Monday's game started with White Sox CF Alejandro De Aza homering, followed by AJ Pierzynski hitting one out, three batters later. Indians starter Josh Tomlin settled down after that, and pitched reasonably well, striking out seven while walking only one, but the high pitch count from that 1st inning meant his day was over after only five innings. The bats couldn't get anything going, and that early 3-0 deficit proved to be too much. A 9th inning HR by Jose Lopez was the Tribe's only extra-base hit of the game, and the White Sox took the series opener, 4-2.
Tuesday's game was postponed by weather, which probably wasn't the worst thing in the world for the Indians. Wednesday afternoon saw Justin Masterson make his second start of the season. Masterson was fantastic in his first start, but things didn't go as well this time. A lead off single was followed by a Hannahan error, two more hits, and a wild pitch. It was 4-0 after the 1st. Cleveland got within one run in the 5th, only to watch Chicago put up five more runs in the 6th, led by Pierzynski hitting another home run.
Ugh, two blasts from Pierzynski in two games, that shouldn't happen. The man hit a total of just 17 HR between 2010 and 2011 combined, in 938 at bats. That's one HR for every 55 AB. Hitting the Indians well (relative to his overall mediocrity) is nothing new for Pierzynski though. In fact, of his last 50 HR (going back all the way to the middle of the 2007 season), 11 of them have come against the Indians. Travis Hafner and Shelley Duncan did each hit their first HR of the season (one of three hits for Duncan), but the game ended 10-6, White Sox, dropping the Tribe to 1-4 on the young season.
Also, while attendance isn't the be-all, end-all, and teams in fairly northern cities often times don't draw all that well early in the season, it's still disappointing to see that Progressive Field had fewer than 10,000 people for each of the games against the White Sox. Fans come with success, but success comes a little more easily with the money from fans.
Thursday was a travel day, the Indians headed to Kansas City to begin their first road trip of the season against the Royals. Unlike the two games against Chicago, when the Indians fell behind in the 1st and never recovered, this time they were the ones scoring a bunch of runs in the top of the 1st. They put up seven in, fact, on eight hits, including two by Michael Brantley. The team only got another three hits over the last eight innings, but it didn't much matter. Derek Lowe didn't pitch particularly well, giving up 11 hits in 6.2 innings, but the hits were almost all singles, he didn't walk anyone, and he got a couple of timely double-play balls, limiting the damage to three runs. Final score: 8-3, Tribe.
Saturday night brought the most lively game of the season, so far. Shin-Soo Choo missed over two months of the 2011 season after being hit in the hand by an errant Jonathan Sanchez pitch. In the 3rd inning Saturday, Sanchez hit Choo again, this time in the knee. It certainly wasn't intentional, but between what happened last year and Choo having been hit twice in the few games before the K.C. series, Shin-Soo took exception and had some choice words for Sanchez. Both benches cleared, though aside from Jack Hannahan (for some reason), no one got that worked up, and the game continued. The Indians wound up scoring five runs in the inning, taking a comfortable lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Indians young starter, Jeanmar Gomez decided he needed to stick up for his teammate and plunked the first batter he faced, Mike Moustakas (for my take on the entire beanball culture in baseball, feel free to read here). Gomez was immediately ejected from the game, automatically sending skipper Manny Acta with him. The benches cleared again, Hannahan lost his mind again, and he was tossed too. The bats stayed hot, and after Casey Kotchman and Jason Kipnis both went yard in the 5th, the lead was at 9-2. The Royals started grinding though, scoring two in the 5th... then two in the 6th... then two in the 7th... finally tying it up on a HR by the weak-hitting Yuniesky Betancourt. The game headed to the 10th inning, when Shin-Soo Choo, to the high displeasure of Kansas City fans, doubled in two runs. Chris Perez, who has gotten the job done since his Opening Day disaster, closed things out. The Indians had their first series victory of the season. On Sunday, they would go for the sweep.
After serving his five-game suspension for beaning Troy Tulowitzki in Spring Training (gosh, I hope the Indians are done with these things for a while), Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound for the series finale. He was not nearly as sharp as in his first start, giving up nine hits and three walks to go with four runs, lasting just five innings, and taking 112 pitches to do it. Fortunately for Jimenez, the Indians had put up two big innings by the time he exited, scoring six in the 3rd and four in the 5th. The former was highlighted by another run-scoring double from Choo, the latter by a monster blast by Travis Hafner, which traveled an estimated 456 feet and landed in a sports bar (seriously). Later, Kotchman and Kipnis each homered for the second day in a row, and it was 13-7 by game's end. A sweep!
The Good News:
- I love the Carlos Santana extension, signed early in the week.
- The offense really came to life in Kansas City. According to the club's Twitter feed, the 32 runs the Tribe scored were the most they'd scored in a three-game series since April of 2000. The Royals pitching staff isn't exactly the '95 Braves, but it was a fantastic series with the bats, all the same.
- Casey Kotchman didn't look like the worst player in the American League this week!
The Bad News:
- The Indians didn't get a single good game from the starting rotation. Gomez looked good, but of course he got thrown out before getting an out in the 3rd inning. Everyone else got knocked around pretty bad.
- The bullpen was pretty ugly. Perez, Pestano, Sipp, Smith, and Wheeler each had an ERA of at least 4.50 for the week, and while small sample size means one bad outing will likely give a relief pitch a bad ERA for a week, it is not good not all of those guys got knocked around during the week.
- Jack Hannahan has already made three errors. Now errors are a flawed way of judging fielders, because the fielder who gets to a tough ball and doesn't make the play is penalized, while the player who wasn't good enough to get to the ball at all gets a pass, but his errors have all been on plays he should have made. Hannahan has been better than expected at the plate so far, but he needs to get back to the stellar defensive play that won him the job.
The Meh: The Indians signed Johnny Damon to a one-year deal. I don't see this as likely to make a big difference. He's got a little offense left in him, but not enough to be a good DH. He also probably doesn't have much defense left in him, so platooning him in LF could give back as many runs as it brings in.
The Results: 3-2 for the week, 4-4 for the season, 1.5 games behind Detroit.
Indian of the Week: Shelley Duncan. Duncan had seven hits, including two home runs. He also drew six walks. All together, that gave him a batting average of .438, to go with an American League best .591 OBP for the week, to go with an .813 SLG, good for an OPS of 1.403. Maybe he doesn't want to be platooned with the newly acquired Johnny Damon?
Indian of the Weak: Jack Hannahan. As I mentioned above, he's off to a rough start in the field, the place he's supposed to be earning his keep. His hit .308 for the week, but it was still just four hits, all of them singles, meaning his slugging percentage was also just .308. Also, his getting ejected Saturday may mean he's a great "team player," but I prefer my team players to keep themselves in games.
The Week Ahead:
The Indians have Monday off, then play three games in Seattle, then three games in Oakland. Felix Hernandez, the Mariners' ace and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, has not seemed himself so far in 2012. Hopefully he waits at least one more start to find his stride. Both ballparks the Tribe visits this week tend to depress offense, so don't look for a run-scoring outburst like we were treated to in Kansas City. The pitching should benefit from the change of scenery though. The A.L. West has two very good teams and two pretty bad teams. These are the bad ones. A long road trip is never easy, but Cleveland should be better than both the Mariners and A's this season, so it'd be nice to see them win more than they lose this week. A 3-3 split wouldn't be bad either though; .500 baseball on the road is respectable.