Indians fall to 67-49
4.5 game lead in AL Central, Tigers to play Kansas City on Monday Night Baseball
The Indians came close to stealing a win in a walk off today. How close?
Close enough for it to hurt.
The Indians put two runners on to start the bottom of the ninth, then couldn't push one across. Almonte represented our last chance, but instead of crushing a three-run walk off, he popped up to second base to end the game. Boston won 3-2 in a close game featuring some questionable coaching decisions by Terry Francona.
In some ways, Tito's use of the bullpen appears to be a bit more progressive than that of his peers. He's using Andrew Miller wherever he feels he can be the most effective, rather than pitching him in the ninth with a 1-3 run lead. In other ways, like today, his approach stays close to conventional thinking.
Esteemed baseball researchers have known for a while that starting pitchers fare worse against hitters each subsequent time they come to the plate. Put another way: pitchers get worse the longer they're in the game, but the third time through the lineup is the most detrimental. Last night, the Indians took advantage of Mike Scioscia's insistence on running Jered Weaver through the lineup a third time. Today, they suffered when Tito pushed Tomlin through again. Had Tomlin only thrown sixtyish pitches? Sure, and for that reason I do not fault Tito for allowing Tomlin to start the inning. The Indians held a one run lead thanks to a Rajai Davis solo shot.
However, as soon as Dustin Pedroia reached base, the go-ahead run came to the plate. Putting in a fresh arm here -- perhaps one that matched up well against the heart of one of the most dangerous offenses in all of baseball -- would have been the right decision. Tomlin pitched on, allowing a two-run home run to David Ortiz on the first pitch, and a solo home run to Jackie Bradley Jr.
This is almost forgivable during a Monday afternoon makeup game....except for the fact that Tito let Tomlin face the top of the order for a fourth time. Thanks to some unbeknownst miracle, Tomlin pitched his way through the rest of his 7.2 innings without allowing any more runs. His final line for the day -- 7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR -- is a fine performance, and vintage Josh Tomlin Baseball®. Tomlin did what was asked of him, and did it admirably. Unfortunately he wears the loss.
I'm not saying that Tito is wrong for trying to milk innings out of a back-of-the-rotation starter. There's value in that throughout the course of the season. I am saying that he's wrong for not using his pitching staff in the most effective manner in order to protect a close lead and give his team the best chance to win the game. Fresh arms were available, research shows that they would have fared better, and he chose to not use them. Perhaps the rest of the week our well-rested elite bullpen arms will shut down opponents in a series of tight games, but I've always been an advocate of trying to win the game that you're currently playing.
Such is baseball.
Today's offense for the Indians was brought to you by Rajai Davis. He launched his 11th home run of the year off of Pomeranz in the 4th, then doubled home Chris Gimenez in the 8th to bring the Indians within one. Jose Ramirez snapped his hitting streak today, though he did draw a walk. Mike Napoli extended his to 15 games.
Tomorrow, the Indians begin a series against the Chicago White Sox. Corey Kluber and Jose Quintana get the start, The next scheduled off-day for the team is September 1st.
As a final thought: I'm perhaps over-emphasizing the importance of the pitching decision on today's outcome. The Indians gave themselves a chance to win late and nearly did. It's just difficult to not focus on a potential misstep made in regards to pitching strategy. Fortunately, today's mistake falls several levels short in severity and impact of walking Nomar to get to Troy O'Leary...twice.