August 1, 2013
Although it's seemed like the Indians have running up a down escalator when it's come to the standings, they've turned into a darn good baseball team. Today they stopped the string of late victories and won rather easily, sweeping the White Sox thanks to good play in all facets of the game.
When Chris Sale is starting, Chicago is not a basket case of a team, but a club that has a fighting chance of victory. Chicago's troubles most emphatically do not emanate from the pitching staff, and Chris Sale is the emblem of the organization's ability to sign and develop pitching. Sale was selected in the middle of the first round in 2010, eight players after Drew Pomeranz (who the Indians would eventually deal for Ubaldo Jimenez the following year). The pick of Sale was widely panned among the prospect pundits, who believed that Sale would merely be a reliever. Sale and the White Sox proved the naysayers wrong, and the long and skinny left-hander out of Florida-Gulf Coast has become one of the best pitchers in the game. He's locked up until at least 2017, and, assuming he stays healthy, will be the core of the next good White Sox team.
Now that I've set up Sale, this next part will make this win seem more impressive than just a surging team demolishing a fading club. The Indians forced Sale out after only five innings, a very short outing for a pitcher accustomed to pitching into the seventh or eighth inning. The Indians got on the board in the second when Mark Reynolds, of all people, came through with a two-out single, driving home Carlos Santana. Ryan Raburn added to the lead in the third with a wind-aided two-run homer. And in the fifth the Indians tacked on two more runs.
Now what made this performance even more impressive is that the Indians sat Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Jason Giambi, and Lonnie Chisenhall, with all four bench players in the starting lineup. This team does not miss a beat when Terry Francona sits a regular or two, and even when almost half the regulars were out, this club still made one of the best pitchers in baseball look rather pedestrian. Sale dominates left-handed hitters, which normally helps him. Sale normally faces a lineup full of right-handed (but below-average) hitters because of his splits, but the Indians are constructed to not only survive tough left-handers, but to face any other situation you can think of. That roster flexibility has been managed fantastically by Francona so that as we start the month of August, just about everyone on the roster is in mid-season form.
Of course this win wouldn't be an easy one had it not been for another dominating Justin Masterson outing. A long break centered around the All-Star Game has seemed to give Masterson a second wind, and he's used to full effect. He's allowed a grand total of two runs in 21.1 post-ASB innings, with today being no different than his other two starts. He ran into trouble in the seventh inning, loading the bases with one out. He struck out Tyler Flowers for the second out, but Francona pulled him with Alejandro De Aza coming to the plate. De Aza had homered off him in his previous at-bat, and with the score 5-1 and Masterson now over 100 pitches, Francona didn't want to press his luck. Besides, he was bringing in a pitcher who of late has been very effective.
Of course I'm speaking of Rich Hill, who now that he's facing mainly left-handed hitters has been effective again. He ended the threat by inducing a grounder, and stayed on to retire the side in order the next inning, limiting the amount of relievers that would need to pitch today. For by that time, Ryan Raburn had hit his second home run of the day, pushing the lead to 6-1. The White Sox would not threaten again. It will interesting to see how Francona balances the usages of Hill and Scrabble, who both need to be spotted against left-handed batters. Based on today's game, I'd expect Scrabble to be used tomorrow if the Indians need to retire a left-hander late.
It seems the only way the Indians can gain any ground on the Tigers is to win on days when Detroit isn't playing. Well, the Tigers were off today, so the Indians are now 2 games behind Detroit in the AL Central, and at least for the time being, increased their lead over both Texas and Baltimore to a full game in the race for the second Wild Card.
AL Central Standings
American League Wild Card Standings
|Tampa Bay||64||44||.592||0||Lost 1|
|New York||56||51||.523||7.5||Won 1|
|Kansas City||54||51||.514||8.5||Won 9|
|Los Angeles||48||58||.452||15||Lost 6|
(updated 8.1.2013 at 8:00 PM EDT)
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