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An Analysis of the Indians’ Success Against the Cy Young Army

With the Cleveland Indians’ 6-0 drubbing of the Seattle Mariners and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez this past Sunday, the Tribe is 7-1 against Cy Young winners this season. The run includes both of last season’s winners, R.A. Dickey on Opening Day and a thumping of David Price in Tampa, as well as superstars in Justin Verlander and retreads like Bartolo Colon, who is a shadow of his former self. It’s quite a shadow. The one loss? Of course, it’s to Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox. A guy who reconstructed his shoulder gets the better of a team that thumped the King and Verlander. Sometimes the Sox just don’t know when to get out of the way.

What does this mean? Any number of things. Maybe the guys were lucky that day. Maybe Felix and Verlander and Price and everyone else were just flat that time around. whatever it was, and including Peavy, the Cy Youngers hold a combined 8.20 ERA against Cleveland along with a lot of frowny faces. Let’s see how they did it.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day against Dickey: He lasted six innings, throwing 104 pitches with five hits, four walks, four strikeouts and four earned runs along with a homer. Admittedly you could almost blame J.P. Arencibia for this one, he was dreadful behind the plate with three passed balls and another wild pitch. His knuckleball ends up a ball 35% of the time according to Brooks Baseball, and on this day it was 43% of the time. Plus, he threw 96 of them out of 104 pitches (92%), usually he only throws it 80% of the time.The Indians were patient, they didn’t bite (too much) on the knuckler, and Dickey just looked shaken, uncomfortable in his new digs. He just floated one to Asdrubal Cabrera and that was it. It didn’t hurt to have Masterson on the mound opposite.

April 7th vs Price: This was before we knew quite what we had in this team, and boy did they announce themselves. Price faced 17 batters in the first three innings alone, and the Indians got lead-off hitters on. Ten hits and eight runs over five innings along with three walks, Price gave up two homers and only struck out three. He was at times too fine causing walks then tried to overcompensate and hung one to Reynolds. Whoops.  Price threw 96 pitches, 61 strikes, so it’s not like he was overly wild, the Tribe was just on it. In the second and third innings, 25 of the 46 pitches he threw were balls, he just kind of lost it there and the Indians got him. His cutter had a 4.8 inch horizontal (arm side) break and a 5.3 vertical break, compared to his 2012 Pitch F/X numbers of 2 horizontal and 4.75 vertical, so maybe it ran too far at times, whether out of the zone or into bats? He threw 15 of them, enough to get you in trouble. Masterson was again on the mound.

April 14th vs. Peavy: Way to ruin everything, White Sox. Peavy was great, 11 K’s, five hits including the only run he gave up, a homer to Michael Bourn, and no walks. He was in fine form. I hated this game.

April 30th vs. Roy Halladay: Along with the win against Bartolo Colon, I’m hesitant to draw any conclusion from this one. Cleveland beat the tar out of Halladay, getting eight runs on nine hits including three homers and an un-Doc-like two walks.  The first inning was huge and they did it again in the fourth as Halladay wore down. His velocity has been down, so his strike-throwing ways got him in trouble. An early, aggressive attack got it done this time, getting after fastballs he threw to get ahead in the count. We now know he was injured but hey, it was a win and he looked terrible. The mighty Zach McAllister pitched.

May 1st vs. Cliff Lee: You almost think Cliff gifted this one, because he’s better than this. A day after blasting Halladay they catch Lee and grabbed five runs (four earned) on nine hits over six innings. The Indians did a great job, Lee was on it with 72 strikes on 103 pitches, He really wasn’t that bad, it’s just that Trevor Bauer was luckier than a horse fly on a nude beach. In the first four innings, Lee faced the minimum only once, that’s the key there. The first run he gave up was because a cutter cut too much over the plate, and the three in the third came from a fantastic bunt by Brantley and Ryan Howard’s “defense”, a tight zone against Kipnis, and some smart/aggressive hitting by A-Cab against a strike thrower. Reynolds singled, but really that was Rollins not being able to get it out of the glove, and Michael Young’s play at third was to blame for Rayburn’s RBI. So in this case, it was Lee’s defense not picking him up, which makes sense because of who was behind him. Trevor Bauer’s effective wildness sealed the deal for this one, the Phils not able to pick up on where the hell the ball was going.

