Game 9: Indians 6, Mariners 4

The Indians spotted Josh Tomlin to a 6-0 lead by the middle of the fourth inning, and with that, the sweep was pretty much completed. The Mariners haven't scored more than six runs in a game all year, and they've scored six only once, in their season opener in Oakland.

A year ago, the Mariners were a team that inspired optimism, flush with pitching and defense. At the same time, the Indians were a team no one wanted to touch, with little established major league talent and a bevy of prospects that many were prepared to write off. Just a year later, no one seems to have much optimism for the Mariners, a team that lost 101 games a year ago, that has $94 million in payroll obligations for this year and $60 million for the next, and that is sitting at 2–7 while looking every bit as bad as that record.

In contrast, the Indians are suddenly surging, with only $50 million on the books this season, $14 million the next, and a record the exact mirror image of Seattle's: 7–2. Cleveland has stars in Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, and Chris Perez; a pair of young arms in Masterson and Carrasco who may be transitioning from question marks to exclamation points; and two super-heroes we thought had retired, lurking in the shadows. 

I'm ahead of myself, though. Today's game featured another excellent outing by Josh Tomlin, whom I've sworn off maligning. Tomlin looked exactly like he always does, attacking hitters with his underwhelming repertoire and daring them to hit it. As has often been the case in his Tomlin's major league career, the Mariners couldn't answer his dare and never really looked comfortable facing him. He ran into trouble in the seventh inning, but his final line was good, and he notched his second quality start of the season in two tries.

When that trouble arrived, Manny Acta went to Chad Durbin, who surrendered a home run to Michael Saunders and a single to Chris Gimenez (yes, that guy) before leaving the game. Rafael Perez came in to help the Indians escape the inning, but it's up for debate how many more high leverage situations Durbin will enter as the first option. Frank Herrmann has already scuffled this season, so if a righty setup man is going to be nominated on the fly, it likely will be Pestano or Germano. Hopefully, Pestano's the choice—he's looked great in the majors, striking out 11 over seven innings between last season and this one, and he's been one of the best relievers in the Indians farm system for two years. 

Despite Seattle's three-run outburst in the bottom of the seventh, the game was never really close. As I wrote in the lede, the Mariners really, really struggle to score, and the Indians have two very high quality relievers in Chris Perez and Tony Sipp. The amount of handwringing in the game thread indicates just how conditioned for failure we are as Indians fans. These were the next six Mariners batters after the seventh inning:

Chone Figgins
Adam Kennedy
Jack Cust
Justin Smoak
Ryan Langerhans
Luis Rodriguez

Objectively, there is no reason to think these six were going to score two runs off of Sipp and Perez. Obviously, it's baseball, and wacky things happen, but the lack of quality in that lineup, especially in the context of Sipp, Rage and Safeco, is apparent. As the WPA makes clear, this wasn't a game the Mariners were ever really in a position to win. 

Chest sufficiently puffed, it'd probably be smart to remember that this Indians team and its 7-2 record is riding, in part, the hot bats of Jack Hannahan and Orlando Cabrera, as well as Cy Young level performances from Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin. Likely, this is still a team that will have to battle to reach .500. The point is not to suddenly think the Indians are contenders—that would take a type of magic they don't manufacture in Cleveland. 

The point is that the Indians aren't hopeless or hapless—after two years of absolutely miserable plays made by players that didn't even hold much hope for the future, your new Cleveland Indians have arrived. They're not fully developed yet, and they could still fall flat on their faces, but for the first time in a long time you can squint and see a future in this squad. The assertion that Michael Brantley can play everyday is moving from defensible to obvious. Imagining Masterson as a game-two starter seems more and more reasonable. A looped fantasy of Asdrubal Cabrera carrying a team into the playoffs with a scorching final month seems less fantastical than it did yesterday. Chris Perez on the mound in a division clincher, breathing fire and then throwing it, is less pipe dream and more secret hope. More likely than not, this group of players will break our hearts, be it sooner or later. For now, though, the sun is out in Cleveland. The Indians' future is finally somewhere we can see it, and it looks pretty damn good. 

20110410_indians_mariners_0_20110410182648_lbig__medium

Highest WPA Lowest WPA
A. Cabrera .172 Durbin -.079
Duncan .098 Santana -.037
Tomlin .082 LaPorta -.033

via www.fangraphs.com

If you haven't, check out The Breakdown I posted earlier, summarizing the last 9 days. 

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