While Joe Smith is on the hook for the walk-off defeat, the Indians were really done in by the little things in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Atlanta, long before Chris Johnson’s game winning hit.
Justin Masterson’s inexplicable two-out, second inning walk to pitcher Paul Maholm set up the Braves to score two runs, all Masterson would allow over six challenging innings. Then there was Asdrubal Cabrera’s … well I don’t know what that was in the eighth as I’ve never seen that play before. With one run already in and Kipnis at third, Cabrera was running on a pitch to Michael Brantley, thought the ball had been ruled dead for some reason, stopped and then was caught in a rundown to end the inning. Not only did no umpire signal the play dead, but that’s basic fundamentals: Run until they tell you to stop. We all learned that in little league, so I have no idea what Cabrera was thinking.
Now, it’s not fair to assume the Indians would have scored another run that inning if Cabrera doesn’t get picked off. But it is fair to say that the Indians offense hasn’t been going well enough lately that it could afford to give away crucial outs with the potential go-ahead run at third. And really, against that outstanding Braves pen, no offense could afford such a brain cramp.
Again, the Indians inconsistent bats – save Mike Aviles whose home run and sac fly accounted for both Indians’ runs – let down a reasonable performance from the pitching staff. Masterson’s six innings – allowing five hits and four walks while striking out six – weren’t pretty (someone on Twitter described them as Ubaldoesque) but he dodged and weaved and stayed out of his own way just enough to keep the team in the game. Heck, he even got a hit, which set aflutter the hearts of those who love watching pitchers hit for some reason.
The Indians were also really hurt by their lack of quality left-handed bullpen options because instead of bringing in a lefty to face Freddie Freeman in the ninth, Francona elected to walk him to set up the righty-righty match up with Johnson, who is challenging for the NL batting title.
Hope from small sample size: Some have called this six-game road trip through Atlanta and Detroit season-defining, and it certainly is off to a poor start. But fortunately, the Indians have one of the weakest schedules to end the season – after the Detroit series they play only nine games against teams currently with winning records, and six of those are against the struggling Royals. But if the Indians are serious playoff contenders, they really do need to emerge with a split on this trip. And that starts with a win Thursday on the shoulders of … gulp … Ubaldo Jimenez.