CLEVELAND -- Dropping the series opener against the Twins wasn’t the way the Indians wanted to start the second half of the season, but it wasn’t anything the team couldn’t come back from. But dropping the first two games against their division rival suddenly makes Sunday’s finale a must-win contest for the Tribe.
Cleveland followed Friday’s defeat with a 6-2 loss Saturday evening at Progressive Field, causing the Indians to fall 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Twins in the American League Central. The team’s June run has been talked about time and time again, shaving six games off Minnesota’s 11 1/2-game lead in the final 29 contests of the first half. The last thing the Indians can afford is getting swept, causing them to have to start back at square one.
“We knew this was a big series right out of the break, and it could go one of two ways,” Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi said. “And so far, it’s going our way.”
The more the Indians are able to win between now and the Trade Deadline on July 31, the more likely they’ll be a mix of buyers and sellers, acquiring a bat or two through a potential trade. And one of the biggest trade pieces Cleveland has to offer is Trevor Bauer, who labored through his first two innings -- giving up three solo homers, two to Max Kepler -- Saturday night before settling in for the next four.
“I felt like I was actually pretty good tonight, which is unlike me for coming out of the break,” Bauer said. “...So actually relative to what I usually feel like, I felt like I was able to command the ball decently well. I thought I pitched pretty well overall. It’s just a microcosm of today’s baseball --true outcomes, walks, homers and strikeouts, and they came out on top of that one tonight.”
Bauer vs. Kepler
Kepler started the game with a bang, launching the third pitch of the night over the right-center-field wall before homering again in the second. Dating back to June 6, Kepler’s second-inning blast was his fifth in five consecutive at-bats against Bauer, which matched the longest streak in the Expansion Era against a single pitcher, according to Elias.
“In situations like that, there’s nothing I’m going to really be able to do,” Bauer said. “He’s just locked in against me for whatever reason. ... The curveball today was in an area that generally isn’t hit that well, and especially my curveball hardly ever leaves the yard. The ball is away on the outer third of the plate, in a pitcher-advantage count. So it’s just one of those things, like I said, just a baseball thing.”
In 37 career at-bats, Kepler is hitting .351 (13-for-37) with a 1.211 OPS against Bauer.
“Sometimes guys are just hot and it doesn’t matter what you do to them, they’re going to hit it. And he’s hot off me right now,” Bauer said. “It won’t be that way forever. He’ll cool down and he’ll go through an 0-for-10 with seven punchouts or whatever and miss pitches. It’s just one of those things right now.”
Bradley hits first HR
Indians fans waited nearly three months for Bobby Bradley to flex his muscles at the big league level after launching 24 homers in 67 Triple-A games this season. He finally got the call to join the Indians on June 23. After 39 plate appearances, Bradley drilled his first career home run 457 feet, according to Statcast, punctuated with an emphatic bat drop in the seventh inning.
“That was amazing, a dream come true,” Bradley said. “And to do it in front of the home crowd is even better.”
That much-needed pop in the middle of the order, which at the time cut the Tribe’s deficit to one run, was exactly what the Indians were hoping Bradley could provide. But after picking up hits in his first two games, he batted .172 with a .448 OPS in his next 29 plate appearances leading into Saturday night.
“[Pitchers] make adjustments a lot faster up here,” Bradley said. “They can go down in the dugout and look at stuff in between innings or right after an at-bat or things like that, as can we, so it's a constant game of adjustments.”
The 23-year-old struck out in the second, walked in the fifth and sent a 113.5-mph bullet into the last row of the right-field seats. The rocket registered as the Indians’ fifth-hardest hit this season and second-hardest home run, according to Statcast.
“I think Bobby’s strong enough where he doesn’t have to swing [hard] to hit home runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s gonna hit some by accident. If he just barrels up balls, he’s going to be just fine.”