August 21, 2013
Last August the Indians won just 5 games. Yes, only 5 games in the entire month. August of 2012 was a vortex that flushed the season quickly and completely, and led to all the changes that happened after the season. One year later, the same team finished a 9-game road that contained more wins (6) than in all of last August. The Indians are now 11 games above .500, which is only the 3rd since 2001 that that's happened this late into the season.
How has this happened? If you would have asked the group that question before the season, the answer undoubtedly be that the offense would been the driving force behind it, for none of us had much faith in the rotation. But since the All-Star Break, the offense has largely been absent. It has been the pitching staff that has kept this club in contention this far, and this series is a perfect example of that. The Tribe pitching staff allowed just four runs in the three-game series, but the Indians needed the pitchers to be that good. Last night they ended up winning by a score of 4-1, but if the Indians had given up a second run at any time before the 14th inning, they would have lost.
Justin Masterson once again needed to go deep into the game today, as every pitcher in the bullpen pitched last night, and several pitchers had gone two games in a row. Joe Smith was completely unavailable. Masterson did what was asked of him, but he struggled to get through the necessary innings. He walked five batters, at times losing his arm slot completely, but in each case managed to make a good pitch to limit the damage or avoid it completely. In the fourth inning he walked two straight batters with one out, but managed to get out of the inning without any runs scoring. In the seventh inning the first two got on, but after a sacrifice bunt, he struck out Erick Aybar for his final out of the game. Left-handed hitters had given him trouble all game, so with two outs in the seventh inning Terry Francona decided not to push his ace any more, calling on Rich Hill to pitch to Josh Hamilton.
The odd start time certainly helped both starting pitchers, as hitters had to try to pick on the ball throw alternating area of light and shadow from the pitcher's hand to the plate. Had this game been played at the normal 1 PM local start time, perhaps Masterson wouldn't have gotten away with his wildness, but then again, the Indians might have hit Jerome Williams harder as well.
Hill quickly got ahead of Hamilton 0-2, but Hamilton was able to hit a pitch hard the other way. But Lonnie Chisenhall made a nice grab ranging to his left, throwing out Hamilton to end the thread. If Chisenhall can't get to that ball, the Angels score two runs and take the lead.
For most of the game, the only Tribe offense came on one swing of the bat. Michael Bourn led off the third with his second triple of the year, and then Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer. That was all the damage the Indians could do against Angels starter Jerome Williams. They added an insurance run in the ninth thanks mostly to Dane De La Rosa's wildness. But thanks to Masterson and the bullpen, three runs was enough. Cody Allen pitched a scoreless eighth, and Chris Perez, pitching on his third straight day, retired the Angels without much trouble in the ninth.
And with that the Indians head home, with a much-needed off day between now and the beginning of their next series. And they have another off day next Monday, which means they should get to September 1st without having to overuse anyone.
With their 6-3 road trip, the Indians have gotten themselves right back in the thick of the Wild Card race. They now are 2.5 games behind Oakland, and 4.0 games behind Tampa Bay. Over the next 2-3 weeks there will be a lot of Wild Card/Division contenders playing each other, so the Indians will very much be able to control their own destiny. Games like today have allowed them to have that control.
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