W: Lee (14-2) L: L. Hernandez (10-7) S: Perez (1)
W: Baker (7-3) L: Carmona (4-3)
W: Guerrier (6-4) L: Perez (1-2) S: Nathan (28)
Now that Casey Blake has left the Indians for the first time in five years for the bluer pastures of Los Angeles, it is time for the Third Annual Walt Svirsky Commemorative Haiku Contest: send me your haiku (remember, it's 5-7-5 syllables) about Blake, and I'll announce the winner on the next off day (August 8, which is actually the day after our next off day, but you know what I mean). Winner gets something of a value somewhere between "dubious" and "spectacular," with the points closer to "dubious" having more likelihood.
Better than you think
Not as good as we wanted
William Casey Blake
1) Death by Papercut, or the Inning of GunkTM
Two left-handers started for the Indians this weekend: the Cy Young Favorite All-Star Starter with the ERA of two-and-a-quarter, and the Beefalo Wannottobe with the seven-plus ERA and the WHIP higher than Livan Fripping Hernandez. Guess which looked better?
Well, that was a trick question: they were largely indistinguishable. One gave up more hits but struck out 10 guys, while the other walked a guy that came back to haunt him. According to the needlessly arcane Game Score metric, each man's eight-inning two-run stint scored a 72. They both pounded the strike zone (69% and 74%) and turned the game eventually over to Raffy Perez.
But only one man threw five perfect innings.
Look, the fact that Sowers lowered his ERA from 7.33 to 5.86 suggests that he has not been a very good pitcher this season. In fact, it screams it from rooftops while waving flaming objects and brandishing a bullhorn. Jeremy Sowers has been borderline putrid this season. But for five innings Sunday, there was no pitcher in baseball as effective as Jeremy Sowers. He started 13 of the first 15 hitters off with a first-pitch strike. He struck out two men in the second and another in the third, two of them swinging. He fielded his position exceptionally well, snaring two groundouts and a liner up the middle.
And when the wheels fell off in the sixth, it still looked like pretty good pitching: Craig Monroe broke up the perfect game with a blooper to right placed well enough for two bases. Sowers made his first real mistake of the day by letting Brandon Harris get away for a walk after a 2-2 count, and Nick Punto's bunt to third was not so much a "bunt single" as advertised as it was a "Andy Marte needs espresso" moment. (Honestly, how do you get no outs on that play? None?)
With the bases loaded, instead of falling into the "must throw fat strike, must chew cuticles, must overthink situation" trap Sowers is wont to fall into, he threw quality pitches that yielded two runs in a manner reminiscent of Aaron Laffey's first outing: a ground ball to first that Ryan Garko turned into a single force out, and a dribbler to the mound that Sowers was not able to get home quickly enough and got the sure out at first instead. That's it. Two ground balls of questionable quality, and Sowers is down 2-1. (He got Mike Redmond to ground out on the next pitch.)
And to Sowers' credit, he didn't let this bother him: he sawed through a perfect 7th by getting Morneau to ground out on an 0-2 pitch, got a fly out, and got Jason Kubel to swing and miss at three consecutive pitches after starting 2-0. Part of Sowers' problem to date has been the absence of a real swing-and-miss pitch, and Kubel is a pretty good hitter, although admittedly not so much against lefties. But it's not like Sowers has shown any special lefty-killing skills: he has a reverse platoon split this season with lefties hitting .321/.409/.643 coming into the game. Wow, that's dismal. The league hit .327 off Sowers coming in: now they hit .303. We're not talking huge samples here.
Anyway, Sowers was so shaken by a leadoff single by Monroe in the 8th, he picked him off.
I really wish I could tell you that I saw something from Sowers that fundamentally changes my impression of him, but really, I'm not good enough at that sort of thing. He threw his stuff, and the Twins didn't hit it. But I'm reminded of my efforts trying to figure out why Cliff Lee has been so tremendous this season, and it really came down to command of the fastball: Lee isn't really throwing substantially different stuff, he's just throwing the stuff exactly where he wants it to go. It's possible that Sowers had one of those days as well. Whether he can turn this into one of those SEASONS is probably a poor bet to DEPEND on, but it's a glimpse of what Sowers' upside is. It's also a powerful argument for why he should stay in Cleveland's rotation instead of Beefalo's: the difference between good command and mediocre command is a few inches, and it's those few inches that separate major-league hitters from minor-league ones. Getting out IL guys with mediocre command might lull you into thinking he's got more fineness than he actually does.
2) Ho Hum Dept.
By Cliff Lee standards, this wasn't that great a start, in that 4 of the six hits he allowed were for extra bases (all doubles). There are probably six starts this season I'd take over this one, with some close ones to consider.
I mean, think about that. Lee went 8 innings, striking out 10 and walking nobody, giving up 2 runs on six hits ... and I'm wondering if this was his 7th-best start of the season or not.
It was probably his best start in July, depending on whether you think 6 shutout innings trumps 8 2-run innings, or whether you think 8 1-run innings with a walk and 3 Ks is better because 1 run is fewer than 2 even with the disparity in Ks. Of course, we lost that game and won this one.
Look, this is all quite ludicrous. Does anyone else here remember this gangly guy named Cliff Lee who was really pretty mediocre but had inflated W-L records because of ungodly run support? This isn't the same guy. He has a 120:20 K:BB ratio. He has a 195:130 GO:FO ratio. He has 8 starts in which he's COMPLETED the EIGHTH INNING. His WHIP is 1.03 and giving up 2 runs in 8 innings lowered his ERA by 0.0022.
