Despite bullpen's stumble, Tribe optimistic
Win streak ends at 6, but players keep eyes on prize
CLEVELAND -- While the All-Star break is welcomed by many players to get some much-needed rest and relaxation at the midpoint of the season, the Indians were hoping it’d never come.
The club had put together its hottest streak of the year, winning the final six games of the first half, which made it difficult to walk away from the field for the next four days. Multiple players said they didn’t want to stop playing because they wanted to ride the momentum wave they had created for as long as they could. But after the four-day break, that wave came crashing down in Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Twins at Progressive Field.
The team snapped its six-game win streak and fell back to 6 1/2 games behind Minnesota in the American League Central.
But don’t hit the panic button just yet.
Including the remaining two games in the series – one that they still have a chance to win -- the top-two AL Central teams will meet 12 more times this season, a number that the team is focusing on rather than the one loss.
“If we drop, knock on wood, we drop some to the Twins,” Mike Clevinger said. “Then we go back on a roll, you know, 21-8, it’s going to be hard for them to keep that same pace.”
Yes, that 21-8 stretch came against a handful of below-.500 teams, but it also included winning two of three against the Twins and Yankees and two of four against the Rangers. Cleveland proved it has the potential to make a decent run, posting the best record in baseball in that 29-game span. Winning all 13 of the final games against their division rival was unlikely to happen. But now the Indians have to prove that they can continue to win when it matters.
“We played well,” outfielder Oscar Mercado said. “We kind of sat back on our heels towards the last third of the game and it cost us. I think we just got to play one through nine full-go and we’ll be OK. We won six in a row. It’s gonna happen. We still got a chance to win this series. It’s not the end of it all. We’re a good team, and we know that. We’ll be OK.”
Righty Nick Goody took the mound in the sixth with a 3-1 lead, retired the first batter he faced, but then made a fielding error on a ground ball toward third base. Blunder number one.
After a walk and a flyout, Oliver Pérez came in and got Max Kepler to serve a ground ball toward the right side, but the shift caused shortstop Francisco Lindor to try to cut it off and throw across his body. A replay review showed that Kepler was safe, allowing a run to score and opening the door for Jorge Polanco to double in another run on a line drive to center.
“It’s a shame,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Oliver makes a really good pitch, and the ball is in the perfect place. … Frankie’s coming over and you think you’re out of the inning, and a couple of hitters later, you’re down. We’ll save more runs than we give up by doing it, just when it happens it hurts.”
Clevinger’s health will make a big impact on the run the Indians could make in the second half of the season. While he struggled initially when he came off the injured list (upper back strain and left ankle sprain), he’s started to settle back in on the mound, especially in the fifth inning on Friday.
After allowing a single and double to open up the frame, Clevinger escaped the no-out jam, stranding runners on second and third with a groundout and back-to-back strikeouts.
“I was kinda thinking to myself, ‘Now is not the time to be mad, now is the time to actually enjoy this,’” Clevinger said. “‘It’s a division rival, we’re 5 1/2 games back, you got second and third, no outs. You can get mad or you can have fun right now.’ So I chose to have fun. It seemed like the right combo.”
Clevinger walked off the field to the roaring crowd of 30,857 fans.
“This felt very playoff-esque,” Clevinger said. “This obviously is going to have more emphasis because they’re a division [opponent], especially the guys in front of us in the division, but this is the kind of importance I want us to take on every single game. … As long as we put the same emphasis on every time we go on the field, we’re gonna have good results.”