Showing posts with label Cleveland Indians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cleveland Indians. Show all posts

Friday, April 14, 2017

Surprise! White Sox win a series against defending AL champion Cleveland

Avisail Garcia -- AL's leading hitter as of April 14
We concluded yesterday's blog post by noting that White Sox manager Rick Renteria would be wise to avoid using relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones for a fourth straight game.

Well, guess what? There was never a reason to consider going to high-leverage bullpen guys in Thursday's game, as the Sox rolled to a 10-4 win over the Cleveland Indians.

The Sox (4-4) took two out of three from the defending AL champions and sent the Tribe (4-5) to their fifth loss in their past six games.

Shortstop Tim Anderson hit a home run off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin (0-2) on the first pitch of the game, and that sparked a five-run first inning for the South Siders. The other four runs were scored after two were out. Matt Davidson hit a three-run, opposite-field homer to make it 4-0. Yolmer Sanchez doubled and scored on a single by Omar Narvaez to cap the rally.

The Sox ended up scoring nine of their 10 runs with two outs, and the trend continued in the second inning when Avisail Garcia delivered a two-run single to make it 7-1 and end Tomlin's night.

Final line for the Cleveland right-hander: 1.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 0 Ks, 2 HRs

It was nice to see the Sox knock Tomlin around. He had a 1.83 ERA in three starts and 19.2 IP against Chicago last year. Hey, it's a new season.

With all the early run support, you would have thought Miguel Gonzalez would have been in line for his second win. Alas, the right-hander ran up a high pitch count, walking four men in the first four innings, and he couldn't make it through the fifth after the Tribe scored two runs to cut the lead to 7-3.

Gonzalez allowed three earned runs on eight hits with five strikeouts in 4.2 innings.

Renteria, as we suggested, went to some of his secondary relievers. Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tommy Kahnle combined for 4.1 innings of one-run relief. Swarzak (1-0) recorded five outs without allowing a run to pick up his first win as a member of the Sox.

The Sox put the game away with three more two-out runs in the eighth on singles by Jose Abreu, Cody Asche and Garcia.

Unbelievably, Garcia is leading the league in hitting with a .452 average. He also has eight RBIs. Cue the talk about small sample sizes.

The Sox will continue their nine-game road swing with a three-game weekend series in Minnesota. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Dylan Covey (First appearance of 2017) vs. Adalberto Mejia (0-1, 10.80 ERA)
Saturday: Jose Quintana (0-2, 6.17 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (2-0, 0.69 ERA)
Sunday: James Shields (1-0, 1.69 ERA) vs. Hector Santiago (1-1, 2.38 ERA)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Derek Holland continues mastery of Cleveland in 2-1 White Sox win

Derek Holland
White Sox left-hander Derek Holland is now 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA over five career starts at Cleveland's Progressive Field, after he tossed six shutout innings Wednesday in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the Indians.

Holland (1-1) limited the Tribe to only one hit -- a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the sixth -- while striking out four and walking four.

The 30-year-old veteran has a 1.50 ERA through 12 innings and two starts, and if you look at some of the pitch charts, it's clear that he's changed his approach after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness the past three seasons.

Based on my own observations, it has seemed as if Holland is throwing his curveball a lot more this season than he did during his time with the Texas Rangers, and this research conducted by our friends at SouthSideSox confirms my suspicion.

Holland is throwing his curve on 21.1 percent of pitches this season, as compared with 7.5 percent in 2016. He's also using more four-seamers and fewer sinkers. His sinker use has dipped from 58.9 percent of pitches to 13.9 percent, while he's using the four-seamer 29.4 percent of the time, as compared with only 1.4 percent last year. The use of the changeup and the slider has remained status quo.

Give credit to Holland for realizing he needs to make adjustments. His fastball is sitting at 92 mph, as opposed to his pre-injury 94 or 95. That two or three miles per hour can make a big difference, and sometimes a veteran pitcher needs to make some concessions to Father Time.

Is Holland's early success sustainable as the weather warms and the conditions become more hitter friendly? I don't know. We'll have to watch and learn.

As for Wednesday's game, the Sox offense was limited again, but Holland and three relievers made two early runs stand up. Matt Davidson's two-run single in the second inning accounted for the only Sox offense, and it was enough for a rare win in Cleveland.

Something to watch for in Thursday's game: Both closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have worked in three consecutive games. If it's a close game late, will new manager Rick Renteria have the restraint to not overwork Robertson and Jones, who could be valuable trading pieces for the Sox later in the year?

Renteria shouldn't be afraid to allow Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak to pitch. Even if the Sox were expected to contend, it's too early in the season to be going to the whip with the best bullpen guys on the club. Robin Ventura made that mistake last year, and despite early success, the relief corps crumbled with injury and ineffectiveness in May and June.

