Tribe Bats Struggle Again As Axford Gives Up Another Big Home Run
The lineup fails to support McAllister as Tribe loses in 10
In a season dominated by the narrative about the Indians’ inability to score runs, Monday’s game fit right in. The Indians fell to the Twins 1-0 in 10 innings through backup shortstop Eduardo Escobar’s long ball off of closer John Axford, marking Axford’s second poor performance in as many days.
The lone positive from this game is obvious: Zach McAllister did exactly what a pitcher is supposed to do against a lineup missing two of its best hitters. McAllister held the Twins scoreless over 6 2/3 innings, allowing just five hits and a single walk while fanning a career-best eight. McAllister’s command was impeccable throughout the game, and he did an excellent job mixing his pitches to keep opposing hitters off balance. His two-seamer is becoming a nice weapon for him, as he caught more than a couple Twins looking at strike three on tailing fastballs that started just off the plate only to run back in and catch the outside corner. McAllister now has a 3.18 ERA to go along with a 1.21 WHIP, and is solidifying himself as a bonafide mid-rotation option for the Tribe moving forward (and proving idiots like me wrong).
Unfortunately for McAllister, he was matched pitch for pitch by Kyle Gibson, who continued his smoke-and-mirrors act against the Tribe by tossing seven innings of two-hit ball, walking three and striking out only one. Gibson had struggled mightily in his previous two outings, so it was disappointing to see the Tribe fail to even get a base runner past second base. Although it’s easy to point at the 1:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and say the Indians should have done more at the plate, they weren’t exactly crushing balls left and right. Gibson reminds me a lot of Chris Young*, a tall pitcher whose fastball is tougher to square up than the velocity would indicate. Throw in the cold temperatures and swirling wind, and it’s not hard to ascertain why the Indians failed to push a single run across the plate.
*It should be noted Gibson generates over 50% ground balls while Young is as extreme a fly ball pitcher as there is, although he did get 13 fly ball outs to seven ground ball outs against the Tribe Monday.
But whatever you may think of Kyle Gibson, the lack of offense is a huge problem (duh). The bigger issue is there’s not much the team can do personnel-wise other than hope their guys turn things around. It’s not as if the team can promote Jesus Aguilar and play him instead of Nick Swisher or go out and trade for someone like Andre Ethier. This is the lineup they will have for the rest of the season (save for the injured Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn), so it’s simply a matter of the guys already here stepping up their performances. Jim Thome and Albert Belle ain’t walking through that door.
The bullpen, in classic Tribe fashion, was excellent all the way up until the closer entered the game. Bryan Shaw continued his excellent work, striking out eventual home run hero Eduardo Escobar with two men on to end the seventh and then pitching a clean eighth innings. Cody Allen worked around a Danny Santana infield single to retire the side in the ninth.
John Axford came on to pitch the tenth in what was the Tribe’s first extra inning affair all season, and Eduardo Escobar wasted little time in depositing Axford’s second pitch of the night into the right field seats for the Twins only run. Axford then walked Brian Dozier and gave up a single to Sam Fuld before recording an out. From there, Axford managed to induce a fielder’s choice from Trevor Plouffe to erase Dozier at the plate and a lineout from Chris Colabello before giving way to Mark Rzepczynski, who finished up the inning.
There will undoubtedly be calls to remove Axford as the closer, but it’s unclear how much of a difference that will make. Removing Axford from the closer role ostensibly means the Indians can’t trust him in any high leverage situations, and moving Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw into that role takes away a key cog in the bridge to the ninth. There are very good arguments out there as to why managers are better off deploying their best relievers liberally in high leverage situations and trusting a lesser pitcher to get three outs in the ninth. Or to put it another way, would you trust John Axford to come in and get the big out in the seventh with two men on? Probably not. For now, it seems the Tribe will have to stick with Axford and hope he can make whatever mechanical adjustments are necessary. It’s almost as if pitching coaches can’t always turn water into wine.
The Bottom Line
The Indians are now 13-19 on the year and it doesn’t appear as though things will get better anytime soon. While the pitching on the whole has been solid, the hitting and defense have been terrible lately, and it’s leaving the pitchers very little margin for error. Things could certainly turn around for this club, but it needs to start happening soon.