Cleveland just completed a three-game sweep of Texas at home for the first time since 1980. In Detroit, the Tigers finished off a brooming of the Phillies.

The Tribe had rattled off nine wins in 13 games, and has actually lost a half-game on Detroit in the American League Central race. Cleveland currently sits three games behind the Motor City on the eve of a four-game series with the cellar-dwelling White Sox.

So, as the season approaches August, let’s not ponder what happened during that month a year ago, and instead ponder whether the rolling Tribe can indeed chase down Detroit to notch a spot in the postseason.

What about the Wild Card? I say forget about that right now. Over the past 10 years, 94.6 wins on average have been required to win a Wild Card spot*. Even over the past five years, it has taken an average of 93.8 wins to make the postseason that way. Last year, when two Wild Cards were available in the AL for the first time, both clubs that made the cut won 93 games.

*This is obviously a higher number due to there only being one Wild Card in nine of the past 10 seasons. The second Wild Card reduces the average win total required to make the postseason. Over the past decade, the fifth-best team in the AL won 90.3 games on average.

Could Cleveland get in via a Wild Card? It’s not impossible, no, and the team is only a couple games back in that race at the moment. That said, the division again looks like the best route to the October stage. Over the past 10 years, the AL Central winner has won an average of 92.6 games. That average drops to 90.6 wins over the last five seasons. The AL Central winner has come under 90 victories three times in the past five years.

Looking at the coming schedule for both the Tigers and Indians, and using their home-road winning percentages against the various divisions/teams to this point, Detroit projects to finish with around 90 wins and Cleveland projects to end with about 87 wins. I’m not going to detail the entire process, but I reached those numbers with plenty of ink in the ol’ notepad, based on the clubs’ respective showings to date.

Aiming for one club projected to end around 90 wins is a more realistic goal than hoping a handful of teams in the mix for 90-plus wins collapse in unison in the Wild Card race. Right now, I just don’t see two postseason teams coming out of the Central.

It could essentially come down to how Cleveland plays against Detroit, which is 9-3 vs. the Tribe this season with seven more meetings on the schedule.

SECOND: Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez led the charge for the Indians on Sunday, spinning eight shutout innings and holding the Rangers to two hits. His performance was just the latest in a string of strong outings by Cleveland’s rotation.

Only a few days ago, GM Chris Antonetti addressed the rotation when asked if the recent performance of the group has decreased the need to potentially find an upgrade before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline.

“To some extent,” Antonetti said. “One of the things you always have to factor in when you make a trade is: Who do you displace? Who’s position on the team does the player that you acquire, who’s spot does he take? I think when you look at the rotation, those guys have done a good job over the course of the last four or five weeks.

“So the question of which of those guys would come out of the rotation, if we acquired a starter, is not an easy question to answer.”

It’s not hard to understand Antonetti’s point.

Over the past 16 games, dating back to July 8, the Indians’ rotation has gone 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA across 100.2 innings.

“I would say that, for the most part,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “guys are attacking the strike zone better, throwing strike one. And then when we get to a 1-1 count, working ahead, not working from behind so much.”

Here’s a glance at the recent production from each staff member:

Justin Masterson
Last 3 starts: 2-0, 1.27 ERA, .141 AVG
Last 9 starts: 4-3, 3.21 ERA, .209 AVG

Ubaldo Jimenez
Last 5 starts: 2-1, 2.83 ERA, .219 AVG
Last 12 starts: 5-2, 2.93 ERA, .240 AVG

Scott Kazmir
Last 7 starts: 3-0, 1.60 ERA, .148 AVG
Last 12 starts: 4-2, 3.01 ERA, .209 AVG

Corey Kluber
Last 5 starts: 1-0, 2.67 ERA, .198 AVG
Last 14 starts: 5-3, 3.23 ERA, .246 AVG

The “weakest” part of the rotation would be right-hander Zach McAllister, but that is mostly due to the fact that he’s only made one start since his seven-week stay on the disabled list due to a finger injury. In his return on Tuesday, McAllister allowed three earned runs in a five-inning outing that was marred by poor defense. Prior to his finger issue, he went 4-3 with a 2.89 ERA and a .238 opponents’ average.