Soto to DL; Smith recalled

The Sox have placed catcher Geovany Soto on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Kevan Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

It's too bad for Soto, who was off to a good start with three home runs. (The Sox only have six as a team). It's also too bad for the Sox, as their already shaky defense behind the plate just got a little bit worse.

I saw Smith catch a few games during spring ball, and while he hit well in Cactus League play, let's just say he did not impress me with his receiving skills.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

White Sox begin nine-game trip with typical Cleveland loss

Michael Brantley
The White Sox are 12-25 in their past 37 games in Cleveland, so we shouldn't be surprised that their first road game against the Indians this year ended with an archetypal punch to the groin.

Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle (0-1) retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 10th inning, but then he walked Francisco Lindor and gave up a game-winning double to Michael Brantley as the Indians came away with a 2-1 victory.

It's too bad, because the Sox wasted a serviceable start by the erstwhile James Shields. The veteran right-hander gave up a solo home run to Lindor in the bottom of the first inning, but nothing more over 5.1 innings. He allowed only two hits, walked two and retired 12 consecutive Cleveland hitters at one point.

Given the garbage we saw from Shields last year, how can we complain about that performance against one of the better lineups in the American League? We can't.

And, the Sox bullpen covered 13 more outs before Kahnle finally cracked in the bottom of the 10th.

Have we mentioned the fact that the Sox can't hit? Yeah, it's becoming a theme. Other than Todd Frazier's solo home run in the fifth inning, the offense generated little. The Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and four of the nine starters finished the game 0 for 4.

The best scoring chance came in the top of the eighth inning against Cleveland bullpen ace Andrew Miller, of all people. Geovany Soto walked and advanced to third on a double by pinch-hitter Matt Davidson with one out.

With runners on second and third, Tyler Saladino hit a Miller slider right on the screws, but his line drive landed in the glove of diving Cleveland third baseman Yandy Diaz. Good defense by Diaz, bad luck for Saladino. If that one gets through, the Sox (2-4) take a 3-1 lead. Alas, it did not, and Tim Anderson swung over the top of two Miller sliders and basically struck himself out to end the threat.

The Indians also missed an opportunity in the eighth inning, thanks to some curious managing by Terry Francona. Sox reliever Nate Jones was laboring; he walked the first two hitters. But Francona for some reason ordered the red-hot Lindor to sacrifice bunt, which he did.

Sure, that gave Cleveland (4-3) runners on second and third with one out, but it opened the door for Sox manager Rick Renteria to walk Brantley intentionally and set up the double play. That's precisely what Renteria did. Jones got a righty-on-righty matchup that was favorable for him against Cleveland's Edwin Encarnacion, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play to keep the game tied. Good managing by Renteria, not so good by Francona, who is normally the game's best.

Unfortunately, given a second life, the Sox's offense was too inept to scratch across a run and steal a winnable game.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cubs rough up Indians starter Josh Tomlin, force Game 7 in World Series

Addison Russell
Well, Game 6 of the World Series sure was boring, wasn't it? The Cubs trounced the Cleveland Indians, 9-3, on Tuesday to even the series at 3.

This one was lopsided from the outset. So lopsided that I don't have anything nuanced to say about it. (Not that I ever do.) It was a strong performance by the Cubs, and a poor performance by the Indians. How's that for analysis?

Game 7 is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

You could tell that Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin just did not have it pitching on short rest from the very start of this game. Sure, he retired the first two hitters, but he hung a sloppy 0-2 curve to Kris Bryant, who deposited it in the left-field seats for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

Tomlin then hung a curve to Anthony Rizzo and left a changeup high in the zone to Ben Zobrist. Those two at-bats resulted in singles for the Cubs, and placed runners on first and third. The Indians' defense then failed Tomlin as center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall stood and looked at each other as a lazy fly off the bat of Addison Russell fell in for a "two-run double."

Just like that, it was 3-0 Cubs. The game was essentially over there, but for good measure, the Cubs blew it open with four runs in the third inning

A walk and two singles to load the bases ended Tomlin's night, and Russell cleared 'em off with a grand slam off Cleveland reliever Dan Otero. 7-0. No drama on this night. Jake Arrieta worked 5.2 innings of two-run ball to get the win.

I did think it was interesting that Cubs manager Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning. The Chicago closer entered with two on and two out in a 7-2 game, and finished that inning by inducing a groundout by Francisco Lindor.

Chapman also pitched a scoreless eighth. After the Cubs got two in the ninth on a Rizzo home run, Chapman returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and walked the leadoff man before departing. He threw 20 pitches and was charged with Cleveland's third and final run, which came across after he left the game in the ninth.

I'm certain Chapman will be available for Game 7. It's all hands on deck in these situations. But it's worth noting that Chapman threw 42 pitches in an eight-out save in Game 5, plus the 20 pitches in Game 6. That's a greater workload for him than usual. Will it matter? We'll see.

You can't really blame Maddon, because you can't win Game 7 if you don't get to Game 7, and I've never faulted a manager for going to his best reliever in a must-win situation. I do think there is some chance fatigue will catch up to Chapman, if he pitches Wednesday -- and I assume he will.

