Over the past two seasons, there was one thing as Indians fans we knew we could rely upon – the bullpen. The offense may have been anemic at times in 2011 and 2012, and the starters may have struggled. When you handed the ball over to the bullpen mafia though, you could relax and feel comfortable in the fact that they would inhibit the opposing team’s offense. They had shirts, they made videos – good times! Lately, there haven’t been many good times. A portion of the team once nicknamed “mafia” because of their ability to instill terror in batters, seems suddenly very hittable. It’s as if there are racketeering charges against the “family” and we’re watching a once powerful organization crumble with the external pressure of opposing hitters.
You obviously have to put some blame on the starters, even though the Royals got the final blow against the bullpen over the past two days. Tribe starters weren’t able to survive far into games during this entire series – Corey Kluber lasted 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday, Scott Kazmir lasted 5 innings yesterday, and Ubaldo Jimenez lasted 5 today (falling apart in the sixth before recording an out). The starters have to stay in the game longer to take some of the pressure off of the bullpen. I don’t think this is solely because the bullpen is overworked, but it can’t be helping matters. Kluber allowed the most earned runs of the three starters during this series (4) even though the Indians managed to win that game. Jimenez and Kazmir both allowed three earned runs, which is enough to at least keep your team in the game (despite the early exits). When you compare that with the bullpen – four pitchers combined for six earned runs over three innings today. (Matt Albers made an appearance as well, but none of the runs were charged to him). Yesterday the bullpen gave up three over the course of three innings, and on Tuesday they allowed just one earned run after Kluber’s exit. It’s no coincidence that the game the Indians managed to win this series was the one with the least damage from the bullpen.
Bryan Shaw was painful to watch over the past two days. After giving up two earned runs on three hits in just 2/3 of an inning yesterday, he gave up two earned runs today without allowing a hit or recording an out. Shaw’s appearance today was just maddening to me – he walked George Kottaras after being ahead in the count, and then hit Johnny Giavotella with a pitch. At this point the game was still knotted at seven, and Giovatella was trying to bunt pinch runner Elliot Johnson over to second. His first two bunt attempts went foul, meaning that he was in an 0-2 hole and had to swing away. What does Shaw do? Hits him with a pitch. He basically let Giavotella off the hook for his own incompetence of not being able to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning of a tie game. At least Terry Francona had a quick hook on Shaw today (he really didn’t seem to yesterday), then he inexplicably goes to Rich Hill. I know it was a lefty-lefty match-up, but Hill does not instill confidence in anyone. At least he got his ERA under seven, so maybe we should be thankful for small things. The ball ended up going to the backstop during Jarrod Dyson’s at-bat, meaning that the Indians gave the Royals yet another free pass – runners on second and third, forcing them to intentionally walk Dyson. Francona then went to Matt Albers, who Houdinied himself out of a bases-loaded situation earlier in the series. He couldn’t do it this time though, and Salvador Perez hit a bases-clearing double, making it 10-7. Albers got the next hitters 1-2-3, but the damage was already done.
The Royals were last in the majors in home runs before this series; this three-game set with the Indians allowed them to scoot past the Miami Marlins for second to last in homers with 51. The Royals hit five home runs against the Indians this week. They could just be heating up; that rate was almost obscenely low for a team that has several good hitters. However, consider that in the 79 games before this series, the Royals had hit 49 home runs. That comes out to 0.58 homers per game, and since you can’t hit half of a home run, let’s just say they’d average one homer for every two games. Even though it’s an extremely small sample size (I’m just trying to emphasize what a rare breakout these five homers were for the Royals), their homer average for this series was 1.5 per game, meaning that their home run rate tripled over this series.
Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley, Mike Aviles and Carlos Santana all had pretty good days at the plate – multiple hits for each of them, while Stubbs, Brantley and Santana were responsible for the Tribe’s seven runs. The offense left eight on base, but I’m hesitant to criticize them at all when they put seven runs on the board. Seven runs should be enough to win the game most days of the week. Mark Reynolds went 0 for 5 and is hitting just .193 over the past month. He’s a very streaky player (or at least he was with Baltimore last season) so some of this is to be expected. You know he’s going to take you through the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. In many ways, I feel like he represents this team as a whole this season. The 2013 Indians, when they’re firing on all cylinders, cannot be stopped. No deficit is too great, and they look like they could take on any team in the majors and beat them handily when they’re at their best. When they’re at their worst – look out. Slopping pitching, sloppy at-bats, and sloppy defense will make you feel like you’re not even watching a team that’s in contention. Today was one of those days where you really got to see them at their best, and at their worst, all in one game. They still managed to finish this road trip with a 7-4 record, but it could have been even better than that.
People are already preparing their deadline “shopping lists” of what they’d like to see the Indians pick up on the trade market. Ken Rosenthal had a list of the best available relievers on the market, but none of the names really excite me. Jonathan Papelbon is expensive and has declined over the past couple of years (plus there aren’t many players that annoy me as much as him). Jesse Crain has shoulder problems, and the Brewers’ relievers, while much better of late, have had their own share of issues over the past year or so. Even if the Indians do manage to trade for some bullpen help, it’s not going to be in the immediate future. For now, the Bullpen Mafia needs to get tough and start putting fear back into opposing hitters.