Friday night at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field was a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. The Indians batted around in the fifth to open up a 6-0 lead and the Tribe barely broke a sweat on their way to a 9-3 victory over a slumping, gutted White Sox ballclub.
For the Indians (56-45), the win was the eighth in a row as they course correct from an ugly 1-5 Bay Area road trip immediately after the All-Star Break. The streak is well-timed as the Royals have also run off nine wins in a row (including tonight in Boston) and remain just two games behind Cleveland for the AL Central Division title.
On the flip side, the White Sox continue to flounder after gutting the team in several July trades. Chicago has now lost 13 of 14 and don’t seem to have much Major League talent remaining on their roster. That’s good news for the Indians as they still have nine games remaining against the White Sox in 2017 including a season finale three game series at Progressive Field. To be fair, though, the Royals also get the White Sox nine more times in 2017.
On a smaller scale, this was also a game featuring two starting pitchers whose seasons are headed in opposite directions.
30-year-old left-hander Derek Holland is 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA on the season and is trending in the wrong direction for a ballclub that may have preferred to trade him for assets before the deadline. Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of his season:
Apr-May: 10 GS, 60.2 IP, 2.37 ERA, .227 BA
June-July: 10 GS, 45.2 IP, 9.47 ERA, .341 BA
The White Sox have now lost nine of Holland’s last ten starts and he’s looking much more like a DFA candidate than a trade target.
For the Indians, Danny Salazar followed up his excellent return last Saturday with another strong outing. He came out blazing again with first inning fastballs and retired the first two Chicago hitters on six fastballs all around 96 mph. After getting ahead of the dangerous Jose Abreu with swings and misses on his first two sliders of the game, he missed with two fastballs before ringing him up looking for his first K of the game. He was off to the races again.
Salazar started to mix in some changeups in the second inning before introducing his full arsenal to Tim Anderson leading off the third. Salazar went fastball, slider, curve and change to strikeout Anderson on four pitches. From there on out, he mixed all four pitches effectively to cruise through six nearly perfect innings.
The Tribe offense, meanwhile, sputtered a bit in the first, wasting a first and third, one out scenario on an inning-ending GIDP from Edwin Encarnacion. Jose Ramirez started the second with his 18th home run (fifth from the right side) and it was a 1-0 lead the Indians would never surrender.
After another run in the fourth, the Indians would break it open in the fifth. Holland walked the bases loaded and then walked Brandon Guyer to force in a run to make it 5-0. Yan Gomes collected his second RBI hit off reliever Chris Beck to close the book on Holland at six runs.
Carlos Santana stayed hot with a seventh inning home run (his 14th), Michael Brantley added his third homer in just over a week and eighth overall in the eighth inning and a couple of late runs off Nick Goody and Shawn Armstrong weren’t enough to seriously threaten the lead.
Ramirez finished the night four for five with three RBI and four runs scored and six Indians had multi-hit games.
More on Salazar
Salazar’s final line was tarnished a bit by a walk and home run to lead off the seventh before getting the hook, but all in all it was another sign that Salazar is lining himself up for a big second half.
His pitch counts by inning were mostly very efficient. It has always been a struggle for Salazar to pitch deep into games as he tends to rack up a lot of pitches on strikeouts and walks, but he seems to be coming right after hitters and the lack of walks has been encouraging.
Here’s his pitch count by inning tonight, including two batters in the seventh inning:
1st: 11 pitches, 8 strikes
2nd: 24 pitches, 14 strikes
3rd: 11 pitches, 9 strikes
4th: 12 pitches, 7 strikes
5th: 20 pitches, 15 strikes
6th: 11 pitches, 9 strikes
7th: 8 pitches, 4 strikes
Total: 97 pitches, 66 strikes
That’s 68% of his pitches for strikes tonight. He was even better in his first start – 61 of 86 pitches were strikes, or 71%.
Fangraphs’ website shows a slight uptick in fastball velocity in 2017, a continuing decrease in his slider usage, and a growing trust in his changeup as evidenced by a career high 30.6% usage rate before this start. He’s also been able to get hitters to swing outside the zone more often and swing and miss more often overall.
It will be interesting to do a deeper dive once tonight’s pitch stats are tabulated in Fangraphs and baseball-reference.
Yan Gomes Does One Thing Really, Really Well
First, let’s talk about Yoan Moncada. Baseball’s top overall prospect, Moncada was the centerpiece of the offseason Chris Sale trade with the Red Sox. Still just barely 22, Moncada has a developing hit tool but blazing speed that he’s used to steal 49 bases in 2015, 46 in 2016 and 17 so far this season. Granted this has all been in the minors as Moncada played in just his 17th game in the big leagues tonight.
Moncada did attempt his first Major League stolen base tonight, however, and he couldn’t have picked a better pitch. Salazar bounced an 85 mph changeup, but Gomes picked it and nailed Moncada. Oh for one for the young Mr. Moncada.
Yan Gomes now leads all of baseball with 22 runners thrown out trying to steal, and his rate is now a perfect 50% (22 for 44). The two catchers who trail Gomes in overall runners nabbed are Martin Maldonado (20-46, 43%) and Willson Contreras (20-67, 30%). The league average caught stealing rate this season is just 27%.
It’s a sudden rise to prominence for a catcher once known more for his bat, but his arm and overall defense has made him playable even as his bat lags behind.
Here are his career stolen base vs. caught stealing numbers:
2013: 20 for 49, 41% caught stealing rate
2014: 31 for 97, 32%
2015: 19 for 58, 33%
2016: 11 for 30, 37%
2017: 22 for 44, 50%
Always an above average thrower, Gomes appears to have become elite this season.
For comparison’s sake, backup Roberto Perez was 13 of 26 (50% last season) and is 6 for 18 this season (33%).