Momentum is on the side of the Cubs at this point. They've won the past two games. This victory in Game 6 was an overwhelming one. The Indians will now be forced to go to their ace, Corey Kluber, on short rest for Game 7. Kluber won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland in this series, and like Chapman, we also have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. His mound opponent will be Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Two things that could help the Indians: 1) They are playing at home. Cheering fans don't win games, but all things being equal, you'd rather be at home than on the road in Game 7. And 2) Cleveland's top three relievers -- Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw -- did not appear in Game 6. They will be rested and ready to go. Indians manager Terry Francona could turn the game over to them as early as the fifth inning, if necessary.

So far this series has featured two epic games -- Games 3 and 5. Each team won one. The other four games have been lopsided, with each club taking two one-sided victories. Here's to hoping Game 7 is a close one, and not another snoozer.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cubs get away with two egregious mental mistakes, stave off elimination in Game 5

Anthony Rizzo
The 2016 Major League Baseball season will continue for at least another day, after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, on Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series.

Cleveland's lead in the series is cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

The Cubs got this win with quality pitching. Jon Lester did what he is paid to do -- pitch well in big games. He limited the Tribe to two runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk anybody. After a brief relief appearance by Carl Edwards in the seventh, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman recorded eight outs to pick up the save.

It was not easy for Chapman. The Indians got the tying run to second base in the seventh inning, and they got the tying run to third in the eighth. Both times, Chapman turned them away. The hard-throwing lefty then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez to close out the game.

The Cubs got three runs in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, highlighted by a solo home run from Kris Bryant. Addison Russell had an RBI on an infield single, and David Ross added a sacrifice fly.

That said, I thought the Cubs were fortunate to get away with two egregious mental mistakes that just can't happen at this time of the season. One miscue was made by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth, the other by Chapman in the eighth.

After Bryant's home run tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rizzo was the next hitter. He put a good swing on a pitch from Bauer and drove it to deep right field. He stood there, watched the ball, admired it, then slowly started to jog toward first base. Too bad the ball wasn't gone. It hit the wall, and Rizzo suddenly had to hustle to get into second base for a double.

The Cubs are fortunate Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall made a poor throw back into the infield. Any kind of decent throw to second base and Rizzo would have made an embarrassing out. Rizzo later scored the go-ahead run in that inning on the Russell single, so if he's out at second base two plays earlier, that three-run inning doesn't happen, and it's anybody's guess whether the Cubs are still in the hunt today.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. Throughout these playoffs, we've seen Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and now Rizzo not hustle out of the box after making contact. That's embarrassing for your team, even if you don't get thrown out, when you're competing for a championship. It's also a poor reflection on manager Joe Maddon. If one guy pulls that crap, it's the player's fault. But when it's a team-wide thing, the manager better do something. The Cubs can't afford that sort of mistake if they hope to win two games in Cleveland. Next time, Chisenhall might make an accurate throw.

Chapman nearly cost himself the lead, too, when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Rajai Davis. Rizzo made a terrific stop on the play, preventing the ball from getting down the right-field line for extra bases. But when he got up to make a feed to first base, Chapman was nowhere to be found and Davis was easily safe.

Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases this season, and he predictably swiped second and third base after Chapman gifted him the infield single. From Day 1 of spring training, pitchers work on getting over to first base on grounders to the right side. For Chapman to fail to get a good break off the mound in that spot is inexcusable. It's inexcusable in any situation, let alone in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with a one-run lead, in an elimination game with everything at stake. That miscue cost the Cubs three bases. It could have cost the game.

Fortunately for Chapman, he did have his best stuff on the mound, and he got Jason Kipnis to pop out weakly and struck out Francisco Lindor looking to strand Davis at third.

Again, though, that's a mistake the Cubs better not make once they get to Cleveland. I think the Cubs need to play not one but two clean games Tuesday and Wednesday in order to win this series.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indians push Cubs to the brink with dominant Game 4 win

Corey Kluber
First things first: Can we please stop with the narrative about Cubs pitcher John Lackey being great in the postseason?

Yes, Lackey has had some good playoff moments, such as this game, but he's also gotten his butt kicked in some playoff games, such as this one that is fondly remembered by all White Sox fans.

I keep hearing from both local and national media that Lackey is an awesome playoff pitcher, but frankly, at age 38, it looks like his best days are past. The right-hander has been nothing but mediocre for the Cubs in the postseason. He hasn't worked past the fifth inning in any of his three starts, and he's posted a pedestrian 4.85 ERA in only 13 innings.

Lackey was once again so-so Saturday night, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits over five innings in the Cubs' 7-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 4 of the World Series.

The Indians now enjoy a 3-1 series lead and have three chances to close out the Cubs. Game 5 is Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Lackey was outpitched by Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked one, while improving to 4-1 with 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts. Kluber pitched on three days' rest, and will be prepared to pitch again in Game 7 if the Cubs somehow extend this series that far.

