The Indians are beginning their push for the postseason in Minnesota this weekend following the All-Star Game festivities in San Diego.
They entered the break with a commanding 6.5-game lead in the American League Central division, a stark contrast from the previous few years in which the Indians had to fight and claw their way back into the race with a hot second half.
"I don't want to get too carried away, because we're still playing, and nobody has a crystal ball,” said Indians manager Terry Francona just before the break. “But, we've played ourself into a position where every single game we play from now on is fun as hell. And I don't doubt our guys will embrace it and see how good we can be. That's the whole idea. Nothing changes. We just don't have a huge hole to dig out of. That doesn't make any game less important. It makes it kind of more fun.”
Now, to the mailbag. Thank to those who submitted questions, especially this time around, as Florida, California, and Colorado were all represented. This will appear every few weeks. You can always submit questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter to @RyanLewisABJ. Just include your first name, hometown and question.
Who should the Tribe be targeting to help their bullpen? How about Tony Cingrani (Reds) or highly-rated prospect Blake Snell (Rays)? — Bob, Boynton Beach, Florida (formerly Tallmadge)
Just about every contender could use back-end bullpen help, so the market could be busy. Of those two you listed, Cingrani is probably a better fit, though while the Reds could always use young assets these days, Cingrani is under club control through the 2019 season. They might not be in a rush to deal him. Snell would likely come with a hefty price tag. Many teams will be calling the New York Yankees to test the waters for Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, two of the best relievers in baseball. Chapman is an impending free agent, while Miller makes $9 million a year through 2018. The Braves could have been looking to move Arodys Vizcaino, though he just landed on the disabled list. The Brewers have two relievers, Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress, who could help a contending bullpen, but both are under control through 2019 as well. All of the above could be had, but matching the asking prices is the question.
When catcher Roberto Perez is eligible to come off the DL do you envision him staying in Triple-A Columbus with catchers Yan Gomes and Chris Gimenez at the ML level? — Johnny, San Diego
Francona said recently that the Indians would prefer to have a tough decision rather than have one of them falter and make the decision easier. It looks like they’ll have a tough decision, barring something unforeseen. Perez would be starting for most teams and is a real asset as the backup to Gomes. Gomes has struggled and now is having a pretty crazy stretch of bad luck at the plate, but his management of the pitching staff has remained solid. Gimenez has been a key factor behind Trevor Bauer’s resurgence. It’d be tough for the Indians to take either out of a regular rotation, and Perez does have minor-league options remaining.
What will the plan be with Abraham Almonte once Michael Brantley returns? — Michael, Akron
It’d be an easy fit to see Almonte sent down to Triple-A Columbus once Brantley can return to the lineup. Almonte does have an option remaining and has struggled since being reinstated from a failed drug test, including two mental mistakes that proved costly before the break. That would also allow the bullpen to stay in-tact, and the Indians would have Brantley, Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez available in the outfield.
With the hopeful return of Dr. Smooth, could you see the Tribe moving Lindor to the leadoff spot and go Lindor/Kipnis/Napoli/Brantley with the S/L/R/L matchup? Love everything Lindor brings but just not quite enough pop for the 3-hole. — Lee, Colorado
Well I don’t think the Indians or Francona are concerned with whether a particular spot in the lineup has enough power compared to league average. Carlos Santana is having a solid season and brings more value the higher up the lineup he is considering how often he gets on base. Lindor has continued to hit well in the No. 3 spot and stayed there for the most part when Brantley—who started nine games hitting cleanup—returned for 11 games earlier this season. Probably the most likely inclusion of Brantley into this lineup would be in the No. 4 spot again, allowing the top to remain as is and sliding Napoli down a spot.
If Brantley comes back as good as new, should the Indians still go get another bat? — Lorenzo, Cleveland
If the Indians have confidence Brantley will come back as good as new, then that would essentially be the needed offensive addition fans have been wanting. A healthy Brantley would be a bigger upgrade over just about all of the available options otherwise. The question is how much can you really expect from Brantley down the stretch? It’s cast a shadow over any clear move the Indians can make to the lineup. Lonnie Chisenhall’s great play in the last month or so has also cast doubt, as he’s played right to the level fans would hope for in their right fielder. Brantley’s shoulder might be the bigger factor.
