When the dust settled yesterday afternoon, the Cleveland Indians limped out of a road trip against two of the worst teams in baseball with a 1-5 record and (most likely) short one LOOGY. I prefer the happy, excited versions of Close Examination posts, but the end of yesterday’s game felt too emblematic of this entire season to not cover.
Normally on A Close Examination, we begin with the play itself, but we need to put an entire inning into context to understand exactly how bad the result was.
Let’s begin with Boone Logan. He hasn’t endeared himself to many Let’s Go Tribe readers this season. Signed to erase left-handed hitters in late innings, Logan cannot seem to find command this year.
It does not appear that he will have a chance to find it. After working effectively in the seventh, Logan marched back to the mount to face a string of lefties in the eighth. After a normal looking pitch, he finished his follow through, then winced to a squat.
I hate to say it, but we might be filing this into the “freak injury that prematurely ended a career” section. This reminds me of a forward in soccer planting a foot to cut, then falling to the ground as if gravity suddenly quadrupled. You know that there are torn knee ligaments in that situation. Logan’s reaction here is somehow worse because of the split-second delayed reaction.
While this in of itself didn’t ruin the Indians’ afternoon, it served as a harbinger. Bryan Shaw came into the game to relieve Logan with the Indians leading 4-2. If you ask five fans for their opinion about Shaw you’ll get nine answers.
Today, with the game on the line, he entered with the tying run at the plate. After a Brandon Crawford bloop strolled into no-man's land for a single, Conor Gillespie strode to the plate.
Shaw relies primarily on his cutter, which kites in front of the hitter at 94 mph. It induces a large number of ground balls. With a runner on first and one out, a ground ball seems like the perfect remedy, doesn’t it?
Oh, Carlos Santana. You Cloud City-visiting walk monster, fallen catcher, failed third baseman. These things will happen from time to time. This particular time happened to be the worst time. With Gillaspie’s speed I doubt a double play is turned should Santana field this cleanly, but a run doesn’t score, and a second out is tacked onto the board.
Things looked hopeful when Shaw fanned catcher Nick Hundley. One more out would get the Indians out of the inning with a 4-3 lead and a chance to tack on some insurance runs.
Note that Nick Hundley happened to catch today’s game for San Francisco. That meant that a certain lad sat on the bench, waiting for an opportunity to impact the game. Bruce Bochy looked down the dugout and said, “You know what? Maybe I should let the guy who has a legitimate shot at being the greatest catcher since Johnny Bench have a crack at the plate today.”
And he did. Mind you: Buster Posey’s wRC+ of 143 is the highest since his MVP season in 2012. Second base lay open, arms wide, ready to embrace a baserunner to make room for Posey on first base.
Bryan Shaw pitched to him anyway.
He opened up with a called strike and a foul ball. Things looked glorious. Then, Shaw got cheeky. Three consecutive balls filled the count. Then, the reckoning came:
Buster Posey, in the clutch. 5-4 Giants pic.twitter.com/LnlNCwYGbq— Ahmed Fareed (@FareedNBCS) July 19, 2017
Of course the Indians didn’t come back to win this game. After a pitcher leaves with what appears to be a devastating injury, a veteran whiffs completely on a routine grounder, and your pack animal reliever blows the lead, can you honestly expect a team to come back and win?
Well, they almost did. ‘cept they loaded the bases first and then decided to lose.
But what did Tito have to say?
Would you look at that! Interviews!
I’m hoping that Tito simply mispoke when he said “Panik [was] hitting next”, because Joe Panik wasn’t in the lineup today. The only thing I can potentially imagine here is that Panik was on-deck as a pinch hitter who was then lifted after Posey hit his double. On the broadcast, Matt Underwood made a point of stating that Gorkys Hernandez would come up next. You know. If Shaw just happened to walk Buster Posey.
You hate intentional walks
Yes, I do. I’ve long been an opponent of intentional walks. In most situations that they are deployed, they don’t make a great deal of sense. Before the seventh inning stretch? A mistake. In a game that isn’t tied or a one-run deficit? A mistake. Not gaining a platoon advantage and setting up a double play/force out and neutralizing a superior hitter? Usually a mistake.
Yesterday, the Indians should have walked Buster Posey, who came in to pinch-hit. They should have done it at the beginning of the at-bat, and they didn’t. Shaw ran the count to 0-2, at which point it made sense to keep pitching to the best catcher in a generation. Once the count became full, I don’t understand why the Indians didn’t put him on base.
No, man. You really hate intentional walks. You wrote 5,000 words about it one time
I know, okay? This is one of the rare instances when it really did make sense.
By walking Posey, the Indians open up a force out at every single base. This means any ball on the ground is pretty much guaranteed to be an out, including the force-out at home.
By walking Posey, the Indians take the bat out of the best hitter in the San Francisco Giants lineup, a man who will likely end his career as one of the five best backstops ever.
By walking Posey, the Indians get to face a career .221/.293/.321 hitter; a man tossed between major and minor league teams; a player worth -1.3bWAR this season alone, and with one of the strangest first names in baseball: Gorkys Hernandez.
I argue that in this situation, the extra run represented by Posey doesn’t matter at all. If the Giants take the lead in the bottom of the 8th at home with a three-run inning, then the odds of the Indians winning are remote anyway. By contrast, the odds of Gorkys doing anything worthwhile at the plate against an above-average reliever in the age of the strikeout are infinitesimal. To add insult to injury, he struck out after Posey hit the game-winner.
As it stands, the Indians blew not another game, but another entire series to an opponent in the cellar of its division. This time it involved an injury, an error, and a decision to pitch to one of the best catchers of all-time with the game on the line when a free base awaited him and the runs didn’t really matter.
I love baseball and I love the Indians. In light of recent events, this makes me a masochist.