Kluber left the mound after the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead, and the Tribe broke the game open moments later in the top of the seventh on a three-run homer by second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland got Lackey out of there after five, then capitalized for four runs off Chicago middle relievers Mike Montgomery, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood.

The Cubs had somewhat of a moral victory in the eighth when Dexter Fowler homered off Andrew Miller, thus proving the Cleveland relief ace is mortal. Miller already has set a record for playoff strikeouts in a single season with 29, and that Fowler homer was the first run he has allowed in 17 postseason innings.

Having a 7-2 lead allowed the Indians to rest closer Cody Allen for a night. Dan Otero closed out the ninth inning with no difficulty.

We can't count the Cubs out of this yet, as they have the edge in the pitching matchup in Game 5. Ace Jon Lester is going for the North Siders, and he'll be opposed by the one Cleveland pitcher who has not been doing his job in these playoffs, right-hander Trevor Bauer.

We'll see if the season ends Sunday, or if there will be a Game 6 on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cody Allen closes out dramatic ninth inning for Cleveland in Game 3

Cody Allen
Saw an interesting stat today: The Cleveland Indians are 23-0 when relief pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller pitch in the same game.

I always say the longer a streak goes in baseball, the more likely it is to end. The Cubs had a chance to end that streak Friday night, but Allen slammed the door on them, striking out Javier Baez with two outs and two runners in scoring position to preserve a 1-0 Cleveland victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

With the win, the Indians hold a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Even if you don't care about either of these two teams, the ninth inning of Game 3 was as dramatic as it gets in a non-elimination game.

Cleveland scored the lone run on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Coco Crisp. The combination of Josh Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen had combined to keep the Cubs off the board through eight innings.

Allen, the Cleveland closer, struck out Kris Bryant on a nasty curve to end the bottom of the eighth inning, but he found himself in immediate peril after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth.

With Chris Coghlan running for Rizzo, Allen bounced back to get the first out on another good curve that caused Ben Zobrist to swing and miss. Coghlan advanced to second on a weak groundout by Willson Contreras, which set up the drama of having the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

Jason Heyward came to the plate for the Cubs with the game hanging in the balance, causing audible groans throughout the Chicago area. The $184 million man is 2 for 31 this postseason, and he's probably the last player the Cubs wanted up in that situation. Heck, they've got some pitchers who have been swinging the bat better than Heyward.

This time, the Cubs lucked out when Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli booted what should have been a routine grounder off Heyward's bat. Suddenly, the Cubs had first and third and the much more dangerous Baez at the plate.

Heyward stole second and got into scoring position representing the winning run, and Baez jumped ahead in the count, 2-1. It was set up for the Cubs to possibly steal this game, but that's when Allen got tough.

The Cleveland reliever went back to his curve on 2-1. It broke hard and down in the dirt, and Baez could not check his swing. Strike two.

Gutsy pitch, because remember the tying run is on third base. If Indians catcher Yan Gomes doesn't block the ball, the game is tied. Gomes made the block. Cleveland got the strike, and Allen had succeeded in changing Baez's eye level.

With two strikes, Baez had to be thinking about that curve ball. After all, Allen had recorded three outs to that point -- all on curve balls. So what did Allen do? He pitched Baez backward. He went away from his preferred out pitch. He probably figured Baez would be protecting against the low breaking ball, so he threw a high fastball, above the hands. And he blew it right past Baez. Swinging strike three. Game over.

Brilliant pitching and a dramatic end to a great baseball game between the two top teams in the sport this year. Who says a 1-0 game is boring? Not me.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cubs don't look as if they are going to choke

Kyle Schwarber
One of the main questions I had about the Cubs coming into the playoffs was whether they'd be able to deal with adversity.

Most of their fans would probably never admit to this, but the Cubs faced no adversity whatsoever all season. They played a soft schedule -- 106 of their 162 games were against losing teams -- and dominated a weak NL Central. St. Louis had a down season by its standards. Pittsburgh's pitching staff fell apart. Milwaukee and Cincinnati weren't even trying to win.

The Cubs won their division by 17.5 games, and it was every bit the cakewalk that figure represents. So, I wondered how the Cubs would respond when they were placed in a situation where they had to win a game, because there wasn't a single time during the whole regular season when they were seriously challenged.

So far in these playoffs, the Cubs have been seriously challenged twice. Give them credit, because they've responded both times. Once, on the road in Game 4 of the NLCS, where they were trailing 2 games to 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers after having been shut out in Games 2 and 3. They trounced the Dodgers, 10-2, in that game and went on to win the next two to claim the NL pennant.

The other challenge was Wednesday night. After the Cubs were clobbered, 6-0, in Game 1 of the World Series by the Cleveland Indians, how would they respond in Game 2? Quite well, as a matter of fact, as they collected a decisive 5-1 victory to even the series.

