The Cleveland Indians fell to the New York Yankees on Sunday afternoon, 3-2, dropping two of three in the weekend series.
This column features my takeaways from Sunday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. The Yankees’ early game plan against Indians hurler Carlos Carrasco was easy to spot.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner tripled to deep center field on the first pitch of the afternoon from the Tribe starter and later scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s deep sacrifice fly to center field, giving New York a 1-0 advantage, a lead they’d never surrender.
Getting after Carrasco early in every at-bat was seemingly on the mind of every Yankees’ hitter, attacking the first good fastball they’d see.
The Yankees were able to add on to their early edge, courtesy of a solo home run by Didi Gregorius in the fourth inning and an RBI double by Mark Teixeira in the fifth. Teixeira’s double would be the difference in the ballgame.
Carrasco seemed to make the necessary adjustments as the game went on, starting to throw a few more first-pitch off-speed and breaking pitches and limiting New York to the three runs and striking out nine over seven innings.
But that early blueprint provided just enough for the Yankees to emerge victorious on Sunday afternoon.
2. The Indians’ offense has been really productive lately, but Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka did enough to keep them quiet.
Tanaka baffled Indians hitters through most of six shutout innings on Sunday, scattering six hits and striking out eight.
He exited after 101 pitches following Rajai Davis’ leadoff double in the seventh. That run eventually came around to score on catcher Roberto Perez’s RBI single, a tally charged to Tanaka.
Cleveland would later add another run in the eighth on a wild pitch in the dirt, scoring Jose Ramirez from third base, but outstanding reliever Dellin Betances eventually squashed the rally by striking out center fielder Tyler Naquin to end the frame.
Catcher Chris Gimenez led off the bottom of the ninth with a long single off the wall, but he was erased by Carlos Santana’s (0-5, 2 K) double play. Betances then got Kipnis swinging to end Sunday’s game.
While the offense scuffled on Sunday, it’s hard to blame them too much for the Indians’ recent skid. Sunday’s game ended a streak of nine straight games scoring five runs or more. Cleveland was 5-4 in those games, averaging 6.2 runs per contest.
3. Cleveland caught a break on Sunday, as the Detroit Tigers lost to the New York Mets, 3-1.
The two defeats will keep the Tribe’s lead in the American League Central at 2.0 games, but there’s nothing comforting about the Indians’ place in the standings. Since the All-Star Break, Cleveland is 10-11 and have watched their AL Central lead reduced from 7.5 games over Detroit.
While the Tribe have struggles, the Tigers are playing their best baseball of the season (15-7 since the Break), and despite key injuries to third baseman Nick Castellanos and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, nothing has indicated Detroit has any plans of letting up anytime soon.
The Indians are currently in an extremely dangerous spot. While they’ve experienced a uncharacteristically poor stretch by their starting rotation, Detroit has charged hard. And yes, while every season features stretches like the Indians are currently on, when those occur and how quickly you can shut them down are often crucial.
4. The Indians certainly don’t want to put themselves in a position where they’ll need help from other teams.
For now, the two-game advantage keeps Cleveland in the driver’s seat. Detroit’s next six games are against tough teams, heading out west to take on the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers on the road next week.
The Indians, meanwhile, face more good pitching on Tuesday and Wednesday against the Washington Nationals and will then return home to play the struggling Los Angeles Angels to begin an 11-game homestand.
We could say this next week will be a big one for both squads, but really, who are we kidding? They’re all pretty big the rest of the way.
For Cleveland: The biggest key will be a return to form by their starting rotation. Two good outings to wrap up their week from hell was a step in the right direction, but if the Indians’ starters aren’t consistently special, just as they’ve been over the balance over the campaign, it will be extremely difficult for the Tribe to be much more than an average club.