Who is the most dynamic hot dog in the hot dog races? — Cam, Los Angeles
Finally, a serious question. The easy answer is Ketchup considering his propensity for hijacks and creative racing (cheating). But the most dynamic might be Onion. Her purse has become a real weapon this season, and when used at the right times, it’s led to quite a few victories. It also seems like Slider has a beef with Ketchup, which also opens the door for Onion and Mustard.
The Indians began their post-break series against the Minnesota Twins with a 5-2 victory Friday night.
Tied in the sixth, Jose Ramirez—sporting a new haircut—singled to score Francisco Lindor and put the Indians on top 3-2. Ramirez also singled home Lindor in the fourth and entered today with a .377 average with runners in scoring position, fourth in baseball.
Mike Napoli added his 19th home run of the season in the eighth inning.
Carlos Carrasco (6-3, 2.49 ERA) threw 6 2/3 innings, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out three. Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen (19th save) each tossed scoreless innings.
The Cleveland Indians begin the second half of their season sitting at 52-36, with a solid lead in the American League's Central Division and one of baseball's best pitching staffs. So what's next for the Tribe?
On this week's Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com podcast, Indians beat writer Ryan Lewis checks in with his thoughts on the team. The hot first half of the season is thanks in large part to a starting rotation featuring potentially two Cy Young Award candidates, a young star on offense in Francisco Lindor, several reliable veterans and a few unexpected contributions. But can the Indians sustain this pace? Ryan explains what we should expect the rest of the season.To read more or comment...
Here are 14 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 11-7 loss to the New York Yankees. Note: These will be the last Walk-Off Thoughts for a few weeks until the Indians return later this month. As always, thank you for reading.
1. As the Indians were on their franchise-record 14-game winning streak, it looked like the All-Star break might be coming at an unfortunate time. As it turns out, the timing looks perfect.
2. The Indians had that 19-inning marathon in Toronto that tortured the bullpen and led to seven roster moves. Then they dropped three of four to the Yankees to enter the break. But more-so than just dropping three of four was the “how” of them.
3. The Indians committed a couple mental mistakes, some miscues, things that hadn’t been evident since they took off and charged ahead in the American League Central.
4. On Sunday, the Indians committed three errors and had a fourth misplay in right field. They weren’t all because of it, but all 11 Yankees runs scored after an Indians’ error.
5. When asked if these mistakes were uncharacteristic, Indians manager Terry Francona said, “I hope so. I hope so. We kicked some balls around, we made some mistakes and they took advantage of it.”
More: Indians OF Michael Brantley to begin rehab assignments; Danny Salazar won't pitch in All-Star Game
6. An error on Carlos Santana and a misplay in right field by Lonnie Chisenhall that was ruled a double but should have been caught—and might be changed to an error retroactively—eventually allowed a two-out, three-run home run to Jacoby Ellsbury.
7. That hurt. So did Jose Ramirez’s error in the fourth that let in another run. And surely so did Francisco Lindor’s blunder in the fifth. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Lindor fielded a grounder but couldn’t make up his mind. He looked to home and then tried to quickly throw it to second but instead tossed it into right field. Two runs scored on the play, and four more came after.
8. Said Francona, “Probably the biggest play was when Frankie caught the ball, we were supposed to go to the plate, he kind of froze and then decided to go to second and it ended up going into right field. That inning, the floodgates kind of opened. It seemed like everything that could go wrong did. I think they had 14 guys go to the plate.”
9. Through it all, Francona said earlier this week the Indians needed to “grind” until the break. It’s coming at a good time.