Previous Cubs teams have always choked when they get in these tight situations where they need to win in the playoffs, but this group shows no sign of that. They got a good performance from Jake Arrieta, who is basically a five- or six-inning pitcher these days, but he gave the Cubs an effective 5.2 innings Wednesday. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning, when the Indians scored a run off him and manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen.

Arrieta doesn't have the same command of the strike zone he had during his 2015 Cy Young campaign. His walk rate has nearly doubled. His ERA and home run rates are up, his strikeout rate is down. He needs more pitches to get through innings, and he can't get as deep into games as he might like, but he doesn't give up a lot of hits -- only 6.3 per 9 IP this season -- and that's been his saving grace.

Wednesday night, Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman provided 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, and that made a winner out of Arrieta, whose performance was far superior to that of Cleveland's Trevor Bauer.

Bauer needed 87 pitches to record only 11 outs. The Cubs scored two runs on six hits against him in 3.2 innings. The North Siders then added on with three in the fifth off Cleveland relievers Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw, although the run charged to Shaw was unearned.

Kyle Schwarber, just back from a major knee injury, is becoming the story of the series for the Cubs. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI singles in Wednesday's win. He became the first non-pitcher in the history of baseball to record a hit in the World Series after not getting a hit in the regular season. He has shown that he is healthy enough to be an effective DH in an American League park. That can only help the Cubs, if the series heads back to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7.

Big question for Maddon for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field: Can he put Schwarber in left field?

There's no getting around the fact that Schwarber was a butcher in the outfield even before he got hurt. Putting him out there would significantly weaken the Cubs defensively, but there's also no getting around the fact that he's a difference maker with a bat in his hands.

Schwarber is the kind of player who can hit a three-run homer off a good pitcher and win a ballgame for his team. He's also the kind of player who can misplay a routine fly ball, cost his team runs and lose a ballgame. 

Will Maddon choose to use his best offensive lineup? Or will he opt to put the best defense on the field?

Personally, I subscribe to the philosophy of putting the best defense out there. Of course, I'm not the one being paid millions to make these decisions, so what do I know?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The World Series Game 1 hero is ... Roberto Perez?

There are three players in Cleveland Indians franchise history to have a multi-homer game during the playoffs: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and, of course, Roberto Perez.

Cue Cookie Monster and his famous song, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Things":




Indeed, Thome has 612 career home runs. Ramirez has 555 career home runs. Perez has, well, 11 career home runs. But the career .220-hitting catcher managed to go deep twice Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series, becoming the unlikely hero in Cleveland's 6-0 victory over the Cubs.

Perez also became the first player in World Series history to have a multi-homer game while batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. Not bad for a guy who is "Plan C" for the Indians behind the plate. Perez is only playing because Yan Gomes has been a combination of injured and bad all season, and because Jonathan Lucroy rejected a trade to Cleveland at the deadline and went to play for Texas instead.

In the biggest game of his life so far, Perez clubbed a solo home run off Cubs ace Jon Lester in the fourth inning to increase Cleveland's lead to 3-0. The home run had an exit velocity of 112.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off Lester all season, according to Statcast.

Perez capped his night by hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on a hanging slider from Cubs reliever Hector Rondon. That made the score 6-0 and took all the drama out of the ninth inning.

Cleveland pitching was good again in this game, with Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining to strike out 15 Cubs hitters. Kluber had eight strikeouts through three innings and finished with nine Ks in six innings. Miller pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the seventh, striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to close the inning. He also struck out Kyle Schwarber with two on and two out to end the eighth and snuff out the Cubs' last legitimate chance to get back in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday night, and the start time has been moved up an hour to try to avoid a weather delay. Rain is in the forecast for Cleveland. The Cubs will try to even the series behind right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Indians will counter with right-hander Trevor Bauer.

The best news for the Cubs right now is the fact that Kluber won't pitch in Game 2. And, Miller might be limited, as well, after throwing 46 pitches over two innings of work in Game 1.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indians clinch AL pennant; Cubs get even with Dodgers

Andrew Miller
Down is up and up is down in the MLB playoffs, so I was snickering to myself Wednesday afternoon when I heard expert after expert assure me the Toronto Blue Jays were going to win Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Cleveland Indians were starting rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who had thrown all of 11 major-league innings in his career, while the Blue Jays were throwing Marco Estrada, who has been their best pitcher in these playoffs.

No way Merritt could hold up against the hard-hitting, right-hand-dominate Toronto lineup, right?

Wrong.

Merritt gave Cleveland exactly what it needed, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. The Indians' seemingly omnipotent bullpen took it from there, securing a 3-0 victory and sending Cleveland to its first World Series since 1997.

Once again, the Blue Jays had no answers for Cleveland relievers Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The trio combined to pitch 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

Miller was named ALCS MVP, and why not? He appeared in each of the Tribe's four victories, tossed 7.2 shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out 14.

