Found July 16, 2012 on Waiting For Next Year:

The long All-Star break brought about some hard truths for our Wahoos. While they were just two and half games out of first, their margin of error was (and is) a lot slimmer than their rivals, the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The bats need to become more consistent one through nine. The starting rotation needs to get stronger. The bullpen needs to get some depth beyond the back end three.

It all started Friday night in Toronto. The Blue Jays are a tough team, but the Tribe’s rotation was set the way they wanted it. Toronto is missing four of their five top starters and the Tribe would have their crack at a couple of fill ins in lefty Aaron Laffey and righty Carlos Villenueva.

Instead of taking advantage, the Tribe bats fell asleep in two out of the three games, particularly with runners on base. To make matter worse, in the one game the offense actually showed up, the pitching failed them. The Tribe would end up losing two of three and lost ground to both the Tigers and the first place White Sox, who each won Sunday and gained a game. The Tribe fell into third place. Its a three-team race in the AL Central, but with the Tigers so hot and the Sox not slowing down, the Indians cannot afford a slump.

As we do every Monday, lets take a look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.

Masterson was Masterful, Ubaldo had a setback, and, Lowe was gold. It was an up and down weekend for the starting rotation. Friday night was a rematch between Justin Masterson and Ricky Romero, who dueled on Opening Day in Cleveland. On that day, Masterson went eight innings and struck out 10. Three months later, the same Tribe ace from that day showed up North of the border and was dominant. This time, he went seven innings, scattering five hits and a walk without allowing a run.

“An excellent pitching performance,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Masterson was impressive. He established his fastball the whole game, was able to throw it to both sides of the plate. He did a magnificent job.”

This is the kind of stuff we will need from J Mast the rest of the way. He needs to be that stopper because the Tigers have theirs in Justin Verlander, and the White Sox lefty Chris Sale is as good as it gets these days.

A day later, Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound for his first start of the second half. He has found himself since the beginning of June and has the Indians thinking big. Its been a while since “Bad Ubaldo” has appeared. When he stepped out of that dugout in the bottom of the first, the alarms should have gone off. I will let Ubaldo tell you the story:

“Slider. Split. Anything. Nothing felt OK,” Jimenez said. “I think I was able to throw the slider a couple times for strikes, but that was pretty much it. Everything was wrong today. I couldn’t get my pitches over the plate. I was falling behind in the count, and once I tried to get in, they took advantage of it. It was a really bad day.”

He walked two in the first and two in the second, but managed to only allow two runs. However in the third, the Jays teed off. Ubaldo’s fastball was flat and right over the plate. His curveball was hanging. 13 batters later, the Blue Jays hit two homers, four doubles, two singles, and walked three times on their way to a eight-run inning.

Ubaldo didn’t make it out of the inning. But as a veteran, he knows what needs to be done.

“The only thing I can do is turn the page and get ready for my next start,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can do.”

In the rubber match, the Tribe sent out Derek Lowe in hopes that he would regain his early season form. What we saw from him yesterday was very encouraging. Save for one bad inning – the third – Lowe was terrific. He allowed three runs on three hits in six innings, all of which came in that third inning. The walks did him in as well; three in the third didn’t help his cause. Neither did Carlos Santana’s bad throw to second on a steal attempt, which changed the course of the inning. Any throw near the bag and Kelly Johnson was a dead duck for the first out. Instead, the throw sailed into center and Johnson ended up on third.

Lowe, outside of that third inning, was as good as he has been since mid-May, an encouraging sign.

The offense…the offense….the offense. Seriously, what are we going to do with this group. Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley deserve a pass based on their performances this season. The rest of the group is like the Down Jones industrial average. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, are incredible.

In Friday’s 1-0 win, they went 0-6 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base. In Sunday’s 3-0 loss, they went 0-10 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.  Even in Saturday’s 11-9 loss where the bats came back from a 10-2 deficit and had the tying runs aboard in the eighth, they were just 3-10 with runners in scoring position. If you are scoring at home, that’s 3-26 (.115) while leaving 25 men on base.

Jack Hannahan was the toast of the town in April and May with his clutch at-bats. But you look up now, and he is in the midst of a  8-56 skid and now sits at .236. Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t coming back any time soon and the Tribe has no choice but to ride it out with Jackie and Jose Lopez at third. Travis Hafner, while he hit a solo homer Friday night (the only run in the game), still hasn’t found his swing. On the season, he sits at .231. Carlos Santana’s struggles have been well documented and his average is a not so robust .222.

Then there’s Johnny Damon, who I have officially reached the end of my rope with. His at-bats Sunday were just painful as he went 0-3. Johnny is hitting .219 with a .286 on-base percentage. If his name wasn’t Johnny Damon, he would have been given up on by now. Its not like this is May 15th, its July 16th. The left field problem just never seems to go away. Shelley Duncan had a nice weekend (4-8, two HR, five RBI) and should get more ABs, but he is so streaky.

The offense, specifically the bottom of the order, needs to get going. This weekend was a step backwards.

On a positive note, Michael Brantley was an absolute stud in Toronto, going 8-11 with a homer, two RBIs, and two runs scored.  He just keeps getting better and better.

Up next for the Tribe is a trip to Tampa for a four game set with the Rays. Things get going tonight with Zach McAllister (3-1, 3.40 ERA) taking on the Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (4-5, 4.89 ERA).

 (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

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