Mike Clevinger had a solid outing in Chicago on Thursday, allowing 1 ER on 3 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1 in 4 IP.
The Indians have a fairly rough schedule with very few off days in September. However, the offense decided to take the day off on Thursday as they scored just 1 ER on 4 hits against one of MLB’s worst starters this season. In fact, just three of those hits were off of James Shields; the fourth came against closer David Robertson in the ninth inning. With a 1-1 tie entering the bottom of the ninth, the Indians were just asking for Chicago to walk-off with a win, which they did after a bloop single RBI.
I know the gut reaction for a lot of people will be to blame Bryan Shaw for this loss, but I place the blame squarely on the offense for this one. At that point, Shaw’s somewhat bad inning was likely an act of mercy; it put the offense out of their misery so they could head to the airport and return to Cleveland. It didn’t seem like the Indians were going to score any additional runs anytime soon. While Shaw did allow the game-winning single, it was one of those cheap bloop hits that land in no-mans land beyond the infield. A runner was on second after a single and a stolen base. Not necessarily a huge deal under normal circumstances, but in a tie game late on the road, it was tempting fate.
For some reason, this game today gave me an irrational amount of anger. I don’t know if it was just because it was an annoying series, or if I’m in some kind of bad mood, or what. But Shields really seemed to be struggling at points today. He had trouble finding the strike zone, was grunting like Monica Seles in a Wimbledon match, and appeared to be talking to and yelling at himself at times. Shields also had some communication issues with his catcher, Omar Narvaez, that eventually caused pitching coach Don Cooper to come to the mound to mediate. The Indians were still completely baffled by him. As just one example, Abraham Almonte swung and missed at a pitch that almost hit him in the foot. Maybe this was a case where he was so far all over the place, it just made it impossible for them to figure out how to hit him. At the same time, the Indians seemed very impatient at times, and more than willing to help him out.
The Indians had a couple of legitimate threats, one even coming in the ninth inning. Tyler Naquin led off the ninth with a single off of David Robertson. The next batter, Abraham Almonte, bunted the ball right back to the pitcher for an easy out at second. I’m pretty anti-bunting, but can often excuse it in the ninth inning of a close game. But the two things you have to be sure of when you bunt in these situations is 1. Make sure you actually get the bunt down, and 2. Don’t pop it straight up or bunt it right to someone. So Naquin was out at second, and Almonte was now at first with one out. The Indians got a bit of luck after Almonte stole second and the ball skipped into the outfield, allowing him to go to third with just one out. Francisco Lindor, who had the day off, was at the plate to pinch hit. All he had to do was hit a sacrifice fly; something he’s managed to do many times in this same situation. However, Lindor ended up striking out. He was followed by Coco Crisp, MLB’s batting leader with runners in scoring position. He also struck out to end the inning. When you blow a prime opportunity like that, you typically don’t get many more opportunities.
The pitching was fine today, other than one mistake pitch from Mike Clevinger that resulted in a solo home run by Jose Abreu. Shawn Armstrong, Jeff Manship, and Cody Anderson pitched 3.2 scoreless innings. I was worried about Anderson, but he actually did well in his two innings on the mound. Again, I’m not sure how mad I am at the pitching. I’m frustrated they couldn’t lock them down in the 9th, but 2 ER allowed is a respectable performance.
Believe it or not, the Tigers dropped another game to the Twins this afternoon, so the Indians lose no ground, and their magic number drops to 11. The series this weekend has to look better than the one this week against the White Sox. The Indians have a solid 6-game lead, and there’s no reason to let it get any closer than that.