With Nick Swisher back in a new-look Francona lineup, the Indians were ready to roll…Michael Brantley launched a 2-run first inning homerun propelling the Tribe to a solid early lead and momentum was seized. Then, very quickly, the reigning American League Champion Royals snatched it right back on an Eric Hosmer 3-run homerun in the bottom of the inning, just minutes later. Kansas City would never trail again, en route to a steady 5-3 victory over the punchless Cleveland Indians. The Tribe managed just four base hits overall and just one run in the final eight innings.
Here are my thoughts on another tough Central Division loss and the morphing Indians lineup:
*The difference between the Cleveland Indians (9-16) and Kansas City Royals (17-9) isn’t just their very opposite records…Just one week ago these teams squared off at Progressive Field in front of a quiet crowd of 10,698, as the Tribe lost 11-5. Tuesday night at Kaufman Stadium, a fiery KC crowd of 29,099 mirrored the swagger of their division-leading team and the Royals easily shook off a 2-run 1st inning deficit to shine at home.
*The Indians are a dismal 1-8 in games opening a series so far in 2015. Absolutely pathetic.
*It’s no longer “still early” in the 2015 season and the Tribe is 5-13 against the Central Division, with some very ugly losses to all division opponents.
*It’s very difficult to fault Danny Salazar. After a rocky first inning where his velocity was not at full capacity yet, the young flamethrower showed tremendous poise and a stellar changeup; this ever-developing offspeed pitch is making life increasing difficult on opposing hitters, who can no longer sit on the fastball. Salazar’s incredible early-season control (37 strikeouts, 5 walks) could be a great sign that he is ready to thrive and display the consistency and dominance the Indians really crave right now.
*I am a huge advocate of Francona’s lineup modifications, primarily moving Carlos Santana to the #2 spot in the order, ahead of Michael Brantley. With Jason Kipnis hitting well in the leadoff spot and Santana’s ability to work the pitch count, get on base (.408 OBP) and switch hit, Brandley should be stepping to the dish with many more runners on base, a situation in which Dr. Smooth thrives: .481 with runners on.
*Swisher hit an impressive .375 on his rehab and is eager to contribute, but his first game back was underwhelming and all too familiar: 0-4, two strikeouts, two weak grounders. The Tribe badly needs Brohio to hit well. Though the Indians signed Swisher to a mega-million contract to hit in the heart of the lineup and carry the offense–let’s be honest–at this point, we’d all be thrilled if he could just go .265, 16 HR, and show some timely hitting.
*After forcing Jason Vargas into five walks in his start against the Tribe last week, they worked him for 25 pitches, a walk, and a homerun in the first inning Tuesday night. After the first frame, all Tribe patience was lost as Vargas cruised through six innings, earning many lazy fly ball and routine ground ball outs en route to a smooth win.
*My continued kudos go to Terry Francona, who has been consistent in expressing his dissatisfaction with the Tribe’s early-season struggles by showing a willingness to modify the lineup and punish pitiful play. Despite Michael Bourn’s huge contract, Francona has already dropped him to the #9 spot in the batting order and benched him against left-handed starters on multiple occasions.
With the passionate play I saw from Kansas City and the fire of their hungry fan base, the Royals are showing why they are not a “one year wonder” and may already be among the elite of the American League. KC shook off the Tribe’s early lead like it was nothing and propelled themselves to a victory to start this 4-game series. The Indians need to quickly find a spark and turn things around, especially their poor play against Central Division opponents who are jumping far ahead in the standings.