If baseball had its own five stages of grief, the equivalent of denial would be “well they’re hitting everything hard but it’s just not falling their way,” and anger would be “this is all the umps fault, give me robot umps.” Cleveland Indians fans are somewhere between these two stages, slowly encroaching on the latter. I have no doubt that the Indians will pull out of this sooner or later, but boy, it sure isn’t fun to endure every night right now.
On this particular night, Indians fans’ anger manifested in the form of blaming the umpires. At the end of the first inning, Trevor Bauer threw an inside pitch to Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Maybe having flashbacks of last September’s game in which Trevor hit three Tiger batters, Cabrera was upset at the location. He let the umpire know, he let Trevor Bauer know, and he let the Indians bench know between innings. Cabrera’s outburst, coupled with the Indians bench laughing at him, prompted home plate umpire Clint Fagan to issue warnings to both sides.
This, many Indians fans believe, altered how Trevor Bauer approached the rest of the game and potentially allowed Miguel Cabrera and Alex Aliva to slap opposite field home runs. As Jordan Bastian accurately points out below, Bauer didn’t go inside much throughout the game.
First box is Bauer vs RHB. Second is vs. LHB. Warnings issued in first, and Bauer didn't go inside much in rest of outing. pic.twitter.com/BiAmZIyCcX— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 15, 2017
But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.
Bauer isn’t exactly a pitcher that lives on the inside part of the plate to begin with. And even if he did, receiving a warning is not an excuse to completely neglect an entire section of the strikezone. If, in Trevor’s mind, it was smarter to throw bad pitches than risk getting ejected, that’s on him.
The answer to Trevor’s trouble tonight is the same answer we’ve had for a long time: He gets progressively worse multiple times through the lineup. In the past, the narrative (that I have admittedly even bought into) is that Bauer lets certain things get in his head and he implodes. But he’s worked through plenty of issues early in games, only to have his problems pop up in the fourth inning and beyond, roughly when the opposing lineup comes up for the third time.
In his career as a starter, coming into play today, Trevor has a 3.81 ERA the first time through the order, a 4.61 ERA the second time through, and a 5.17 ERA the third time through. Opposing batters’ wOBA climbs from .316 to .320 to .322, and their slugging percentage jumps from .381 to .394 to .436. Most, if not all, pitchers get worse as they go along, but Trevor seems to just hit a wall that third time through like clockwork.
In tonight’s start, Trevor held the Tigers to one run through four innings. When the fifth rolled around, the third time through the lineup, is when he allowed back-to-back hits to leadoff the inning then a Miguel Cabrera home run two batters later. And in the next inning, still the third time through the lineup, he allowed a Tyler Collins single and an Alex Avila homer before being pulled for newcomer Nick Goody.
Almost all the Indians problems so far this season will be fixed by sheer regression, but I don’t know if that’s the case with Bauer. He has looked like a fourth or maybe third starter for a while now. That’s not a terrible fate to have, but we may have to get used to shorter outings from him.
And, of course, no amount of umpire interference on behalf of Trevor Bauer is going to help the utter disaster that is the 2017 Indians offense with runners in scoring position. Prior to a bonkers ninth inning tonight, which I’ll get to in a moment, the Indians were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Their only run of the game, prior to the ninth, was a bases-loaded sacrifice hit. At the time, it was the best we could hope for from the way the Indians offense looks right now.
Then the ninth inning happened.
The Tigers bullpen is, well, not their strength. The Indians started the final frame against William Cuevas, but made quick of work him to the tune of two singles, a double, a Brandon Guyer hit-by-pitch, and a run scored on Yandy Diaz’s first career run batted in. Then, with the bases loaded and Detroit’s best (only good?) reliever, Francisco Rodriguez, on the mound, Lonald Davis Chisenhall did something amazing. I haven’t seen it set to the Titanic theme yet, but give it time.
In the meantime, here’s Hammy’s call of it.
But this wasn’t Francisco Lindor’s go-ahead grand slam last week. No, the Indians were still down by a run with Austin Jackson up to bat. He struck out, and the game was over. Even though it didn’t count for a win, we can still hold out hope that a late-game rally will finally kickstart this dead offense. Another encouraging sign is that Edwin Encarnacion had two hits, walked once and only stranded two runners. Baby steps.
One other thing to note is that Terry Francona must have had strict orders not to play Michael Brantley. He would have been an obvious replacement for Jackson in the final at-bat, and there were a couple other spots he would have made sense, as well — such as in the eighth when Roberto Perez came up to bat with one out and the bases loaded. Understandably, the Indians may still be acting cautiously with their All-Star outfielder.
The Indians still have not lost four games in a row since 2015, and they will defend that little factoid tomorrow at 4:10 p.m. ET as Corey Kluber takes the mound to face Justin Verlander.