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August 7, 2012

What You Need to Know

Tuesday, August 7

by Daniel Rathman

The Monday Takeaway
The Indians must have been relieved when they sent the Twins down in order, then loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first inning, after returning home from a brutal, 0-9 road trip. Cleveland had fallen to 50-58 on the season, a likely insurmountable 9 ½ games behind the first-place White Sox, but at least the pain of Sunday afternoon’s gut punch was beginning to subside. 

Then, Carlos Santana grounded into a double play, and the Tribe squandered a golden opportunity by pushing across only one first-inning run. And then, this happened. And then, this happened. And then—nine batters later, still in the top of the second—this happened. And, all of a sudden, the Progressive Field scoreboard read 10-1 Twins.

Teams have lost 10 straight games many times before. They have endured meltdowns far worse than Chris Perez’s 10th-inning disaster on Sunday. They have failed to take advantage of bases-loaded situations like Santana and Michael Brantley did in the bottom of the first. They have made costly errors to prolong rallies like Jason Kipnis did in the top of the second. And they have watched opponents use those errors to send even the most optimistic fans home early.

Unfortunately for the 18,775 in attendance last night, the Indians decided to do all of those things in a span of 24 hours. And the result, when combined with the gut punches and miscues of the previous nine days, was the nadir of one of the worst 10-game stretches in the franchise’s 98-year history.

Veteran MLB.com beat writer Jordan Bastian wrote the following after Tuesday’s 14-3 defeat: “In my days covering the Blue Jays, I chronicled a pair of nine-game slides. To be honest, I don’t remember much about them. I find it hard to believe—due to the timing and the consequences—I’ll ever forget this one.” See Bastian’s blog post for the gory details that even manager Manny Acta could not believe.

The Braves and Red Sox collapses of September 2011 are still fresh in our minds, and though the calendar still reads August—and the drama of the stretch run has yet to set in—the Indians ongoing free fall is comparable.

Twenty-five days ago, on July 13, Cleveland was tied with Baltimore for the American League’s second wild card spot and was three games behind the White Sox in the Central division at 45-41. Twenty-five days before the end of the 2011 season, on Sept. 3, the Braves led the Cardinals by 7 ½ games, and the Red Sox led the Rays by nine. Atlanta went 8-18 the rest of the way, Boston went 6-18, and we all know how that ended. Well, since July 13, the Tribe is 5-18, and it is now 10 ½ games behind the White Sox in the Central, and in eighth place, 8 ½ games behind the Angels in the crowded wild-card race.

Terry Francona on Sept. 28, 2011: “I don’t know. I don’t know how to evaluate it.”

Fredi Gonzalez on Sept. 29, 2011: “It is what it is. It’s not like we can close our eyes and it goes away. It happened.”

Manny Acta on Aug. 6, 2012: “I asked one of my coaches to pinch me. I couldn't believe what was happening.”

Whether it’s the dog days of summer or the early days of fall, the words of collapse are much the same.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • While the addition of Ben Sheets has drawn far more attention, Mike Minor’s development into an every-fifth-day cog has been equally important to the Braves’ rotation. The lefty’s most recent start was cut short by a rain delay, but over his last five trips to the mound, Minor has pitched 31 innings, giving up only 18 hits and seven runs (six earned), while logging a 27-to-6 K/BB. After struggling to the tune of a 5.97 ERA—the product of 19 home runs and 40 walks allowed in 92 innings—during the first half, Minor appears to have turned a corner. He will look to deliver a fifth consecutive quality start (excluding the rain-shortened outing on Aug. 2) in tonight’s duel with Cole Hamels and the Phillies (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • In the July 26 “On the Beat,” an anonymous scout told John Perrotto, “I think [Zach Britton] is going to wind up being a number-one starter.” The 24-year-old southpaw has not looked the part in two outings since then, coughing up 13 runs in just 8 1/3 combined innings, but perhaps a date with the Mariners is all he needs to get back on track. Casper Wells, who became an everyday outfielder when Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the Yankees, is just 19-for-93 (.204 average) with 23 strikeouts since the All-Star break, but he does have an 811 OPS against left-handed pitching this season, so Britton will need to tread carefully. Blake Beavan, who has not walked more than two batters in any of his 16 starts this season, gets the ball for Seattle (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • James Shields has served up 25 home runs in 132 2/3 career innings against the Blue Jays, but the primary culprits will not be in manager John Farrell’s lineup tonight. J.P. Arencibia (3-for-11 with two homers), Jose Bautista (8-for-25 with three homers), and Adam Lind (12-for-43 with five homers) are all on the disabled list, giving the 30-year-old right-hander a potential walk in the park to build on his July 31 shutout in Oakland. Shields, who has fanned at least 10 batters in each of his last three starts, will take on J.A. Happ, who has done so only twice in his career. This will be Happ’s first start since the Blue Jays acquired him from the Astros in the 10-player deal on July 20 (7:10 p.m. ET).  
  • Matchups between Carlos Beltran and Barry Zito would seem to favor the switch-hitting outfielder, but in fact, Zito’s former teammate is only 9-for-41 with no home runs in their past encounters. That’s just about does it in terms of good news for Zito, though, as he enters the second game of the four-game series with a 1-6 career record and a 5.23 ERA in eight starts against the Cardinals. The 34-year-old lefty took a step backward in his loss to the Mets on Aug. 2, recording only one strikeout in 4 1/3 innings of seven-run ball, and his K/BB for the season now sits at a lowly 71-to-54. Mike Matheny will counter with Lance Lynn, who faced the Giants and gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings in his major-league debut on June 2, 2011 (8:15 p.m. ET).
  • Trade rumors surrounding Chase Headley fizzled before the July 31 deadline, and the third baseman has instead decided to make the most of his time in San Diego. After a 1-for-4 effort in Monday’s series opener, Headley is now 7-for-22 (.318 average) with three home runs in August. More impressively, he leads all National League third basemen not named Ryan Zimmerman with seven homers since the All-Star break. A .287/.396/.495 hitter away from Petco Park this season, Headley will look to improve on his 725 home OPS in tonight’s matchup with Cubs rookie Brooks Raley (10:05 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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