August 27, 2013
The Tribe pitching staff did a marvelous job against one of the National League's best offenses (even allowing for the absences of several of their key cogs). But it's impossible to win if you don't score any runs.
Perhaps someone has looked this up before, so I might be completely off base, but generally an Interleague matchup tends to favor the pitching over the hitting. MLB clubs do a lot of adjustments over the course of the season, but it's hard to make adjustments when you might only see a pitcher every three seasons. That's partly why I don't like Interleague play, especially now that its sprinkled throughout the season. The Indians, in the middle of a pennant race in late August, have to re-learn a new roster, with many of the pitchers totally new to everyone on the club. Granted, the Braves had the same disadvantages the Indians had, but it still doesn't sit right with me. Now that there's 15 teams in each league, Interleague is here to stay, though, and the current scheduling format (one home-and-home against your rival, one series each against each team in a selected division) is as fair as you can get given the logistical constraints. Still, if the Indians somehow catch up to the Tigers and the division comes down to the final weekend, Detroit will be playing the Miami Marlins....
Danny Salazar made his fifth start with the Indians, and looked rather ordinary. He was facing a particularly strikeout-prone lineup, but only fanned three batters in his four innings. He struggled with command for the first time, having to throw almost 30 pitches to get out of the second inning, and because of that long inning was pulled after four. The Indians are being very cautious with Salazar, whether it be giving him an extra days' rest due to an off day or in this case pulling him after only 77 pitches, as he's long-since gone past his innings total from 2012. Salazar's velocity was fine, with some fastballs hitting 97 or 98 mph, but his offspeed pitches weren't hitting the strike zone. But even with those problems, he should have left the game having thrown four scoreless innings.
The Braves scored the only two runs of the game in that long bottom of the second. Brian McCann walked with one out, and Joey Terdoslavich* rapped a single to right to give the Braves runners on first and third with one out. Andrelton Simmons lined out softly to the shortstop, bringing up Elliot Johnson, who we've seen on the Royals earlier this year. Now Johnson was the eighth-place hitter, and there was a base open (at second), but it was only the second inning and you have to assume that Salazar could get the light-hitting Johnson out. And he should have. Johnson hit a long drive that was heading for the right field fence, but there was enough air under it for Drew Stubbs to catch up with it. And it looked like Stubbs would make a somewhat difficult catch just before he reached the wall, but the ball bounced off his glove and the Braves went up 2-0.
That would prove to be the game-winning runs, as the Tribe offense again struggled. Throughout this dry spell, they've gotten on base just fine, and did so again tonight (6 hits, 5 walks). They just couldn't get a big hit. Part of that has to do with slumping players (Michael Brantley, for instance), and partly because Ryan Raburn, one of the big weapons on offense, has been down for the past couple weeks. And because the Braves were sending out Alex Wood, a left-hander, to start, Terry Francona batted Mike Aviles fifth in the lineup. Twice Carlos Santana walked, and twice Aviles made the third out of the inning. I'm hoping that Asdrubal Cabrera's hot streak moves him back up in the order behind Santana so that we don't see that combination again. Jason Giambi came up to bat in the sixth inning with two runners on as a pinch-hitter, but Scott Downs struck him out to end the last threat of the evening.
The Braves can be beaten, but you have to outscore them in the first six innings to do so. They have perhaps baseball's best bullpen, having only lost twice when leading going into the seventh inning. That held true again tonight, as the Indians managed just one hit from the seventh inning on (a Carlos Santana single).
The Indians bullpen matched zeroes with the Braves pen, but that wasn't going to work given the score. Scrabble, Matt Albers, and Carlos Carrasco pitched a perfect final four innings, with Carrasco pitching both the seventh and the eighth. I think that Carrasco is going to stay in the bullpen now, at least for the rest of this season. He's looked comfortable pitching in relief, with perhaps the suddenness of the call to the bullpen taking away the chances of him over-analyzing his pitching.
So the Indians dropped the first game of this crucial nine-game stretch. I don't think anyone expects the Indians to win this series, and they are in a position where they can go 4-5 in this stretch and still be in decent shape in the Wild Card race. But this was a game they could have won.
*I have to admit that when I first saw his name mentioned online I thought it was some cruel nickname given him by a commenter.
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