Can’t win ‘em all, I suppose. The Indians looked to be a good bet against Cy Young candidate Blake Snell before the wheels fell off in the sixth, which allowed the Rays to pull ahead with a lead that they would never relinquish. After all the dust settled, the Indians were on the short end of a 5-3 score.
Let’s get one thing straight: Blake Snell can deal. Coming into tonight, opposing hitters owned a .068 batting average against him when there were runners in scoring position. This is the best of all time in a single season among starters with at least 20 starts. To break that down further, in all of 2018, Snell had only allowed 7 hits in those situations. And he showed what makes him so effective tonight. His fastball was hitting 97 mph out of the gate and his velocity didn’t really dip at all throughout the evening. But as we’ve seen from former pitchers (namely, Zach McAllister), you have to have more than just heat to put away major league hitters. Well Snell has plenty of movement on his other pitches tonight, too. His highlight was his disgusting curveball that kept falling completely out of the zone and into the dirt at home plate. He gave catcher Jesus Sucre quite the workout tonight, but he also had Tribe hitters guessing a lot as well. He was particularly effective against Francisco Lindor, who swung twice at balls in the dirt for strike 3. The second K saw Lindor angrily throw his bat into the dirt as he jogged to first and Sucre completed the strikeout.
However, Snell was in trouble early. In inning 1, Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion were both in scoring position before Yandy Diaz flew out to end the threat. But the Indians were able to capitalize in the second when Guyer was gifted a base on an errant throw by Matt Duffy. The error allowed Guyer to move to second and subsequently score when Melky Cabrera plugged the gap in left center. Yan Gomes then worked a full count before smacking a double to left of his own to bring in Cabrera. You could tell that Snell was frustrated with his pitch to Gomes; Sucre had set up inside but the ball never quite made it all the way to the edge of the plate. Instead, it strayed over the heart of the plate and Gomes didn’t miss.
With a runner on second, two runs in, and nobody on, Erik Gonzalez bunted. Tito’s master plan of having a right handed hitter in place of Jason Kipnis to face a LHP worked spectacularly when Gonzalez popped up the very first pitch to the catcher for an out. Snell doesn’t struggle, and he had already been teetering in the first two innings. But sure, give him a free out because why not. After Lindor struck out, Michael Brantley blooped a single into center field to keep the inning alive. That was the plan, at least. Instead of Jose Ramirez coming to the plate with runners at the corners, Mike Sarbaugh confused Yan Gomes with someone with speed and sent him chugging towards home. Kevin Kiermaier, laughing internally (citation needed), launched a rocket to Sucre waiting at home plate, beating Gomes by a good ten feet. Good plan, gentlemen. In hindsight, the failure in that inning may have cost the Tribe the game because they wouldn’t put up any more runs until the bottom of the ninth.
Opposite Snell was Shane Bieber, and he looked solid for ~5.01 innings. He was hitting 95 mph from the beginning of the game, he was avoiding the middle of the plate with his pitches, and he was maintaining composure despite a handful of base runners. It also helped that he was assisted by a double play in the first and Gomes’ laser arm (threw out Willy Adames trying to steal second in the second and picked off Ji-Man Choi at second in the fourth) later. In true Shane Bieber fashion, he didn’t walk anyone, but he did allow 5 hits in the first five innings of work. Then the sixth inning happened, or as I like to call it the “Shane Bieber implodes the third time through a lineup” inning.
The inning began with a single by Brandon Lowe. Bieber’s pitch stayed over the middle of the plate and Lowe pounced on it. LGFT Joey Wendle stepped to the plate for his third appearance and drilled a 1-1 curve that hung just high enough in the zone out to right field. With runners on second and third, Duffy took his third plate appearance and turned it into a 2-run double to right field. Again, an offspeed pitch hung up in the middle of the plate and was punished. Ji-Man Choi made the first out of the inning on a groundout, but he was able to move Duffy to third. Duffy was promptly brought home by a Tommy Pham double on, you guessed it, an offspeed pitch that sat middle-middle. Tyler Olson came in and gave up an RBI single to Kiermaier, which closed the book on Bieber for the evening. One positive takeaway is that Bieber was nails for the first five innings. In the playoffs, you won’t need a fifth starter, and if Bauer is healthy, Bieber will transition nicely into a long-man role out of the bullpen. But right now, his pitch quality deteriorates rapidly once the lineup turns over for the third time, and he was punished for it tonight.
- Guyer made a fantastic leaping grab at the wall in center to end the first inning and save a run. He’s not a natural center fielder and a more seasoned fielder probably doesn’t have to exude as much effort, but it was good nonetheless.
- FS1 announcers stated that Josh Tomlin is an “older, more polished version of Shane Bieber” just before Tomlin made his first pitch of the night, a “fastball” to Brandon Lowe that dinged off the right field pole for a home run.
- As of tonight, the Rays bullpen has now pitched more innings than any bullpen in a single season in history. Neat.
- Jason Kipnis heard you talking smack and smacked a home run of his own off the foul pole in right in the ninth inning.
Rubber match tomorrow features Carlos Carrasco and TBD, according to MLB. Good luck hitting that no-name scrub.