Could “Team Streak” be trending upwards again? Your Cleveland Indians were a blown save away from sweeping the Washington Nationals out of Progressive Field this weekend in grand fashion. They settled for a series win, which you will take all day long especially when the opposing pitchers are Tribe killer Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. They didn’t really do anything special in taking the series, but they had some exceptional individual performances, highlighted by Corey Kluber on Sunday.
The nasty part of their schedule is now behind them. The Wahoos have been cold, hot, then cold again,which makes sense when you see their 34-34 record. But with the schedule softening up considerably, do the Indians have the juice to stay with the division leading Detroit Tigers? They sit in second place, four and a half games back and over the next 16 games, they only play three against a team over .500 (Baltimore). Now is as good of a time as any to make a move.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. I spent mine with my family watching a Tribe win at Progressive Field. It was a perfect end to a perfect weekend. So let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
There is only one place to start. Corey F’ing Kluber.
Here is a serious question for you Tribe fans. If you had to win one game right now to get into the playoffs and every one of your pitchers was on full rest, who do you choose? Sure, the stock answer would be Justin Masterson, the Indians number one guy. After all, he was spectacular Friday night in the 2-1 walk-off win over Gonzalez and the Nats. But judging the last month and a half, you would have to seriously have to consider Kluber. Now there is something I NEVER thought I would say. We all rained superlatives on him his last time out when he went eight innings against the Texas Rangers in what was his career performance. Yesterday, he may have been even better.
Facing off with Strasburg, Kluber matched the Nationals phenom pitch for pitch. But it wasn’t just the stuff that made him great, it was his ability to work out of jams. There were three tough situations Kluber fell into, two of which were not of his own doing. After an Anthony Rendon leadoff single in the fourth, Ryan Zimmerman hit a double play ground ball to third baseman John McDonald. Johnny Mac, making his first start of the season, threw the ball wide of second and into right field, setting up the Nats with runners on the corners and nobody out. Kluber didn’t flinch, striking out the next three Nationals to end the inning.
In the sixth, with the Tribe nursing a 1-0 lead, two singles and an error once again put the Nats in prime scoring position. Kluber calmly K’d Zimmerman for the key first out. Next was lefty Adam Laroche. Kluber has never been known as a groundball pitcher, but something has clicked over these last two starts for him. In Texas, he induced 14 groundball outs. He needed one badly in this spot and he got one. Laroche hit a grouder to Jason Kipnis at second which started a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. The 23,000 plus all stood and cheered for more.
But Kluber wasn’t even close to done.
An inning later, Jayson Werth perfectly placed a bloop double in to right field. Ian Desmond was then hit by a pitch. Pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi attempted to put down a sacrifice bunt. He popped it up in front of the plate. Kluber came charging in and dove for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it. Everyone was safe and the bases were loaded with nobody out. I think everyone watching the game thought that things were finally going to catch up with Corey. Jorge Solano was next. Kluber had K’d him in his first two at-bats. Down 0-2 in the count, Solano hit a line drive right at first baseman Mark Reynolds who snagged the ball and tagged first for a gigantic double play. Roger Bernadina had no chance. This was Kluber’s day. The outfielder weakly grounded out to second and once again the Nationals couldn’t push that tying run across.
“Once we got into those jams,” Kluber said, “I was just trying to take it pitch by pitch and not get ahead of myself and get too far into the inning, just worry about executing each pitch and pitch to the situation.
With the magic acts his starting pitcher had come up with, Terry Francona could have easily gone to his pen, but he stuck with Kluber for the eighth and was rewarded when Denard Span, Rendon, and Zimmerman were retired on order. Kluber walked off to a standing ovation. His line: Eight innings, zero runs, seven hits, eight strikeouts and once again, zero walks.
“He was so good all day,” Francona said. “From pitch 1, he was aggressive with his fastball. I don’t think he even threw a changeup today. Even vs. left-handers, he just was in attack mode. That was really fun to watch. I wish we could have had about five [runs] just to give a little cushion, but that was really fun to watch.”
