Twenty-two final thoughts after the Indians came through with a big victory at Yankee Stadium.
1. Second baseman Jason Kipnis said the way the Indians manufactured runs Sunday, using a sacrifice fly by Michael Brantley and two sacrifice bunts by Jose Ramirez, is the way they may have to play the rest of the season. They chipped away with single runs in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings. They had only one extra-base hit, a double by Kipnis in the third inning.
2. “This was the first game where if you kind of start stepping away and looking at it, kind of how we won our games last year,” Kipnis said. “Guy gets on, we bunt him over … we started playing small ball down the stretch last year. We might be getting back to that here soon with the kind of players we’ve got. That works for us.”
3. It was hard to figure what Kipnis meant by the “kind of players we’ve got.” He might have been referring to the fact that Nick Swisher, who hit 22 home runs last year, went on the 15-day disabled list Sunday. Jason Giambi, who has long ball power off the bench, has spent nearly the whole season on the disabled list. Carlos Santana leads the Tribe with 20 homers, followed by Michael Brantley (17), Yan Gomes (16) and Lonnie Chisenhall (11). The front office failed to acquire the long-lusted after “big bat” that could threaten the 50-home run mark in a season. But the Indians' 113 home runs as a team through Sunday is tied for seventh in the American League with Detroit. After hearing what Kipnis said, I expected that ranking to be lower.
4. Kipnis thinks the small ball formula can work. “If we clean up our defensive side, pitchers are going to keep it a low-scoring game hopefully and we’ll win some games,” he said. I’m not sure what pitchers he’s talking about other than Corey Kluber, but evidently he has faith in Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and T.J. House.
5. Kipnis pointed out the first game in the Yankee series was the exact opposite of that formula. The Indians could have committed three errors (for the second consecutive night), if the official scorer had given Carlos Santana an error on what was ruled a single to short by Derek Jeter. The Tribe rallied, but fell 10-6.
6. “We saw when we pitch well, when we get guys over and take advantage of the opportunities we have when we do get guys on base and we play defense behind it, we’re a tough team,” Kipnis said. “That’s our winning recipe. It worked for us last year; it’s going to work for us again this year.”
7. Indians manager Terry Francona made the same points as Kipnis after Carlos Carrasco threw five scoreless innings in the Indians’ 4-1 victory Sunday.
8. “It just kind of goes to show you that, when you pitch ... because the last two days, we've played nice, fundamental [baseball],” Francona said. “We got bunts down. Shoot, the first game, we scored the most runs of the series and we got beat up. So when you pitch, it allows you to do so many other things.”
9. Kipnis went 3 for 5 Sunday, tying his season-high for the seventh time this season, and scored three of the Indians’ four runs. He raised his average to .251.
10. Francona said he mentioned to bench coach Brad Mills during the game what the Indians are capable of when Kipnis is hitting.
11. “As Kip goes, especially when he's leading off, he kind of makes us go,” Francona said. “He can steal bases, he can go first to third, he can hit the ball in the gap. When he's swinging like he is, and grinding out at-bats, we're a much better team.”
12. Kipnis may not want to be the leadoff hitter much longer, and presumably will surrender that role when Michael Bourn returns from his rehab assignment. But with Bourn’s stolen bases dropping off dramatically last year and with hamstring injuries plaguing him this year, having Kipnis in that role (when he’s hitting) isn’t that much of a dropoff.
13. The improvement at the plate may be a result of Kipnis finally feeling better after missing the month of May with a right oblique strain. (That doesn’t bode well for the impact of David Murphy going on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with the same thing.)
14. “The swing’s coming around better,” Kipnis said. “We’re taking better swings, laying off some good pitches. It’s right there for me. It’s getting close to being to where I want to be. I’m not going to be shooting the ball out of the park too many times, but at least I can put good swings on the ball and that’s my job in the leadoff (spot) right now. Get on base, run the bases well and score runs.”
15. Kipnis’ reference to not “shooting the ball out of the park” could imply that his oblique still isn’t 100 percent.
16. Kipnis spoke for the team when he talked about Carrasco’s first start since April 30. Since then, Carrasco has been in the bullpen.
17. “That was awesome,” Kipnis said. “We know since he went to the bullpen he’s been lights out for us. So we wanted him to take it inning by inning, treat each one like he’s coming out of the ’pen and pitch for one inning, throw strikes. I thought he did an outstanding job today and kind of set the tone. He looked great. He’s getting his confidence back on the mound as a starter.”
18. That statement shows Carrasco’s teammates know his issues are mental. During his previous years as a starter, including the beginning of this season, Carrasco said in between outings he worried too much about the batters he had to face next. The ready-for-anything mentality required in the bullpen helped that. He’s also talked often about watching other good pitchers (like Kluber). Considering the inconsistency and short outings delivered by those in the rotation, the Indians’ patience with Carrasco may be rewarded. Of course, there are those who feel his constant switching between starting and the bullpen will do more harm than good.
19. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway has a theory about what Carrasco got out of his time in the bullpen, when Carrasco went 3-1 with one save and a 2.31 ERA in 43 innings. “I think he feels like he’s more a part of the team now,” Callaway said Saturday. “He got his first win in like three years, he got his first save.”
20. Callaway said Carrasco might have needed that statistical validation. “I think some people do. When you’re sitting there fighting every day to belong, those kind of things matter to some guys,” Callaway said. “Something tangible they can look at and go, ‘Hey, I helped the team out.’”
21. Carrasco said his wife Karelis and their 3-year-old daughter Camila were in town for the weekend, but didn’t watch him pitch. He said Karelis didn’t arrive until the sixth inning because she gets too nervous when he’s on the mound.
22. Those ready to write off the Indians’ playoff chances may be jumping the gun, especially with so many teams still in the hunt. They flew home five games out in the race for the second wild card in the American League. (The Yankees were 21/2.) “We knew this was a big game that we wanted to win because in the wild-card race they’re close to us,” Kipnis said of the Yankees. “I thought we came out the right way and set the tone.”