Friday, 28 April 2017

Lindor Lifts Tribe Over Astros, Win Series

The Indians took two out of three from the Astros this week, and they did it in style. In the rubber game Thursday night, down a run and into the bottom of the seventh, Francisco Lindor stepped to the plate with Yan Gomes already stationed on first base. Lindor took Houston reliever Chris Devenski to a 2-0 count before unloading on the ball, sending it deep into center field and over the fence to push the Tribe ahead 4-3 on the night. The Astros couldn't reply and the Indians were victorious, capturing the series victory over one of the better teams in the American League.

Lindor vs Correa: Battle Of The Ages

We live in a golden age of shortstops, a time that rivals the days of Jeter, Garciaparra and A-Rod. Two of the very best in today's era hail from the shores of Puerto Rico, a historically blessed baseball nation. Lindor, from Caguas, and Correa, from Ponce, will be battling each other for the next decade for the title of best shortstop in the majors and they faced off against one another for the first time in 2017.

Over the course of this series the two of them went head-to-head. Correa had a total of 4 hits, 2 of them doubles, 2 walks, but 6 strikeouts. Lindor had just 2 hits, one of them a double, but the other was the mammoth home run that clinched the series win, collecting 2 RBI for his efforts. He also had 2 walks and struck out just the once, as opposed to Correa's half dozen.

So far this season Correa is slashing .219/.310/.329 with 2 HR and 5 RBI. Not exactly the kind of output the fans in Houston were expecting, but it's still early days. Whereas Lindor is performing much better, with a .301/.368/.614 batting line, and leads the Indians with 6 HR, and has 14 RBI, trailing only Jose Ramirez for the team lead.

Lindor is winning the battle between the duo so far and is off to a very hot start this year. His Thursday night homer traveled 456 feet, and was recorded as the longest home run of his professional career. When told after the game how far he hit it, Lindor said, "Really? I'm not supposed to be hitting the ball that far." He's such a legend already. Long live Frankie Lindor.

Here are some other quick takes from the series:

  • Dallas Keuchel shrugged off 2 home runs to go the distance in the opening game Tuesday night, and pushed his record to 4-0. He looks in fine form and has made an early case for Cy Young contention. I realise how ridiculous that sentence is in April but the guy has been a force so far. Josh Tomlin battled him and wasn't too bad, but ran into a tricky fifth inning. Overall the Texan allowed 3 runs over 6 innings, scattering 8 hits and 6 strikeouts but took the loss.
  • Cody Allen recorded back-to-back saves to seal the Indians' wins. On the Wednesday night Allen entered the game in the eighth in relief of Bryan Shaw, who had almost let the Astros back in the game. Allen got a crucial groundout and pitched a clean ninth to record a four-out save. He was back in action Thursday night and made things a bit more interesting, as he likes to do sometimes. Despite putting runners on the corners he worked his way out of the jam, picking up his 5th save of the year. Allen continues to do stellar work, despite making us sweat.
The Tribe now welcome another AL West opponent to Progressive Field, the 10-13 Seattle Mariners. In tonight's matchup the M's are likely to start 28 year-old Cuban lefty Ariel Miranda against Carlos Carrasco, who will be looking to continue his fine start to 2017.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tribe Take Two In Chicago, Win Series

I haven't got a lot of time today to properly recap the Indians' series win against the Chicago White Sox. The Tribe won the series on the back of two superb starting pitching performances but couldn't record a sweep thanks to a sloppy error-strewn loss in the third and final game. Still, a series win on the road is nothing to sneeze at, and the Indians stay atop the AL Central with a 10-8 record, tied with Detroit.

As I'm short for time, here's some quick notes on the series overall:
  • Corey Kluber had his best performance of the early season so far in Friday's opening game. He was in Cy Young form during the complete game shutout. Over his nine dominant innings of work, Kluber threw 110 pitches, striking out 9 and walking 2, and allowed just 3 hits. Not a single White Sox hitter got further than second base. It was the best pitching performance by a Tribe starter this season and Kluber takes the Player of the Week award for his efforts. What a champ.
  • Carlos Carrasco did everything in his power to top Kluber's start the night before but came up just short. And by just short, I actually mean he was unstoppable, just for an inning less. Carrasco threw 8 innings, with 3 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 8. He's been unbelievably effective in all four of his starts so far.
  • The less said about Sunday's game the better. It was a mess defensively and the errors were unfortunate to say the least. 
  • Jason Kipnis made his first appearance of the 2017 campaign on Friday and boy is it nice to have him back. Hopefully his shoulder injury that delayed his start to the season has completely healed and won't hinder him in the future.
The Indians have today off before hosting the red-hot Astros at Progressive Field tomorrow night, with Josh Tomlin pitching for the home side. He'll face off against Dallas Keuchel, who apparently has rediscovered his 2015 Cy Young winning form, and currently sits with a 3-0 record and a 0.96 ERA.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Magic In Minnesota, Twins Get Swept

The Indians got back to winning ways on the road, winning their first series since the opening week in Texas. A heavy dose of rain on Wednesday night reduced the four game set in Minnesota to just three games and Cleveland emerged victorious in each one, sweeping the Twins to take their overall record to 8-7.