Anyway, had the extra-base hits been singles, Lee arguably would have had a shutout. On the other hand, several of the doubles weren't all that far from being taterrific, either. But Lee finished with 108 pitches, and with the season largely over and an easy save opportunity looming for ... whomever ... I have no trouble tipping our collective hats to Mr. Lee at that point.
3) Welcome ... um ... back ... um ... sorta
Look, I'm not going to say a whole lot about Fausto Carmona's first start back after a long DL stint. He was terrible. He threw 6 of his first 19 pitches for strikes to walk three of the first four hitters, which pretty much set the tone for the game. That tone being, "I have intensely excremental control and hope to throw some pitches for strikes now and again." Once he got some strikes over, they were pounded and Carmona gave up 9 runs in 2 1/3 innings.
I really think it was that simple. He tried to make good pitches, and when they weren't good, he just tried to throw strikes, which, in a direct contrast to being good pitchers, were bad. In the act of getting back in the saddle, it should be noted that putting one foot in a stirrup is necessary but not sufficient: letting the horse run after that step is ill-advised and quite painful indeed.
4) Tales from the ninth inning
After looking thoroughly dominant in his last outing to close out a game, Masa Kobayashi was given the first shot at closing out Cliff Lee's win and proceeded to allow a single, a homer, and a double to panic everyone in the ballpark. It was very bad, but in Kobayashi's defense, it was also not good at all.
In trotted Raffy Perez, throwing pitches of awesome awe, collecting three outs in 13 pitches, 10 for strikes, aided by a fine stab of a liner by Ryan Garko and a fine play of his own on a groundout. So, move over Masa, Raffy gets his first save of the season!
After looking thoroughly dominant in his last outing to close out a game, Raffy Perez was given the first shot to hold a 2-2 tie after Sowers' brilliant outing and proceeded to allow a pair of doubles and a single to depress everyone in the ballpark. It was very bad, but in Perez' defense, there was no goodness hidden therein.
Sigh. Back to the drawing board.
5) A word about head-scratching
Some fans were perplexed that Perez would pitch to Justin Morneau with two outs and first base open. My rejoinder to this is, "Is Raffy Perez supposed to be good or not?" Yes, Morneau is a fine hitter (.318/.391/.518, a smaller platoon split than you'd imagine), but if Perez is supposed to be Closer Material, doesn't he get everyone out? I think he was trying to throw unhittable pitches and would have taken a walk there (started 2-0, went 3-1): he threw a bad pitch, and Morneau punished him. But Del Young hit .321 in June and .359 in July, so walking Morneau to face the right-handed Young seems like being needlessly cute. Anyway, Perez lost because he pitched poorly.
6) Real, live Managerial Head-Scratchers
The guy replacing Grady Sizemore in center batting second? Execrable.
David Dellucci batting second? Inexcusable.
David Dellucci pinch-hitting for that first guy hitting second? Comical. (This worked, in a sense, in that Dellucci hit a sac fly. Being in this situation still hurt my eye.)
7) You know who was good pitching the ninth?
8) Not that I'm bitter or anything
Craig Breslow pitched a perfect inning Saturday. His ERA is 2.19 on the season. Cleveland's bullpen has one left-handed pitcher.
9) Advice for the Youth of America
Stationary, rigid objects are to be avoided.
After the first two Indians singled off Butterbean Hernandez, Ben Francisco lofted a deep fly ball to left center that Carlos Gomez sprinted after, tracked down, and caught. He then rammed his back into the wall with sufficient force that Grady Sizemore, tagging up from second on the play, scored Cleveland's first run. Gomez is apparently okay in the global sense that he is not permanently injured, but he did leave the game and we wish him the best.
Two batters later, Shin-Soo Choo loften a deep fly ball to left center that Denard Span sprinted after, tracked down, and caught. He then rammed his back into the wall with insufficient force ... but please, guys, stop doing that. Take a lesson from Aaron Rowand's face or the enfeebled ghost of Eric Byrnes' career. Please stop ramming yourself into the wall. The padding is bogus. It's still a wall.
10) Offensive star power
After Casey Blake singled, Kelly Shoppach hit a two-run double. After a terrible start, Shoppach hit .275/.338/.580 in June and .269/.345/.481 in July: I don't see Shoppach as a legit .580 slugger, but he does have significant power (almost half his hits are for extra bases: 13 doubles and 8 HRs. Kelly Shoppach is not going to triple any time soon.). If he can really hit .270 with power, that's a damned fine catcher ... if he could actually, you know, catch. (I'm still wary of his passed ball and stolen bases allowed numbers.)
Jhonny Peralta had a pair of 2-for-4 outings with an extra base hit in each before taking a collar Sunday. This includes his second triple of the year, which ... well, that's hard to believe.
Andy Marte hit his third homer of the season.
Ryan Garko did not ingest any batting donuts.
11) Completely False Statement for the Google Search Engine
Eric Wedge will be attending the Detroit series in full Joker makeup in order to intimidate the Tigers into either making foolish plays or unsuccessfully fight the urge to attempt a citizen's arrest. This would represent an unprecedented amount of creativity on Wedge's part and is thoroughly false. Do not play David Dellucci.