After the weekend (and past week) the Indians had, I know I should be grateful that they managed to pull off a win tonight and avoid a sweep by the Orioles. However this game, much like last Monday’s 3-2 win over the Rays, still left a bad taste in my mouth. The trio of Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez were excellent, but the offense once again sputtered along. When the Indians squandered yet another bases-loaded situation in the eighth inning, I was about ready to pull a Nick Hagadone on my living room wall. This 3-1 victory could have easily been 5-1 or 6-1. I know that a win is a win and you don’t need to pile on the runs, but you’re not going to get a great pitching performance every night (anyone that has seen the inconsistencies of the Indians rotation knows that). Plus if it wasn’t for the baserunning gaffe from Nick Markakis in the top of the eighth, when he overran the stop sign at third and got caught in a rundown, the Orioles may not have been held to just one run.
Let’s break down the bottom of the eighth, a scene that I feel like I’ve viewed ad nauseam throughout the season. The Indians were hitting a paltry .188 with the bases loaded heading into tonight’s game. Shin-Soo Choo, the major offensive force tonight, singled to lead off the inning. Asdrubal Cabrera, who has been in a major slump since the All Star break, got on after an infield single. Jason Kipnis then bunted his way aboard to create a bases-loaded situation with nobody out. It has gotten to the point that I have very little faith in these types of situations, even though there were zero outs. “They’ll score one run at the most,” I thought to myself. The next person to the plate was Michael Brantley, one of the few people on this team that I have faith in, especially with the bags juiced. Even though he was facing the left-handed Troy Patton, Brantley is the one left-handed bat that can hit left-handed pitching; he’s hitting around .300 against lefties. Brantley singled home Choo to make the score 3-1 and keep the bases loaded with nobody out. Next was Carlos Santana, who I really felt was the last chance that inning to get some of these runs home. Yes, he’s been slumping lately; but he doubled earlier in the game and has looked a bit better at the plate. I figured it was a 50/50 crap shoot on whether or not he could come through in the clutch. Unfortunately, he grounded into a fielder’s choice; bases still loaded with one out.
As for the next two batters, Travis Hafner and Aaron Cunningham, I had already pretty much thrown in the towel. Hafner is terrible against left-handed pitching this year, and has been terrible in bases-loaded situations. The man that once hit 6 grand slams in a season was 0-6 in bases-loaded situations heading into tonight. Up 3-0 in his at-bat, he eventually struck out – now he’s 0-7 in bases loaded situations. I know I may be harder on Hafner than he deserves, but his performance of late has just infuriated me. This is supposed to be your big gun, the power hitter that comes through in the clutch. I should add that he’s the highest paid player on the team by about $10 million (technically it’s Derek Lowe, but the Indians aren’t paying all of that salary). I’m just tired of watching his pathetic performances when the bases are loaded and in other clutch situations. And then there’s Aaron Cunningham. What do you even say about the guy at this point? He is what he is – a sub .200 outfielder that probably wouldn’t even be on the team anymore if the Indians had any other viable options for a backup center fielder. An interesting fact about Cunningham is that he’s only started in 21 of 96 games this season, even though he has appeared in 71 games. Since he’s usually a late-game defensive addition, he gets very few at-bats. This is ultimately a good thing. When he walked to the plate, I thought, “If he even gets this out of the infield, I’ll be pleased…even if it’s an out.” He did hit a pop fly to shallow left, so technically I guess I’m supposed to be pleased.
The Tigers come to town tomorrow, the same Tigers that traded for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante earlier today, sending highly touted pitching prospect Jacob Turner to the Marlins. Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus quoted a front-office executive that said, “F***, that was a good deal for the Tigers” in reference to the trade. I looked at the Indians’ options earlier today and questioned whether or not they should go all-in, or start a fire sale. If the Indians are swept by the Tigers this week, it will be an uphill climb for them heading into August, especially if they don’t make a move of their own. It’s still too early to say that this is a “make or break” series, or a “must win,” but it is still pivotal.