Here are 19 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 10-1 win against the Kansas City Royals.
1. The Indians have been somewhat stuck in the mud all season. Things have never hit a severe low, they just also haven’t hit the kind of high that the club on paper is capable of. They’ve been baseball’s exhibit in treading water through, nearly, the first two months of the season.
2. The starting rotation just hasn’t found its rhythm. Corey Kluber has been dealing with back stiffness for most of the season and is returning on Thursday. Danny Salazar is headed for a stint in the bullpen to figure out some issues. Trevor Bauer has had his usual ups-and-downs. Each of the latter two pitchers have been “searching” for answers. And Josh Tomlin took a few weeks to get going.
3. Meanwhile, the lineup hasn’t quite been the force it can be. Jason Kipnis has had a handful of terrific games but was slow out of the gate after dealing with a shoulder injury this spring. Edwin Encarnacion has a history of slow starts, but it doesn’t make his .225 average look any better. Jose Ramirez was dominant in April but has cooled in May. Every outfielder on the roster except for Bradley Zimmer has been banged up or landed o the disabled list this season. And so on.
4. Sunday’s offensive game might almost feel like a release. Eighteen hits, the second most in any game this season for the Indians, and 10 runs. Kipnis went 4-for-4 with a home run, a double, a walk and two RBI.
5. Kipnis: “We know we can be playing better. Games like this only reassure us that this is the type of product we can roll out there when everything is going well. This is the type of team we can be. So it's frustrating when it doesn't show up every day.”
6. The starting rotation not yet rolling. The turmoil in the outfield. The lineup’s missteps here and there. Through nearly two months of nothing more than treading water, the Indians are 25-23 and as of this typing are only 2.5 games back in the division.
7. Which is why there hasn’t been much panic. The American League Central in 2017 leaves a lot to be desired. The current leaders, the Twins, aren’t exactly likely to contuse their 26-19 pace. They’ve been one of baseball’s nicer surprises, but on paper certainly don’t have the look of a real contender. The Detroit Tigers are 23-26 and, like the 21-28 Royals, could be headed for a fire sale at the trade deadline unless things turn around. The White Sox started their rebuild this past offseason.
8. That leaves the Indians, who clearly haven’t found their stride, still holding the title as the division’s top contender. They’ve played below their expectations and yet, remain only a few games back. If looking ahead to the Indians’ prospects as a World Series contender, yes, this isn’t the level of play desired. But looking through the scope of winning the division and having four months until October, the Indians’ sense of urgency hasn’t yet warranted a red alarm-like state.
9. Kipnis: “We’ve talked about it. At the same time, it's more going out and doing it than it is talking about it. But we're talking about it in the sense that we're not trying to panic, we're not trying to force things. We're very capable of putting together a 25-5 month or something like that. It's coming down to where if the offense and pitching gets rolling together, yeah, we like our chances. That's why there was that excitement that we had going into this year. We're fortunate right now, the way the division is playing out so far. Everyone is taking their licks and no one has pulled away, so while we've kind of spun our tires, we're not looking too far up and that's a good thing to have.”
10. The Indians have been stuck in second gear all year, playing well enough to get by but not yet finding the kind of stride that led to a 14-game winning streak last year in June. “Needed” was Indians manager Terry Francona’s word of choice after the game.
11. Francona: “For us to get some runs, and then the way [Tomlin is] pitching, we needed a day like that. It’s one day, but we still—I was happy for our hitters. They were able to relax a little bit. We were running the bases, going first to third. It was a needed game.”
12. Francona has spoken in recent days about the Indians’ need to “get the line moving” offensively. Some of that is also getting the line moving earlier in innings instead of having to pull off two-out rallies a higher percentage of the time.
13. Francona: “Well one, you gotta get it moving. We’ve been at times getting our innings going with two outs. And that doesn’t mean you can’t score. We do that when we’re going good. But it’s a lot harder. You get it going early and then all of a sudden the sac fly comes into play and things like that. Your inning’s not over as soon as somebody rolls over or something. But I think a lot of that is when guys are willing to hit the ball the other way. Because then you’re not rolling over into double plays, things like that.”
14. Josh Tomlin delivered his best start of the season and the fifth complete game of his career. And it came at just the right time.
15. Francona: “I think one, he has to pitch in, because he doesn’t maybe throw as hard as everybody else. He used his curveball more. He was crisp. He didn’t walk anybody. They almost stole a base, but it’s hard to run. You gotta get hits to beat him. And today was one of those days where we say maybe he’ll give up a solo, and boy did he ever, but it was one run. He moved on and Hosmer hit a bullet, but fortunately it was right at Carlos. Other than that, he kind of took the sting out of their bats. The wind was blowing in and he threw strikes and he stayed out of the middle of the plate.”
16. Tomlin has seemingly had a knack for putting a halt to some tough stretches in the past. It’s been mentioned before. He’s had an up-and-down 2017 season—a couple of clunkers in which he couldn’t escape the third inning, a couple of terrific outings into the seventh with only one run allowed. Sunday’s win, both offensively and for Tomlin and the starting rotaion, might have acted as somewhat therapeutic.
17. Kipnis, on Tomlin: “I don't know what the numbers are, but he's always been that stopper for us. Anytime we've needed a win, you look at him and it doesn't matter who he's going against. He was locked in. Before the game, you could see him walking around. He was keeping to himself. You could tell, let him go do what he does. He had a lot of conviction with his pitches today, so he looked really good.”
18. Sunday’s offensive outburst came with Francisco Lindor getting his first day of rest this season. Erik Gonzalez, getting the start, has continued to show what he did in spring training, in that there might not be much of a drop-off, if any, in defensive play with Gonzalez at shortstop instead of Lindor. Showcasing his fluid style of defensive play, Gonzalez made a couple of nice plays look easier than they probably were. Lindor will rarely be out of the lineup, but the Indians do have a luxury in having that option defensively on the bench.
19. Francona: “He’s good. He’s a good defensive shortstop. We’ve always said that. He’s really good defensively. He’s still a work in progress at the plate. He’s done a lot of good things at Triple-A. Up here, he’s played so sparingly it’s kind of hard to tell. But boy, he can catch it. … Well he’s got terrific range. He’s got a good arm. He’s got good carry. He’s got great hands. Defensively, it’s as good as there is.”