The Indians won this series, 4-1, despite scoring only 12 runs total in the five games. The MVP needed to go to a pitcher, and certainly Miller was the best guy on a Cleveland staff that limited Toronto to just seven runs in this series.

One other key: I think it really helped Merritt that he got an early lead. The Indians scored single runs in three of the first four innings. Mike Napoli had a two-out RBI double in the first. Carlos Santana homered in the third. Coco Crisp homered in the fourth. An inexperienced pitcher is more likely to relax and execute if he has some margin for error. Merritt had the lead before he set foot on the mound, and he did what he needed to do to protect it.

The Indians will now have five days off before the World Series begins Oct. 25, and they'll have at least two more NLCS games to watch and scout their next opponent.

Cubs 10, Dodgers 2

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs are even with the Dodgers at 2-2 in the series after their bats finally woke up Wednesday in Game 4.

The North Siders were held without a hit by Julio Urias for the first three innings, but they exploded for four runs in the fourth inning, then roughed up the Los Angeles bullpen with another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- two hitters who had previously done nothing in the playoffs -- came up big for the Cubs. Both were 3 for 5 with a home run. Rizzo had three RBIs, and Russell knocked in two runs with his homer to cap the four-run fourth. Chicago also got two-hit games from two other struggling hitters, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler. We'll find out in Game 5 whether this was the breakout night those four guys were looking for.

Jason Heyward? Well, he was 0 for 5 again. For those scoring at home, Heyward is scheduled to make $28 million in each of the next two seasons. The Cubs are fortunate they have enough good players that they can probably overcome the fact that Heyward is a colossal waste of money.

The stage is set for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night, and the Cubs have the advantage in the pitching matchup with ace left-hander Jon Lester on the mound. He'll be opposed by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his finger shut

Trevor Bauer
Here's something crazy: According to a FOX Sports report, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer wanted to burn the wound on his grotesquely injured pinkie finger shut.

“I even had a soldering iron in my hotel room,” Bauer said in the report. “Instead of going to the ER, I probably should’ve sealed it closed myself.”

Bauer has always been a different kind of guy. Among other idiosyncrasies, he has this long-toss warmup routine that few other pitchers would ever try. He clearly has some diverse interests, given that he managed to tear his finger open fixing one of his drones just days before he was scheduled to make the biggest start of his life in the ALCS.

And, if he was willing to whip out a soldering iron to deal with the injury, then I guess we shouldn't be surprised he tried to pitch Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night with six stitches in his finger.

That didn't work so well. He lasted only 21 pitches and two-thirds of an inning before his finger, his uniform and the mound in Toronto were covered with his blood.

The thing that's so incredible about this is the Indians won the damn game anyway, 4-2. They now have a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS going into Tuesday's Game 4, because relievers Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller combined to throw 8.1 innings of two-run ball.

Shaw, Allen and Miller gave up nothing over the final 4.2 innings, and combined to strike out seven batters.

With the Cleveland starter leaving in the first inning, you would think the Blue Jays would have things going their way, especially playing at home. Denied.

Otero had only pitched once since Sept. 30. Manship hadn't pitched in 16 days. McAllister had a 19-day layoff. Didn't seem to matter much. Otero and McAllister each gave up a run, but none of these guys looked rusty or ineffective.

The Indians are not making any excuses for injuries, and they are finding ways to get things done. Even though they are a rival of the White Sox, I find myself rooting for them to win the whole thing.

If Cleveland makes the World Series -- and it is just one win away -- it would represent the fourth time in five years the AL Central has produced a pennant winner. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2012. The Kansas City Royals advanced that far in 2014 and 2015, and they won it last year.

The AL Central is a stronger division than many think, and the Indians' success provides additional supporting evidence. As Sox fans, we can take this information to SoxFest and point out to team brass that it is long past time to step up.

You're not going to build an 85-win-caliber team and luck your way into the playoffs by managing 88 wins in this division any longer. The AL Central is now producing 90-plus-win juggernauts that win in the postseason. Adjust your expectations accordingly moving forward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Blue Jays better start scoring some runs against the Indians' starting pitchers

Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista believes "circumstances" are favoring the Cleveland Indians thus far in the ALCS.

The Indians have taken each of the first two games, by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, and the Toronto hitters apparently are getting frustrated.

“All you gotta do is look at the video and count how many times (Cleveland pitchers) throw pitches over the heart of the plate,” Bautista said Sunday, as reported by Mike Vorkunov. “They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances -- that I’m not trying to talk about because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do, but you guys don’t really want to talk about that either.”

It sounds as if Bautista believes the umpiring is going against Toronto, and perhaps he's trying to get some calls to go his way and his teammates' way in Monday night's Game 3. Some have suggested the Blue Jays believe the series is "rigged" in favor of the Indians. That's a reach.

I personally don't think MLB rigs games, and I don't buy into the notion of curses or conspiracies. What motivation would MLB have to tell umpires to make calls favoring the Indians? Cleveland is a small-market team, and it isn't like the league stands to get a big ratings bump if the Indians advance.

