For the Indians, though, it was a frustrating three game set that saw them miss out on chance after chance, saw their wily manager make repeated missteps, and saw the wasting of one of their ace's best starts of the season. Had things gone perfect, the Twins would be all but buried in the division race. But they went decidedly imperfect. It's not all bad though. Right?
Pitching was still good. And Corey Kluber is still really good
The Indians scored two runs in three games against the Twins. This came while facing Ervin Santana, the mere suggestion of a pitcher that is Kyle Gibson, and Adalberto Mejia. At the same time, the Tribe starters (Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin) gave up five runs (four earned), two runs (none earned) and four earned runs over 19 1/3 innings. I'm not going to sit here and say that's stunning, even if Kluber was. He should have earned runs himself just by pitching so amazingly. But that's still a 3.72 ERA by the starters over three games, and that's with Tomlin having his worst control game (at least in terms of walks) in years. Along with that, the bullpen only gave up two runs, and it was from at least one unlikely source in Cody Allen. It cost the game, but so did a decided lack of bats.
The gloves got stupid a couple times and the bats took a break after being tired out in Baltimore, I guess. The pitching staff gave the offense a chance by limiting damage and keeping scoring down. The bats just couldn’t figure it out. Speaking of which...
Sequencing is a bitch
The offense actually performed quite well, just not at the right moments. I’ve long thought there are no clutch players, just clutch moments. Sometimes you come through, sometimes you don’t, for whatever reason. This weekend, the ball just didn’t go where it was supposed to. Jose Ramirez has gone Super Saiyan the last couple weeks and hits everything, but the rest of the lineup was just out of sync with itself all weekend. When a team puts 23 baserunners in scoring position, you’d think they’d score more than one run. They’d have to, right? It seems impossible not to, just by accident. That didn’t happen, because of sequencing. That one run was on an error, too. Basically, the Indians just had bad timing on when they got hits.
That exact thing cost them a playoff berth in 2015. According to Baseball Prospectus’s Third Order Winning Percentage that year, the Indians were a 91 win team. In real life they were an 81 win team. That’s timing for you. You score the runs you can, and sometimes they come in a blowout, sometimes you lose 2-1, sometimes you lose 10-9. This year they’re closer to their actual talent level in record, though according to B-Pro they “should” have 44 wins. That makes sense to me. Runs just get scored at the wrong time sometimes. They just used them all up in Baltimore.
Terry Francona learns from his mistakes
Tito made two grievous errors in Friday's game. the first was not starting Jose Ramirez. Everyone needs rest. Even if baseball isn't the most strenuous game in the world, a day off now and again is vital to long term success. But it certainly came back to bite him, as Ramirez's substitute, Erik Gonzalez, twice faced a bases loaded situation and made an out to end the inning. Whether or not Ramirez did better in the alternate reality where he did start doesn't matter at this point. He’s worlds better at the plate and at least gives the Indians a legitimate chance in a vital series. Why not a day off during the Orioles series? Who knows. A game is just a game, but these three against the Twins were at least somewhat more vital. He likely won’t make that mistake again.
The other error, which Francona was very vocal about, was his not starting Bradley Zimmer. As good as Austin Jackson has been this year, Daniel Robertson has not. At all. Even as a rookie Zimmer moves the needle toward a win more than Robertson does. Sparkplugs are fine and all, but Zimmer has the makings of a truly excellent player. Even if his bat is never more than average he is the best outfielder on the team. I expect Francona to make him much more of a fixture in the outfield, even against lefties. And especially against mediocre ones.
Maybe I’m just chasing small threads of good here, but it’s nice to see a manager not be stuck in a way of doing things. So many in the past and even nowadays wouldn’t admit to having done anything wrong.
They’re still really talented
Sometimes when a team lays an egg, you forget that their fourth best player right now is Francisco Lindor. Which is nice. And it’s not even July. At the end of the day they’ve closed the gap between themselves and Minnesota, and have shown they can be better. With Brantley returning soon, Lindor due for a hot streak, and the pitching starting to come together (Monday night’s Carrasco start notwithstanding), there’s a lot to feel good about as July dawns.