The Indians win their third straight nail-biter, powered by two solid pitching outings and a couple long balls from two of their veteran hitters.
After scoring just eleven runs in four games against the Red Sox, the Indians bats again did just enough against soft-tossing Jered Weaver to secure the win.
The Tribe jumped on Weaver in the first inning. Michael Bourn led off the game with a line drive single to right center, and Asdrubal Cabrera followed that up by driving a Weaver fastball just over the yellow line in left center field to put the Indians up 2-0.
After the Angels registered two Response Runs (Copyright Matt Underwood) in the second, the Indians struck in the third. Michael Bourn singled again, this time to left field, and Asdrubal Cabrera walked to put two men on with one out for Michael Brantley. Mr. Clutch came through again, singling through the right side to score Bourn and put the Tribe back on top 3-2.
The Angels managed to score another Response Run in the fourth to tie the game at three, but lucky for us, this ballclub has the testicular fortitude to persevere despite giving up not one, not two, but three response runs through just four innings. This time, Carlos Santana provided the offense, driving a hanging breaking ball into the visitor’s bullpen to put the Tribe up for good.
Indians Baseball Twitter (that’s a thing, right?) has been all over the fact that Santana has actually been pretty good the past few weeks. Hopefully this combined with the Nick Swisher home run against the Red Sox on Sunday will completely put to rest any notion of squeezing someone like Mike Aviles into the lineup at the expense of Santana or Swisher. Just another instance in a long line of examples of how established veteran hitters deserve more than six weeks to find their footing during a new season.
Michael Brantley left the game after colliding with John McDonald when trying to break up a double play in the third. Brantley actually came out to play left field in the fourth, and all indications are the move was precautionary.
This Angels lineup is a dangerous one, and Trevor Bauer certainly had to grind his way through this outing. (Eric Wedge would be so proud!) His command was shaky at times, as evidenced by his four walks and career-high 119 pitches. He allowed two runs on a Chris Iannetta double in the second, and another run on a Johnny Mac sacrifice fly in the fourth.
But ultimately, Bauer made some tough pitches when he had to. He induced a groundout from Albert Pujols with the bases loaded to end the fourth, and struck out Iannetta with runners on second and third in the fifth to keep the score at 4-3. Bauer continues to flash excellent stuff; he threw a handful of absolutely ridiculous knee-buckling curveballs; and he should continue to be a solid rotation option through the duration of this season.
The (Pleasant) Surprise
The sabermetric community always cringes when a promising starter is relegated to a relief role. The difference in value between 200 innings and 65 innings is vast, even when factoring in the difference in quality when a pitcher is able to go all-out in one and two inning spurts as opposed to pacing himself through 100-plus pitches.
Carlos Carrasco has not pitched well in multiple opportunities as a starter. Everyone sees the mid-nineties fastball and sharp breaking ball and dreams of him putting it together consistently over six and seven inning outings.
But it just hasn’t happened for Carrasco, and I’m here to tell you: that’s okay.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a guy pitching well he’s able to dial up his stuff as a reliever. Carlos Carrasco may never become the workhorse starting pitcher we all envisioned him becoming*, but he can still be an immensely valuable contributor in the bullpen.
*I wonder if some of the Carrasco-as-a-starter momentum comes from his status as the last redeemable piece of the Cliff Lee trade.
It was a bit nervy at times, but Carrasco picked up his first career save by shutting the Angels down over the final 2.1 innings, striking out four in the process. Particularly impressive was Carrasco navigating through Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton in the ninth, retiring each on a groundout, lazy fly out, and strikeout, respectively. Carrasco received help from a questionable Raul Ibanez steal attempt in the eighth, but with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen unavailable for this game, it was a hugely important and impressive outing.
It’s no secret that Terry Francona has leaned heavily on Shaw and Allen. Heading into this game, Shaw and Allen were second and third in MLB in appearances, with 35 and 34 respectively according to Baseball Reference. (Marc Rzepczynski actually leads with 36 appearances, but his situation is a little different since he’s primarily a lefty on lefty guy who’s only thrown 25.1 innings while Shaw has thrown 34 innings and Allen has thrown 30.)
Francona doesn’t really trust his other bullpen options, and he has good reason not to. I don’t if we’ll see Carrasco transition into a true Fireman reliever, but he has the stuff to be a valuable member of the bullpen, and perhaps one that can go multiple innings at a time. Maybe he can even become the Tribe’s version of Dellin Betances It’s not a workhorse starting pitcher, but it’s still pretty damn useful.
The Bottom Line
The Indians are right in the thick of the AL Central race at just 2.5 games back. They’ve played three games in a row without an error, a fact that bears mentioning considering they won all three by one run. This team is looking more and more like a playoff contender, and they will look to continue that form tomorrow night when Josh Tomlin faces off against journeyman Matt Shoemaker.
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