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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 8/3-8/5
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum
What a battle in the AL Central!  The Indians and Tigers, both refusing to relent, just keep one upping each other with frustrating losses!  Who wants it least?  If you enjoy good starting pitching, you liked what you saw this weekend from the Indians and the Twins.  Unless of course you also like Indians wins.  Buff recaps the weekend trio of games with the Twins, who are now right back in the thick of things.
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Twins (55-53)001100000282

W: Sabathia (14-6) L: J. Santana (11-9) S: Borowski (30) 

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Twins (56-53)00020100X380

W: Ra. Ortiz (4-4) L: Laffey (0-1) S: Nathan (25) 

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Twins (57-53)00010000X150

W: Baker (6-4) L: Carmona (13-6) S: Nathan (26) 

I went into the weekend thinking we would win 1 or 2, depending on how Laffey did.  I didn't necessarily expect the 1 pitcher we beat to be Santana. 

1) Why wins are an unreliable counting stat 

One of our two Aces pitched 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits, while walking two and striking out three.  The other pitched 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits, but walked 5 to go with his 5 strikeouts.  However, because one of them drew Johan Santana as an opponent and the other drew a rookie with about a .500 record, one of them absorbed the tough-luck loss while the other collected his 14th win. 

"If only I'd gotten to face Johan," Fausto Carmona did not sigh (but could have). 

On a weekend of Stingy Starters, only Santana stuck out as a pitcher tagged for more than 3 runs: only Aaron Laffey joined him in giving up a third earned run.  And the bullpens combined to pitch 13 2/3 innings, giving up nary a single run.  The teams combined to score 13 runs over the three-game series, which roughly constitutes a Big Inning for the New York Yankees. 

In such an environment, little things make a big difference and one pitch can decide the ballgame.  In Fausto's case, it was throwing a pitch that caught too much of the heart of the plate to 9-hole hitter Alexi Casilla, whose ground rule double produced the only run of Sunday's game.  Carmona had some of his best stuff, but had to cope with some of it moving so much that it actually moved out of the strike zone.  I'm not sure if the Minnesota hitters deserve a lot of credit for showing good patience at the plate or simply noted, "Shoot, I can't hit that pitch," and let the umpiring chips fall where they may.  Casilla's double was the only extra-base hit off Carmona, and he had his customery 12:4 GB:FB ratio.  The 5 strikeouts are a positive sign: although on the season, Carmona has struck out 5.41 batters per 9 IP (K/9), since the one-inning debacle against Oakland on June 27, Carmona has struck out 39 in 48 1/3 innings for a K/9 of 7.26.  Adding the strikeout to his arsenal takes Carmona that many more steps toward being the dominant stopper rather than Jake Westbrook. 

Sabathia, on the other hand, is a little harder to get a read on.  Although he struck out 11 Twins last time out, three of Sabathia's last six outings have featured fewer than four strikeouts (although the one against Detroit July 5th is mitigated by him lasting only 4 innings).  On the other hand, since a couple bad outings around the All-Star break, Sabathia is back to his usual you-get-nothing-and-like-it self, giving up 2, 1, and 1 earned runs over the past three.  (Continuing the vagaries of run support, Sabathia actually pitched "better" last week against the Twins, giving up 1 earned run in 7 2/3, but took the loss.)  His most valuable skill Friday was to get the third out with a runner in scoring position, which he did in 3rd, 4th, 5th, AND 6th innings. 

But let me pose the hypothetical that given a choice of starting one of Sabathia or Carmona in a one-game playoff, you could defend either choice.  (I would go with Sabathia because of experience and control: his 148:23 K:BB ratio is still quite crazy.  However, given a heavily right-handed lineup, Carmona, giving up and .228 AVG and .619 OPS (as opposed to Sabathia's .279 and .735) might be the better option ...) 

2) Welcome to the bigs! 

Aaron Laffey stepped into the huge void that Cliff Lee left in the rotation (where the void was not caused by his absence, but rather his presence) Saturday to make his major-league debut.  Laffey, a 22-year-old lefthander who started the season in Akron, did an admirable job, although the stats end up not-so-impressive: 5 1/3 innings, 6 H, 3 R, and a walk and strikeout apiece.  Laffey kept the ball in the ballpark (no homers) and generally on the ground (10:3 GB:FB ratio), but was victimized by three doubles and the inability to double up Mike Cuddyer.  He got through a two-run fourth to pitch a scoreless fifth, but lost his impressive composure in the sixth when he hit Jason Tyner and balked him to second.  (Tyner was all but picked off.)  After a single to Joe Mauer, Laffey got the rest of the night off, and Tyner scored on a not-quite-double-play grounder (for which Jensen Lewis can hardly be excoriated, letting in Laffey's run: that's not a bad job). 

Laffey's numbers in the minors have ranged from impressive to fantastic, but after the Jeremy Sowers and Jason Stanford Experiences, I feel justified in tempering my expectations.  It would be hard for him to look as inept as Cliff Lee (or spring's Sowers, for that matter), though. 

3) Ducks on the Motherf#%*ing Pond! 

Saturday's game can be summed up in one bleat of incoherent rage: Aaarrarrararrarghghghgh! 

In the first inning, Casey Blake singled off Matt Garza, but otherwise it was a pretty harmless inning. 

In the second, Travis Hafner was hit by a pitch and Jhonny Peralta had a two-out infield single (which is a helluva image), but Josh Barfield could only work the count to 2-2 before grounding into a fielder's choice.  Okay, two men left on, not good but not so bad. 

