The Cleveland Indians defeated the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night, 6-1, reducing the Tribe’s magic number to clinch the AL Central Division to 12.
This column presents my takeaways from Wednesday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. MAN IN THE MIRROR
I don’t know if this is a more prominent thought in my head or an actual narrative that exists throughout the fanbase, but I’m going to reiterate it anyhow: Jose Ramirez’s 2016 production has essentially been an average season for Michael Brantley.
And it’s one thing to say something like that just based on all the clutch hits he’s provided or the general thought on how good he’s been with runners in scoring position, but the stats back up that claim with amazing precision.
If you’re skeptical at this point, just sit back and enjoy this wild and unexpected ride.
Here is an average season for Brantley from 2012-2015: .303/.362/.447, 13 home runs, 78 RBI, 38 doubles, two triples, 17 stolen bases, 8.2 BB%, 9.2 K%, 123 wRC+, 623 plate appearances.
Now, here is Ramirez’s current season totals: .312/.363/.459, 10 home runs, 66 RBI, 39 doubles, three triples, 20 stolen bases, 7.0 BB%, 10.6 K%, 120 wRC+, 555 plate appearances.
It’s like looking in a mirror, man!
We’ve written it like 200 times throughout the 2016 campaign, but it’s important to keep stressing it because it’s so true: Ramirez’s production in 2016 has been one of the most important contributions to any team in Major League Baseball this season. It’s only magnified by the fact that Brantley only managed to play in 11 games this season before a second major surgery on his right shoulder/biceps shut him down for good.
And we can’t lose sight of how unexpected the source truly is.
Of course, it was Ramirez again on Wednesday night playing the role of heroic savior, slashing a two-run triple to the right-center field gap in the fourth, an extra-base hit that seemed to take some pressure of a club that has been struggling to bring in runners in scoring position during some recent skids.
Ramirez finished 2-for-4 in the victory with two runs scored and the pair of RBI.
2. MIX IT UP
Wednesday night was a big night for Josh Tomlin and the Indians, as Cleveland received five really good innings from the right-handed starter before turning things over to the bullpen. One start is not enough to use as a basis for any long-term conclusions, but there was plenty of good to take away from an outing that looked nothing like Tomlin’s struggles in the month of August (11.48 ERA in six starts).
The right-handed hurler allowed just one run on four hits, striking out a pair and picking up his first win — if you care about those sorts of outdated pitching stats — since July 30.
One of the easiest things to pinpoint in Wednesday’s win was Tomlin’s ability to mix his pitches far more efficiently than some of his previous efforts in the second half. Prior to July, Tomlin was mixing his cutter in while establishing his four-seam fastball, something the team felt the veteran hurler wasn’t doing enough of during his August issues.
One quick look at this chart from BrooksBaseball indicates his cutter usage continued to elevate through August, while his fastball tosses were lower than any other point in the early portion of the campaign — keep in mind, Tomlin posted a 3.43 ERA over the first four months of the season.
On Wednesday, Tomlin’s pitch usage was a bit more evenly distributed, especially pertaining to his four-seam fastball and cutter percentages. Of his 72 pitches, here’s how the mix broke down in the victory:
• Cutter: 26.4 percent
• Four-seam: 37.5 percent
• Sinker: 18.1 percent
• Curve: 15.3 percent
• Change: 2.8 percent
Are the results enough to indicate the first-half Tomlin has returned? Of course not. But it’s a heck of a building blocker a pitcher who truly needed it. And given what the Indians are fighting for, they needed it even more.
3. SWING, SWING, SWING
First of all, we’ll refrain from using any lame breakfast/Wheaties/cereal puns when it comes to Coco Crisp’s rather big three-run poke to the seats in left field. Haven’t I made enough of a fool of myself on Twitter?
What is interesting is the knockout blow by Crisp off Chicago’s Carlos Rodon — Crisp’s 12th homer of the season and first since rejoining the Indians — was just the third of the campaign for the switch-hitter from the right side of the plate. In fact, southpaws have been a major issue for Crisp this season, entering Wednesday’s game with a .207/.263/.310 slash line vs. left-handed pitching this season.
Given that Crisp will likely be tasked with facing whatever lefties the Indians face in October — yeah, because, you know, Abraham Almonte isn’t eligible for the postseason, did you know that? — the lack or consistent production against southpaws could be a potential problem.
Even given some of those issues, Crisp’s postseason experience, ability to play multiple outfield spots and add an element of late-game speed still made him a solid pickup for a club that needed the help in August.
4. HOLDING ON
A win by the Detroit Tigers over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night kept Cleveland’s lead in the AL Central at 6.0 games, but at this point in the campaign, the Tigers are also racing the clock. And every win by the Indians knocks another grain of dwindling sand from the hour-glass.
After Thursday’s finales (Cleveland-Chicago/Minnesota-Detroit) a pivotal three-game series will begin on Friday between the Indians and Tigers at Progressive Field. The opener of that critical matchup will feature a pair of the AL’s best hurlers, Detroit’s Michael Fulmer and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.
Seven of the final 17 games for the Indians will feature the Tigers as their opponent. Buckle up.