This is Corey Freaking Kluber we are talking about people. Talk about coming out of nowhere. It is not a stretch to say that the 27-year old has saved the Tribe’s rotation from the brink of disaster. He has rapidly become a stabilizing force in a season where three of the five pitchers expected to open the season in the rotation have spent time on the disabled list. Two of them – Zach McAllister and Brett Myers – still are.
Hearing the compliments from your own teammates and coaches is one thing, but listen to what Werth had to say about Kluber after facing him Sunday:
“I tell you what, that guy that threw for them today, the stuff that he had, that’s probably top-five stuff that we’ll see all year,” Werth said. “He had some really good stuff, especially when he had to make pitches. He even stepped it up a little bit.”
I just wrote almost 1000 words about how good Corey Kluber is. Yeah….that really just happened people!
What to do about Swish?
I really enjoy Nick Swisher the person. But the player thus far has left a lot to be desired. He is mired in a 6-55 slump (.109) and his defense has suffered of late as well. The capper was Saturday night in the ninth inning of a tie ball game. With two outs, Rendon hit a foul pop behind first base. Swisher backpeddled and called off Kipnis, but couldn’t get to the ball as it dropped foul right between them, giving Rendon another life.
Naturally, he hit a game-winning solo home run off of Vinnie Pestano to beat the Tribe 7-6. The play was kind of a microcosm of Swisher’s slump. He is out there, but nothing seems to be working.
Said Swisher: “That shouldn’t happen to us, but it did and it cost us the game. It was a miscommunication and it’s already been addressed.”
Earlier in the game, Swisher was seen shaking his shoulder after a swing. Sunday he was given the day off and we were alerted to the fact that Nick’s left shoulder problem has popped back up.
“I’m grinding guys,” said Swisher. “I want to be in there every day regardless of what I got going on. Obviously, it’s starting to physically show a little bit. I’ve been battling this shoulder thing the whole year. It’s super frustrating for me because I’ve never had something like this,” he said. “Either way, we have to figure out what is going on and then we will go from there.”
Then came the quote that may have been telling:
“I just don’t feel I have the thump in my swing,” he said. “Whatever decision we make tomorrow, we are going to go at it full on.”
Is this foreshadowing to a trip to the Disabled List? Who knows, but it wouldn’t shock me if Swish was shut down for a little. He is really struggling with the bat and if he is not right physically, the Indians have other options. Lonnie Chisenhall (.390/.456/.676/6 HR/26 RBIs/27 games) has made eight errors in Columbus, but he has outgrown AAA at the plate and is ready to come back to Cleveland. Reynolds, as we have documented in the past, seems to be better as a DH and a part time first baseman then an everyday third baseman. It would be a simple switch.
Whatever they need to do to get Swisher back on track, the sooner it happens, the better.
The bullpen is still a work in progress.
One of the most telling this I saw this weekend was Francona sending Kluber back out for the eighth inning despite being over 100 pitches and working out of the three jams we chronicled. With Chris Perez still on the DL and the pen struggling, he figured he would rather take his chances with the hot Kluber. Who could blame him?
Saturday night after the Indians battled back from a 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead, set-up man Joe Smith gave up a two-out, pinch hit homer to the left-handed hitting Chad Tracy in the eighth. It was a situation that screamed for a left-handed specialist, but the Francona doesn’t have one he can trust. But Smitty has been solid for the past three years. It shouldn’t have been a problem. But boom, there went the Tracy fly ball over the fence. An inning later, Pestano was done in by Rendon.
Yesterday Pestano did save the game for Kluber in the 2-0 win for his first save, but he has been far from dominating since coming off the DL with elbow issues. Other than Cody Allen and Smith, the pen has been mostly a mixed bag of results. But make no mistake, they have great arms out there. The lack of a lefty is a problem that isn’t going away. Retreads J.C. Romero and Clay Rapada are in Columbus auditioning for their shots. Hagadone and Rich Hill are completely inconsistent.
It should be interesting to see how things shake out going forward.
The Indians gauntlet is now in the rear-view mirror and they welcome in the Kansas City Royals for a three-game set that starts tonight. Carlos Carrasco (0-2, 15.26 ERA) gets another shot fresh off of his suspension. The Roylas will counter with their ace, James Shields (2-6. 2.79 ERA) who has been the victim of horrific run support.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)