Me, during this game
The Indians have spent much of 2016 dominating the AL Central. Everyone, except for the Twins. The Indians are not alone in this – the Twins moved to 7-4 against the Indians with their 10-6 win over the Tribe on Tuesday night, and are 5-2 against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. The two best records in the American League so far this season, and the Twins have essentially manhandled them for the most part. Perhaps if the Indians just wore different uniforms and told the Twins they were a sub-.500 ball club, they could finally rattle off a few wins against them.
For the first few innings, this game looked much, much more bleak. Minnesota jumped quickly to a 8-0 lead off of Carlos Carrasco. While his fastball velocity early in the game was hovering around 97-98 mph, he was leaving pitches out over the plate and they seemed to lack his typical movement. Even good pitchers have terrible games…that itself isn’t the end of the world. But after Danny Salazar’s rough start on Monday (en route to the DL) you really needed Carrasco to come out and give his team a chance to win. Especially with Detroit on a now 7-game win streak…the Tigers are just 3.5 back in the division.
It didn’t help that the offense looked atrocious for the first several innings as well. At one point, Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson needed just 10 pitches to dispatch the three Tribe hitters that inning. However, the Indians came roaring back in the bottom of the fifth inning to make the score 8-6 on home runs from Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli, and RBI hits by Francisco Lindor and Lonnie Chisenhall. Even though the Twins have a bullpen that’s ranked in the bottom third of MLB, after Gibson was pulled the bullpen kept the Indians offense from adding on to their run total. Lindor came frighteningly close to a go-ahead 3-run homer at one point, but it stayed in the park and ended up being just a loud out. To come so close in that exciting fifth inning, it was a pretty big letdown to never score again after that point.
And I also have to give props to the Indians bullpen (anyone whose name is not Austin Adams, that is). Dan Otero came in for Carrasco and quieted a Twins offense that seemed to be clobbering hits all over the place. He was followed by Kyle Crockett, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen…Crockett did a great job of dispatching Joe Mauer and Max Kepler, and Shaw pitched a solid inning before a shaky start to his second inning. Allen was able to escape the remainder of that inning without any damage though.
Here is the point where some of the managerial decisions get a bit baffling for me. Roberto Perez is currently hitting .061/.267/.061. I think he was rushed back to the majors before he was fully ready, thanks to the injury to Yan Gomes. So I sort of understand why he’s been struggling. However, I disagree with Terry Francona’s decision to let Perez lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. At this point the game is still just 8-6 – pinch hit for Perez and then use Chris Gimenez in the ninth inning as the catcher. Perez ended up weakly grounding out to second, and the next batter, Carlos Santana, followed with a single. While there’s no guarantee that a pinch hitter doesn’t make an out there, I at least am more comfortable with the odds of someone like Rajai Davis squaring off against the left-handed Taylor Rogers.
So the Indians blow their shot in the eighth inning, but there’s still the ninth. Down just two runs, you have Mike Napoli, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall due at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Again, no guarantees, but those are guys that have a decent chance of starting a rally. So who does Tito go to in the top of the ninth inning? Not your brand new, just acquired, gave-up-your-top-prospect-for pitcher Andrew Miller, but Austin Adams! I mean, at this point I’d almost rather be seeing Ryan Raburn come out of the bullpen, as opposed to Adams or Zach McAllister. And of course Adams gives up a 2-run home run to Eduardo Escobar, a man who had only hit 4 home runs in 221 at-bats before tonight. I realize that he’s likely gone when Mike Clevinger is called back up to make Thursday’s start, but it’s not soon enough. I’m ready to drive him back to Columbus myself if I have to.
While these two games have been very ugly, the Indians do still have a chance to split the series. I’m not feeling very positive about that right now, but mathematically it could actually happen. I will say this about the 2016 Indians – when they’re on a roll, they make you feel like they’re never going to lose another game. And when they’re in a slump, they make you feel like they’ll never win another game. You just have to hope they get on a roll starting Wednesday evening, because I can’t take a third straight game like this.