On Friday night, the city of Cleveland sent both of its professional sports teams (key word there being professional) to the city of Detroit to engage our Central-division neighbors in a little bit of sports-related total warfare. The Indians squared up against the Tigers (who have owned the Tribe in recent years) and the Cavaliers were set to face off against the Pistons in the NBA playoffs, seeking to go up 3-0 in their series. The Cavs were obviously the big draw tonight, and they were able to take care of business to take a commanding lead, but what of the Indians, the “undercard” of the evening in the minds of most?
The Tribe sent Josh “Little Cowboy” Tomlin to the hill to take on a fearsome lineup that includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and the newly-signed Justin Upton. If I was a betting man (and I am), I would have bet that Miggy was going to break out of his 2016 Home Run slump tonight. I’ve never been shy about my disdain for Tomlin in the rotation, as I always get the feeling he’s one bad pitch from a home run to nearly any hitter. If I did make that bet about Miggy or Upton or either of the Martinez-es… I would have been wrong.
Because the Little Cowboy was fantastic tonight, and he did a good job of shutting up this very vocal critic.
Josh Tomlin went 6.2 innings of 1-run baseball, and he only allowed 4 hits in that span (with one walk). He didn’t dazzle (and he never will), but he limited a very powerful lineup to one run (and not even on a home run!). He then handed the game over to Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw (who has somewhat quietly stopped being awful), and an overworked Cody Allen, who set the Tigers down perfectly over the last 7 outs. After yesterday’s disappointing pitching performance, it was a great night all around for the Indians’ beleaguered staff.
Of course, the big news of the day is that Carlos Santana was slotted as the leadoff hitter for the first time in his career. It’s a move that has many fans scratching their heads, but it’s a move that I think we might see become permanent. The Tribe desperately needs someone at the top of the lineup who can see pitches and who can work their way on base, and Rajai Davis or Jose Ramirez just aren’t that guy. Santana is one of the most powerful hitters in the Indians lineup, so even if some of his home runs become solo shots (like tonight as he led off the game with a Grady Sizemore impression), the net gain in on-base percentage and opportunities for Kipnis, Lindor, and (soon) Brantley will be huge. Santana would seem to be the prototypical #4 hitter for a lineup, but his strengths – patience and OBP – don’t necessarily translate to driving in runs.
I, for one, welcome the change made by Francona and hope it becomes a staple of the lineup.
As I said above, the Cavs also handled the Pistons to go up 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs.