The Indians won tonight.
I don’t feel particularly happy about the win, though. It felt like the Indians did their best to lose this game, yet they did just enough to pull it out. This game featured all the hallmarks of a frustrating loss that we’ve seen too often this year: atrocious defense, bad baserunning, inept offense, terrible situational hitting, and headscratching lineup construction. Despite all that, however, you can put this game in the win column.
Okay, let’s back it up a little bit and talk about the positives from this game:
Danny Salazar: Very good outing from the fireball-throwing pitcher that had me so excited a year ago. He kept the ball in the yard, he struck out seven, and allowed two runs in 6 IP. One of those runs was technically unearned, but it scored as the direct result of a Salazar brain-fart so the blame lies on the pitcher either way. While Salazar hasn’t looked like the dark horse Cy Young candidate he was wrongly anointed in March, he’s looked like a legitimate Major League starter since his return from Columbus, and that’s a welcome sight.
Tyler Holt: Can someone remind Terry Francona that this kid is still in Cleveland? On a team that sorely lacks intelligence and fundamentals, Tyler plays with passion and constantly looks to make the right play. Tonight he finally got off the bench to face former Indian Tony Sipp in the bottom of the 9th only to have Bo Porter go to a right hander in response. Didn’t matter, as Holt sent the first pitch he saw into Center Field for a single and ended up scoring the winning run. Is Tyler a future star? I don’t know, but I’d say probably not. Is Tyler Holt more deserving of playing time than Chris Dickerson? Absolutely.
Jose Ramirez: Speaking of another player who will likely never be a future All-Star, Jose Ramirez has had his ups and downs this season on the Major League roster. He’s looked shaky on defense at times (belying his generally above average SS skills), and he suffered through a woeful offensive stretch in his first ML stint earlier this summer, but he’s started to turn it around recently. He had two more hits tonight and collected the walk-off hit tonight. I’m happy for the kid.
And now, for the negatives:
Defense: The Astros got their second run gift-wrapped when Dickerson short-hopped Roberto Perez and Danny Salazar was day-dreaming like a Little Leaguer instead of backing up the play. I can live with botched throws and catches (though I’d rather not), but I will never tolerate a total brain-fart like Salazar displayed on the play. To the team’s credit, it sound like he got read the riot act, and he should have.
Baserunning: Last night, while the Indians were self-destructing in the bottom of the 8th, Tyler Holt got caught stealing third for the second out of the inning. Though it looks ugly the next day in context, I support that decision, because success would have put the Indians in position to score a run and potentially win the game. Anyone who has ever played baseball can tell you that you shouldn’t make the first or third out of the inning at third, but the second out can be a worthwhile risk. Tonight, Lonnie Baseball decided to stretch to third on a single to right field and got caught for the final out of the inning. Why? It’s not as egregious as Salazar, but it’s a brain fart, pure and simple.
Bunting Like a Yellow-Bellied Coward:
This is the big one. I could write an entire post about this topic but this game just illustrates my point so perfectly that I need to put it here:
The Indians are a team that is around .500, but fancies itself a good team and one certainly in playoff contention (stop laughing!). The Houston Astros, without going into detail, are not a good team. In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Indians were trailing 2-1 with runners at 1st and 2nd with Roberto Perez at the plate, and Perez squared around to bunt.
Before I go on, let me qualify – I understand that Perez is not a particularly good hitter and is only playing due to the injury to Yan Gomes. I get that he’s hitting 9th. I really get that he’s a big risk to ground into a double play. I get it, I get it, I get it. To play for one run against one of the worst teams in baseball in the 4th inning of an American League baseball game is probably the most indefensible things I saw all night tonight.
Worse than Lonnie making the third out at 3rd base for no reason.
Yes, even worse than Danny Salazar’s daydreaming on the Dickerson error.
Bunting in that situation is playing for one run, and that is exactly what happened. Michael Bourn grounded out on the first pitch, tying the game, and Jose Ramirez failed to get a hit to give the Indians the lead. If the Indians had gone on to lose the game, you better believe I’d be sitting here telling you that the decision to bunt in the 4th inning was one of the driving reasons for the loss.
What’s the absolute worst thing that happens in that Perez at-bat, by the way? He grounds into a double play and sends Lonnie to third with two outs? You have your lead off hitter coming up and you can still tie the game with a hit. It’s the fourth inning! If Perez hits a fly ball you likely have the tying run at third with one out anyway. If he walks or gets a hit, you are set up for a huge inning where you can blow the game open right there and cruise to an easy victory.
It worked out in the end, I suppose, but I want to know: are we playing to win baseball games or are we playing not to lose? I have to wonder. The bunt in this situation was the latter. Letting Perez swing the bat and try to make something happen, that is playing to win.
Also, if it feels like the Indians are bunting an awful lot, it is because they are.
The Indians bunt more than any team in the American League, and more than the Dodgers in the National League. That’s right, a team that bats a pitcher every night has fewer bunts than your American League Cleveland Indians. In fact, the only other AL teams that bunt with any comparable frequency to the Indians are the Rangers (awful this year, decimated by injuries, and playing a lot of guys they wouldn’t otherwise play) and the Rays (who are managed by a mad scientist and give regular at-bats to Jose Molina and his .186 average).
In fact, if you take pitchers out of the equation, the Indians bunt more than any team in the Major Leagues.
The Indians have 42 (including tonight) sacrifice bunts on the season from non-pitchers. That’s four more than any American league team’s total (including pitchers) this season, and a full ten more than the Reds non-pitcher bunts.
By the way, the Indians had 30 non-pitcher bunts all of last season.
Why is this? Part of it is surely the number of at-bats given to sub-replacement-level players (Aviles, Perez, Ramirez), but it’s also a reflection of managerial strategy.
I’ll say it again: the Cleveland Indians played for the tie in the 4th inning of a late-August game against one of the worst teams in baseball. They played not to lose when they should be playing to win.