In the third, Victor Martinez' two-out double scored Kenny Lofton.  After two balls to Hafner, Ron Gardenhire told Garza to simply put him on and attack the next hitter, which he took a bit too literally and hit Ryan Garko after Garko had fouled off six pitches.  So the bases are loaded, and Trot Nixon ... whiffs. 

In the fourth, the Indians loaded the bases again, this time with only one out, when Casey Blake sent a long drive to right for a bases-clearing dou ... er, scratch that, a run-scoring sacrifice fly.  Mike Cuddyer made a nice catch against the right-field BaggieTM, which pretty much made the whole ballgame.  Victor popped out harmlessly and only one run scored. 

In the fifth, the Indians got back-to-back one-out singles from Garko and Nixon, but Peralta and Barfield did nothing of value to end the inning. 

And that was it.  The gods of Squander Ball looked down from the heavens and said that enough was too much and gave the Indians only one more baserunner the rest of the way, who was eliminated in the most gruesome, terrifying fashion imaginable.  The Indians left 10 men on base, five in scoring position, and lost by one run. 

(Can't really complain about Sunday: we just couldn't hit Baker for shit.) 

4) Bad Idea Theatre 

Can you remember the last time Jhonny Peralta laid down a nice bunt?  If so, I applaud your mental sharpness: Peralta has seven successful sacrifice bunts in his major-league career.  Of the current Cleveland Indians, I would be hard-pressed to name a bunter who looks less capable, now that Cliff Lee has been sent down.  (I expect that Hafner is awful, but then, until this season I would have considered a bunt by Hafner to be an excruciatingly bad idea.) 

Now, there is something to be said for playing for one run in a 1-0 game.  Hey, you need a run.  Runs are good.  And getting the guy to second will increase the odds of scoring one run.  (For those of you familiar with the Run Expectancy Matrix, it decreases your chances of scoring MORE that one run, but it does increase the chances of scoring the first run.) 

But here's a riddle for you: does Jhonny Peralta have a better chance of laying down a good sacrifice bunt, or of getting an extra-base hit?  He has 18 doubles, 1 triple, and 16 homers this season.  He actually got two hits Saturday (the game before). 

For those of you who missed it, Peralta bunted the two-strike pitch down the first base line in a looping arc that Scott Baker caught on the fly and threw to first to double off the runner. 

Now, I can argue with Eric Wedge's decision to have Peralta bunt.  I concede that this would at least be an argument, with a perfectly valid justification for doing it.  I disagree, but this is part of what we love about baseball.  However, the following exchange is simply mind-boggling (from the AP writeup): 

Peralta had two strikes on the pitch, and Wedge had taken down the bunt signal.  But Peralta went for it anyway. 

"He has a lot of confidence in his ability and he should, because he's a good bunter," Wedge said. 

I ... I ... I don't know what to say.  I appreciate that Wedge took down the sign and that he's willing to fall on his sword for his player, but ... which is more rock-headed, "going for it anyway" or justifying the move "because he's a good bunter?"  Now is the time on "Sprockets" when we pick our jaws up off the floor.  Buh? 

5) In the absence of major-leaguers, these guys will do 

Called in to protect Laffey's tie game, Jensen Lewis was unable to prevent the inherited run from scoring.  However, as intimated above, this is hardly Lewis' fault, as he induced a routine ground ball, then struck out Justin Morneau.  He did give up a single in his next inning, but it was the only hit allowed in 1 2/3 scoreless (and walkless) innings of work.  Lewis started five of the six batters he faced with a strike and looked solid in relief. 

Tom Mastny relieved Lewis and tossed a one-hit inning, erasing the baserunner with a double-play grounder.  10 of Mastny's 15 pitches were strikes.  In fact, after completely losing confidence in Mastny's ability to be an effective reliever, 7 of Mastny's last 10 outings have been scoreless, and he didn't walk anyone in his last two.  Hm, I seem to be grasping at straws here.  But he looks better, honest.  Really.  Sorta.  Please? 

Trivia: at 6-2, Mastny has the fourth-most wins of any Cleveland pitcher, as many as Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers combined, with only 12 fewer losses. 

6) Terror on the basepaths! 

I can't blame Jason Michaels for getting doubled off on Peralta's bunt, but it was still bad.  In the same game, Joe Mauer cut down both Grady Sizemore and Kenny Lofton trying to steal second base.  In a 1-0 game, such things grow in signficance.  (Can't really "blame" Sizemore or Lofton, either: more of a tip of the cap to Mauer ... but it was still terrifying.) 

7) Ho Hum Dept., Raffy Division 

Perez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K 
Betancourt: 1 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 K 

8) Welcome back! 

Aaron Fultz returned from the DL to pitch to two batters, one of whom he walked, and the other of whom he struck out.  In 10 pitches, Fultz threw 4 strikes, meaning that his rehab must have been excellent, returning him to exactly the form we remember. 

9) I see your Johan and raise you a Grady 

In Friday's 5-2 victory, Grady Sizemore drove in the first 4 runs on a two-run homer off Santana in the third, a one-run single off Santana in the fifth, and a one-run single off Reyes in the seventh.  Both Santana and Reyes are left-handed: on the season, Sizemore is hitting .283/.366/.447 off left-handed pitching.  In the three previous seasons, Sizemore averaged .223/.293/.376: as recently as last season, it was .214/.290/.427.

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