10. Said Francona, “I think the biggest thing right now, it’s good for everybody, but it’s really necessary for our bullpen. Our guys, again uncharacteristically, we had three short outings and then the one game was an extra-inning game. It’s huge. It’ll be good. We can get back in line, let guys take a deep breath. We looked a little raggedy there and we can’t play like that and win. Take advantage of the rest and, hopefully, come out of the chute with a little more of what we usually look like.”
11. Tyler Naquin, in his third stint in the big leagues this season, has legitimately put his name into the American League Rookie of the Year discussion. His .314 batting average leads all AL rookies and he has the most home runs for an Indians rookie before the break since Jody Gerut hit 10 in 2003.
12. On Sunday, Naquin belted his ninth of the year, all of them coming since June 1. Said Naquin, “It was extremely fun being with this team. The team chemistry, the players in this clubhouse make it fun. That's the bottom line. We've been winning a lot of baseball games, and I feel good about the first half.”
13. It was a poor day to end a strong first half for a team that in the Francona era has had to frantically try to make up ground in the second half of the season. For now, the Indians enjoy a comfortable lead in the American League Central.
14. Said Chisenhall, “It’s fun. We've always tried to push in August and September to make that run, to put pressure on people. We’re in a little different position right now where we can win some games, step on the gas pedal and stretch it farther. This second half's going to be important for us. We spent a lot of time on the road in June and we did well. The second half's going to be fun.”
The Indians’ defense faltered on the final day before the All-Star break in an 11-7 loss to the New York Yankees.
The Indians committed three errors and had a fourth missed catch that all proved costly. All 11 runs allowed followed an Indians error as the Yankees took advantage of extra opportunities.
Thus, the Indians will enter the break at 52-36, coming off a series in which they committed multiple mental mistakes and a couple defensive miscues, things that for the most part hadn’t been evident in their torrid first half.
“We kicked some balls around, we made some mistakes and they took advantage of it,” said Indians manager Terry Francona.
In the second inning, Carlos Santana couldn’t handle a Francisco Lindor throw across the diamond that scored a run to put the Yankees on top 1-0. Austin Romine then doubled to right field on a ball off Lonnie Chisenhall’s glove. Later, with two outs, Jacoby Ellsbury drilled a three-run home run to right-center field that made it 4-0.
A Jose Ramirez error in the fourth eventually led to a run that extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-1. The biggest one came an inning later with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (3 2/3 innings, five earned runs, five hits, four strikeouts) already out of the game.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Chase Headley grounded a ball to Francisco Lindor. Lindor looked to home and then tried to quickly throw to second but instead tossed it into right field, allowing two runs to score. The Yankees followed with five singles and two sacrifice flies to to make it a six-run fifth inning. The latter four singles all came against TJ House, who relieved Jeff Manship.
Trailing 11-1, the Indians answered with a six-run inning of their own against Masahiro Tanaka. A Lindor RBI-double and Ramirez RBI-single made it 11-3 before the Indians took advantage of the first defensive mistake for the Yankees.
With two on, Rajai Davis grounded a ball to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who threw it away to score two and extend the inning. Tayler Naquin followed with his ninth home run of the season, a two-run shot, to make it 11-7.
But from there, the comeback halted, the defensive miscues too much to overcome.
“You can't play perfect baseball every single day,” Naquin said. “Nothing uncharacteristic at all. Errors are bound to happen. Strikeouts are bound to happen. Anything is bound to happen. That's all the way through baseball.”
It was a poor day to end a strong first half for a team that in the Francona era has had to frantically try to make up ground in the second half of the season. For now, the Indians enjoy a comfortable lead in the American League Central.
“It's fun. We've always tried to push in August and September to make that run, to put pressure on people,” Chisenhall said. “We're in a little different position right now where we can win some games, step on the gas pedal and stretch it farther. This second half's going to be important for us. We spent a lot of time on the road in June and we did well. The second half's going to be fun.”
Here are 12 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 7-6 loss to the New York Yankees Saturday night.
