It is the All Star break and your Cleveland Indians have decided to ride into their mini-vacation in style. After a demoralizing series loss to the Detroit Tigers, the Tribe licked their wounds and took two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays and headed into the weekend to meet up with the Kansas City Royals. It is all about momentum and the Indians were badly wanting some. So what did they do? They went out and swept the Royals clean in a true team effort. We saw clutch hitting, solid starting pitching (in two of the three games), and some nice work out of the pen.
Manager Terry Francona has to be loving the effort of his club. At 51-44, a game and a half out of first place, the Indians are one of the true surprise stories in baseball. Sweeping the Royals was a huge thing for this team and now they can relax and catch their collective breaths.
“It was nice that we could help the city of Cleveland kind of step back off the ledge after the Detroit series,” Jason Kipnis said. “We knew that we had this break coming up and four days of rest for a bunch of guys that could use it, both physically and mentally.”
So as we do every Monday morning, let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Corey Kluber and Scott Kazmir – season savers
We will get into this in a more in depth conversation later in the week, but after watching two more solid pitching performances from two after-thought candidates in March, I don’t know how the Indians could have put themselves into the position they are currently in without Kluber and Kazmir.
On Friday night, Kluber put together yet another in a line out outstanding starts. In this one, the kid from Arlington, Texas pitched into the eighth, striking out eight on just three hits in the Tribe’s 3-0 win. He exited at 112 pitches and watched Joe Smith get the final out. Kluber continues to be the rock of the rotation that nobody ever saw coming.
“I think part of it’s confidence,” Kluber said. “I think it’s just continuing to learn while I’m out there. I think it’s a continuous learning process, pitching in the big leagues, so it’s just trying to take both the good and bad from things I’ve done in the past and trying to apply it each time out.”
He only got into trouble once, loading the bases in the fifth with one out. But as he has done so many times, Kluber came back with a big strikeout of Alex Gordon. With two out, he retired Eric Hosmer on a comebacker and that, as they say, was that.
“He’s a magician out there,” Mark Reynolds said.
I maintain if the Indians were in the playoffs and you could set the rotation how you wanted, Corey Kluber is your game two starter and I don’t even think it is up for debate.
A night later, it was Kazmir’s turn to shine. The lefty reclamation project seems to have gotten stronger as the season has gone on. In his last five starts, Kazmir has allowed just eight earned runs in 31 innings pitches (2.52 ERA). He has 25 strikeouts and just six walks in that span as well. On Saturday night, Scott pitched into the seventh inning, and the two earned runs that were charged to him came after he left the game. He struck out six and walked three, with just four hits allowed.
What’s incredible is that the lefty has become one of the more reliable arms in the rotation. A month and a half ago I wanted to make him the late inning lefty in the pen! Saturday night he had it all working again, even in the uncomfortable throw-back uniform. The win made Kazmir’s home record improve to 5-0 in eight starts.
“It feels good,” Kazmir said of his recent run of success. “It feels good to be able to go out there and throw strikes, and to be able to get quick outs and go deep into the game. It felt great. … I feel like my delivery is more consistent, therefore my outings have been a little more consistent. I’m just going to keep at it.”
The Indians announced after Sunday’s game that Kazmir will open the second half Friday night in Minnesota.
As for Sunday’s starter, I promised myself I wouldn’t mention Ubaldo Jimenez being Ubaldo Jimenez Sunday…..
The up and down pen shows up strong when needed the most
It is no secret that the Tribe’s pen is overworked and tired. But with Kluber giving them a huge bump Friday night and Kazmir pitching into the seventh a night later, the group should have been ready for work Sunday afternoon. Coming off a high, Ubaldo provided another maddening performance, going just four innings before being yanked. After four runs on eight hits and two walks, Manager Terry Francona had seen enough. This turned out to be the call of the day.
The latest man up in the “eighth man sweepstakes” was C.C. Lee, making his major league debut. The Taiwanese sensation walked the first man he faced, but retired four of the next five Royals (he hit Johnny Giovotella to start the sixth). He looked good in his brief stint before giving way to lefty Rich Hill.
