CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians won their fifth straight game, knocking off the Miami Marlins on Saturday night, 8-3.
Here are my takeaways from Saturday’s game at Progressive Field. For more baseball analysis, follow me on Twitter @TJZuppe.
1. BIG SWING
It may not have given his club the lead, but perhaps Jason Kipnis’ two-run homer in the bottom of the first was the biggest hit of the game for Cleveland. After falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first, the Indians went to work immediately against Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.
Coco Crisp reached base in the blink of an eye with a lead off double (more on Crisp in a bit), which set the stage for Jason Kipnis to face the talented righty in his first at-bat of the night.
Kipnis took a first pitch curveball from Fernandez, but was ready for the second pitch of the AB, a 95 MPH fastball down and out of the strikezone.
Despite not being a horrendous offering, Kipnis turned on the delivery from Fernandez and drove it over the right-field wall for a two-run blast, immediately getting Cleveland back in Saturday’s contest, trimming Miami’s lead to one run.
One one swing, the Indians had set the tone for what would follow, and Trevor Bauer got a reprieve of sorts for a rough first inning, which he would certainly build on as the game unfolded.
“That changed the game for us right there,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said of the Kipnis blast. “It’s huge. I’m glad they came through, everybody came through today.”
2. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The two-run shot by Kipnis was his 22nd of the season, continuing to add to his career-high as the season progresses. With the increased power has come an ability for the left-handed hitter to bring his hands in and drive the ball when necessary.
Many hitters of the left-handed variety love the ball down and in, but Fernandez’s first-inning pitch to Kipnis was out of the zone, and maybe to some, far enough down and with enough velocity to avoid being crushed.
But Kipnis has been pretty good in that area of the strike zone — or in this case, outside of it — entering Saturday’s game with a .474 slugging percentage vs. pitches in that part of the hitting area this season.
As for the timing of Kipnis’ bomb, the Tribe’s second baseman has had a knack for early homers in 2016. The blast off Fernandez was the left-handed hitter’s ninth in the first inning of games this season.
3. 12-HIT WONDERS
Teams don’t normally get to Fernandez in the ways Cleveland managed to on Saturday night. The Indians offense, which has been so much better at Progressive Field this season, pounded out 12 hits and scored seven runs vs. the Miami ace in the victory.
Fernandez had never allowed 12 hits or more in any game of his professional career until Saturday night. The six earned runs allowed also matched a career-high for the typically dominant righty, who had not allowed a run in his previous 14 innings entering Saturday’s game.
“I thought early, we tried the best we could to lay off the softer stuff, the off-speed pitches, and try to hit his fastball and we did a very good job of that,” manager Terry Francona said. “As he started getting into the game, he started using it more, the off-speed, and it’s tough. It’s hard to hit all of his pitches because they’re so good, but we made him work, got his pitch count up and we were fortunate enough to score runs in the process.”
As far as career highs go, Lindor collected four hits for the first time in his young career, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a walk in the victory. And as for Crisp, the veteran outfielder picked up a double and two singles in his first game back in the lineup for Cleveland since the trade from Oakland earlier this week.
4. SETTLE DOWN
Between a pitching matchup of Fernandez and Trevor Bauer, runs were supposed to be at a premium at Progressive Field on Saturday night, but it didn’t look like that would hold true through the first inning.
At the time, the three runs Bauer allowed in the top of the first appeared to be a huge body blow delivered by Miami, but to the righty’s credit, he didn’t just settle down from there… He dominated.
Bauer managed to hold the Marlins bats silent over the next 7 1/3 innings. Seven of those frames were hitless, as Ichirio Suzuki provided the only base knock off the righty — a leadoff single in the ninth — following the conclusion of the first frame.
Here’s how Saturday’s game broke down for Bauer:
• 1st: 3-for-5, 2 1B, 2B, sac fly, BB, K
• 2nd: 0-for-3
• 3rd: 0-for-2, BB, pickoff
• 4th: 0-for-3, K
• 5th: 0-for-3, K
• 6th: 0-for-2, BB, DP
• 7th: 0-for-3
• 8th: 0-for-3
• 9th: 1-for-2, 1B
“It just looked like he had another gear and he wasn’t just throwing, he was locating,” Francona said. “He really did a good job… You look up in the first inning, you’re thinking, ‘Boy, we might be in our bullpen early’ and he pitches into the ninth inning.”
For Bauer, the solid effort was one of several he has put together recently, posting a 2.61 ERA over his past six starts.
5. TAKE THE W’S
After the sky was falling last week (at least, in the mind of some panicked individuals on social media), the Indians have won five straight, improved to 22 games above .500 for the first time this season and have expanded their lead in the American League Central Division to 5.5 games after Detroit’s loss to Kansas City on Saturday night.
Prior to Saturday night, Cleveland hadn’t climbed 22 games above .500 since winning the final game of the 2013 campaign, finishing with a final record of 92-70. The 2016 version also registered their 78th victory in the fewest amount of games since the 1999 season.
Sure, the last five wins for the Indians have come at the expense of the spiraling Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins. But aren’t they supposed to take advantage of the softer parts of their schedule whenever possible?
As always, perspective is necessary, particularly over the course of a 162-game grind, and it’s important to remember the Indians are on a better current win pace than their 2001 and 2007 counterparts (the franchise’s last two division winners) were through 134 games of their respective seasons.