CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians defeated the Chicago White Sox on Friday, 10-4, reducing the Tribe’s magic number to clinch the American League Central Division to three.
This column presents my takeaways from Friday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
In the bottom of the fourth, the Indians trailed the White Sox 2-0 when the left field scoreboard at the top of the bleachers stopped responding. As Mike Napoli’s at-bat unfolded, the board continued to show a 0-0 count with one down in the bottom of the frame.
Napoli snapped his 0-for-21 skid with a one-out single in the plate appearance, which brought Cleveland’s most consistent hitter in 2016, Jose Ramirez, to the dish.
The at-bat vs. Chicago starter Miguel Gonzalez began to unfold as graphics on the scoreboard began to change in an attempt to remedy the frozen portions of the massive video screen. Eventually, the entire board was cleared and reverted back to a 0-0 score before finally resetting during Ramirez’s plate appearance.
Seconds after the count shifted to 1-2, the scoreboard finally reset with the proper game setting, and Ramirez turned on 90.7 MPH two-seam fastball from Gonzalez, depositing the offering in the right field stands to tie Friday’s game, 2-2.
Just as the video board reset, so did the Indians’ offense, who recovered from the scoreless three innings to open Friday’s matchup to score twice in the fourth, four times in the fifth and four more in the sixth to blow the first game of the three-game set wide open.
Appropriate? Or just a total coincidence? Regardless of what you believe, it appears the turn-it-off-and-turn-it-back-on method worked for more than just the scoreboard on Friday night.
2. GAME FACE
Coco Crisp’s first 14 games back with his old club haven’t exactly been of the storybook variety, entering Friday’s game with a .176/.300/.324 slash line over his first 34 at-bats since being acquired at the end of last month from the Oakland Athletics.
Knowing Crisp will need to pick up some of the slack for the playoff ineligible Abraham Almonte in October, the Indians could greatly benefit from some improved production from the veteran switch-hitter. So, if Friday night was a sign of things to come, Cleveland will certainly be pleased.
Crisp drove in three runs and collected a trio of hits for the sixth time this season, helping the offense spread things out in the middle portions of the series opener at Progressive Field. Two of his three hits came with runners in scoring position, lifting his season average with RISP to a league-best .403 (31-for-77).
“I thought he looked a little more comfortable tonight,” manager Terry Francona said. “Even the first couple at-bats, he fouled a couple back, but you could see he was on balance and he was taking nice passes. It’d be really nice to get him going like he can, like he did tonight.”
Crisp admitted he’s changed his approach a bit since coming over to Cleveland. Perhaps instead of being aggressive and looking for his pitch early in the count, the veteran outfielder felt like maybe he had got a little too picky at the plate.
And he feels like that needs to change.
“It’s more like an attitude, that swag you have to walk up to the plate with,” Crisp said. “That’s something that moving forward I want to make sure I don’t lose touch with.
“I want to be the in on-deck circle a little meaner than I have been for a week or so. Just ready, have that kind of mean face. Nothing against the guy I’m facing, it’s just that personality that you have to have, even if you’re on the mound or if you’re stepping in the box.”
3. CENTURY MARK
Mike Napoli became Cleveland’s first 100-RBI man since Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez each drove in 100 in 2007, as Napoli snapped the 0-for-21 skid by going 3-for-5 with three runs scored and a pair of runners knocked in.
The 34-year-old right-handed slugger also became the oldest member of the Indians to drive in 100 runs since Luke Easter had 103 RBI at the age of 35 in 1951.
Of course, RBI isn’t always the most efficient way to gauge an offensive player’s season — after all, you need guys on base in front of you to drive in runs — but it’s just one of many things Napoli has brought to the table for Cleveland in 2016.
If anything, the 100-RBI feat is an indicator of how well the Indians have operated as a complete unit this season, never relying on just one person to shoulder the burden of being the only run producer.
“It’s something nice,” Napoli said. “To be able to do it and be on a winning team, it’s even better. I can’t do it without the people around me. We’ve been complementing each other really well as a lineup. They give me the opportunities to get them.”
The home run struck by Avisail Garcia off Indians starter Trevor Bauer in the top fifth may have been one of the oddest you’ll see at any point this season.
Garcia’s swing wasn’t impressive, the ball didn’t carry with any sort of real authority, yet the 91.5 MPH offering found itself settling just beyond the right field wall near the drink rails to the left side of the foul pole for a two-run shot, which briefly gave the White Sox a 4-2 advantage.
But just how weird was the opposite field blast? Well, for starters, the ball left Garcia’s bat with an exit velocity of 95.2 MPH and a launch angle of 38 degrees.
What does that mean in English?
Well, if you combine those two stats and look at the average production of a Major League player that pulls those factors together, the expected batting average, per Baseball Savant, is .106.
In other words, on average, when a Major League hitter hits the ball like Garcia did in the fifth, it only results in a base hit just over 10 percent of the time. And yet that combination off Bauer led to a two-run blast, the second of the two round-trippers the righty allowed on Friday night.
For some additional clarity, 17 balls registered higher exit velocities in the opener than Garcia’s opposite field dinger, which was also had the lowest hit expectancy of any base hit on Friday night.
“That was ridiculous,” Bauer said. “He hit it. I jammed the crap out of him. He looked to left field because he thought he pulled it. I have no idea how that was a homer. That’s the way things are going for me personally right now. I can’t seem to keep from giving up runs.”
As far as that goes, Bauer gave up four runs in 7 2/3 frames, overcoming the pair of homers to actually pitch a little better than his final line score indicated. The righty was efficient, tossing 74 of his 110 pitches for strikes.
“He’s durable as all get out,” manager Terry Francona said. “He has a way of kind of hanging in there.”