All of this is foolishness, and the only circumstance working against the Blue Jays right now is their inability to hit the quality pitching being run out there by the Indians. Toronto is a dead fastball hitting team, and Cleveland has a bunch of pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- who can make quality pitches with their breaking balls.

The Indians' bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular. As a group, they've allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 IP this postseason, and they've been facing good offenses, too -- Boston and now Toronto. That will pencil out to a 1.10 ERA. And, oh, Cleveland relievers have struck out 27 men in those 16-plus innings.

Left-hander Andrew Miller, of course, has been the main reason for that. He's struck out 17 and is unscored upon in 7.2 postseason innings this season. He's formed an unhittable bridge between the Cleveland starters and closer Cody Allen, who has pitched four scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Manager Terry Francona has shown he's not afraid to go to Miller as early as the fifth or sixth inning. He can do that because he has another dominant option in Allen, and two other pretty good middle relief options in Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero. Cleveland has the deepest bullpen of the remaining four teams, for sure.

As we've mentioned before, the Indians' shortcoming is the injuries to their starting pitchers. Corey Kluber is the ace, and he's been tremendous: He's allowed nothing in the postseason. But with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco sidelined, Cleveland is forced to rely more upon Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer than it would like.

But Tomlin was really good in Game 2, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings. He's a breaking ball pitcher, and he used that pitch effectively against the Toronto hitters. He's not overpowering, and he sure as heck wasn't going to give Toronto too many fastballs to hit. Smart pitching.

The Blue Jays will face Bauer in Game 3, and I'd recommend they think less about the umpiring and figure out a way to score early -- before Miller, Shaw and Allen, et al., become involved in the game. Wouldn't hurt, either, if someone from that lineup could do some damage against a curve ball or a slider. The Indians are going to keep throwing them until the Blue Jays show they can hit them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It will be Cleveland vs. Toronto in the ALCS

Corey Kluber
Expect the unexpected in the MLB playoffs. How many of you had both Cleveland and Toronto advancing to the ALCS this year? Be honest. I sure didn't. I think most people picked Boston and Texas. Guess what? Both the Red Sox and Rangers got swept, and everything we assumed about the American League going into the playoffs was wrong.

Cleveland finished off a three-game sweep with a 4-3 win Monday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had their chances, but they left two men on in both the eighth and ninth innings. Indians closer Cody Allen was able to shut the door in both innings.

I didn't like Cleveland's chances coming into the playoffs because its starting rotation was beat up. Two of its top three pitchers -- Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco -- are on the disabled list. The Indians' ace, Corey Kluber, had a groin strain that kept him out the final week of the regular season and caused him to not be able to make a Game 1 start in the ALDS.

Kluber proved he was healthy, however, with a brilliant performance to win Game 2. In Games 1 and 3, the Tribe got just enough out of back-of-the-rotation starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and manager Terry Francona used his underrated relief corps brilliantly to secure those two wins.

Francona brought relief ace Andrew Miller in during the fifth inning of Game 1 and the sixth inning of Game 3. He's got three good high-leverage relievers in Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen, and he showed he's not afraid to use them for the last four or five innings of a game to protect a precarious lead.

When your starting pitching is beat up, but your bullpen is strong, that's precisely what you have to do to chart a course for victory. Give the Indians credit for pulling this off. They knocked out the team that many perceived as the favorite in the American League.

David Ortiz's brilliant career with the Red Sox is now over, but spare me the stuff about how he "deserved a better ending." Ortiz has three World Series rings, and he had many fine moments with Boston. No one is promised the chance to go out on top, and most athletes do not. He'll get over this loss, I'm sure.

In the other ALDS, how about Toronto knocking the stuffing out of the 95-win Rangers? The Blue Jays scored 22 runs in the three-game sweep, and if you buy into the theory that the "hot team" wins in the playoffs, well, the Blue Jays look like the hot team.

Two things to look for in the ALCS: First, will Kluber be healthy enough to make three starts? He should be in line for Game 1. With all the other injury problems, does he start Game 4 and Game 7, if necessary, as well? In my opinion, he should.

Secondly, can the Blue Jays overcome the fact that the Indians have a far superior bullpen? Toronto closer Roberto Osuna is good, and he toughed it out through some shoulder discomfort in the ALDS, but I don't know that I trust Jason Grilli, Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini and the other assorted mediocre options the Jays have in the bullpen.

If games are close in the late innings, it should be advantage Tribe.

Of course, the first round of the American League playoffs taught us that things that should be aren't necessarily so. The more you watch, the more you realize that you really know don't much of anything.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Here's why Boston might not beat Cleveland in the ALDS

Rick Porcello
Most of the experts are anticipating a Boston-Texas ALCS this year, so of course, Cleveland and Toronto both won Thursday in their respective ALDS Game 1s.

