CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians outlasted the Chicago White Sox in the first matchup of a three-game series at Progressive Field, 3-1.
This column features my takeaways from Tuesday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. KLUBER CRUISES
Given how well Corey Kluber is throwing the ball now, any early-season conversation about something being wrong with the Tribe’s ace seems ridiculous. Kluber turned in another gem, tossing six innings of one-run ball, limiting Chicago to seven hits and two walks, while striking out seven in the process.
Over his past seven starts, the righty has posted 1.65 ERA over 49 innings pitched. The stellar stretch is pretty reminiscent of the type of roll Kluber got on during his 2014 run to the American League Cy Young.
And with each start, his 2016 bid to become a two-time winner looks better and better. A lot of that stems from his ability to make some adjustments off of how hitters were attacking him early in the campaign, ambushing the first good fastball they saw. Now, Kluber is mixing in more sinkers and sliders/curves to keep hitters off-balance.
You can certainly say it’s working well.
“You’ve heard me say it,” manager Terry Francona said. “As guys get some experience, it’s not like they’re necessarily going to throw harder, but they also know the league, they know themselves and, as long as they stay healthy, they understand sometimes what teams are doing, and they’re able to make adjustments. He’s a good [pitcher].”
2. QUICK INNINGS
Tuesday’s win certainly fell in line with the club’s new blueprint: Pitch well, get a lead, turn things over to the Andrew Miller-reinforced bullpen. And they’re learning to love when a plan comes together.
One of the most surprising parts of Miller’s first few outings with Cleveland is how efficiently he’s taking care of the opposition. It took just 16 pitches for the lanky lefty to breeze through two scoreless innings on Tuesday, picking up a strikeout but letting his defense go to work behind him.
His ability to take care of hitters quickly has enabled Francona to use the talented hurler in multi-inning situations, and Miller has responded beautifully. Over his last three appearances, opposing hitters are 0-for-15 vs. Miller with five strikeouts, nine ground outs, one fly out and one walk.
“I feel like, if I’m going to throw two innings, I might as well throw them as quickly as possible,” he said. “Fortunately I was able to hand Cody the ball in pretty good shape and give Kluber the win.”
And that’s exactly how Tuesday’s victory played out; Miller gave way to Cody Allen, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up his 23rd save of the season and continue the theme of using the team’s best relievers in the most advantageous spots for them and the team.
3. INFIELD DEFENSE MATTERS
The left side of the Indians’ infield was extremely active on Tuesday night, with third baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop Francisco Lindor flying all around the diamond to make several impressive plays.
“We played a good defensive game,” Francona said. “In the first inning, we had that one play where we kind of threw it around a little bit, but nothing really happened. Then, after that, we played a really good defensive game, and we had to. Those are the kind of games where if somebody makes a mistake, you lose.”
4. HOTTER CORNER
Solid defense has been a big part of the Indians’ formula throughout the year — ranking eighth in Major League Baseball in defensive runs saved, fourth in UZR and eighth in fewest errors.
But more notably, the individual defense of Jose Ramirez seems to have picked up recently, right around the time the 23-year-old took over every day duties at the hot corner following the MLB trade deadline. Earlier this season, Ramirez was bouncing between left field and third base, but since settling into third, he certainly looks more comfortable and confident at the position.
“I get it, because he’s going back and forth,” Francona said. “And the brunt of his work was in the outfield, because he hadn’t played there. But, now that he’s just been there, you can see he’s getting his legs under him. His reactions are quicker. The ball has more carry.”
The person directly to Ramirez’s left — Francisco Lindor — also believes the young infielder has benefited from an ability to settle into just one position.
“That calms him down,” Lindor said. “He knows he’s going to be in the lineup day in and day out. He knows he’s got to work hard to help us day in and day out.”
5. DIVISION DOMINANCE
The latest narrative — the Indians can’t beat the good teams! — is just about as accurate and important as many scorching hot takes. But in a world where the Indians now lead the AL Central by six games over the Detroit Tigers, the takes just keep getting hotter.
It’s no secret that Cleveland has dominated the Central this season. Overall, the Tribe owns a 32-16 record in their division in 2016 — a mark which would be even better if the Indians could figure out the enigma that is the last-place Minnesota Twins.
Outside the AL Central, the Indians have compiled a record of 14-9 against the AL West and 12-17 vs. the AL East. And you know what all of those records will mean in October? Diddly poo.
How the Indians perform in six-game sample sizes against teams spread out over six months is about as predictive as asking your dog to pick NFL games on Sunday based on which food bowl he eats out of.
A record against a good team might mean everything. It might mean absolutely nothing.
Just like four of the past six World Series winners (who finished with losing records against the top four teams in their respective league that season), why in the world would you waste any time worrying about something so potentially unimportant?
Here’s what’s really important in baseball: Make the postseason. That’s it. So much of who advances in the playoffs comes down to is playing the best at the right time. And what is a great formula for reaching October? Playing well against the squads in your own division.
This year, no one in the Central is doing a better job of that than Cleveland.