Stellar Defense Keys Victory over Twins
The Indians’ defense has been pretty sloppy for most of the year. They still lead the American League in errors, and their UZR stats in the infield have been nothing to brag about. However, on Wednesday night their gloves got hot, and a series of spectacular plays robbed the twins of multiple hits and even runs, picking up the pitching staff and leading the Tribe to a much-needed 4-3 victory.
Bottom of the 3rd, Indians trail 0-1
After Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes both struck out, Mike Aviles smacked a single up the middle. Nyjer Morgan quickly followed suit and helped Aviles get to third. Nick Swisher walked, bringing Michael Brantley to the dish. Once again, Dr. Smooth came through in the clutch, ripping an RBI double to right field that plated both Aviles and Morgan, pulling the Indians ahead 2-1. Carlos Santana continued his wretched slump at the plate by striking out on three pitches, swinging at two that were way outside of the zone.
Top of the 7th, Indians lead 3-1
Danny Salazar got a quick out when Kurt Suzuki popped up, but then he gave up a single to Josmil Pinto and a double to Eduardo Escobar. Terry Francona decided it was time to pull him from the game, sending Bryan Shaw to the mound. He wasn’t at the top of his game, allowing both inherited runners to score on a single from Danny Santana and a sacrifice fly from Brian Dozier. Things weren’t looking good after Sam Fuld reached on an infield single, and they looked even worse when Trevor Plouffe smashed a ground ball up the middle. Fortunately, Mike Aviles made a phenomenal diving catch and took the ball to second himself for the force out; a play that may very well have saved the game for the Indians.
Bottom of the 9th, game tied 3-3
Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a hard-hit double off reliever Casey Fien, and Lonnie Chisenhall used a sacrifice bunt to move him to third. Yan Gomes, however, couldn’t drive him home and instead grounded out. Mike Aviles played the hero again when he slapped a single up the middle for his third hit of the game. As soon as he saw the ball leave the bat, he dropped the bat and opened up his hands in celebration of his walk-off single.
Again, the defense. Michael Brantley’s assist from left field in the second inning was right on the money. Nyjer Morgan made a pair of nice catches in the first, including a highlight-reel grab that robbed Josmil Pinto of extra bases. Carlos Santana had a pair of diving catches that took hits away from Brian Dozier, plus a gorgeous barehanded play to make an out of what might have been a bunt single. Mike Aviles made diving play in the seventh to get Brian Shaw out of trouble. The Indians were really playing their hearts out on defense on Wednesday. And speaking of Mike Aviles, he’s really been playing nicely to make up for the absence of Jason Kipnis. After a fairly slow start to the season, he’s come back to bump his line to .302/.338/.381. That includes a 3 for 4 showing on Wednesday with some really nice defensive plays. Danny Salazar also looked pretty good, but he left some pitches up in the zone that nearly got him in trouble.
Carlos Santana is now 0 for his last 15. His struggles have been magnified in the cleanup spot because his inability to hit is killing rallies and stranding runners. I’m not sure how much longer the Indians can wait for him to turn things around at the plate. At the very least he should be moved from the cleanup spot soon. Yan Gomes also now has 9 errors on the year, which is more than a quarter of the team’s total. John Axford also looked really shaky in the ninth. His pitches were all over the place. Hopefully he’s regained some confidence and will start to look like his early season self soon, but even then I’m not so sure of what he have in a closer. He’s walked 11 batters in 14 innings, and is currently playing at replacement level (0.0 WAR) with less than a strikeout per inning. His 4.50 ERA means he’s allowed a run per every two innings he’s pitched, and his WHIP stat is a staggering 1.57. He’s also blown two save opportunities and is responsible for three of the team’s losses. I’m becoming an advocate of Cody Allen in the ninth, despite the fact that the save stat will bloat his arbitration numbers.
Check It Out
-Yan Gomes has 9 errors on the season so far. That’s 3 times the number of errors he made all of last year.
-The Tribe’s starting rotation made a full turn of quality starts. That hadn’t happened all year.
-Nyjer Morgan and Mike Aviles have combined for a full win above replacement so far this season. They’ve played in 13 and 22 games, respectively.
-Carlos Santana has played at 0.2 wins BELOW replacement level this season, while George Kottaras was worth 0.3 wins above replacement in just a single game.
-This was the Tribe’s first walk-off win of the season. Last year, they won 11 games by walk-offs, which counted for more than 11% of their win total.