Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 8/8/14
7:07 PM – Last night I joked on Twitter that while I’ve been pining for meaningful September baseball for five solid years, I wasn’t sure I was ready for baseball quite that meaningful. And yet I spent the entire day waiting for this game to start, nervously turning over the word “playoffs” in my mind. It’s September 25th. The Indians are in control of their post-season destiny with a young ace on the mound, a walk-up infused crowd of 30,000+, and a clubhouse that is dripping with electricity. This is the last home game of the season, and yet I’ve got tickets with my name on them for a week from today. Life is good. 7:32 PM – After a scoreless first inning from both Salazar and Axelrod, Avisail Garcia leads off the second with an absolute bomb to left center field to put the White Sox up 1-0. Any attempt to statistically parse Danny Salazar’s MLB career is a bit of a fool’s errand, small sample sizes being what they are.  That said, he’s now let up seven home runs in 48.1 innings with the Indians, or about 1.3 per every nine innings while more than 14% of his flyballs are leaving the ballpark—both of these figures are a bit higher than you’d like to see.  On the other hand, it’s 48.1 innings and the kid throws 98 with tailing action. So I’m going to ignore those for the time being. Salazar strikes out two more hitters and now has four Ks through two innings pitched. 1-0 bad guys. 7:49 PM – The Indians are a good team, so don’t take this the wrong way: my god they’re playing against some awful defensive teams right now. After an Asdrubal pop out, Giambi singles over the shift to right field 1 .  Next up, Lonnie Chisenhall grounds into what should’ve been an inning-ending double play, but Alexei Ramirez loses the handle and Chisenhall makes it to first (first poor play). Then a wild pitch moves him to second (second poor play).  Then Drew Stubbs shoots a hard grounder to third baseman Marcus Semien who boots it into left field, allowing Chisenhall to score all the way from second and Stubbs to take second (third and fourth poor play).  Then Michael Brantley shoots a legit single to center to score Stubbs; Brantley then steals second on a pitch out because catcher Josh Phegley airmails the throw (fifth poor play). I’m not remotely complaining about any of this, mind you. The Indians are taking advantage of their opportunities as they should. But after watching the Astros kick the ball around for four games, I just hope they’re not getting used to this going forward. Indians take the lead, 2-1 heading to the third inning. 8:19 PM – Paul Dolan has spent the last half-inning with Rick and Matt talking about the sorts of things you’d expect: how much fun this team has been, how they went about making their big off-season acquisitions, the fans, etc.  Pretty innocuous stuff, really. I can understand wishing that the Dolans didn’t own this team.  I can understand being mad at them for the 2008-2009 payroll slashing.  I can understand questioning their undying loyalty to Shapiro and, by extension, Antonetti. But I guess I can’t understand holding any real animosity toward them.  They’re Cleveland guys who strike me as committed to keeping the team in this city. They invest their money into the team—deficit spending by their own account—and certainly don’t appear to be getting rich off the franchise.  They seem like decent folks, or at least as decent as an ultra-rich person can be in this world. Maybe I’ve been hoodwinked here.  Maybe they mock the fans and hate the city and run down kittens with riding lawnmowers while wiping themselves with thousand dollar bills amassed by intentionally torpedoing this franchise.  Maybe they’re the absolute worst. But I don’t think so. Indians still up 2-1, heading to the top of the fifth. 8:34 PM – Salazar labored a bit there with a walk and a hit, but he manages to strike out his seventh and eighth batters of the evening and keep the White Sox off the board.  He’s now at 75 pitches, but I’m not sure Terry Francona gives a damn at this point. 8:45 PM – An hour ago I mentioned that the Indians have been beneficiaries of some poor defensive play over this homestand. In the bottom of the fifth, they reminded us all that they can hit a little too. Michael Brantley led off the inning with a double off the wall in right—his fifth hit in as many at bats.  Since July 4th, he’s batting .298/.344/.434 and has been successful on 80% of his stolen base attempts.  That’s all I ever wanted him to become: an above average on-base guy who can run the bases and play decent defense.  And there’s reason to think he’s finally figuring out how to do that. Oh, right, recap.  Nick Swisher followed Brantley’s double with a no-doubter home run to center.  Indians take a 4-1 lead, and give Salazar the insurance he needed. 8:57 PM – Salazar’s night is done after 90 pitches with one out and two on in the sixth. Still at eight strikeouts and one walk. The Garcia home run is still the only mark against him, though he owns those baserunners on first and second. Bryan Shaw on to face Dayan Viciedo. 