THIRD: The Indians followed up Saturday’s 1-0 win with another shutout on Sunday. Cleveland now boasts a Major League-leading 14 shutouts (11 at home) on the season. The 11 home shutouts are the most by the Indians 1968 (also 11). This was the first time that Cleveland pieced together back-to-back shutout wins since May 13-14, 2008.

“That’s a good sign,” Francona said of the shutouts. “Again, it’s something to maybe talk about when the year’s over. Hopefully, it’ll be about 30. There’s been a few games where we’ve absolutely needed them, because there’s been some 1-0 games.”

On the hill for the shutouts: Masterson (6), Jimenez (4), Kluber (2), McAllister (1), Trevor Bauer (1).

HOME: The performance of the pitching staff overshadowed a solid showing from Cleveland’s lineup, which drove Alexi Ogando’s pitch count to 92 to chase him from the game after 4.2 innings. It marked the 20th time this season that an opposing pitcher exited before or at 4.2 innings against the Indians.

Heading into Sunday’s game, only the Red Sox (28), Tigers (26) and Mariners (20) had at least 20 such games among American League clubs.

“We made Ogando work,” Francona said. “We didn’t have a whole lot to show for it for five innings, but we made him work for everything, and we had his pitch count up. They had to take him out. Sometimes, that’s the way you beat good pitchers, because his stuff is filthy.”

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-62) at Indians (56-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field

–JB

Antonetti talks trade market

AntonettiIndians GM Chris Antonetti sat down with reporters at Progressive Field on Friday and discussed the current landscape of the trade market. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on Wednesday, Cleveland is staring at few sellers and steep asking prices.

“As we’ve looked at the 30 teams,” Antonetti said, “you can make the argument that there are 24, or maybe even 25 teams that are either buying or at least holding on to players, and only a select handful of teams that are willing to trade off Major League players.

“It’s further complicated for us that at least one, if not more, of those teams that are willing to sell players, are in our division.”

As has been well-documented, the addition of a second Wild Card in each league, along with the removal of draft-pick compensation for players headed to free agency, has altered both the numbers of sellers and the willingness of buyers to part with prospects. Antonetti said this will likely lead to continued talks about possibly pushing the Trade Deadline’s date back at some point down the road.

“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Antonetti said. “We’ve talked about it at each of the last two GM Meetings, that exact topic. So I imagine it’ll be a topic for discussion again this fall, especially now that we have two years with the new CBA rules. I anticipate it’s something we’ll talk about again in November.”

As for the Indians’ needs, Antonetti said he hasn’t ruled anything out, but the GM did cite left-handed relief as one specific area that could be improved. Heading into Friday’s game with Texas, Cleveland’s left-handed relievers had combined for a 6.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season.

“I think in the bullpen we could be a little bit more consistent,” Antonetti said. “I think that’s one area where we haven’t been as consistent maybe as we would like, especially our ability to get left-handed hitters out. That’s an area that we’ll try to improve, whether it’s internal alternatives or external alternatives.”

Cleveland was in the discussion for pitcher Matt Garza, who was traded to the Rangers by the Cubs, but the Indians were reportedly unwilling to part with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall as part of the deal. Now, with the Tribe’s rotation sporting a MLB-leading 2.05 ERA over the past 13 games and a 3.60 ERA going back to June 11 (third-best in the AL over that span), the Indians might not be looking at rotation alternatives.

“When you look at the rotation,” Antonetti said, “those guys have done a good job over the course of the last four or five weeks. So the question of which of those guys would come out of the rotation, if we acquired a starter, is not an easy question to answer.”

–JB

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