The Cleveland Indians, trailing by a run and facing Texas closer Sam Dyson, loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth, but the Rangers’ righty struck out Tyler Naquin and induced a flyout to center by Abraham Almonte to clinch Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Tribe.
Here are some takeaways Sunday’s game and the state of the Indians. If you want more baseball analysis, you can follow me on Twitter @TJZuppe.
• I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. The good news? Danny Salazar produced his best outing since July 19, which was his third start prior to landing on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation and his final outing before his velocity dropped in the two starts prior to the DL stint. The bad news? The Indians managed one run or fewer in six of the seven games on the road trip.
• Let’s start with the biggest positive: Salazar’s velocity has returned, but on Sunday, so did his command — appearing to finally start shaking off some of the rust that built up over his two-week rest period. Part of his ineffectiveness in his first two outings since being activated — nine runs over five innings — probably falls on the Indians for miscalculating how long it would take Salazar to get back in the swing of things.
• Regardless, his 5 1/3 innings of five-hit, two-run ball were as good as we’ve seen the All-Star hurler in some time. Salazar also registered 10 strikeouts and had far better command over his secondary pitches, using his split-change 28 percent of the time on Sunday, up from 12 and 19 percent over his last two respective outings. He also recorded swing and misses 25.9 percent of the time on that pitch.
• While it may not have been a tremendously deep game or even completely dominating, holding the Rangers in that ballpark to two runs in just over five innings, considering how his previous outings had gone, was perfectly acceptable and a step in the right direction.
• Salazar’s performance was also a good sign for the state of the rotation, a set of five guys who would probably like to see the calendar flipped to the month of September sometime soon. August has been a bear for the Tribe’s talented and typically dominating staff. Outside of Corey Kluber, who continues to elevate himself into an obvious choice for American League Cy Young Candidate, every hurler in the rotation has had some hiccups (or flat-out belches) this month.
• Here are the numbers for the six Tribe hurlers who have started at least one game for the Indians this month (via fangraphs.com):
• Here is how those numbers compare to their stats in July:
• With that much inconsistency (or in some cases, much, much worse) getting Salazar back on track is one of the biggest hurdles Cleveland will need to clear in the final month of the 2016 campaign. Make no mistake, for as good as the Indians’ offense has been for most of this season, their fate still lies in the hands of their starting pitching, the area the club is built upon.
• The Indians will not win the AL Central division without their rotation pitching like they are capable. That means they’ll need a lot more of the Salazar they saw on Sunday against a good Texas lineup.
• Now for the unavoidable bad: What an awful, awful road trip for Cleveland’s bats. A unit which has operated under the umbrella of a top 10 offense in baseball statistically this season, the 2-5 record against Oakland and Texas was largely due, in addition to some less-than-stellar starting pitching, to some absolutely dreadful offensive support. Here is how the seven games looked in run totals: 1, 1, 1, 0, 12, 0, 1.
• Outside of the random breakthrough on Friday night against the Rangers, the Tribe’s offense was spitting out binary code all week. Courtesy of some research by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, the seven starters the Indians faced during the road trip combined for a 1.79 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .204 opponents’ average in 45.1 innings. And sure, the Indians saw a talented hurler like Cole Hamels this week, but they were also tasked with squaring off against guys like Andrew Triggs, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, and A.J. Griffin.
• Of the group they faced, Cleveland’s bats only managed to have success against lefty Martin Perez. Four of the starters the Indians saw in the seven games were lefties, and in fact, the Tribe will be seeing quite a few more southpaws when they return home on Monday. All three of the hurlers Minnesota will toss against Cleveland are lefties. The Indians entered Sunday’s game ranked 17th in baseball with a .752 OPS vs. left-handed pitching.
• If the offense is looking for a boost of any kind, perhaps returning home to Progressive Field for matchups against the Twins, Miami Marlins and Houston Astros can get the bats jump started. Cleveland is slashing .293/.357/.482 at home and averaging 5.8 runs per game at Progressive Field this season.
• Thanks to a Detroit loss, the Indians maintain their 4.5 game lead in the AL Central entering Monday’s homestand against Minnesota. Of course, that’s still a very enviable spot for Cleveland, and many would have taken that scenario if presented with it at the start of the 2016 campaign.
• But their lead will only remain a lead for so long. Despite the Tigers’ series loss to the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit has been playing some of their best ball recently. And the Kansas City Royals should not be forgotten, playing even better baseball than Detroit and closing in on second place in the division. Cleveland cannot afford to sit back and rest on the lead they had built earlier this season.
• The Indians’ advantage was trimmed by three games over the past week, and the only thing that will keep Detroit and Kansas City at bay in the long run is improved play by Cleveland. A bad week isn’t the end of the world, but it can’t build to that by the Tribe letting a poor week become much, much worse.
• Minnesota enters the upcoming series riding a 10-game losing streak. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Twins have been their Kryptonite this year, owning a 5-8 record against the last-place club.