Francona’s Logic Costs the Indians in the Deciding Fifth Inning
Terry Francona deserves a lot of credit for coming into Cleveland and creating a winning culture, leading the club to 92 wins in his first season after winning two World Series titles in Boston (2004 and 2007). He has helped the club land players via free agency who may have never considered signing in Cleveland without the reputation that Francona brought with him, but even incredible minds can over-think things from time to time. Such was the case in the fifth inning of Thursday night’s series opener in Boston.
With two outs and first base open (thanks to a throwing error by Josh Tomlin that allowed Jackie Bradley to advance to second prior to two ground outs that allowed the young center fielder to advance to third), David Ortiz was coming to the plate. Ortiz, who sports a career .944 OPS with runners in scoring position and a 1.168 OPS with runners on third, could have been walked, leading to a matchup with Mike Napoli. Instead, Francona said this:
“No, we just wanted to make sure we knew what we were going to do,” manager Terry Francona said. “Going into that at-bat, he was 0-for-10, but I know what David can do. I’ve seen him do it.”
David Ortiz was 0-for-10 in his career against the mighty Josh Tomlin, so he let Tomlin go after him. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well.
The two-run shot opened the Red Sox lead to 3-0. In the top of the sixth, Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley scored on a Jason Kipnis single to cut the Boston lead to one, but the Indians managed just two base runners over the rest of the game, as Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara shut down the Cleveland offense in relief of Jon Lester.
Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, and Michael Brantley combined for six of the Tribe’s eight hits on the night, but with just one hit by Carlos Santana, Ryan Raburn, and Nick Swisher in the 5, 6, and 7 spots, there wasn’t much room for advancement and scoring opportunities. However, seeing the left-handed hitters, Kipnis and Brantley, perform well against a solid left-handed starter in Jon Lester was encouraging.
It was also nice to see Carlos Carrasco pitch two scoreless innings, where he struck out two and threw 20 of his 29 pitches for strikes. There will always be some interest in moving the hard-throwing right-hander back to the rotation when he strings together successful, strike-filled innings, but he is a nice piece out of the bullpen, having allowed just one earned run over his last 11.1 innings and seven appearances.
Based on such a small sample size (10 at-bats), it is hard to not put the blame on Terry Francona last night. Pitching match-ups are skewed because of various situations. Was Tomlin successful against Ortiz when Ortiz was dealing with a nagging injury, was the wind blowing in, or was there an expanded strike zone due to a horrific umpire behind the plate? When sample sizes are this small and you’re dealing with a player who, even at 38 years of age, is one of the most dynamic offensive forces in baseball, why take that chance? This is a perfect example of “The Book” going horribly wrong. Maybe splits against left-handed pitchers would have been appropriate in that situation, had the Indians gone to the bullpen early (since Tomlin had been bending but not breaking most of the night), but if Ortiz had gone 5-for-5 against Tomlin last night, he would have had a .333 career average against him. Would that have altered Francona’s approach?
Check It Out
– After starting off the month of June by going 6-1 against the Red Sox and Rangers, the Indians have lost their last three games, each on the road, bringing their road record to 12-23 on the season (they are 21-11 at home).
– Jason Kipnis has hit safely in his last 10 games, going 14-for-42 (.333/.378/.357).
– If you’re heading to Progressive Field soon, there will be new metal detectors at Gate C (near the Bob Feller statue) as the Indians continue to standardize security based on what Major League Baseball has set as the league-wide expectation. So, next Saturday, when Omar Vizquel is inducted into the Indians’ Hall of Fame, fans may need to give themselves a few extra minutes.
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