Here's some talking points from the Tribe's trip to Target Field.

Back Of The Rotation Getting The Job Done

The Indians sent their three, four and five guys to the mound over the course of this series and each pitcher performed well, picking up the win in their respective game.

Danny Salazar got the series started on Monday and shut down the Twins over 6 innings of work. He allowed 7 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run, whilst striking out 7. It was his best start of this early season and Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combined to earn Salazar his first win, and seal a 3-1 victory for Cleveland.

Josh Tomlin, who was awful in his first couple of starts, also put in his best performance of the season so far. Tomlin was gifted a 3-0 lead by the time he walked out to the mound but proceeded to give 2 runs right back on a Max Kepler sac-fly and a Robbie Grossman double. Just as everyone was about to panic, Tomlin settled down and only gave up one more run, another sac-fly in the fourth inning. Overall Tomlin was effective, lasting 6 innings with 7 hits surrendered for 3 earned runs with 2 strikeouts for good measure. The offense backed him and he also picked up his first win, in a 11-4 Indians blowout. It must be his new haircut.

In the third and final game Trevor Bauer took the ball for the Indians and guess what, he pitched his best game of the season too! Similar to Tomlin, Bauer had also lost his previous two starts but despite the cold and damp conditions he pitched well, lasting 6.1 innings. He gave up just 3 hits but walked 3 as well, for 2 earned runs, and he struck out 7 batters as well. Credit must go to Bauer for working his way out of a sticky fourth inning. After a slip on the mound that resulted in a balk to open the scoring, Bauer got out of a bases loaded situation and avoided the big inning that might have lost this game. Fortunately the Tribe offense picked him up later in the seventh inning and Shaw, Miller and Allen did their thing again to seal the sweep and give Bauer the win.

It's a big positive for any ballclub when your back of the rotation guys can all produce quality starts that keep your team in the game. Fortunately for Salazar, Bauer and Tomlin, the offense was there to capitalise on Minnesota's less-than-stellar pitching staff and get the win each time out. I'm still not convinced Tomlin will be in the rotation all year long, especially when Mike Clevinger is forcing the issue down in Columbus.

The Kipnis Predicament

Rumor has it that Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is ready to return from his strained right rotator cuff injury. Kipnis opened the year on the disabled list after experiencing some discomfort in his shoulder and the club rightfully took precautions. Now Kipnis is back to full health and could feature this weekend against the White Sox in his native Chicago, maybe even as early as tonight.

This creates a roster problem for Terry Francona and co. Who makes room for Kipnis' return?

The likely choice will be Yandy Diaz. The young Cuban who took spring training by storm hasn't managed to produce those sort of numbers thus far in his first taste of the big leagues but he's been surprisingly good with the glove. Diaz is slashing just .236/.295/.255 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 2 RBI and 5 walks to 14 strikeouts and has just one extra-base hit so far, a double. He's featured almost every day at third base but hasn't made the most of the plate appearances he's had.

Nevertheless, with Kipnis set to resume his duties at second base, that means Jose Ramirez will slide back over to third base. Ramirez has been red hot to start the season, slashing .345/.415/.618 with a 1.034 OPS, plus 4 home runs and 16 RBI, with 8 walks (and just 8 strikeouts.) At this stage in Diaz's development, it wouldn't be beneficial for him to ride the bench and just fill in on Ramirez's days off. The sensible option would be to demote Diaz to Columbus and keep him playing everyday.

The only other option would be to keep Diaz on the roster and continue to use him as an outfielder, a position he's very familiar with. But I can't see this happening honestly. The Indians are committed to developing Diaz at third base and after all this early season effort, what would be the point in pushing Diaz back to a corner outfield spot? Also, the Tribe are stacked with outfielders at the moment, so much so that Tyler Naquin was dropped to Columbus only recently when Lonnie Chisenhall returned from the DL. If the Indians decide to continue carrying Diaz, they'll have to drop Abraham Almonte or Austin Jackson. Jackson in particular is unlikely to be demoted as the Indians would have to risk losing him entirely through waivers, something I don't think they'll even contemplate at the moment.

I'm sure we'll see Diaz again in 2017 but for the time being, Columbus will almost certainly be his new home for the foreseeable future.

Player Of The Series

There is always a host of candidates for this award when a sweep is involved but the lucky winner this time is Cody Allen. The right-handed 28 year-old closer featured twice against the Twins, recording his 3rd overall save of 2017 in Monday's win, and he pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Thursday as well. Allen made Indians fans sweat on Monday however, giving up 2 hits and a walk before finally ending the inning for the save. Allen loves to turn his save opportunities into a spectacle but thankfully more times than not he gets the result we all want. He is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball after all.

