May 10, 2013
Chapter 33: Reality hits
In his pre-game interview Terry Francona said that this series was only as important as all the other ones the Indians would play this season. In other words, he and the Indians weren't placing any special emphasis on it. By emphasis he meant arranging the starters in order to throw his best pitchers at Detroit this weekend, which is impossible given the nature of the baseball season. He also said in that same interview that starting pitching makes all the difference, affecting almost all facets of the club; if a starter can at least keep you in a game, then the hitters wouldn't press when coming to the plate, and you keep the bullpen from being overworked.
Last night's game (and this weekend's series) was going to be a test for the Indians. They came into the matchup having won 10 of 11 games, and winning practically all of those games in very convincing fashion. Both the offense and the pitchers were on a roll, the Opening Day lineup was back in place with the activation of Michael Bourn, and first place was within a games' reach.
But, to go back to Francona's second point, starting pitching is often the main factor that drives a baseball game, whether it's a matchup in May like last night, a game in the midst of a pennant race, or Game 7 of the World Series. Usually whoever wins that starting pitching matchup wins the game. Not always, but usually.
The Indians started Corey Kluber, who depending on who you ask is the Indians' seventh or eighth pitcher on their depth chart. I'm sure the Indians would rather have Carlos Carrasco pitching in the rotation, but thanks to the suspension that's impossible, and Trevor Bauer, who probably will be in this rotation for good sooner or later, is still working through some things in the minors in between spot starts. So, while Brett Myers is working his way back off the Disabled List, Corey Kluber will be a member of this rotation. He has the stuff to survive or even succeed at the major-league level, with two varieties of mid-90s fastballs (sinker and cutter) and a changeup/slider offspeed combination that can take hitters off his fastball. But like with any pitcher, to have success with those pitches, you need to throw them not only in the strike zone, but in the right part of the strike zone.
Last night Kluber missed out of the strike zone and in the strike zone. Early on everything seemed to be high and outside to hitters. He fell behind in the count almost all evening, the complete opposite of what he did in Kansas City two starts ago. He was given an early 1-0 lead by the offense, but that quickly evaporated when he allowed three runs in the second inning, and was lucky to only give up three runs, as two of the three outs in the inning were line drives caught by infielders, and the third came on a base running blunder by Torii Hunter. An inning later, he served up a colossal home run off the bat of Prince Fielder, and an inning after that he hung something (not sure what) to Miguel Cabrera, who obliterated the pitch deep into the left field seats. Terry Francona tried to get at least an inning or two more out of him so that the bullpen wouldn't have to be worked too much, but after he allowed another run in the fifth, he had to be pulled. When he left the game, the Indians trailed 8-2.
Had Corey Kluber been even mediocre, the Indians would have had a shot at winning, as they did score four runs on the evening, all off Detroit starter Max Scherzer. In contrast to Kluber, though, Scherzer didn't walk anybody and pitched eight innings, keeping the Detroit bullpen fresh for the rest of the series. So Detroit won the starting matchup and the game rather convincingly, and in doing so gave themselves an advantage. The Indians had to use four relievers to finish the game, and now that they are down to a seven-man bullpen, that puts a real strain on things, especially with a doubleheader looming on Monday afternoon.
So the Indians had their string of good baseball snapped rather convincingly. The pitching was poor, the defense was below-average, and the hitting could have been better. A lot of that has to do with the Tigers, though; they are the overwhelming favorite to win the division for a reason. But some of it was self-inflicted, starting with the starting pitcher, that portion of the club so emphasized before the game by Francona.
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