I have to give credit where credit is due. I have killed Hill in this space many times this season, but he has been a new man over the last 10 games, giving up just two earned runs and lowering his ERA more than a point. He played a key role in two wins this weekend, including Sunday where he turned out to be the winning pitcher. Hill struck out Gordon and got Hosmer on a groundout, keeping the Royals at bay and giving the Indians a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
With a 6-4 lead, Tito turned to Bryan Shaw who worked around a Billy Butler leadoff double to keep the Royals off the board. The eighth inning now belongs to Joe Smith. Smitty has not been at his best lately, but like Hill, had a great weekend. He made quick work of KC in order, setting the table for Chris Perez to get his 13th save. Of course, CP faced the tying run, but he put up another zero for his second save in as many days. Friday night’s 3-0 win was closed out by Cody Allen. Perez had pitched four games in five days and needed the breather.
Sunday’s five scoreless innings really highlighted a brief return to prominence for the pen. The hope is that they can ride this into the second half.
Thank goodness for Tim Collins
The Royals have a left-handed reliever who the Indians love to pound on. They call him “Tiny Tim” because of his small stature. He is listed at 5’7, but he isn’t. Whenever the Tribe faces him in a key situation, they always see red. Friday night in a scoreless tie in the seventh, Collins reliever Bruce Chen who the Indians had just one hit against. Naturally, Collins walked the first and only two men he faced, which started a three-run, game-changing rally. Yesterday afternoon, with KC starter James Shields well over 100 pitches (113) after five, manager Ned Yost again called on Collins to hold a 4-3 lead. He walked Lonnie Chisenhall (who notoriously struggles with left-handed pitching) and gave up a single to Drew Stubbs to open the frame. Michael Bourn put down a beautiful sacrifice bunt, which brought Asdrubal Cabrera to the plate. Cabbie then laced a double to the wall in center, putting the Indians ahead to stay. Yost had seen enough of Collins and brought in another lefty, Everett Teaford, to face Kipnis, who would drive Cabrera home with a single.
So Collins faced six batters this weekend and only retired one – Bourn’s sac bunt.
For his career, Collins has 25 made appearances and is 0-3 with a 6.12 ERA (17 earned runs in 25 IP).
Can we expect a big second half from Carlos Santana?
Of the many weekend stars of the sweep, perhaps none had a bigger impact with the bat than the Indians catcher. Santana had six hits, three walks, and drove in two big runs in nine official at-bats. On Sunday in particular he was stinging the ball. When Carlos gets in slumps it is because he becomes pull happy. While he did turn on a few this weekend, he showed he is willing to go back up the middle or the other way and showed solid plate discipline. Santana heads into the break strong, going 8-19 (.421) with four walks. In July, ‘Los is at .317/.408/.512.
You could argue that a big second half from Santana is a key to the offense’s success. With Mark Reynolds struggling so mightily and Nick Swisher not exactly tearing the cover off the ball, Santana has to be that big bopper in the middle of the order. This weekend was a great spring board for him.
Tom Hamilton – the best in the business
Saturday’s game was not televised anywhere, so all we had were the MLB.com highlights. Lonnie Chisenhall broke the game wide open in the sixth with a grand slam off of starter Jeremy Guthrie. Thanks to the magic of technology, we were all treated to Hammy’s absolutely spectacular call of the Chisenhall shot. Sit back and enjoy.
Listen, I know we are completely biased here, but Tom Hamilton is in a league of his own in this town. He calls such a great game, pulls zero punches, and loves this team. He knows exactly when to step back and let the crowd do the work, as he did on the Chiz grand slam. The guy is a true pro and a Hall of Famer in my book.
I hate the attendance conversation….but I have to bring it up
It pains me to do so, but Sunday afternoon the Indians were going for a sweep. It was hot, but not a scorcher by any means (78 degrees at first pitch). It was a kids fun day at Progressive Field and the day before the All-Star break. So what is the possible excuse for a crowd of just 15, 432? That would be a weak crowd for a weeknight game. This was a Sunday afternoon watching a fun, hot baseball team go their fifth win in six games. I was there and could not believe how empty it looked.
I just do not understand why more people will not come out and support this team. You can tell me you have been burned before. I get it. But this team has such a different feel to it. They have the staying power. This is not last year where you could see the collapse coming with every 3-1 game or 2-0 game that they played. The Francona-led club is legit and not going anywhere. The sooner everyone gets behind this team, the better.
The Indians get a chance to relax and get away from the game until Friday when they head to Minnesota for a three-game weekend set with the Twins. Kipnis and Justin Masterson are in New York to represent the Indians in the All-Star game. Both are making their first appearance in the midsummer classic.
(photo via John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)