|W: J. Masterson (8-10) L: B. Duensing (2-7)|
It sure did not look good going into Wednesday’s third and final game of a three game series with the Minnesota Twins. Losers of 11 straight, it had almost appeared as if the Indians were discovering news ways to lose. A lot was at stake in this contest too. A loss would ensure that the Indians match a franchise record for consecutive losses. Normally, we think of “going down in history” as a good thing, but this was an occasion where the phrase had the opposite connotation. The Indians would either lose and be remembered as the Tribe team that matched a record for futility or win and hope that this little 11 game misstep might eventually be forgotten.
Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Indians: You have to go with Choo here. Much has been said about Choo and his drastic splits this season. Against right-handing pitching, Choo has hit .333 but he entered Wednesday’s game with an ugly .185 average against left-handers. Knowing that, Choo was not the likeliest Indian to have a breakout performance, especially against Brian Duensing, a left-hander who has given the Tribe fits this season. Yet, Choo unexpectedly put together a perfect performance at the plate in going 4-for-4 while driving in two runs. The performance was especially encouraging because Choo had seen his average scuffle a bit as of late as he entered the game with it sitting at .284. Also, faced with possibly matching a franchise record for consecutive losses, the Tribe needed someone to step up Wednesday, and Choo proved he was more than up to the task. His day at the plate made helps show why it’s important that he wasn’t dealt at last week’s trade deadline. Given the team’s current situation, I understand it’s hard to even think about competing next season, but if the Indians are to have any chance at the AL Central in 2013, then Choo will have to be in the fray.
- Duh, winning: Often times, the phrase “desperate for a win” is overused… but, let’s be honest, this team was as desperate for a win as ever. Had the Indians failed to win, they would have matched a franchise record 12th straight loss. It would have been tragic if the team matched a historic mark of shoddiness. What also made it special was the fact that the team played well in just about every facet. They received a great start from Masterson, but they also collected 11 hits, some of which were very timely. Is this win a sign of things to come? Probably not, but after 11 straight losses, it sure was a sweet one.
- The Masterpiece: Justin “The Masterpiece” Masterson seems like an applicable nickname for the big right-hander on days that he brings it. Masterson has been maddening at times this season, but on Wednesday, he pitched like what the Indians expected him to be this season: an ace. I’ll be honest, it was still scary there for a moment. In his last start against Minnesota, we all remember how Masterson breezed through three plus innings before Josh Willingham hit a two-run home run and the wheels fell off. Wednesday seemed to eerily resemble that July 28 contest. In the fifth inning, Brian Dozier drew a leadoff walk, which was then followed up by a two-run home run by Alexi Casilla of all people. Denard Span then hit a double, and the script started to look awfully familiar. However, to Masterson’s credit, he manned up and retired the next nine batters to cap off a very strong seven innings of work. The walk totals were still higher than you’d like to see (4), but Masterson did record seven strikeouts, which make up for the free passes. During the 11-game losing streak, starting pitching has been incredibly inconsistent and was arguably the team’s biggest problem. In comparison, on Wednesday, starting pitching might have been the team’s greatest asset.
- Whiffing Willingham: If it wasn’t bad enough that the Indians did not sign Willingham in the offseason and he has already hit 29 home runs and driven in 83 runs, that point gets compounded by the fact that the right-handed slugger seems to absolutely decimate the Indians. His two-run shot on July 28 was previously mentioned, but Willingham has also homered on two previous occasions this season against the Indians. Thus, it was pleasant to see the left fielder strike out not once, not twice but three times Wednesday afternoon. Now, we all would obviously love to have this guy on our team, but as long as he’s a Twin, we might as well take some fun in rooting against him. Masterson had his number all day. In actuality, the subhead “Whiffing Willingham” is inaccurate as all three of Willingham’s strikeouts came looking. Perhaps Masterson didn’t forget that home run from July 28.
- Error free baseball: It’s a beautiful thing. After Tuesday’s debacle in which Chris Perez blew his second consecutive save after an error by first baseman Casey Kotchman, it was imperative that the Indians put together an error free baseball game. On Wednesday, the defense was spot on, including some very impressive plays from Brent Lillibridge. It’s an area of the game that still is often overlooked, but the Tribe recorded a total of eight errors in their previous 11 ball games. It was definitely an area where the team struggled, so it was a positive sign to see them make no mistakes Wednesday.
- All good things come in pairs: Two proved to be the lucky number for the Indians Wednesday. On three occasions, the Tribe was able to score two runs in an inning. In the first, second and sixth inning, the Indians tallied two runs on the board. It’s a positive sign because on so many occasions, the team has relied on just one big inning and then sat on the lead for the game’s remainder. However, scoring in little bunches like the Indians did on Wednesday is actually a much more efficient practice. It’s a pattern that the team should work on continuing for the remainder of this year and into next season,
- Kipnis struggles: It’s been a pretty rough patch of games for Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. Kipnis continued to struggle Wednesday, going 0-for-3 at the plate. Since the All-Star break, Kipnis has hit just .200 with eight RBI. As a result of his struggles, his average dipped to below .260 Wednesday for the first time since May 22. Not all was bad though as Kipnis did still manage to steal two bases to bring his season total to 23, and he recorded an RBI on a sacrifice fly to increase his team-leading total to 58.
- What took so long?: Yes, the effort on Wednesday was grand, but where has it been these last 11 games? What took so long for it to emerge? The Indians played well in just about every facet and even did it against a left-hander, no less, but why have they looked so flat in these past games? A contest like this is encouraging, but you also have to worry as to whether it might just be a tease. Only time will tell in that regard.