This was not exactly a scintillating game, even though the contest was consistently close. The problem was pacing, what with the constant pitching changes, the trips to the mound, and lots and lots of base runners. We’ve been spoiled as Tribe fans not only because the team is winning almost every day, but also because those wins are generally succinct affairs.
The Angels have been relying on their bullpen almost all season, trying to make up for a patchwork starting rotation. They’ve somehow stayed in the Wild Card chase (they were 1 game behind the Twins as the game started) but you can also see why they’re currently on the outside looking in: Ricky Nolasco, tonight’s starter, leads the team in starts and innings pitched, but averages about 5 1⁄2 innings a start. He only lasted 5 innings, throwing 92 pitches in the process. The Indians only put two runs on him, though, so the game would end up being a battle of bullpens, which is what the Angels wanted.
Josh Tomlin had a very typical Tomlin start, pitching into the sixth inning, allowing two runs (one being a solo homer), allowing seven hits but zero walks. Tomlin did go through the Angels order a third time, but it was only four batters, and Terry Francona had a reliever warming up in case anything went awry.
The final two weeks of this season resembles the final two weeks of your typical spring training; the games don’t mean particularly much (though there is home field to play for), and there are some intriguing roster battles going on. One of those battles involves an infield spot, and Giovanny Urshela made some compelling arguments for making the postseason roster tonight. He made several more exceptional defensive plays at third base (including a ridiculous short-hop on a ~110 mph smash), and had a very good night at the plate to boot. I think the idea is for him to be the backup infielder/late-inning replacement, hence his appearances at second and short, but I wouldn’t rule out a start or two in the playoffs, especially if Tito wants to emphasize defense.
Speaking of offense/defense, Jason Kipnis had a nice night at the plate, smashing a double into the right field gap and beating out a Baltimore chop base hit later in the game. That infield single might have been more promising than the double, as it required him to bust it down the line, putting his hamstring to the ultimate test. He passed that test, and so he cleared one more hurdle in his quest to make the postseason roster. Greg Allen, who has become Kipnis’ late-inning replacement, made another excellent catch in the late innings, and he appears well on his way to making the roster as well.
I think the schedule works out well for the Indians, if you’re looking at it from a sense of getting players ready for the postseason. They are in a stretch of playing four teams in desperate straits, and so are getting excellent tests for those players on the margins and for the team in general. The Indians have kept up their winning ways over the past week, but the games have been much closer, and so the supporting players in the bullpen have been getting into more high-leverage situations. Tyler Olson faced the middle of the order in the sixth and seventh, and did fairly well. Joe Smith, though, didn’t fare as well, as he fell victim to a couple badly-hit balls that fell into shallow right field. Jay Bruce didn’t help matters, as he didn’t field either hit cleanly. As a result, the Indians’ 5-2 lead shrunk to 5-4 in the seventh.
The Indians got a run back in the eighth when Jose Ramirez had an RBI bloop hit of his own. And the Angels got that run back when Albert Pujols took Smith deep in the bottom of the eighth. That led to Bryan Shaw entering with nobody out, retiring the side, then getting an opportunity to pitch the ninth for a difficult six-out, one-run save. Shaw had some help from Greg Allen, but looked excellent in shutting down the Angels, striking out Mike Trout to finish off the save. Cody Allen wasn’t going to pitch tonight, and Andrew Miller was off as well, and so Shaw took on the added workload. It was a fantastic performance.
A couple notes:
- Francisco Lindor hit a no-doubt two-run homer in the seventh, and after making contact immediately looked back at Angels catcher Martin Maldonado, the second time he’s done that this year. Based on Lindor’s post-game interview, I’m guessing there was a lot of trash talking going on during those at-bats. I would suggest to Maldonado that it’s not a good idea to get Lindor on edge.
- With the win, the Indians broke another franchise winning streak, this time setting record for consecutive road wins. They also moved a bit closer to the Dodgers, finishing the day just 1 game behind them for best overall record. They’ll need to finish at least one game ahead of LA (as the Dodgers won the head-to-head matchup), but that this is even a possibility is just plain insane. They’ve made up 20 games on the Dodgers since the middle of August.