The Red Sox have become the popular pick to win the AL pennant going into the playoffs. Maybe it's just sentimental -- I think media members root for the story -- they want that Cubs-Red Sox World Series; they want that "David Ortiz retires on a high note" narrative.

But picking Boston is not without merit. The Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball. They scored 878 runs this season, the most in MLB. The second-highest run total in the AL belongs to Boston's first-round opponent, Cleveland, which scored 777 runs.

Here's the problem with the Red Sox: Their top two pitchers have a track record of stinking it up in the playoffs.

Rick Porcello is a Cy Young candidate this year. He went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. It was the best year of his career by far. Nobody can take that away from him.

But, he was awful in a 5-4 Game 1 loss to the Tribe on Thursday. He allowed three home runs in the span of nine pitches in the bottom of the third inning. Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor all took him deep. Porcello pitched just 4.1 innings, allowing five earned runs on six hits. He put the Red Sox in a hole their powerful offense could not quite escape.

Porcello has no track record of postseason success. He's 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA lifetime in nine playoff games. Granted, only three of those nine appearances are starts, but he's yet to show he can do the job when the bright lights come on.

Boston's No. 2 starter, David Price, is in a similar boat. His regular-season numbers this year were quite respectable, 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA. But in the playoffs, he's 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 14 games. And, oh yeah, both his two wins came in relief. In eight playoff starts, Price is 0-7 with 5.27 ERA.

These two guys have got to come through for the Red Sox if they have hopes of winning their fourth World Series title since 2004, and it needs to start Friday when Price takes the ball for Boston against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in Game 2.

Also, maybe we should be taking the Blue Jays more seriously. They throttled the Rangers, 10-1, on Thursday, and while Marco Estrada is not a household name, he's starting to build a resume as a clutch pitcher. He tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball for Toronto in Game 1, and he's 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in four playoff starts over the past two seasons.

Monday, September 26, 2016

White Sox (temporarily) prevent Indians from clinching AL Central

Carlos Rodon
The Cleveland Indians would have the AL Central Division title wrapped up if they had won either of their last two games against the White Sox over the weekend.

Instead, the Sox surprised them with back-to-back victories and a rare series win in Cleveland. The Indians' magic number remains at 1 heading into Monday's action.

Here's a look back at the weekend in Cleveland:

Friday, September 23
Indians 10, White Sox 4: The Sox were in decent shape halfway through this game. They had a 4-2 lead headed to the bottom of the fifth inning, after a pair of two-run homers -- one by Melky Cabrera in the first inning and the other by Avisail Garcia in the fifth.

But the wheels came off for Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez (4-8) in the bottom of the fifth. The Tribe touched Gonzalez and reliever Juan Minaya up for four runs to take a 6-4 lead, and for good measure, they added four more in the sixth off the relief combination of Minaya and Dan Jennings.

Blessed with a 10-4 lead, Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer (12-8) got two outs deep in the eighth inning and picked up the win.

The Sox lost outfielder Adam Eaton for the rest of the series after he crashed into the center field wall hauling in a line drive off the bat of Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez in the fifth inning.

Saturday, September 24
White Sox 8, Indians 1: The Sox have scored a few more runs for Jose Quintana (13-11) the second half of the season, and this was the lastest example. A two-spot in the first inning gave Quintana the lead before he ever took the mound, and that had to be comforting for him, because he did not have his best stuff.

The left-hander worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, and kept the Indians to just one run in the second inning, when the Tribe left runners at second and third.

The Sox added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings -- Todd Frazier hit his 39th homer of the season in the sixth -- and then broke it open with a four-run hit parade in the eighth inning. Carlos Sanchez and Jose Abreu each had three-hit games to back Quintana, who nursed the lead through six innings.

Tommy Kahnle, Jennings, Nate Jones and David Robertson combined for three innings of scoreless relief to give the Sox just their second victory at Cleveland this season.

Sunday, September 25
White Sox 3, Indians 0: Cleveland entered the day with its magic number at 2, needing a win and a Detroit loss to clinch the division. The Tigers lost, 12-9, to Kansas City, but the Indians couldn't hold up their end of the deal.

Left-hander Carlos Rodon (8-10) turned in one of the finest performances by a Sox starting pitcher all season. He went eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits (both singles), and tied his career high with 11 strikeouts.

Frazier went 1 for 3 with a single, a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored. Each of the two steals led directly to a run. Sanchez drove him home with a single in the fifth; Omar Narvaez knocked him in with a single in the ninth.

Those three runs were ample for Rodon, who needed just one inning of help from the bullpen. Robertson provided it with one of his most impressive performances in months. The closer earned his 36th save by striking out Cleveland's 3-4-5 hitters -- Jose Ramirez, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana -- in succession, all on nasty curve balls.

The Sox (74-81) now come home to conclude the season. They've got four games with Tampa Bay and three with Minnesota at U.S. Cellular Field this week.