Thursday morning, my mom and I were chatting about the perplexities of baseball and bemoaning the fact that the Detroit Tigers, one of the worst teams in the Major League Baseball, had somehow been able to sweep the Seattle Mariners when the Cleveland Indians, ostensibly a better team than the Tigers, had dropped three of four games against the Mariners the previous weekend.
She asked how it was possible for the Indians to lose to bad teams. I explained that in the Majors, all the players are there for a reason, they’re of a certain caliber. That any team has the ability to beat any other team in the MLB - it’s just a matter of whether they will do it or not, and when.
Jim Rosenhaus recalled, late in Friday night’s humiliating loss to the Minnesota Twins, that Indians manager Terry Francona had said before the game that you don’t want to be the team to get the Twins going again.
And then the Indians went and did exactly that.
I haven't followed an Indians game this bad since Opening Day 2011 when we were decimated by the Chicago White Sox. I remember that game well because I was there. I'd approached my first Indians home opener with great anticipation, and by the middle of the 4th inning, the Indians were already down 14-0.
Last night's game was actually worse. At least in that 2011 game, the Indians eventually got some runs, for a final score of 15-10. The fans who stuck around had something to cheer about in the later innings.
The Indians couldn't even score one measly run in last night's pathetic excuse for a game, against Randy Dobnak no less. Dobnak came in with an ERA of 8.16 having just been brought back from the minors. Who is accountable for this?
But first, let's talk pitching.
We know Triston McKenzie can’t go long and struggles with his command. In the eight games he's started this season, he's made it out of the fifth inning only twice and has walked a whopping 30 batters. Why did it seem like the Indians management hadn't planned for that? Why not just assume it’s going to be a bullpen game?
The bullpen was well-rested after an off day preceded by two seven-inning starts from Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac. Why did we end up with Phil Maton out there with bases loaded and only one out in the 4th?
When Maton entered the game the score was 3-0. It already felt like that was the end of it, for an insipid Indians offense currently showing about as much life as that pillbug curled up on your baseboard heater.
The bullpen should have more accountability for inherited runners scored. That should be their most important statistic. In fact, why should we even care about wins or losses, or even ERA when it comes to the bullpen? These guys have a specific job. That job is to take over when the starting pitcher is losing it or has reached his pitch limit, which means there are frequently men on base when the relief pitcher enters the game.
The sole purpose of the bullpen is to not let those guys reach home plate. Maton failed spectacularly at his job last night. He not only allowed McKenzie's three runners on base to score but let in four more runs entirely on his own. He was only able to get one out. That's essentially a perfect example of what not to do.
The decision to bring Maton in, rather than put together a well-planned bullpen strategy knowing McKenzie was unlikely to make it past the fourth inning, is on manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis. The top guys in our bullpen are good enough to get us through multiple innings. Shane Bieber pitches today and we can anticipate (hope?) he will go long, giving the bullpen arms a break afterward.
The lone bright spot of last night's game was the debut of Jean Carlos Mejia, who pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit and no walks and striking out five. Mejia joined the Indians last Tuesday after the club optioned shortstop Andres Gimenez to Triple-A Columbus. Whether Mejia will earn a spot in the rotation remains to be seen, but the Indians can only wait for McKenzie's command to improve for so long if they have any hope of contending.
Back to that offense
It matters very little how many runs the pitchers give up if the offense is getting shut out. 10-0 or 1-0, it's still a loss.
Sure, this is a young team. The youngest in baseball, they say. But when you have the same offensive issues year after year with completely different players? You have to look for the factor that’s stayed the same, and that factor is Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo.
Van Burkleo has been with the team since 2013. In that time, we’ve seen largely the same offense with the same offensive woes: Poor hitting in the clutch, an inability to hit off-speed pitches, lackluster performances against nobody pitchers. My husband and I joke sardonically that if an opposing team's pitcher comes into a game with an ERA of 8 or more, he’s going to be a superstar against the Tribe. That's exactly what happened last night.
I like how broadcasters and news writers have a tendency to say things like “Dobnak silenced the bats for the Indians.” No, actually, the Indians silenced their own bats, as they’ve had a tendency to do throughout this season.
They’ve been no-hit twice (and given how young the season still is, could possibly become the first team to be no-hit three times in a single season) and shut out a total of four times.
In my house, during most evenings of the Cleveland Indians baseball season, the radio is on in our dining room. We’ve been listening to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus call the games for the Tribe for as long as we’ve lived in Cleveland.
Our dining room is less traditional than most. It’s part dining room, part lounge, part sports bar. During the baseball season, we have Indians paraphernalia on the walls and bobbleheads in our china cabinet.
We also have a Jobu doll, the voodoo deity from the film Major League. Jobu typically has an Indians shot glass filled with rum in front of him, but when the Indians go into a slump, we take Jobu's rum away. We gave it back to him last night in the hopes of shaking things up.
That’s baseball, right? If something isn’t working, including your superstition, you have to try something else. But alas, even Jobu could not heal the sick bats of the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.
The fans in attendance deserved better
Who really lost here? The fans, particularly those attending the game. Jim Rosenhaus said there was a “good crowd on hand”. Turns out it was a sell-out (officially recorded at 11,675), given the 40% capacity restrictions in place for May.
It was the first Dollar Dog night of the season. It was the first post-game fireworks display It was a gorgeous Friday night, picture-perfect for a baseball game.
Imagine, if you will (and it probably isn't much of a stretch), that you’ve been holed up in your house for the majority of the past 14 months. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a ballgame. You got your vaccines, you’re feeling pretty good about your safety and the protocols the Indians have in place. So you gather up the family and head to the ballpark. And this is what you get?
Of course, there’s no guarantee when you attend a game that your team is going to win. But as a fan, you've made the effort to be there. You bought tickets. You drove downtown from Willoughby or Parma or Rocky River or wherever you call home.
You found a parking spot, paid for it, trekked to Progressive Field. You probably spent some money at the concession stand, too. You cheered for your team.
You showed up.
The least you deserved, last night, was for the Indians to show up as well. I’m sorry it didn’t happen.