99 Game to Play
The Indianapolis Indians wake up on Monday morning feeling great about the way they are playing baseball. The clubhouse is confident and the coaching staff can see the players buying what they are selling. The tough thing for the Tribe is looking at the IL West Division standings. After 45 games the Indians are 20-25 and sitting 10.5 games behind the division leading Columbus Clippers. OF Andrew Lambo sums it up, “They just don’t lose, it’s kind of frustrating. We just need to play them again and get some wins like we did last week.” More and more it is looking like the Indians turned their season around back on May 13th. Friday the 13th was game one of an 8 game homestand and the first of four games with the Clippers. RHP Brad Lincoln shut down the best offense in the league and the Indians beat Columbus for the first time since August of 2010.
“We finally proved to them and ourselves that we can beat them.” INF Chase d’Arnaud continued, “We lost some close games to them and probably gave some away, but we are a better team than the last time we played them.” Since the Tribe’s 9-4 win over Columbus they have won 8 of their last 10 games and more importantly their 13-8 record is the 2nd best May record in the league. OF Alex Presley likes where the team is right now. “We are playing better and putting it all together during this stretch. We are pitching, hitting, and catching the ball and it’s paid off. Too bad we started 1-30.” That last line was obviously a joke, but it tells you a couple of things. The Indians are playing better, but it’s tough to dig yourself out a deep hole.
The Indians are currently 5 games under .500 for the first time since they were 5-10. It begs the question what has been the difference?
You have to score runs to win baseball games (deep, I know…paid really well to give you kind of knowledge), just asked Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and 2005 Indianapolis Indian Paul Maholm. The Indians offense is scoring roughly one more run per game than they did in April, but the key has been the pitching. LHP Brian Burres (2-2, 2.88 ERA/1.20 WHIP), RHP Brad Lincoln (4-0, 1.80/1.12), LHP Justin Wilson (3-2, 3.00/1.33) have been rock solid for the Indians this month. LHP Rudy Owens is the pitcher right now lacking support, but it has only affected his won-loss record. The 23-year-old Owens is 1-1 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. At the beginning of the season the pitching staff was supposed to be the strength of this team. Clearly at the start of the year it was a major problem and the overmatched offense could not put up the runs to off-set the bad pitching. The pitching is there and that reflects in the team’s record.
Starting pitchers are a lot like quarterbacks. We praise them in victories and pound them during losses. When often times its other players that determine the outcome for a starting pitcher. Four relievers LHP Justin Thomas, LHP Tony Watson, RHP Cesar Valdez, and RHP Tim Wood have been busy this month. They have combined this month for 34 appearances, a 2.06 ERA, and a perfect 6-6 in saves. At least one of the four relievers have been used in 19 of 21 May games. Cesar Valdez has pitched in 10 games this month and Sunday was the third straight game he pitched in. Valdez has pitched in 4 of the Indians last five games and if manager Dean Treanor may make it four straight games. “I know it was his third straight day, but he told me his was good to go. I trust him when he tells me that and if the situation calls from him again, I’ll use him again. He’s been so reliable and has always been there when we’ve needed him.”
The Indians 3.48 May ERA is the 2nd best in the league and they are allowing (H+BB+HB) the 2nd fewest base runners this month. It has been a great month for the Indians and the turn around is reflected in the improved record.
So the Indians have the best record this month in their division and are one of the hottest teams in the league, but still are 10.5 games behind Columbus. There are 99 games remaining in the season and anything can happen between now and the first days of September. Can the Indians catch Columbus? Sure, but let’s rewind to the 2009 season and look at the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The Yankees that year started 20-4 (Columbus this year started 19-5) and the start propelled them to a North Division title. During the 2009 season SWB suffered a 5 game losing streak on three different occasions and they never had a division lead of less than 4 games. You may have read that and thought, who cares, but I find it crazy a fast start can allow a team to have a 5 game losing streak three times and NEVER be threatened in the standings. Let’s hope teh Clippers don’t repeat the feat. The Indians and Clippers will meet 10 more times with only 2 games at Victory Field.
NEWS AND NOTES:
A slight adjustment helped OF Alex Presley snap out of a season worst oh-for-14 skid. “I needed to make an adjustment and it took a few at-bats for it to take place. Brano (hitting coach Jeff Branson) and I are working on seeing the ball better and deeper so that I’m more solid and compact at impact.” Presley is 2nd in the league hitting .335 and his three hits Sunday give him a league best 58 hits. “I know the numbers are there now, but you still have to make adjustments. This isn’t easy and I don’t want to give away any at-bats.” Since opening day the lefty has gone back-to-back days without a hit only twice this season.
INF Chase d’Arnaud is having a big turnaround this month. In May he is hitting .329 and has the 3rd best slugging percentage (.456) on the team this month. He has hits in 17 of 20 games this month (he’s played in 21, but was a PR and didn’t bat) and more importantly he’s playing defense.
“Do you see him more as a SS or a 2B?” That question has been asked quite a bit over the past month by my Twitter followers. I would really like to answer them, but I’m far from an expert. d’Arnaud has been working hard at SS and he still has room to improve. Sunday he made an incredible play deep in the hole at short. Chase went deep in the hole and made a back-handed stop…he jumped in the air and flung the ball across his body…the throw was accurate and 1B Matt Hague dug out a short hop to complete a play that leaves you with no doubt the kid can play at short. Upon further review it looked like he made the play tougher than it was by jumping and throwing across his body. It looked like the type of play where you see a SS make the back-handed stop, plant, and throw on to first base. “You are right, that is a play where you like to see the stop, plant and strong throw. He is working on that type of play.” Manager Dean Treanor continued, “He is getting better, but I’ll tell you what. That takes an incredible amount of athleticism and his arm is extremely accurate.”
I still don’t have an answer, but he gets to just about every ball hit to him whether he is playing at second or short.
RHP Evan Meek completed his rehab assignment and has been added to the Pittsburgh Pirates roster. To make room for Meek the Bucs are sending LHP Daniel Moskos back to Indy. Moskos opened the season with the Tribe pitching in 8 games to a 1.69 ERA. With Pittsburgh he appeared in 5 games including his Major League debut. He allowed one run in 4.2 innings. Moskos is a great guy and I’m looking forward to him sharing some stories from his first stint in the bigs.
The parent club is off today giving Pirates fans the perfect opportunity to listen to their Triple-A affiliate. Lincoln is on the mound tonight seeking his 5th straight win and the Indians are looking for their 10th win in their last 12 games. You can hear the Indians tonight beginning at 6:15 with the first pitch from Scranton at 6:35. Find the Tribe on wnde.com, indyindians.com, or on 1260 am in Indianapolis on the iheartradio app.