1. The Indians had a chance to win it in the ninth. They had a chance to do what so few teams have been able to do and overtake the back-end of the Yankees’ bullpen, that being Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
2. Tied 6-6 and with two runners on base with nobody out after Francisco Lindor singled and Mike Napoli walked, Carlos Santana grounded a ball to the left side that Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley each went for. As Gregorius was about to field it, Lindor ran into Headley and was called out for interference.
3. Instead of potentially having the bases loaded with no outs, Lindor was the first out—worst case, the Indians have two runners in scoring position. Miller struck out Jose Ramirez and Chapman struck out Juan Uribe to end the inning.
4. Lindor and Indians manager Terry Francona argued that Headley wasn’t really in the play, and that Gregorius was fielding the ball.
5. Said Francona, “Tom Hallion said that you have to allow the fielder a chance to field it. I was just telling him I didn’t think that was the guy fielding the ball. I went back and looked at it because I wanted to make sure. I think Frankie was watching Gregorius and then the ball, and then he looked up late and saw the third baseman and hit him hard. I think because there was such severe contact, I think it kind of a leads an umpire into the call. I just didn’t think that was his play. He was telling me it was, but he didn’t have a chance. So I really disagree there. That’s what I was trying to tell him. When you go see this, you’re going to see that Gregorius called it and took it. But it’s unfortunate. Very unfortunate. I can also see why it got called. I just didn’t quite agree with it. … You try to tell guys, ‘Run with your head up,’ which he did. He’s watching the guy making the play. The guy that wasn’t making the play, he ran into. That was kind of the point.”
6. Here’s Lindor on the play: “Ground ball, I was looking at the ball. I started running towards third base looking at the ball. When I turned my head, I knew they weren’t going to get me at third, I looked and he was right there and boom, I hit him. … I was running, I was looking at the ball and then I turned because I knew they weren’t going to get me and he was right there. After I talked to the umpire, I guess I messed up. … He said the rule protects the fielder, you have to give them the room to catch the ball. He was in the way to catch the ball. He probably wasn’t going to get it, but as an umpire he has to protect the fielder because that’s what the rule says.”
More: The good and bad from the Indians' first half
7. The play that made it costly came in the 11th. With a runner on first, Brian McCann ripped a double to right field. Abraham Almonte misplayed it, trying to cut it off. It got by him, and he was slow playing it off the wall. It allowed Ronald Torreyes to score all the way from first and give the Yankees their winning 7-6 lead.
8. Said Francona, “We’re in no doubles. He got over-aggressive. There’s a reason we’re in no doubles, to [prevent them]. He’s just got to go get it. Because they don’t score [if he plays it better]. Again, that was another, we talk about paying attention to detail, we didn’t do that sometimes today and it cost us.”
More: Jason Kipnis pulling the ball with success in 2016
9. Almonte’s misplay is the second in three games after he didn’t see the ball trickle away from McCann in Friday’s loss that would have brought home the tying run. It’s been a rough stretch since he was reinstated after his failed drug test that cost him 80 games.
10. Jose Ramirez went 3-for-5 with three RBI singles Saturday night. He just keeps hitting and now has a .297 batting average with 37 RBI.
11. Salazar was roughed up for six runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. It wasn’t the ideal start heading into the All-Star break. Francona used the word “careless” to describe his outing.
12. Said Francona, “His stuff was good. I thought he was a little careless. 0-2 home run, a lot of 0-2 hits, threw a ball picking off first, probably the biggest play was when he tried to swat that ball going up the middle back-handed. Kip’s standing there, we’re out of the inning, and there’s no reason for him to do that, which we explained to him. I think the best word is a little bit careless.”
For the second time in three days, the Indians had to go through the brick wall that is the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen. This time, they were able to extend the game into extra innings but eventually fell once again in a 7-6 loss Saturday night.
With a runner on first and Tommy Hunter on the mound in the top of the 11th inning, Brian McCann ripped a double to right field that Abraham Almonte tried to cut it off but couldn’t and was delayed fielding the carom off the wall. That allowed pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes to score from first and put the Yankees on top 7-6.
