Second Thoughts: Game #116 - Indians 6, Angels 2
|W: J. Masterson (9-10) L: C. Wilson (9-9) S: C. Perez (32)|
Like he did in his last start to halt the Tribe’s 11-game slide, Justin Masterson was sharp on Monday in delivering his team a much-needed win to get the west coast road trip off to a good start. Tallying his ninth win on the season, Masterson now owns a 3-0 record with a stellar 1.35 ERA in seven career starts against the Halos. Sharp pitching and a few timely hits, sprinkled with some defensive wizardry was the recipe for the Indians’ 6-2 win against the Angels. An added bonus— the Tribe beat the usually tough lefty, C.J. Wilson; yep, it was a feel-good Monday for a Tribe ball club that has recently seen quite the personnel overhaul.
Masterson bests potent lineup: Justin Masterson and his six-plus innings of shutout baseball paved the way for this win. In addition to not allowing a run, he also didn’t yield any hits with runners in scoring position (0-for-6). Masterson looked sharp throughout his start, working around leadoff walks in the 1st and 3rd innings by staying aggressive, not overthrowing, and trusting his defense. One example of relying on his defense came in the 6th, when Masterson got a line-drive double play before Casey Kotchman made a nice snag on a grounder to end the inning. His slider and sinker both had sharp movement, as he induced many big chopping grounders off well-executed pitches that buried Angels hitters.
Masterson allowed a mere two hits through the first five frames before showing some signs of faltering in the 6th and 7th. Of his 99 pitches, 56 of them went for strikes, a tad lower than a starting pitcher would typically want to see; however, Masterson has a ton of movement on his pitches and will attempt to get hitters to swing and miss on his pitch out of the zone, especially on the low sinker. Strike ratios aside, the bottom line is he delivered six shutout innings and put his team in a position to win. A quality-start was a must since Indians hitters had to face a tough lefty, and Masterson delivered against a lineup that features some gaudy individual numbers.
Tribe hitters take advantage: Los Angeles’ starter, C.J. Wilson is known as a bit of a nibbler, as he strives like any pitcher to get the first pitch strike, but after doing so will throw plenty of balls. Brent Lillibridge led off the 3rd inning by reaching on a Howie Kendrick error, followed by a Kotchman ground out that advanced Lillibridge to second. Lou Marson didn’t give in to Wilson’s nibbling and worked a full-count walk to put runners on first and second. On the brilliantly aggressive play that followed, the base-runners took off for a double-steal on the first pitch, which Jason Donald slapped to center field for an RBI single that scored Lillibridge and put runners on the corners. Asdrubal Cabrera followed suit with an RBI single of his own.
While this might not seem like a big deal (two runs in the 3rd inning), it was a series of small victories that concluded with the Tribe taking advantage of an error and a walk to plate the first two runs of the game to give their starter an edge in what was shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel. Timely hitting has plagued the Indians for so much of the season that to see them come through with key hits in a tight game is cause for celebration. Although Cleveland hitters didn’t rock Wilson, they got his pitch count over 50 in the 3rd, likely preventing a deep outing. Lillibridge swatted a solo shot to add a third run in the 4th inning. Taking advantage of the opposition’s mistakes to build a lead in the first half of the game allows the Tribe to rely on its strength— the bullpen.
Mr. Smith to the rescue: After Masterson allowed the first two hitters to reach in the 7th, Manny Acta yanked him in favor of Joe Smith, who came in to douse a two-on, none out jam. He promptly induced a Kendrick fly out, followed by two timely strikeouts against Erick Aybar and Chris Iannetta, respectively. Smith showed no fear, as he predominately trusted his slider to get him out of the inning. The slider danced all around Angels bats, and Smith was able to escape without allowing either inherited runner to score. Superlative relief appearances like this one are commonplace with the formidable setup duo of Smith and Pestano, but they should not go unappreciated, as it was crushing to Los Angeles not to score on three cracks with a runner in scoring position.
Insurance in the 9th: As impressive as the early runs were for the Tribe offense, the three insurance runs they plated in the 9th were equally as welcomed. Cleveland led off the inning with three straight singles from Carrera, Lillibridge, and Kotchman off Hisanori Takahashi. He was pulled in favor of 39 year old Jason Isringhausen, who walked Lou Marson to push a runner across. Pinch-hitting Jason Kipnis lifted a pitch to the warning track for a sac fly, then Kotchman scored in the following at-bat on a wild pitch. Again, without the benefit of a bases-clearing hit, the Indians were able to patiently piece together a multi-run inning by taking what the opposing pitcher was giving them. The bases loaded bug didn’t bite them this time, as Cleveland hitters came through with key run-scoring at-bats. The team’s 3-for-8 mark with runners in scoring position highlights the Tribe’s ability to come through with timely hitting in this game.
Pestano bends, does not break: After Joe Smith’s dazzling 7th inning, Vinnie P encountered some rocky waters in the 8th. He issued a leadoff free pass to the American League’s leading base-stealer, Mike Trout, before inducing a Torii Hunter fly out. The next hitter, Albert Pujols turned on a high-inside fastball that sailed over the left field wall for a two-run homer, which cut the lead to one. Luckily, Pestano recovered and recorded outs against Morales and Trumbo to pickup his AL-leading 32nd hold. Pestano was visibly upset with himself in the dugout, likely over the walk, as opposed to getting beat by one of the game’s best hitters. Yet, the important point is that he escaped with the lead, plus his offense picked him up by bolstering the lead in the next frame.
Cabrera’s bare-handed gem: The Indians defense racked up three double plays in Monday’s game, in addition to flashing some impressive leather. The best of the bunch came in the 1st inning with a runner on third base and two outs. Cabrera was lined up on the other side of second base for the shift against Kendrys Morales, when a chopper seemed destined to squirt right past where Cabrera would usually be playing, yet he snagged the ball with his bare hand and rifled a throw across his body to get the runner at first. This defensive highlight was crucial because it kept a dreaded 1st inning run from crossing the plate. This impressive play made it easy for Masterson to relax and trust the defense behind him.
3 Most Wanted
Perez in the 9th: I can understand Acta’s thought process in saving his closer for another game since his offense widened the lead to four in the top half of the 9th inning, but I don’t agree with bringing Esmil Rogers in to start the inning. Chris Perez was coming off a day of rest and had only pitched four times the previous nine days. He was already warming up in anticipation of protecting a one-run lead, Rogers is known to have appearances where he can’t throw strikes, and a four-run lead isn’t exactly insurmountable, so I don’t understand why he’d sit Perez down, only to have him warm up again and ultimately come in to prevent a rally.
More from the middle: The four-through-six hitters in the lineup (Santana, Brantley, and Duncan) went 1-for-11 in this game. Oddly, it was the bottom of the order that set the table for the top of the lineup to drive them in. That offensive breakdown got the job done for this game, but it isn’t sustainable.
Less leadoff hitters allowed: Angels leadoff hitters reached in six of their nine opportunities, including each of the final four innings. Again, this statistical oddity didn’t burn them in this game, as just one of the six came around to score because Los Angeles couldn’t notch a hit with runners in scoring position, but continually letting leadoff runners reach base, especially late in the game, is living dangerously.
Thanks to Adam for providing those stats, but I know what you mean, Shy. Choo seems to be prone to a huge disparity in good and bad games. It seems like he sandwiches a 3 or 4 hit game with two ugly 0-fers and vice versa. Still, he's an important piece in an injury-depleted lineup that was pedestrian to begin with.
Career .854 OPS in July
.857 in August