CLEVELAND -- The data shows that Michael Brantley has sliced pitches to the opposite field at a lower rate this year than in the past. Even so, few teams have actually employed a drastic defensive shift against the veteran Indians outfielder.On Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers went with the numbers and
CLEVELAND -- The data shows that Michael Brantley has sliced pitches to the opposite field at a lower rate this year than in the past. Even so, few teams have actually employed a drastic defensive shift against the veteran Indians outfielder.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers went with the numbers and Brantley went the other way, helping ignite the decisive rally in the Tribe's 3-1 victory at Progressive Field. The three-run outburst Brantley helped put in motion in the fifth inning provided all the support required for a 10-strikeout gem by Carlos Carrasco.
"He's a professional hitter," Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said of Brantley. "He's one of the best hitters we have. Obviously, he's been doing it for a while. He's an All-Star player. He just knows how to put the good part of the bat on the ball and hit it where they're not a lot of times."
The win gave the Indians a sweep of the abbreviated two-game set against the National League Central-leading Brewers, who have lost three in a row for the first time since late April. For the Indians, who sit atop the American League Central, the back-to-back wins helped the club regain some rhythm in the wake of a disappointing road series against the Twins.
The decisive turn arrived in the home half of the fifth inning.
Davis got things started with a one-out single and a successful steal of second base. Brewers starter Chase Anderson then walked Francisco Lindor, bringing Brantley to the plate. As the lefty-swinging Brantley settled into his stance, third baseman Travis Shaw took a few steps to his left and shortstop Eric Sogard positioned himself just to the left of second base.
Going into Wednesday, Statcast™ showed that teams had shifted against Brantley 13.2 percent of the time this year -- up from 7.1 percent in 2017. The All-Star outfielder had a .379 weighted on-base average with no shift, compared to a .365 wOBA with a shift on. Per Fangraphs, Brantley was going to the opposite field at a 19.1 percent clip this year vs. 25.3 percent in '17.
"My guess," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "is if they shift Brant, he'll be one of the hitters that will beat the shift more than he doesn't."
Brantley received a 2-2 changeup from Anderson that dropped just below the zone, but not enough to elude the left fielder's bat. Brantley sliced the pitch on the ground through the hole on the left side of the infield. Sogard sprinted to his right -- to where a shortstop traditionally positions himself -- dove and nicked the ball with his glove as it bounced into the left-field grass.
"Really, the Brantley ball is the ball that got us in trouble," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He hits a squibber, and hits it in the right place that it ends up we can't get an out."
Davis scored on Brantley's single to pull the game into a 1-1 deadlock and Lindor hustled from first to third on the play. The Brewers then turned to reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who promptly allowed an RBI double to right field off the bat of Jose Ramirez. Two batters later, Jeffress issued a bases-loaded walk to Yonder Alonso to help the Tribe to a 3-1 advantage.
On the season, Brantley is now sporting a .325/.369/.547 slash line with 24 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs in 50 games for the Tribe.
That fifth-inning push was sufficient for Carrasco, who shook off some struggles in his last two turns and gave Cleveland seven effective frames. The right-hander scattered eight hits, limiting Milwaukee's potent lineup to an RBI single by Shaw in the third inning. Carrasco reached double digits in strikeouts for the 17th time in his career, walked just one batter and improved to 7-4 on the season.
"He found his best stuff and then for the rest of the game he was really good," Francona said of Carrasco. "Breaking ball, changeup, he was crisp. That was a nice bounce back from [his last start]."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
In his previous two starts, Carrasco buckled after recording two outs. The right-hander allowed 10 runs and a .556 (10-for-18) opponents' average with two outs in those outings. In the second inning against the Brewers, Carrasco began to slip in the same regard, allowing three straight two-out singles to load the bases. The big righty worked the count full against Lorenzo Cain and then induced an inning-ending flyout to right to escape unscathed.
"Sometimes you have to be a little more aggressive," Carrasco said. "Bases loaded after two outs, it came back to me, what was going on for the last two games. It can't happen right here. I just got him to fly out to right field for the third out."
Francona called that moment a turning point in the game.
"He had fallen behind Cain, fought back into the count and got him to fly out," Francona said. "That, at the time, seemed big. And later in the game when you look back, it was big. Cain is a guy that has really given Carlos trouble. He got him out with the bases loaded. That was a huge turn in the game."
Davis finished Wednesday's win with three stolen bases, becoming the oldest Indians player on record to have at least three in a single game. Davis (37 years, 230 days) overtook the record previously held by Nap Lajoie, who was 37 years and four days when he achieved the feat on Sept. 9, 1911. Davis became the first Tribe player with three steals in a game since he and Ramirez each pulled it off on Aug. 12, 2016, against the Angels.
Following an off-day on Thursday, the Indians plan on sending right-hander Trevor Bauer (4-4, 2.77 ERA) to the mound at Comerica Park, where the Tigers will host the Tribe in a 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday to open a three-game set. This season, Bauer has a 2.39 ERA in six road starts, including eight shutout innings against Detroit on May 16.
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 Facebook.