The offense took eight innings to wake up and the Tribe wasted a strong start from Josh Tomlin as the Orioles held off the Indians, 4-3, at Progressive Field Sunday afternoon. The loss dropped Cleveland below .500 for the first time since April 14 and put the Tribe 4.5 games behind Detroit in the AL Central.
Things didn’t get off to a great start for Cleveland. Nick Markakis led off the game with a single to set the stage for a J.J. Hardy to take Tomlin deep for a two-run home run. Eight pitches into the game, the Orioles took a 2-0 lead.
And there the score stood for two hours. Both teams threatened over the course of the next several innings—Baltimore got two on later in the first and the Indians left the bases loaded against Orioles starter Zach Britton in the bottom of the sixth—but with six innings in the books Baltimore still had a 2-0 advantage.
That changed in the top of the seventh. Esmil Rogers took the mound and gave up a leadoff walk to Ryan Flaherty, who advanced to second on Taylor Teagarden‘s sacrifice bunt. Markakis reached on an infield single as Jose Lopez flubbed a grounder at third base before Hardy brought Flaherty home with a single to left field. Wilson Betemit then took Jeremy Accardo deep to lead off the top eighth inning as Baltimore opened up a 4-0 lead.
But the Indians weren’t out yet. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Brantley reached with a base hit before Carlos Santana smashed Luis Ayala‘s 1-1 pitch into the right field stands to make it 4-2. Shelley Duncan then doubled off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and came home on Travis Hafner‘s RBI single. Johnny Damon flied out and Shin-Soo Choo walked to put the winning run on base, but Asdrubal Cabrera struck out swinging on a wicked curveball to end the rally as the O’s held on for a 4-3 win.
The Good: Josh Tomlin had a good day on the mound, holding the Orioles to two runs on eight hits in six innings for a quality start; take out the first frame and he pitched five shutout innings and allowed only four hits. He struck out only two O’s, but he didn’t walk any.
Carlos Santana was the offensive MVP, going 3-for-4 with a double and a homer and missing the cycle by only a triple. It was also great to see that ninth-inning rally—it ended up falling short, but at that point even making it a one-run game is something to be proud of.
The Bad: What’s it going to take for this offense to wake up? The Indians got shut out for six innings by a pitcher who was just called up from the minors and owns a career K/BB ratio of less than 1.5. It’s unwise to overreact to a handful of bad games, but when you see a team make 52 outs between runs (as they did between Shin-Soo Choo‘s first-inning home run Saturday and Carlos Santana’s ninth-inning blast Sunday) it’s hard to keep a cool head.
Also, one could make the argument that Jose Lopez cost the Indians the game. In addition to going 0-for-4 at the plate and making a critical out in the ninth inning, he made a pair of costly defensive misplays in the seventh. With a runner at second and one out he flubbed a grounder down the line that was called an infield single, and on the next pitch his valiant dive failed to snag J.J. Hardy‘s RBI single that brought the decisive run home. Perhaps the handedness of the pitcher isn’t the only thing Manny Acta should take into account when he decides whether to play Lopez or Jack Hannahan that day. Speaking of which…
The “Huh?”: Why is Jose Lopez batting cleanup against left-handed pitchers? I know we’ve harped on this before, but Lopez was probably the second-worst hitter in the lineup Sunday (after Aaron Cunningham), yet he’s getting to hit in one of the most important spots in the batting order. Look at his numbers and try to explain why he’s hitting ahead of Michael Brantley or Carlos Santana or Shelley Duncan.
Interesting Tidbit: Though the Indians experienced a similar midseason swoon last year, they stayed at or above .500 for more than a month past the 2012 squad. The 2011 Tribe had an even or better record from April 5 (2-2) until they slipped to 63-64 on August 24.