I have to say, rewatching that game, Lee is marvelous to watch. He’s hypnotically good, consistent and dominant when on. I miss him more than CC, that trade was worse than a waste. Don’t think I didn’t contemplate what this team would be like with him at the top of the rotation.

May 9th vs. Colon: There was a time when Colon struck fear into the hearts of batters, but not this day. Instead, he lasted four innings, giving up six runs on eight hits with two homers, though he didn’t walk anyone. He really earned this one. It took 83 pitches with 57 strikes, only five swinging strikes. Everyone in the starting lineup got a hit, it was a great day. Colon just isn’t a great pitcher anymore, and the Indians showed us that. Scott Kazmir dazzled, striking out 10.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

May 11th vs. Verlander: This one, the Indians earned. Verlander was definitely not on his game, walking five guys and wild from the get go, and the Indians tagged him for six hits and four runs. Verlander has vaporized the Indians for years, so this was nice, especially in his house even if they didn’t exactly blast him off the mound. Basically, JV’s fastball wasn’t locating like he wanted it. Compared to a year ago, when he threw his fastball for strikes 68% of the time, he was wild, only 52% of fastballs hitting the zone. His change and curveball were working great, but he needs that fastball to work off, and he didn’t have it this day. Even a rubber arm like his can only go so far. The thing I’ve noticed about Verlander over the years, if it starts getting tough on him early, he pitches angry in those early innings and while it can give him that extra couple mph, it gets him into trouble sometimes too. You can tell because he starts doing this little hop-skip off the mound after pitches. He did make some good pitches in the first, both Bourn’s single and Swisher’s double were in off the plate, they just got on it. It helped that Ubaldo Jimenez was great again.

Maybe it was the rain. Didn’t affect our boy Big U, the worst nickname ever.

May 19th vs Hernandez: He just didn’t have it, and  it looked like he fell in love with his fastball. When he gave up that homer to Brantley, it was after two straight hits on first pitch fastballs, and he tried it again on his second pitch to Michael, the young power hitter. You know how that goes. Felix is kind of a tragic hero for the Mariners – he’s utterly dazzling, one of the best players in the game and one of the best Mariners ever. But when he needs help from his defense or offense, he doesn’t get it. Heck, the first hit he gave up, to Bourn in the top of the first, turned into a double because Michael Morse dogged it on a grounder and Bourn was smart on the base paths. An error by Justin Smoak didn’t help any either when Brantley scored in the first. Felix threw 107 pitches in five innings with 68 strikes, walking two and still getting eight strikeouts including three straight after putting two men on in the fifth. Even when he’s bad, wow is he good. Plus I just love his swagger. And the diamond earring every game. The Tribe won this because they put pressure on the Seattle defense, so torn up with injury, and a guy having to do too much on the mound. Plus Masterson was filthy.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians are third in the league in on-base percentage at .335 and first in slugging at .458. Suffice to say, they can hit it hard and are as patient as it gets. But is this the simple recipe for what allowed them to beat some of the best in the game? In short, yes. Whether it’s through tape and scouting (a big part of the Lee win and maybe against Felix too) or discipline (Verlander, Price) or the magic of Terry Francona (always a good fallback) they are doing it all at the plate and rising to the challenge. Sometimes they chase more than others, sometimes they walk more than others, but damn if they don’t remind me at times of those late 90’s Yankees teams, they just wear guys down and don’t quit when they’re ahead. Other great teams have done it too, they just stick with me. So if you’d like, I’m taking reservations on the bandwagon.The Cleveland Indians – world beaters, until we’re told otherwise.

Topics: Bartolo Colon, Cleveland Indians, Cliff Lee, David Price, Felix Hernandez, Jake Peavy, R.a. Dickey, Roy Halladay

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