Aroldis Chapman worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings to close the door on the Indians. In the bottom of the 11th, Jason Kipnis opened with a walk but was caught stealing for the second out and Mike Napoli struck out swinging to end the game.
Almonte’s misplay is the second in three games after he didn’t see the ball trickle away from McCann in Friday’s loss that would have brought home the tying run.
The Indians entered the seventh inning trailing 6-5 and having to go through the first leg of the Yankees’ three relief stalwarts Dellin Betances. Kipnis led off the inning with a double, and Jose Ramirez came through with his third RBI-single of the day to tie it 6-6.
The Indians had a chance to win it in the ninth but caught bad break. The Indians had two runners on with nobody out against Miller when Santana grounded a ball to the left side. As Didi Gregorius fielded it, Francisco Lindor ran into third basemen Chase Headley and was called out for interference. Instead of the bases being loaded with nobody out, Miller then struck out Jose Ramirez and Chapman struck out Juan Uribe.
Two innings later, the Yankees came away with the decisive blow.
The Indians twice grabbed early leads. In the first, Rajai Davis reached base after he was hit in the hand by a pitch, advanced to second with a sacrifice bunt, stole third base as catcher Brian McCann threw the ball back to starter CC Sabathia and scored on Santana’s RBI-single.
Following the first of two three-run innings for the Yankees, the Indians went ahead 4-3 in the third inning. Mike Napoli notched an RBI-single to left field, Santana drove in another with a double and Ramirez singled to right to score a third run.
The Yankees roughed up Danny Salazar in his final start before the All-Star break. Already with three runs across, the Yankees loaded the bases in the sixth to end Salazar’s day. With two outs, Dan Otero came on but allowed a bases-clearing triple to Brett Gardner, putting the Yankees up 6-5.
Salazar finished after 5 2/3 innings, allowed six runs on eight hits and struck out five.
Here are 22 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 10-2 win against the New York Yankees.
1. Mike Napoli hit an absolute bomb of a home run Friday night, one of the most prodigious in Progressive Field history. Along with Jim Thome’s 511-foot home run to Eagle Avenue in 1999 and Mark McGwire’s awe-inspiring shot off the scoreboard in 1997, Napoli’s homer was one of the most impressive in park history.
2. Just about everyone knows John Adams, the drummer at Indians games, and where he sits, which is atop the bleachers in the middle section. It’s a long way away, and Napoli just about hit it right into the drum. The ball hit 1-2 rows from the scoreboard and on one hop hit the bottom of the scoreboard, just in front of Adams.
3. Per Statcast, it had an exit velocity of 107 feet, a launch angle of 32 degrees and traveled 460 feet. It’s the longest home run by an Indians hitter this season.
4. Said Napoli, “I got a pitch up in the zone. I swing hard. Just caught it perfect. I don’t know, it’s a good game all around. Got a good performance out of [Corey] Kluber. Good first inning from the boys, so it’s a good win for us. … To be honest you really don’t feel it off the bat. You just, I don’t know. I can’t really explain it.”
5. Indians manager Terry Francona couldn’t, either. He joked that Napoli barley hit it out and then added, “Wow. I mean, I don’t know how you hit a ball that far. Obviously I don’t. That was fun to watch.”
6. Indians second basemen Jason Kipnis brought up Mark Reynolds, and one of his blasts to the bleacher seats. Said Kipnis, “Oh my gosh. If you remember Reynolds, that was the farthest one that we've seen—since I've been here at least, and that was about the seventh row up from the top, or fifth row, and over one section. That was up near the drummer. We haven't even seen in BP one go there. That was a fun one to watch.”
7. Here was Trevor Bauer’s reaction caught on TV, presented without comment.
Three home runs in the first inning and five total. A prodigious blast that nearly hit the scoreboard. An ace performance. Friday night had just about everything for the home sellout crowd in the Indians’ 10-2 trouncing of the New York Yankees Friday night.
It was the third sellout at Progressive Field this season and the second one this week. Fans among the 34,045 who wanted to see some power got their money’s worth and then some.
