As much as most fans would like to blame Chris Perez for every Cleveland Indians loss, the fact of the matter is that the closer only makes up 1/25th of the major league roster. Perez, who has been silencing naysayers like myself since returning from the DL in late June, blew a 2-0 Tribe lead on Monday night while allowing four runs without recording a single out against the first-place Detroit Tigers.
It would be easy to point the finger at the reliably unreliable #54 for setting the mood for the rest of the series, but let’s be realistic: this was a series that the entire 25-man roster blew. From Asdrubal Cabrera’s rough 0-6 night in Wednesday’s marathon game to Zach McAllister’s inability to last more than 2 1/3 innings Thursday night, the fact that some of the team’s key contributors failed to produce in such an important series proved devastating.
Heck, why don’t we go ahead and blame manager Terry Francona for leaving both Justin Masterson (Tuesday) and Danny Salazar (Wednesday) in just long enough to give up deflating, momentum-shifting home runs? And, given that Perez had pitched the previous two nights, let’s fault Francona for trusting in his closer to come through three nights in a row.
While we’re at it, let’s put some blame on GM Chris Antonetti for the Indians’ lack of activity at the recently-passed trade deadline. Antonetti’s only move came in the acquisition of statistically-mediocre reliever Mark Rzepczynski, who was charged with the loss Wednesday night.
Or, are this year’s Cleveland Indians just not as good as we thought they were?
Well, prior to this most recent series against Detroit, the Indians had won ten of their last eleven games while catapulting themselves to the forefront of the American League Wild Card race. Sitting just three games out of first place in the Central division, the series with the Tigers symbolized a pivotal moment for the Tribe: an opportunity to overtake Detroit for first place and prove their legitimacy as a title contender in 2013, or the much less-desired opportunity to fall further out of the division race and continue their trend of falling victim to the talented Tigers yet again this season.
As we now know, the latter option happened.
Indeed, it is a crushing blow to the team and its following, and it greatly decreases the Indians’ chances of winning the AL Central. Before we get our panties in a bunch, though, let’s review all of the information we know and see who is to truly to blame for the Tribe getting swept by their foes from the Motor City.
Monday night’s excellent outing by Corey Kluber, which consisted of 7 1/3 scoreless innings, was ruined by Chris Perez’s ninth-inning collapse. The team was only able to muster two runs against the Annibal Sanchez-led Tigers hurlers. To make matters worse, Kluber was sent to the DL just two days later with a sprained middle finger. He is expected to be out for the next 4-6 weeks.
Indians ace Justin Masterson carried a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning Tuesday night before his self-destruction began and finished in the same inning, five Detroit runs later. On the opposite side, Justin Verlander – who has not been his normally-dominant self in 2013 – pitched a gem en route to stifling the Indians’ bats to just one run on four hits in eight innings of work as the Tigers downed the Tribe 5-1.
Wednesday night’s game, which nearly stretched to the midnight hour (more! more! more!), ended in the 14th inning as the Indians were unable to match Detroit’s two runs from the top-half of the inning. Rookie Danny Salazar posted another very impressive outing, striking out ten Tigers in 7 2/3 innings. One of his few mistakes on the night came in allowing a two-run homer to dead-center to Miguel Cabrera, whom Salazar had struck out three times prior to the late-inning bomb. The Tribe offense continued to struggle throughout the night, though, especially in extras as the team struggled to find any rhythm at the dish. Not that Detroit’s extra-inning offense was much better, but they did end up coming out on top, which obviously counts for quite a bit.
Finally, the series ended with a disappointing thud for the Tribe as the Tigers scored ten runs off of the combination of starter Zach McAllister (6) and recently-promoted reliever Preston Guilmet (4). Once again, the Indians’ bats were silenced by yet another impressive Tigers starter in Max Scherzer, who continued his historic season by improving his record to a ridiculous 17-1. Perhaps the lone bright spot came in the form of outfielder Ryan Raburn – on the mound. Raburn pitched one scoreless inning, even recording a strikeout on an impressive 89-mph fastball.
The smiles created by Raburn’s ninth-inning performance on Thursday night could not overcome the fact that the Indians lost four straight to Detroit, pushing them seven games back behind the Tigers for the division lead as well as three games back behind the Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers for the second Wild Card spot.
So, who is to blame? The Indians’ offense? Terry Francona? Chris Antonetti? The real answer is the Detroit Tigers.
Detroit is currently riding a twelve-game winning streak. They are the most talented team in baseball, stacked from top to bottom. From a star-studded lineup to a deadly rotation, the only department in which the Tigers had been lacking for most of the season was the bullpen. That has since changed with the emergence of Joaquin Benoit as the team’s steady closer and the acquisition of reliever Jose Veras from Houston prior to the trade deadline. Some may still want to blame Antonetti for not matching Detroit’s deadline moves – or even the other Wild Card teams’ deadline moves – but the fact of the matter is that the club is looking towards the future.
The guys in the clubhouse are certainly focused on winning now, and rightfully so, but the gentlemen running the show in the front office were wise to keep a keen eye on the future.
Danny Salazar, who was rumored to be a hot commodity in trade discussions for the Tribe, appears to have a bright future with the Indians and is already starting to contribute at the big-league level. Francisco Lindor, ranked as the number five prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, has the potential to become an elite contributor for the Indians in the coming years. Clint Frazier, who is also ranked as one of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects (54), accompanies youngster Tyler Naquin as the team’s projected outfielders of the future. Not to mention, the club still has the enigma that is Trevor Bauer pitching in Triple-A.
The Indians’ farm system is finally starting to produce quality prospects, and, although the team has experienced quite a bit of success this season, I’m glad that Antonetti & Co. decided to not jump the gun and were willing to let the season play out with the hope of still competing for a playoff spot in 2013. The goal is to sustain a winner, not be a one-year wonder. That is what the front office is hoping to accomplish, and I’m okay with that.
I know patience is hard to come by in Cleveland, given the city’s sports teams’ historically bad track record of falling short in key moments. But, for now, let’s just let the season run its course. I’m still confident that this is a good ball club and will continue to be for the remainder of the season. Regardless of their performance during the remaining portion of the schedule, the Indians organization seems to have finally discovered a foundation to build on at the major-league level while also continuing to ensure a promising future with the influx of talent it currently possesses in the minor-league system.
However, this recent four-game sweep has forced us to accept a harsh reality that, right now, the Detroit Tigers are just a better team than the Cleveland Indians.