Indians’ Goon Squad still delivering, Tanaka living up to hype, Greinke putting on a show
Photo courtesy of CBS Cleveland
By John Fanta
The Indians have hit .244 (18th) with runners in scoring position. On Saturday, Mike Aviles threw that stat out of the window. After Jason Kipnis led off the eighth inning with a walk in the Tribe’s affair with the Rockies on Saturday, Lonnie Chisenhall, who had homered earlier in the game and is hitting .369, laid down a bunt. Groans and moans began in the crowd as arguably Terry Francona’s hottest hitter was just used to move a runner over.
And of course, utility man Mike Aviles came up and was down two strikes. One of the constants about last season’s run to the AL Wild Card Game was that each time Cleveland needed an extra boost, its bench came up big. Colorado’s Rex Brothers tried to go in on Aviles’ hands, but the right-hander took a pitch left up in the zone and slapped it the other way to bring in a flying Kipnis, giving the Indians the run they needed to win and pull within four games within .500.
Aviles is now hitting .280 on the season while Ryan Raburn is at .210, but was slated in the clean-up role on Saturday. While he may be struggling, the fact that Francona is still relying on him in that spot goes to show how important the “goon squad” is, as they call themselves. And while Jason Giambi is 43 years of age, the left-hander has two homers in 10 games played this season with four RBIs. While Terry Francona may know that at some point that roster spot has to be used for somebody better on a team that has committed 55 errors on the season, the presence of Giambi in the clubhouse combined with his aging power that he still does supply is useful. For now, Giambi should not go anywhere. The two bombs have been two precious for a team that lacks a true power hitter and is right in the middle of the league with 49 bombs.
Francona’s bench players have also been moved into starting roles, with Yan Gomes rising and now being the everyday catcher. He’s hitting .266 with 31 RBIs. While the problems have continued at the plate for Nick Swisher (.211) and Carlos Santana (.159), an Indians team that is seven games back of Detroit in the AL Central has needed that extra lift. And after losing the lead to Colorado on Saturday after Charlie Blackmon tied the game at six apiece, Aviles showed what the value is of having good utility guys that can fill a role, at least for the time being.
Masahiro Tanaka’s doing more than living up to his hype, and his presence could not come at a better time than now for the New York Yankees. The right-hander threw a four-hit, eight-inning gem in the Bronx Bombers’ 3-1 win over the Twins on Saturday, silencing a Minnesota offense that broke out for six on Friday.
While Tanaka hasn’t faced anybody twice yet, he has hardly wavered. And if the Yankees don’t have him slinging for them right now, their 29-25 record would be in huge jeopardy. Think about it. Tanaka has given New York about ¼ of their wins.
Not only did Tanaka deliver a gem on Saturday, but he gave NYY distance.
While C.C. Sabathia has continued to regress, the presence of distance is being missed right now, and New York may have to solve that at the deadline with an arm like Jeff Samardzija. Sabathia has thrown at least 200 innings in each season since 2006. While indications point to Tanaka potentially doing that, a revolving rotation isn’t going to give the Yankees enough to win a championship. “He is better and he’s going to start some more movement,” Joe Girardi told the media Friday when speaking on Sabathia. The Yankees need that kind of stuff back, and if they can’t get it from Sabathia, they need to go buying. Regardless, all directions point to New York having to make a move at the deadline. While Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are big names, they’re both over their peaks. At some point, getting younger has to be an option for New York. That could come with losing, but it may be the best option. For now, this is not a championship team with a 3.86 pitching staff ERA.
Now for the game of the day. Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates have not played like they did in 2013, and after getting routed 12-2 on Saturday, their road record stands at 9-17. Competing in the tough NL Central doesn’t help, but it just shows how one needs everything to work perfectly if they’re in the market size that teams like Pittsburgh and Cleveland are in. The Pirates aren’t going to face anything easier on Sunday.
Zack Greinke takes the rubber at 8:05 ET for Sunday Night Baseball looking to become the first National League pitcher to reach nine wins. He is 13-2 in 20 career appearances at Dodger Stadium.
What’s wrong with Pittsburgh? 26 of their 45 games have been one-run contests. While the Pirates are 15-11 in those, they haven’t had the gas in the tank to build off any of those one-run affairs. That’s created a 12-13 record in games after one-run losses. The fact is, the Pirates need to find something out of their younger bats to provide a surge. They’re still hanging in the divisional race, but something offensively needs to happen at the trade deadline, or else they’re in for a middle-of-the-road campaign.
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