Vern and Stephanie have looked at the 2014 Indians’ offensive and defensive woes and how a few more home runs or a few less errors here and there could given the season a very different ending. I’m here to talk about the Indians’ pitching, which had some great moments and some horrid ones this year.
The Indians’ pitching staff set a Major League record for strikeouts this season, logging 1,450 of them. Corey Kluber (who will win the AL Cy Young Award if there is any justice in this world) had 269 all on his marvelous own. The Tribe also tied with Tampa Bay for the 5th-lowest ERA in the AL at 3.56. Thus there are some legitimate reasons to be happy with this season and even optimistic about the pitching staff next year. But there’s one pitching stat where I really wish the Indians weren’t a leader: Cleveland had 22 blown saves, putting them 4th in the majors and 2nd in the AL. Leading the pack was Bryan Shaw, who had seven blown saves in nine save opportunities (good enough for 4th in the majors).
You can’t place all the blame for the team’s 85-77 final record on Shaw and/or the bullpen. Just a lot of it. Sometimes the starting rotation just didn’t have it either. Here are blown saves in four key games that would have drastically altered the Indians’ finish.
Sunday, May 4, Cleveland 3, Chicago 4
George Kottaras, who bounced from the Indians to the Cardinals to the Blue Jays last season, hit two home runs in his first two at-bats as an Indians. Corey Kluber went eight innings, struck out seven batters in a row, and had 13 strikeouts on the game. This should have been a win. Oh Lord, this should have been a win. The Indians were ahead 3-1 when then-closer John Axford came in for the 9th inning. He walked Gordon Beckham on four pitches, struck out Jose Abreu, and walked Adam Dunn on a full count. Axford then gave up a three-run dinger to Dayan Viciedo. Yes, to be fair, those the first runs Axford had given up since April 13th and he had saved five games in a row. But it was the beginning of the end for Axford and the Indians. The next day, he gave up one run against the Twins in the 9th, giving him two losses in a row and setting in motion the Closer by Committee experiment and, eventually, his departure from the Indians in August.
Tuesday, September 2, Cleveland 2, Detroit 4
In a four-game homestand against the Tigers that the Indians absolutely had to win (or at least split), they only managed one win. In the second game of the series, the rejuvenated Carlos Carrasco went 5.1 innings, striking out 10 and giving up 10 hits. Miraculously, he get finding ways to get out of trouble and only gave up one run. Cody Allen came in at the top of the 9th and walked Torii Hunter. (Next time an Indians closer starts off the 9th with a walk, may we request that Terry Francona just pull him as a matter of protocol?) Then he gave up a single to Miguel Cabrera. With one out, J.D. Martinez slammed a three-run home to deep center field to put Detroit ahead 4-2. The miraculous Michael Brantley singled in the bottom of the 9th, but that was all the offense the Indians managed to muster.
Thursday, September 4, Cleveland 4, Detroit 11
This one was much closer than it looks. Let me refresh your memory. Trevor Bauer had one of his traditionally poor 1st innings, giving up four runs. Then he settled down, pitching a total of 5.2 innings, with 4 walks and 4 strikeouts and no additional runs. The Indians’ offense actually managed to scrape together four runs during the course of the game to tie it and send it into extra innings. This time, the regular bullpen actually did a fine job, with CC Lee, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and Scott Atchison each putting a shut-out inning. Sometime starter, sometime reliever Josh Tomlin game in to start the 11th inning and all hell broke loose. Tomlin faced six batters, giving up two walks, three hits, and five runs. Bryan Price came in to staunch the bleeding and gave up two more runs.
Saturday, September 13, Cleveland 4, Detroit 5
The Indians were up 4-3 going into the bottom of the 8th inning. The Tribe was in the middle of a three-game series in Detroit, the last time facing the Tigers this season, and had lost the first game. With two outs and one runner on base, it looked like Bryan Shaw was going to strike out .220 hitter Alex Avila and hold the lead. Nope. One curveball too many, and Avila had a two-run homer to give the Tigers the go-ahead run.