On Friday night, the Indians faced off against the Oakland A’s in a matchup that is, on paper, between two teams who have vastly underperformed preseason predictions. While that billing is fair, to an extent, there is (as always) much more to that story than meets the eye. The Indians have played much better of late (coming off a sweep of the
Devil Rays and are within striking distance of .500 as we head towards the All Star Break. The A’s, on the other hand, are probably much much better than their record would indicate. It’s an important series for both teams as they both aim to make second half runs.
Danny Salazar got the start in this one, and he was excellent (as all the starters have been of late). Salazar went 8.2 innings, striking out 8, allowing 5 hits and walking just one batter – he also hit Billy Butler, the last hitter he faced. Cody Allen was summoned to record the final out with two men on base, and he did, notching his 19th save of the year. The one run Salazar did allow was unearned thanks to an error by Jason Kipnis in the 1st inning, but that is not meant to imply the defense was bad tonight, it was not.
Indians fans are probably still traumatized by the fielding butchery of the last few seasons, but now that Giovanny Urshela and Francisco Lindor are here to stay, the defense is becoming a strength of this team. Urshela made some great plays on the evening (you won’t necessarily see them in highlight reels, but they were plays Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles aren’t making most of the time). Lindor, too, continued his slick defense. You can’t always predict offensive output, especially with young guys, but we’re all starting to see the consistent value of great defense.
Speaking of offensive output, the Indians did enough in this game. They were stymied early by A’s starter Kendall Graveman, but broke through against a familiar face in Drew Pomeranz, aka “that guy we traded for Ubaldo.” Pomeranz was a disaster in Colorado, but he’s found a nice niche in Oakland as a spot starter/lefty specialist. I still say the Indians won that trade (but only because of Ubaldomania that took the nation by storm from July through September of 2013), by the way. Regardless of his success this season, the Indians capitalized on the lefty as they put up four runs in the 6th inning (two on bases loaded walks!). That would be pretty much the entire story of the offense on this evening, but it was more than enough for Salazar and Allen.
In the opening paragraph, I alluded to the fact that the A’s are probably better than their record. They’ve had some disastrous bullpen work this year, but by all accounts they should not be in last place in their division. A team’s run differential is highly correlated with success – you score more than you allow you’re likely to have a winning record. Almost all of the time, this is true. The Royals are +66 on the season (1st place) and the White Sox, in last place, are -75. The Indians, two games under .500, are -16. The A’s, however, have the 4th best run differential (+46) in the American League. Only the aforementioned Royals (+66), first place Astros (+54), and the… 4th place Blue Jays(?) (+76) have more. It’s not a perfect stat or predictor (as the Blue Jays attest to), but these are not your typical last place opponents.
Can the Indians get the sweep and get back to .500? Let’s try to win the series on Saturday, first.
The more I think about this team, by the way, the more I think about 2005. That team was also supposed to be really good, but fell on its face out of the gate… they put together a furious rally in the second half of the season but fell just short. If the team keeps getting pitching like this (and wins a few more Kluber starts), I could see that same thing happening again.
Except, you know, with the “just falling short” part.