June 30, 2013
Indians 4, White Sox 0
Sweeping a four-game series is a hard thing, no matter who you're playing. This isn't basketball, where your starting five is the same each and every game. The starting pitcher, the most important player in a baseball game, is a different player, and rarely will you have your best nine position players on the field for each of those four games. This particular four-game series was made even more difficult to sweep because the four games were squeezed into three days thanks to a Friday doubleheader, meaning that most of the Indians' starting nine would sit at least once during the series. And when the Game 1 starter, Trevor Bauer, couldn't get out of the first inning, that started a series of dominoes in motion that resulted in Joe Martinez pitching two innings in a tie game on Saturday. The Tribe bullpen, which had been uneven going into the series, needed to throw 15.1 innings over a two-day period, and on Sunday Terry Francona sat Jason Kipnis (June's AL player of the month), Michael Bourn (on paternity leave), and Nick Swisher (who hit the game-winners on Friday night and Saturday), all against one of the best pitchers in baseball.
So each winning streak or series sweep is driven not by your stars, but your subs, and never was that was more evident than this weekend. Still, it helps when your stars perform, and never was that more evident than today. With the bullpen gassed, nothing would be more welcome to the team than a long outing by Masterson, even if it was in defeat. With an off-day tomorrow, not having to use the key back-end relievers today would get the bullpen back on normal usage patterns, and that has far-reaching effects. Not only did Masterson go the distance today, but he shut out the White Sox. Now the Indians will start the upcoming series in Kansas City with everyone available for multiple games, from closer Chris Perez to Joe Smith to Cody Allen and the middle relief.
And not only did the Indians score four runs off Chris Sale, but did it mostly with the bench bunch. Ryan Raburn hit a key two-out double in the fourth and Yan Gomes added three hits. Michael Brantley, facing the toughest left-hander in baseball, had two hits and scored two runs. And Drew Stubbs, subbing for Michael Bourn in center, really got the offense rolling with a bunt single to start the fourth inning and capped the scoring with an RBI double in the ninth. Raburn, Gomes, Brantley, and Stubbs is at best the Tribe's offensive B squad, and those were the main cogs that gave Masterson a somewhat comfortable margin to work with.
So what about Masterson today? He had minor trouble throughout his nine innings, but four double plays and Yan Gomes pickoff helped to not only keep the White Sox off the board, but kept his pitch count down. In his last start (in Baltimore), Masterson cruised until the seventh inning, when he gave up five quick runs. Today he also ran into trouble in the seventh inning, but this time defused a first and second, nobody out situation by getting an around the horn double play. Going into the ninth, he had a chance completing the shutout having thrown fewer than 100 pitches (also known as a Maddux, a term coined by our Jason Lukehart), but struggled a bit to get that 27th out. But he did get it, striking out Alex Rios to finish the shutout and complete a rare four-game sweep in the Windy City (the last time that happened was 1948.
With the Tigers losing in Tampa Bay, that shutout also pushed the Indians into a first-place tie with Detroit. The return to first place comes just about three weeks after the Indians lost their eighth came in a row, an incredible turnaround considering how the team looked on that road trip.
AL Central Standings
Roll Call (28 Commenters)