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Indians play it safe, settle for split in Boston

August 23, 2018

BOSTON -- For the past month, the Indians took on an assortment of teams that do not figure into the October picture. The Tribe's arrival at Fenway Park earlier this week presented a kind of postseason litmus test against the rolling Red Sox.This four-game set was billed as a playoff

BOSTON -- For the past month, the Indians took on an assortment of teams that do not figure into the October picture. The Tribe's arrival at Fenway Park earlier this week presented a kind of postseason litmus test against the rolling Red Sox.
This four-game set was billed as a playoff preview of sorts and it lived up to that hype in plenty of ways. In Thursday's finale, Boston flexed its offensive muscles for the second game in a row and lefty David Price cruised, dealing Cleveland a 7-0 defeat. The Indians still managed to walk away with a split of the series.
"There were good things and bad things in this four-game series," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "We could have done a couple of things better. But, it's live and learn. We move forward. We continue to get better day in and day out. They have a good team. You can't be too mad."

While this was indeed a look at two of the American League's safest bets for the playoffs -- the Red Sox and Indians (73-54) have comfortable leads atop the East and Central, respectively -- the games were not necessarily indicative of how October works. The way Indians manager Terry Francona handles his pitching staff in the postseason, for example, is unlikely to resemble the past 24 hours in Boston.
Starters Carlos Carrasco (Wednesday) and Adam Plutko (Thursday) logged eight innings combined. Relief ace Andrew Miller is still working on a kind of schedule, rendering him unavailable for some games. Francona overextended certain relief pitchers, exposing them to matchups that would not occur in October. The manager also used some of these games to give some regulars in the lineup days off.
"It's a fun series, because they're really good and the atmosphere," Francona said. "But in a playoff series, you set your roster, you set your rotation, you're bouncing back and forth. It's totally different. But it's still a fun series to play. I don't need to downplay it, because it's fun."

Plutko -- filling in for sidelined starter Trevor Bauer (stress fracture in his right fibula), who should be back in mid-to-late September -- was strong through four innings Thursday, but then had things spiral in a six-run fifth. Boston's rally began with a flared ground-rule double to right from Sandy Leon, who later scored on a two-run double by Blake Swihart.
When the smoke cleared on the inning, Plutko was charged with five runs, including three after his exit.

"Absolutely disappointing," said Plutko, whose pitch count reached 101 in his 4 1/3 innings. "I wish I could've done a better job today to hand the ball off deeper into the game. But shoot, the way we came out the first two games, we really put it on them. That's what good teams do over there and they're definitely a good team."
Price picked up the win after spinning eight shutout innings, in which the left-hander struck out seven, walked none and scattered three hits. Over his past seven starts for the Red Sox (90-39), Price has gone 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA.

Within that performance, Price held Lindor and slugger Jose Ramirez to an 0-for-6 showing. Over the four games, Cleveland's duo hit just .161 (5-for-31) combined. That could just be a cold streak, or it could be that the Red Sox identified a way to slow down the Tribe's most dynamic bats.
"Boston did very well. They pitched how they wanted to pitch," Lindor said. "They executed and we expanded the strike zone as well. You have to give them props. They did very good."
The Indians and Red Sox will meet again from Sept. 21-23 and then perhaps their paths will cross again in October. In the meantime, there are other games to play that count just as much to the clubs as the past four.
"Tomorrow, we go to Tampa [Bay] with the same mindset," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Francona echoed that sentiment.
"That's a really good team we were playing," said the Tribe manager. "But tomorrow [in Kansas City] it'll be every bit as important a game to us as today was."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Just out of reach: Plutko exited in the fifth following an intentional walk to slugger J.D. Martinez, loading the bases with one out for sidearmer Adam Cimber. The reliever got a ground ball from Xander Bogaerts, but it skipped sharply up the third-base line and bounced over Ramirez and into left for a two-run double. Per Statcast™, the grounder had a hit probability of only 8 percent, but it helped transform a close game into a rout.

"He got the ground ball, but it bounces over Josey's head," Francona said. "Then from there it just kind of unraveled. … That's what [Cimber is] supposed to do. He's been in a number of games recently, but I think it's been good for him. If he keeps getting ground balls, he'll be OK."
Chewing up innings: The Indians activated veteran Josh Tomlin from the disabled list prior to Thursday's game, giving the taxed bullpen an arm capable of logging multiple innings, if needed. The right-hander allowed four hits, including an RBI single to Martinez in the sixth, but he worked the last three innings to help save the relief corps.

"That's exactly what we hoped," Francona said. "The first inning, it took him a little while to kind of get his feet on the ground, but he got into a good rhythm. Today was his day to pitch anyway. And now, we go into Kansas City and our bullpen will be back to where it should be."
SOUND SMART
Rookie center fielder Greg Allen went 2-for-3 with a stolen base in Thursday's loss, marking his 14th multihit game of the season and his fourth in the past eight games. Allen has recorded at least one hit in 15 of his past 17 games, posting a .386 (22-for-57) average in that span.
UP NEXT
Right-hander Mike Clevinger (9-7, 3.25 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe on Friday, when the Royals host the Indians at 8:15 p.m. ET in the opener of a three-game Players' Weekend set at Kauffman Stadium. Clevinger has a 2.52 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings in his last six starts. Kansas City will counter with righty Brad Keller (6-5, 3.32 ERA).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.