CLEVELAND: When a team plays badly and wins anyway, what does it say about the opposing club?
Twins defenders fielded and threw erratically all afternoon, yet Minnesota still beat the Indians rather easily, 6-3, Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field.
The performance of the Tribe raised another issue. How should a team be valued that loses two of three to the fourth-place Royals, then drops two of three to the last-place Twins in consecutive series at home?
“This was not a good homestand, especially after we won the first game of both series and couldn’t win another ballgame,” manager Manny Acta said.
The Indians’ skid began one series before the homestand, when the White Sox rolled over the Tribe in a three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field. Including that series, the Wobbly Wahoos are 2-7 in their past nine games.
The starting pitching went south first, then four important hitters were hurt (one has returned). The bullpen also has contributed to the slump.
So the problem is multi-faceted. Whether the defects are long term or short term has yet to be determined, but if the flaws continue much longer, it won’t make sense to describe them as transitory.
“Any homestand you want to come out even or ahead, and we didn’t,” Shelley Duncan said. “Kansas City and Minnesota can play good baseball, but we just didn’t play well against the two teams at the bottom of the division.”
For awhile, Sunday’s game looked like it might come down to whether Minnesota shortstop Brian Dozier or Tribe third baseman Jose Lopez would make more misplays.
Dozier was charged with two errors, but it could have been three. Lopez came out of the game error free, but he failed to make three plays that injured regular Jack Hannahan would have made with ease.
The most problematic was Dozier’s high bouncer to third in the second inning. Lopez had no play at first and realized his only chance was to hope the ball would roll foul.
Instead, it hit the corner of the bag and rolled into left-field. The problem was that Lopez stood and watched it instead of chasing it down, enabling Dozier to reach second with a double instead of settling for a single.
“Lopez made the right play by letting it go,” Acta said. “Unfortunately, it hit the bag. But he didn’t have a play at first.”
Justin Masterson (2-5, 5.09 ERA) struggled through six innings, giving up seven hits and three runs, some of which he helped produce.
But he also was victimized by two bunt singles (another came on Nick Hagadone’s watch and led to a run), issued two walks that turned into runs and threw a wild pitch that put a runner in scoring position.
“I felt pretty good,” Masterson said. “I got a lot of ground balls [nine outs], and Michael [Brantley] made a good play in center. They laid down some nice bunts, but I couldn’t do anything about those.”
In the third inning, Ben Revere hit Masterson squarely in the back with a line drive, and Justin Morneau struck him in the lower leg with a hard bouncer. Masterson turned Revere’s drive into an out, but Morneau reached first with a single.
“I’m a big guy,” Masterson said of the liner. “I have a lot of extra space back there.”
The Tribe offense was defused by another left-handed starter, Scott Diamond, who gave up all the runs (which were unearned) on seven hits. Diamond did not walk a batter and needed only 93 pitches to get through seven innings.
“We do have a lot of left-handed hitters in the lineup, and they have a tougher time against left-handed pitchers,” Acta said. “But when we’ve put some right-handers in there, they haven’t produced much for us. They’re not crushing the ball, either.”
The Indians are 4-12 when a left-hander starts for the opposing team; when a right-hander starts, they are 24-13.
Against the Twins, the Tribe struggled against the starters and the relievers. The Minnesota bullpen turned in 11 scoreless innings during the three-game set, giving up seven hits and striking out nine.
Matt LaPorta, who bats from the right side, made his 2012 major-league debut at first base and singled in four at-bats. He also reached on an error by third baseman Trevor Plouffe. LaPorta was called up from Columbus to take the roster spot of Johnny Damon, who is on the paternity list for three days. Damon went home to Florida to be with his wife and newborn twin girls.
Indians-Twins box score.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.