I was supposed to go to today’s Indians game; both yesterday and today were part of my ticket package. I was pretty annoyed after yesterday’s game though, and instead opted to go visit family this afternoon. There’s a small part of me that regrets my decision to exchange these tickets for a later date; it was a beautiful day and the Indians finally won a game. At the same time, this afternoon’s contest wasn’t exactly a slam dunk, and it had its share of annoying moments as well. (Although not nearly as bad as yesterday). For this win, the Indians owe quite a bit to Michael Brantley, David Murphy, Toronto manager John Gibbons, and a Tribe bullpen that kept the Blue Jays from adding on after Carrasco left the game (even if John Axford did make things interesting in the ninth).
I’ll start with the assist from John Gibbons – Brandon Morrow was mowing down Tribe hitters not named Michael Brantley. Through five innings he’d allowed just two hits and two earned runs; when he gave up his third hit to Nick Swisher to lead off the sixth inning, Gibbons pulled him. Morrow has had his share of struggles this season, so maybe Gibbons thought that it was best to go with the early hook. Maybe it’s the fact that he gave up a hit to Nick Swisher (who went Bro-for-four yesterday and looked bad doing it) since Swisher had looked so bad over the past couple of days. Whatever Gibbons’ reasoning, he went to Aaron Loup out of the bullpen. And it looked like the Indians were going to blow another promising start to an inning. Jason Kipnis hit into a fielder’s choice, then got gunned down trying to steal second. With two outs and the bases empty, things looked pretty bleak. But then Loup walked the next three batters – Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, and Adrubal Cabrera. David Murphy came to the plate and promptly hit a bases-clearing double, putting the Tribe up 5-4. Maybe nobody was ready in the bullpen to replace Loup. I still don’t understand why Gibbons let him walk the bases loaded with two outs, then let him face one of the Indians’ hottest hitters (because there aren’t many of them). Maybe he liked the odds of the lefty-lefty match-up? I’m sure he had his reasons, but I’m not disappointed in his decision.
Has Murphy turned things around from his dismal 2013 season, or is this a hot streak bound to fizzle…much like Mark Reynolds last year? I don’t know, and at this point I don’t really care. With a vast majority of the lineup appearing to be an automatic out every time they step to the plate, Murphy has been one of the bright spots of the 2014 Indians so far. (Nyjer Morgan fell into this camp as well). When I lavish praise upon Murphy and Morgan, I forget two of the other stars of the 2014 offense so far – Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall. I tried to think about why I keep forgetting about them – perhaps because I didn’t expect much of anything from Murphy and Morgan, and find myself pleasantly surprised by them. With Brantley, I think a big part of it is the fact that he’s so steady and consistent, you almost forget about him. At this point, you almost expect him to come through in the clutch, and to be the one guy that had a decent game. With Chisenhall, I think a big part of the reason I forget about him is that his success has come at the bottom of the order. He gets on base, and the top of the Tribe’s lineup immediately ends even the smallest chance of a rally.
And speaking of the top of the lineup, they have been pretty tough to watch. I understand that Michael Bourn missed a significant amount of time on the DL and needs to try and find his groove. I also understand that players can’t necessarily work through their slumps on the bench. But do you have to continue to put them at the top of the order, to prevent even the slightest chance of a good inning or a rally? One of the more talked about stats so far this season is how the Indians have been massively outscored in the first inning of the game. Obviously part of that is on some of the shaky starting pitching we’ve seen. But when your top couple of guys are automatic outs, you’ve already ceded the first inning to your opponent. Kipnis, while much better than Bourn, Swisher, and Santana, still hasn’t been at his best so far this season. Leaving him among the three hitters having the toughest time in the lineup right now doesn’t seem like the best idea to me. Just shake the lineup up for now, until the guys get on track a bit. Then you can go back to your regular configuration, and maybe it won’t be such a mess.
Of course, the person I have not yet mentioned is Carrasco. He had the ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance today, and unfortunately the dark side ruled the day once again. Carrasco looked brilliant his first time through the Toronto lineup; teasing us by showing the type of pitcher he could be. But the second time through the order was messy, and Carrasco never made it out of the sixth inning (while surrendering four earned runs on six hits, walking three). I know that the Indians can’t keep throwing Carrasco out there when he’s bound to become a mess at some point on the mound. At the same time, I understand why they haven’t given up on him; if he could ever pull it all together, he has great stuff. (And that’s a pretty big “if” at this point). I’m not sure I have the answer where Carrasco is concerned, and I’m not sure the Indians do either. However, if guys like Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin continue to have success at Triple-A, it makes it difficult to leave them down there. If Danny Salazar continues to struggle, his job may be in danger as well. He has options, and the Indians could choose to send him to Columbus to try and straighten him out.
At least the Indians were able to salvage a win from this series, even if it wasn’t the best game you’ve seen. The Royals come to town next for a four-game series, and they’ve been pretty hot lately. The Indians need to start playing better baseball against their AL Central foes – so far this year they’re 3-6 against Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit. They don’t even need a 2013-against-the-White Sox calibre performance; just start to win more than you lose.