For the second consecutive muggy night in Atlanta, the Cleveland Indians did not play their best brand of baseball. The Tribe had chances to blow the game wide open in the first three innings as Braves starting pitcher Matt Wisler allowed runners to reach scoring position in each. However, ill-timed strikeouts ended threats and left the game within a reasonable two run margin. The Indians countered with an excellent effort from Corey Kluber, but the Braves were able to scratch in two runs in the sixth inning. The Tribe answered by grounding into double plays in both the seventh and eighth innings.
Manager Terry Francona could not even accept the gift that was Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino being incapable of throwing strikes as he sent Michael Martinez to the plate to sacrifice bunt after two straight walks. Well, bunting crazed pitches just leads to foul balls and an eventual strikeout. Thankfully, Carlos Santana (single to right field) and Erick Aybar (forgot to pick up the baseball) had Francona's back as the Indians were able to score enough runs in the ninth (three) to cushion themselves for a night of erratic Cody Allen.
But winning games when a team is not playing their best is actually a fantastic sign of a good ballclub. Every night will not be a 10-run outing for the offense with a complete game effort from the starting pitcher even though it feels like it could be with this team. Grinding out victories in the face of defeat is important over the course of the 162 (hat tip to Eric Wedge). And, the Indians have now cranked up the dial on their winning streak to 11.
Return of the Klubot
Yes, Kluber ended up giving up three singles that turned into two game-tying runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. However, this game was one of the few this season where Kluber was not just a really good pitcher, but he transformed into his alter-ego of the unhittable Klubot.
Kluber finished with 8 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO and did so on an incredibly efficient 87 pitches. If Francona was going to give up the third hitter in the ninth inning for an out anyway, then there is a valid argument he should have allowed Kluber to watch Vizcaino pitch. But, then the ninth inning would not have been so dramatic.
That sixth inning included the ONLY three hits the Braves recorded off Klubot on the night. And, the last one that drove in the runs required an eight pitch at bat where Ender Inciarte staved off striking out from a 1-2 count on five consecutive pitches. A tip of the cap to Mr. Inciarte.
But, if I'm being honest, the only pitch I really care about is the nasty clowning of Freddie Freeman in the fourth inning. I mean, that sad soul Freeman will wind up on Kluber highlights for the rest of his life in MLB's equivalent to a posterization dunk.
Kluber started the sequence off with three straight 94-95 mile per hour twoseam fastballs. He was challenging the most proficient hitter in the Braves lineup and Freeman buckled in on a 1-2 count to accept that challenge. Poor Freddie.
It was all a glorious setup. Freeman ready for another sinking fastball at high speed. Kluber releasing the ball from nearly the same arm slot and angle.
Except the pitch was not a fastball and was not one that even a golfing Mike Trout could touch. As Yan Gomes flung his body behind the batter's box to block the pitch, Freeman was swinging a full foot above where the pitch crossed the plane of the plate. Kluber had thrown a slider in the dirt that had such nasty break it wound up curving around the batter. And, there is Freddie biting on the pitch; hook, line, and sinker.
Lindor might have a future in the sport of baseball
Remember to be thankful. That is a daily reminder to myself anytime I turn on an Indians game and Francisco Lindor's smile graces the screen. MLB is chock full of young star players right now from Mike Trout and Bryce Harper to Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado. And, so on. However, there is not another player in the game that I would accept in trade for Francisco Lindor. He transforms the ability of the infield defense with his range, arm strength, and ability to throw accurately from nearly any body position. He transforms the offense with his line drive power, speed, and aggressive baserunning. It seems crazy for a 22-year-old to be the leader of a team, yet here we are.
On Tuesday, Lindor made his presense felt immediately. In the top half of the first inning, Truffles moved from first to third base on a Jose Ramirez single to right field. By taking the extra base, he setup the double steal. Jose Ramirez drew the throw, and Lindor waltzed in for his first career steal of home.
And, the Francisco Kid would not be done for the inning as a fantastic scoop and turn started the double play in the bottom half of the first frame to erase the only walk Kluber would allow on the night. And, arguably, it was not even his finest defensive play of the night. Lindor was once again showing off his incredible range on a ground ball hit up the middle by shortstop counterpart Erick Aybar. The play looks so routine now that Indians fans see it on a near nightly basis from our AL MVP candidate shortstop, but it is far from a routine play for most any other player.
In fact, Fangraphs put out an article on Tuesday detailing The Lindor Effect. Jeff Sullivan details the effect adding Lindor to the Indians defense has had on groundballs hit against the Tribe. And, how the Indians are now restricting the SLG% at a near historic rate on such batted balls. Of course, it is important to throw out a few disclaimers:
- Lonnie Chisenhall was moved off the hot corner to be replaced by a combination of Giovanny Urshela, Jose Ramirez, and Juan Uribe who are all far better defensively.
- Carlos Santana started playing much more consistently at first base in July of 2015, but the position has also been supplemented defensively with Jerry Sands, Chris Johnson, and Mike Napoli (none whom have wowed, but have been decent enough).
- Jason Kipnis has remained relatively healhty over this stretch.
- Since we are discussing SLG, then it is also prevalent that the Indians OF defense has seen a significant upgrade in this timeframe (2016 with a combination of Chisenhall, Naquin, Davis, Byrd, and Jose Ramirez – though Davis and Naquin got off to rough starts their issues were on fly balls, not relays off grounders).
- 2016 has seen the Indians SP dramatically increase their GB% as a group. Quite possibly to play into this increased efficiency, but I wonder if the increased chances also might help with the overall numbers?
Note: while Indians starting pitching GB% is only up 3 percent in total, the change is more pronounced when you look at the main SP the Indians use:
- Kluber 42.45 to 49.7%
- Bauer 39.2% to 50%
- Salazar 43.9% to 48.1%
- Tomlin 37.5% to 41.1%
- Carrasco 51.2% to 51.6%