At least the bullpen was bad enough to make us all forget about Triston McKenzie’s diminished velocity.
Oh no, I’m thinking about it again.
Yes, before discussing the atrocities that happened past the fourth inning of tonight’s game, we have to talk about that issue. As illustrated by The Athletic’s Zack Meisel in the tweet below, young McKenzie’s velocity has dropped ever start since his impressive debut last month. Tonight it reached an all-time low.
Triston McKenzie’s average fastball velocity, per start:— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) September 19, 2020
Start 1: 94.5 mph
Start 2: 93.3 mph
Start 3: 92.7 mph
Start 4: 92.4 mph
Start 5: 92.2 mph
Tonight: 90.6 mph
If you want to look on the very optimistic side of things, McKenzie still held the Tigers to one run over 4.0 innings. That’s despite inducing just three swings and misses and a fastball velocity almost two mph slower than he normally sports. There was also nothing drastically different with his release point, and his velocity didn’t suddenly drop in the middle of the start. So it’s not like he was rocking 94 early then suddenly dipped to 88 with a whacky arm angle hinting at something going wrong.
Maybe, hopefully, we’ll be able to just chalk this one up to being a rookie and not having his best stuff for a night. The 94.5 mph average we saw in his debut was always likely to be a mirage, but assuming nothing is physically wrong he should be able to get back to 92-93 with more cracking movement on his curveball. Nervous but not panicking is where I’m at.
Now, as for the rest of the team. Oh no, everything is on fire*.
*besides José Ramírez
The top four of the Indians lineup combined for four hits and Carlos Santana went hitless while stranding runners on second and third with two outs. In the sixth inning, with bases empty and no outs, he attempted to bunt to beat the shift. This rightly drew ire from Rick Manning, who wondered what it good it did for Santana to even get on base in that situation — it’s not like he’s going to use his speed to get around the bases with two outs.
Carlos is not alone in his struggles, of course. Oscar Mercado is on borrowed time starting in center field and he responded by going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Frustration mounted after his second strikeout of the night and he repeatedly whacked himself in the head walking back to the dugout.
Franmil Reyes had his first multi-hit game since Sept. 7 and his first extra-base hit (a double) since Sept. 11. He was also one of four Indians batters to strike out twice on the night, alongside Tyler Naquin — who struck out to end the game — and Roberto Pérez.
Good or bad, the Indians technically had the game in a winning position when the bullpen came to play. Even Cal Quantrill had one of his best outings as an Indian, striking out one and holding the Tigers to one hit over 2.0 innings. Nick Wittgren, too, cruised through his inning of work.
Then Phil Maton happened. The short of it is that Maton entered the game in the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead and left with a 3-2 deficit and runners on the corners. After walking the lead-off batter, only three balls were put in play against him, but all three found holes. Niko Goodrum, former Tribe farmhand Eric Haase, and Daz Cameron hit back-to-back-to-back singles. Then Maton walked Miguel Cabrera and then Sandy Alomar decided he had seen enough. So he brought in Cam Hill was just as ineffective and allowed two more runs to score.
Franmil Reyes added his second hit of the night in the Indians’ last-ditch effort in the ninth, but Santana, Naquin, and Pérez all went down swinging.
Perhaps one of the most confusing and disappointing things of the night was seeing Josh Naylor pulled in favor of Jordan Luplow to face Daniel Norris in the seventh inning. It happened, Luplow struck out, and the inning was over. Look, I get it — Luplow kills lefties, and this is far from Alomar’s most egregious decision. I can’t even guarantee that I would’ve been upset had he left Naylor in and the same result happened. But if we can’t trust Naylor to bat in that situation — if he’s that much of a platoon bat — what are we even doing here? Surely Mike Clevinger wasn’t traded for that and a pile of prospects?
Unless one of the several 22-win teams in baseball right now goes on a hellish streak to end the season, the Indians are not in any real danger of losing their coveted eighth playoff seed — there’s a decent chance they could even finish the year with the American League Cy Young and MVP. None of that makes games like this any less miserable to experience. Let’s not do it again.