HOUSTON — The Indians' hitting through two games of the American League Division Series has been overpowered by the Houston Astros’ elite pitching staff, led by two Cy Young-level starters.
If the Indians are to have any hope of rebounding quickly enough to rattle off three consecutive wins to advance, and eliminate the Astros the same way they were bounced from last year’s postseason by the New York Yankees, the lineup must find a way to kick into gear.
In first two games, the Indians scored just three runs on six hits — and much of that came after the Astros already held a commanding lead in Game 1.
“They did a great job of executing pitches and they’ve taken advantage of some of our aggressiveness in some counts,” Josh Donaldson said. “But good hitting offenses are aggressive. We just have to do — I know especially for myself — I have to do a better job of getting in the zone what I’m looking for.”
Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Game 1 and in Game 2, Gerrit Cole struck out 12, the most by any pitcher in a game against the Indians this season. Both routinely throw in the high 90s. Both have devastating breaking balls. The Indians have been left without an answer against two of the game’s best.
“They locate. They execute,” said Francisco Lindor, who launched a solo home run for the Indian' lone run in Game 2. “They've done a very, very good job. ... As the offense, we've got to do a little better job. ... You make the adjustments, continue to grind and play the game."
Healthy at last
This isn’t Michael Brantley’s first postseason, but it is the first full series in which he’s been able to contribute as a healthy player. And, for him, that’s a relief, even if he hasn’t found much room to operate against the Astros' pitching staff.
Brantley went 1-for-4 in the 2013 wild card game, but that was a one-and-done game. He sat out the entire 2016 postseason and run to the World Series with an ongoing shoulder issue. Last year, he was on the Indians' roster for the ALDS against the Yankees, but an ankle injury limited him to only 11 at-bats — and only one hit — and he clearly wasn’t his normal self at the plate.
So this ALDS has given one of the Indians’ mainstays his first legitimate postseason series. Being able to be on the field is something Brantley can appreciate after a lengthy, rocky road back to the everyday lineup.
“It's great. It's a lot of hard work that paid off,” Brantley said before Game 2 when asked about being able to go through a healthy season. “A lot of hard work that doctors and trainers put in for me to get here. My teammates, first and foremost, were always pushing me, being positive, being my support system, and just being back with them, a great group of guys in the locker room to compete every day. It's fun. It's a great journey.”
Two years ago, as the Indians went on their improbable run to extra innings of Game 7 in the World Series, all Brantley could do was watch, knowing he couldn’t take the field. In effect, it relegated him to becoming an assistant coach. It’s all he could do.
“I really looked to do whatever I could do to help the team,” Brantley said. “I really looked to myself as a coach. I was talking to guys about at-bats. I was talking to them about their approach with certain pitchers. If anyone had a question of me, I made sure I was in the dugout cheering them on and made sure they knew I was there. I accepted the role, even though I didn't want to. I'd rather be out there playing with them. But I really tried to make sure I was there for my teammates, whatever they needed.”
Now, he can actually step into the batter’s box in October knowing he’s fully healthy. For Brantley, it’s been a long time coming.
Adam Cimber got his first postseason action in Game 1 and delivered a scoreless inning to settle down an already-partying Minute Maid Park crowd.
Cimber has been considered a key to this series against a right-handed-heavy Astros lineup.
"Really well. Really well,” Indians manager Terry Francona said when asked how he thought Cimber handled the situation. “And I thought that was important to get him in there, especially as right-handed as they are. I thought he was fine. I didn't not think he would be, but it's his first time. I'm sure he had a heartbeat going."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.