The Indians led off the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back home runs against Yankees starter Chad Green (1-2, 7.04 ERA). Carlos Santana belted his 20th home run of the season to right field, which already bests his 2015 season total, and Jason Kipnis followed with his 13th of the year to center field. It marked the first time the Indians began a game with back-to-back home runs since Kosuke Fukudome and Kipnis did so on Sept. 22, 2011.
The Indians weren’t done in the first. With two outs and Francisco Lindor on first base, Lonnie Chisenhall drove a two-run shot to right field to put the Indians on top 4-0.
In the third, Mike Napoli hit one of the longest home runs in Progressive Field history. With Green still on the mound, Napoli crushed a two-run home run to the top of the bleacher seats in left field. It bounced once and hit the bottom of the scoreboard and nearly hit John Adams, the famous Indians drummer, who sits atop the bleachers in the middle section. Per Statcast, it measured 460 feet and is the longest home run by an Indians hitter this season.
Along with Jim Thome’s 511-foot home run to Eagle Avenue in 1999 and Mark McGwire’s awe-inspiring shot off the scoreboard in 1997, Napoli’s homer Friday night is one of the most impressive in park history.
Lindor missed a home run in the fifth by a few feet but settled for an RBI-double, and Napoli added an RBI-single to make it 8-0 Indians. In the sixth, Yan Gomes grounded out to score Juan Uribe, who doubled.
In the 7th, a final home run, as Kipnis added his second of the night, this one to right field. The five home runs as a team mark the most for the Indians (52-34) in a single game this season.
It was easily enough for recent All-Star selection Corey Kluber (9-8, 3.61 ERA), who allowed one run on five hits in eight innings to go with eight strikeouts. Yankees (42-44) catcher Brian McCann hit a solo home run for Kluber’s only blemish. In the ninth, Joe Colon made his major-league debut, allowing one run and striking out one.
Indians rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin has to had to survive at the major-league level this season, in more ways than one.
Aside from adjusting to major-league pitching, he’s also had to deal with the realities of the Indians organizing their active 25-man roster and the restrictions that at times come with it. Naquin earned a spot on the Opening Day roster and was then demoted twice as the Indians balanced needs with his own performance, which had mostly come with positive reviews.
In his third stint, which began June 1, Naquin has been on a tear, perhaps enough to begin to put his name into the discussion for American League Rookie of the Year. In that time, he’s hitting .330 with eight home runs, 16 extra-base hits and 18 RBI and was named the AL Rookie of the Month in June.
“I think he’s more confident. I think he should be more confident,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he has some survival instincts. What I mean by that, sometimes when you’re young trying to survive, he’ll take a couple swings where you’re like, ‘Uh oh.’ And then he’ll shoot one out of the ballpark.”
Because of the construction of the Indians’ roster, Naquin has had to fight his way into the lineup on a regular basis. So far, he’s done it.
“For a kid that didn’t play right away, [against] the lefties at the beginning of the season, got sent down, he has been unbelievably productive,” Francona said. “It kind of gets exciting because we knew he was learning on the run, and you never quite know what a young player is going to be. We still don’t know what [he’ll become]. But it’s kind of been fun to watch.”
The Indians are still dealing with the ramifications of their 19-inning game with Toronto last week. Now, it’s cost them their utility man off the bench, a useful piece in Francona’s game-to-game management.
Utility man Michael Martinez was recently designated for assignment when the Indians needed to call up pitcher Shawn Morimando as the bullpen ran thin. On Friday, he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for cash considerations.
Martinez was able to play nearly every position on the field and had enough speed to act as a pinch runner. It afforded Francona a wide range of options in the later innings of games. Jose Ramirez is a similar player but with him in the starting lineup every day, the Indians don’t have that kind of a tool coming off the bench.
“We got put in a bind,” Francona said. “He’s a really good guy to have around. He actually was doing pretty well numbers wise, but he’s better than his numbers, his ability to move around the diamond and pinch run and play defense and be a really good teammate. I don’t think anybody was happy about [losing him].”