The Indians now travel to the south side of Chicago to take on the White Sox in a three game series, their second match-up of the season. Both teams will send their respective aces to the mound tonight, as the Tribe's Corey Kluber will faceoff against Chicago's Jose Quintana. Cleveland will be keen to continue their recent form against AL Central opposition and pad their lead at the top of the division.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Bats Still Silent, Detroit Drops Indians

The Tigers came into Cleveland over the Easter weekend and managed to take away a series victory, beating the Tribe two games to one. The series defeat capped off a disappointing homestand for the Indians, who are still struggling to put it all together since the sweep of Texas to open the season. They now sit with a 5-7 record.

Detroit took the first game on Friday night 7-6, despite the Indians' best attempts to make it close in the final innings (a Lonnie Chisenhall grand slam will help) but ultimately their comeback came up short. The Tribe lineup burst into action on Saturday though, annihilating Tigers' ace Justin Verlander in a lopsided 13-6 win, with Jose Ramirez having an especially good day (more on that later.) Sadly the hometown team couldn't win the rubber game on Sunday, as the Indians apparently used up all their runs the day before, and lost 4-1.

Let's look at a couple of talking points from the weekend's series:

Where Did You Go, Yan Gomes?

It's common knowledge in Cleveland that the Indians' Brazilian catcher has been in quite a slump, and it's lasted for over two years now. Nine games into his 2017 season, well lets just say it appears Gomes' problems at the plate haven't gone away just yet. He's currently batting just .067/.152/.167 (AVG/OBP/SLG); that's only 2 hits in 30 attempts. Fair enough Yan, one of them was a home run, but this is still a very bad start to an important season for the 29 year-old. With his backup Roberto Perez nipping at his heels and the impressive prospect Francisco Mejia on the rise, Gomes' days in Cleveland appear to be numbered and his time with the Indians might come to a close sooner rather than later if he doesn't find a way to turn things around. Despite being signed through to 2019, how long does the club endure Gomes' offensive struggles? That magical period between 2013-14 when he was the AL Silver Slugger suddenly feels like a long time ago and the current version of Gomes the Indians trot out there everyday looks like a shadow of his former self.

I've been a big Gomes supporter in the past but the odds of him recapturing some of his former glory look slim. It's still very early in the season, make no mistake about that, so there's time to turn it around yet. Thankfully he still calls an excellent game defensively but with the bat he's an awful mess right now. For his sake more than ours, I just hope he can start stringing together some hits before things turn ugly.

Carlos Carrasco - Ace In The Making

Corey Kluber is the definitive ace of the Indians' pitching staff and the former Cy Young award winner deserves his position at the top of the rotation. However an argument could be made that Carlos Carrasco is pitching as well, if not better than Kluber so far in 2017, and the Venezuelan right-hander may be on the cusp of earning ace status pretty soon.

Carrasco has been on the verge of making the leap for a couple of years but an odd injury here and there has stalled his progress and disrupted his momentum. Despite struggling with some swelling in his elbow this spring, the injury doesn't appear to have hindered him thus far.

In his three starts Carrasco has pitched 19.1 innings and given up just 5 earned runs while striking out 19 and walking 6, to the tune of a 2.33 ERA. No other Tribe starter has pitched as many innings so far this season, not even the ol' workhorse Kluber.

On Sunday Carrasco lasted 6.2 innings, scattering 4 hits for 2 earned runs. He struck out 5 Tigers but he gave up 5 walks as well, which was uncharacteristic but thankfully didn't come back to hurt him. The damage Detroit dealt to Carrasco came on a Alex Avila two-run homer in the second inning, on a fastball Carrasco mistakenly left right over the middle of the plate. After that blip Carrasco knuckled down and didn't let Detroit tag him again. However the Indians' offense couldn't provide their starter much run support and Carrasco was unfairly given the loss, despite pitching a good game.

It has long been remarked by both fans and scouts alike that Carrasco may possess the best stuff on the Indians staff. His split-finger can make opposition hitters look downright foolish and he mixes his fastball and slider to devastating effect. In fact Carrasco's slider has been called "one of the best pitches in baseball" by Baseball Prospectus. Is 2017 the year he finally puts it all together and qualifies himself as a bonafide ace? We won't know for a little while yet but he's certainly off to a good start.

Player Of The Series

Jose Ramirez wins the award this series, and by some margin. Over the course of the three game set Ramirez had 11 at-bats against Detroit and managed to collect 7 hits. It was on Saturday in particular when he really broke out, recording a hit in all 4 of his plate appearances. The dynamic 24 year-old Dominican hit 2 home runs for 6 RBI, and recorded a walk for good measure in the Indians' blowout win. Ramirez has been a fan favourite for a while now but he further cemented his place in my heart with this performance. His offensive output on Saturday catapulted my fantasy team from 9th to 2nd place in my 10 team mixed league. I am forever grateful Jose, and congratulations on winning the award for this series.

The Indians go on the road for their next seven games, beginning with a four game series in Minnesota. The Twins will likely start Kyle Gibson and the Indians will send out Danny Salazar for his third start of the season.

Thanks for reading.