9:01 PM – Oof. Viciedo singles to left to score Ramirez from second, but the Indians get Garcia hung up in a rundown between second and third.  They somehow manage to botch the play (no one covers second) and Garcia scampers back safely.  To me, the biggest culprit was Cabrera. Rick blamed Chisenhall.  Either way, it wasn’t pretty. Still one out, first and second, lead cut to 4-2. 9:05 PM – Shaw recovers to strike out both Jordan Danks and Marcus Semien to end the inning. Today (yesterday, whatever) we had a roundtable discussing whether Chris Perez should be replaced as the team’s closer for the remainder of the season.  I reluctantly decided that I would stick with our hirsute hell-raiser were the choice up to me because I just didn’t see a lot of better alternatives—2012 VINNIE PESTANO AIN’T WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR. But I have to be honest: I really didn’t even consider Bryan Shaw.  So let me do that now.  He’s got a healthy 22% strikeout rate, though he walks more guys than I’d like at nearly 9%.  One of his real strengths is his ability to induce ground balls (42.3%), and therefore limit home runs—one allowed for every 18 innings pitched, or about half the league average rate. I don’t really love him as closer material, which is just to say I don’t think he’s our best reliever right now.  But he’s better than I’ve given him credit for, and he’s having a considerably better season than Chris Perez. 9:23 PM – The Indians strike right back in the bottom of the sixth to reestablish their 3-run lead.  Asdrubal leads off with a single to left, advances to second on a wild pitch (there’s that defense again), moves to third on a sac bunt from Aviles.  Drew Stubbs then plates him with a hard hit sac fly. Interestingly, both Giambi and Chisenhall are out of the game now, the former lifted for a pinch runner after drawing a walk and the latter removed for Aviles to lay down a sac bunt. Anyway, good guys up 5-2, heading to the seventh. 9:36 PM – That was a cool inning.  Shaw, Rich Hill, and Cody Allen combine to strike out the side in order. I’m a bit of a sucker for platoon splits and setting up ideal matchups, especially with bloated September rosters, so this inning was particularly aesthetically pleasing to me.  Plenty of people were irked that Francona would go to the human gas can Rich Hill, but I tend to think that if you’re not going to use him against a left handed batter with a three-run lead and no one on base, then you just need to dump him off the roster already. Either way, we’re heading to the bottom of the seventh.  Both Tampa Bay and Houston are clobbering their opponents (thanks David Huff!), so a win for the Indians is necessary to maintain hold of their Wild Card spot. 9:53 PM – The Indians tack on a few more in the bottom of the seventh and start to pull away; it’s now 7-2 Wahoos.  I’m not going to get all detailed about it, because box scores.  But suffice to say: there was poor defense involved.  Perhaps more importantly, a Chris Perez appearance just became significantly less likely. 10:00PM – In a game that has been dragging for a few innings now, Matt Albers does us all a favor by retiring the Sox in order in the top of the eighth. Unrelated: Matt Albers would make an entirely convincing butcher. 10:06 PM – Aviles, Stubbs and Brantley go in order, taking us to the ninth.  Justin Masterson coming on to get an inning of work.  Will be interesting to see how he looks coming off the oblique injury. 10:10 PM – Well, he’s still got the slider working.  Viciedo strikes out swinging on a nasty pitch breaking away. 10:12 PM – Danks follows with a broken bat single through the hole on the left side, but Masterson quickly gets strikes out Marcus Semien on that same slider away.  It’s a borderline unhittable pitch to right handed batters. 10:14 PM – BALLGAME! Phegley grounds out weakly to Aviles at third and the Indians close out the regular season home schedule with a convincing win and another sweep over the Chicago White Sox (that’s three on the season methinks, including two four game sets). The Indians now sit at 88 wins on the year with four left to play; they’ve won six games in a row and 11 of their last 13.  Given that Tampa and Texas keep holding serve, it’s looking pretty likely that it’s going to take at least 90 wins to get a wild card spot. And the Indians are in a great position to get there, given their four-game set against the lowly Twins starting tomorrow evening. Let me say that again: the Cleveland Indians are in a great position to win 90 games and make the playoffs. One of these days we’re going to be able to say it out loud without fear of cosmic retribution, but for now I’ll keep working those words over in my head and watching meaningful baseball. ___________________________________ We should note here that the crowd gave Giambi the biggest ovation I’ve seen for a player since Jim Thome’s resurrection. There’s a joke to be made about old men and statues, but I’m not harshing this mellow
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