The Indians’ time in Kansas City offered two examples of Cleveland sports wishful thinking: that excess runs could be redistributed to other games in a series, and that great barbeque was more available to the general public. But whatever, a 1-2 trip to KC, with a 15-4 “Welcome to the Show” for Jake Odorizzi to wrap it up, is about what we expected. This team is kind of going through the motions, and the Royals took advantage of it and used their great ability for playing the spoiler to seal the Indians into fourth place.
Anyway, to the Windy City we go, to face the still-in-first-place Chicago White Sox. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Pale Hose. Kenny Williams even admitted it and got to dumping aging players to give the young guns a chance. It ended up with Mark Buehrle getting replaced with Chris Sale, who will do something his predecessor never did and get legitimate attention for the Cy Young. (More on that later.) With the Baltimore Orioles doing what they’re doing in the AL East and the Oakland Athletics out west, it stands to reason the Central would get a dark horse too. We should have seen it coming.
We’ve gotten to a point in the season where I’m running out of stuff to discover about this team. I mean really, it’s the White Sox, what don’t you know? How about this: Kevin Youkilis’ OPS is almost 100 points higher in Chicago than it was in Boston, despite a six-point drop in batting average. Some digging told me his BABIP is a good 70 points lower than his career average (.258 to .321) so even if he were league-average on balls in play, .290ish, that’s still a decent-if-not-great .270. Traditionalists would settle for that, but he’s walking and driving the ball in Chicago, really a great trade by Williams. If the Indians had done it, it wouldn’t have worked out though. Them’s the rules.
Did you know that according to FanGraphs, Alexei Ramirez was a 4.8 WAR player last year? That blew my mind when I read that. Baseball-Reference wasn’t so generous at 3.3, but even so. Of course, it seems like Alexei is always there with the back-breaking hit in a game, and any Indians fan can attest he’s never a welcome sight at the plate late in the game. It’s his defense that’s done it for him though, because a 94 OPS+ last year isn’t going to do it. This year he’s fallen off a bit more, 1.8 fWAR and 2.5 bWAR, and his bat has disappeared with a 77 OPS+. Against Cleveland this year he’s still hitting .302 (with no walks though) and has 11 RBI’s. I don’t care how bad he gets though, I never want him at the plate late with runners on. Something will happen.
There’s every chance the Indians will get shelled this series. The White Sox have scored 85 runs in the 12 games they’ve played against Cleveland; only Minnesota has scored more (105), which seems weird, and kind of amazing. I blame Josh Willingham. If it happens, there must be fireworks from Adam Dunn. Few in the league mash more majestic, arcing shots into the bleachers, and he has to bounce one off that United ad in right field. If he turns on one hard enough, the Donkey could do it.
This is a fun offense to watch, and there’s little about it we don’t know at this point, though it’s’a little impressive they hold the division (albeit by a razor thin margin) despite being 12th in the league in walks. Kenny isn’t your typical Moneyball-er though, he’s an old school gut and grit kind of GM. Despite how maligned that approach has been in the last decade (and it should, it’s generally stupid to put yourself at a disadvantage) something clicked right.
One thing we can count on in this series is Jason Kipnis going crazy at the plate. He likes playing in Chicago, he’s from the area and he rakes at U.S. Cellular. He’s got a 1.382 OPS there with three homers, a triple and a double in eight games. With him clubbing it and Carlos Santana finding his power stroke with a couple homers in KC and how Choo hits in Chicago, firepower could be the story of the day. Or they could roll over and get shut out multiple times. This season has been exhausting.