Getting outscored 30-11 over four games by the Oakland Athletics seems like an impossibility, but in this season of firsts and amazings, awesome ups and dreadful downs, the Cleveland Indians did it. It took a big effort on Thursday, especially with Justin Masterson on the mound, but even without the Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes keeping it in the park the A’s hit like the Yankees. Luckily they’re headed out of town to terrorize some other unsuspecting squad, but unluckily the Tribe is trading the 13th-ranked team OPS for the second-ranked, and host the Texas Rangers.
Remember back at the All-Star Break, when the Indians were in contention, and one of the things they had going for them was the easiest schedule in the second half? They were a shoo-in for the playoffs, or at least an exciting September. Instead an 11-game losing streak strung along into August, and they’re 5-22 this month. For those keeping score at home with blurbs, that’s really miserable. The Athletics were methodical in their destruction of the Indians this series, just ground them up like a well-oiled machine that you grind stuff with. If the A’s are a machine though, the Rangers are and have been a vicious robotic murder device bent on league domination.
We know all the names. Josh Hamilton is Roy Hobbs made flesh, Adrian Beltre taps into the anger-inducing head rubbing his teammates persist in, Nelson Cruz hits homers like Rip Van Winkle takes naps, and Ian Kinsler is James Franco researching a role (incidentally, Franco can sure play). Up and down the lineup is savage rawhide battery, though one player I’m always excited to watch is their one non-masher. Elvis Andrus has turned himself into the perfect leadoff hitting middle of the field player. The shortstop could earn himself a Gold Glove this year and he gets on base at a .365 clip. If it weren’t for Kinsler’s ability to leave the park and steal bases he’d be slotted in at the top of the order every night. He’s fun to watch, and even if he won’t be as good as his idol Derek Jeter, he’s better defensively any way, and can steal bases.
The Rangers catcher Mike Napoli is seeming to be one of those second half players. Guys like this always make me smile—it takes three months to round into form, because what’s the rush? It’s such a baseball mentality. His .818 OPS since the break is 59 points higher than the first half, despite a .212 BABIP. Maybe his neckbeard needs seasoning every year, and it just takes a while even in that Texas sun. He’s also grounded into three double plays in the second half, five in the first. Too much pasta?
One thing to keep an eye on is Mike Olt and Michael Young. Technically that’s two things, but just be quiet for a minute. Young has made a career of smacking the ball all over the field, though his career numbers place him slightly above average, a career 104 OPS+ preaching that. This year though, it’s at 69. Not so sexy. Olt is young and talented (and he’s from Connecticut! Represent!) and considering what Young isn’t bringing to the table these days and all the other thunder in the lineup, Ron Washington has a question on his hands here.
As for the Tribe offense, what can you say to get excited about at this point? They have a hard time scoring even when the other guys are gift wrapping runs for them. The A’s walked seven Indians on Thursday and but instead of capitalizing on the chance, nothing but groundouts and pop flies. Matt LaPorta is back in town but Manny Acta’s unexplainable grudge against him is robbing him of playing time. It’s been written here on numerous occasions, but at worst LaPorta is a smidge above replacement level and he’s right handed. His defensive deficiencies can’t be that glaring that Kotchman is better than him, can they? It’s nice to have Casey at the bat for poetic reasons, but there has to be a point where winning overtakes a pretty narrative. And yes, that’s a writer saying that.
Other than that, ugh. Carlos Santana is walking more but his power is still nonexistent, Asdrubal Cabrera’s legs are apparently dead, and Jason Kipnis has two homers since the All-Star break. Tom Hamilton keeps me falling in love with Jack Hannahan and Kotchman’s defense. The guy is the only thing keeping us going. Hamilton, that is. If only we had both the Hamilton’s in this series, at least one of them would have had an aneurysm by now.
It’s probably not going to be a pretty time in Cleveland this weekend, though it should be nice out. If nothing else though, maybe Hamilton will go on one of his patented supernova streaks and hits nine home runs. We’re playing the string out here people, and don’t have a lot coming up from the farm to get excited about. Let’s enjoy a singular talent while he’s around, and not think about how the Indians never get to have one.