CLEVELAND: It’s the kind of anomaly that will prompt Indians fans to say, “It was nice while it lasted,” but no team averages 7.6 runs a game for long.
Then again, who knows what the future holds? The Tribe whipped the Angels 12-3 Wednesday at Progressive Field, and who can say with certainty that the Walloping Wahoos won’t score 14 tonight against the Rays?
Over the past week, the Indians have compiled a 5-2 record and averaged almost eight runs a game, despite the fact they were shut out once.
“This is as good as it gets,” manager Manny Acta said of his offense. “You’re not going to get that many runs every day. Things tend to even out. But we’ll see. We’re going to face a team [Tampa Bay] with very good pitching.”
That’s what Acta said about the Angels. Jered Weaver lived up to his billing by blanking the Tribe for seven innings Monday, but Dan Haren on Tuesday and Ervin Santana on Wednesday were just short of horrendous. Haren was gone after 4⅓ innings, having allowed seven runs (six earned) on nine hits and a walk.
Santana (4-9, 5.75 ERA), whose only career victory against the Indians was a no-hitter, failed to make it through the second inning, as he was pummeled for eight runs and six hits. He also walked three.
There probably is some sort of chicken-egg kind of thing at work. Was Santana vulnerable because he was pitching poorly, or did the Tribe force him to get out of his comfort zone by its insistence on swinging at pitches in the fat part of the strike zone?
Michael Brantley delivered the first major blow to Santana by hitting a three-run homer following two two-out walks. In the second inning, the Indians tacked on six more runs, with Casey Kotchman going deep with two on base against Hisanori Takahashi, who relieved Santana one batter earlier.
So before the end of the second inning, it was game, set, match to the Tribe.
Despite two home runs, an RBI double by Shin-Soo Choo and four singles in the first two innings, there was a lot of talk about a walk to Travis Hafner playing the key role in the explosion of runs.
Hafner was playing his first game after being out since May 24 with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.
He stepped to the plate with two outs in the first following a walk to Jason Kipnis. Santana kept throwing pitches and Hafner kept fouling them off, even after the count went to 3-and-2. Finally, on the 11th pitch, he walked to give Brantley the opportunity to hit his home run.
“We had a lot of quality at-bats in our lineup today,” Acta said. “You could see that Hafner affected the game from the beginning. All those pitches he took, and he was on base three times.”
Hafner singled during the second inning rally and walked again in the sixth.
“He’s a presence in the lineup,” Kotchman said of Hafner. “He really makes pitchers work, and he’s an imposing guy.”
Acta talks about quality at-bats all the time.
“We had five guys with two strikes who all got on base in the first inning,” he said. “Altogether, 18 guys who had two strikes reached base. Those are the types of things we have to do to create traffic [on the bases] and runs.”
As Acta put it, “Hafner scares pitchers out of the strike zone.”
Derek Lowe gave up 11 hits and all the runs in six innings, but who cares? Once he had the big lead, he knew what he was supposed to do — not allow the Angels to mount a sustained rally, and the surest way to avoid that was refrain from walking anyone. So that’s what Lowe did.
“Anytime you have a lead, the thing you don’t want to do is walk people,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Lowe (8-6, 4.43 ERA) had to walk a fine line: Attack the Angels hitters with strikes but not strikes pitched down the middle.
“I swear, this can be a tough thing to do,” he said. “You don’t want to walk guys. You know they’re going to be aggressive at the plate, and they know you’re going to throw lots of fastballs.”
So Lowe didn’t mind giving up a run or three along the way.
“I’m probably not going to win the earned-run average title this year,” he said facetiously, “I just didn’t want to give up the big inning.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.