Tribe 9: Brant's, Jams, and Balks

Nine thoughts from the Indians home opener

Alex Hooper
April 06, 2018 - 9:11 pm
Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and center fielder Rajai Davis (26) celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Baseball moves at its own pace, at least to this point in time, so let us pace ourselves through nine innings of thoughts from the Indians’ 3-2 win over the Royals.

Top 1: The Indians won their second consecutive Progressive Field opener, their first run of consecutive openers since winning three from 1997-99. Since then-Jacobs Field opened in 1994, the Indians are 12-12 in their home opener, and are 61-57 in home openers in the team’s 118-year history.

Bottom 1: The Indians have won 18 of their last 21 regular season games at Progressive Field, and are an MLB-best 29-8 at home since the 2017 All-Star break.

Top 2: Lacking a whole lot of offense to this point, the Tribe welcomed perhaps their best hitter back to the lineup in Michael Brantley. He did not disappoint.

For the second consecutive year, Brantley drove in the winning run in the home opener. After a walk-off double in the bottom of the 10th in the 2017 opener, the All-Star bookended things by driving home the game-tying and go-ahead runs in the 1st inning of the 2018 opener.

Bottom 2: “Usually it’s take some pitches and make sure he gets in the zone but for myself personally, I had a lot of at-bats against Duffy in the past and I was just trying to get a fastball early and trying to put a good swing on it,” Brantley said. “I had some nervous jitters in my first AB of the year. I was excited. He made a great pitch, I was just able to get enough of it to get it over second base. I’ll take it all day.”

Top 3: It was classic Brantley, finding a way to come through in a big situation without necessarily having to use the traditional means of doing so. His game-winning single was off of a two-seamer from Danny Duffy in on the hands, that he floated over the Royals infield at 66.7 mph off of the bat. Though, at the 22-degree launch angle at which he hit it, Statcast computed a 85% hit probability.

Bottom 3: “He didn’t scold it, but he stays on the ball with a runner on third and less than two outs so well that he gets rewarded for hits like that because he doesn’t roll over and hit that ball to second on a double-play ball,” Manager Terry Francona said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at that.”

Top 4: Speaking of scolding the ball or not, the day’s 41-degree first-pitch temperature did little to help hitters on either side. Of all balls put in play, 20 were hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or better, and only 5 of them produced hits.

Bottom 4: Take for example, Yonder Alonso’s 8th inning flyout to center, which he poked out at 105.9 mph and a near-optimal 27-degree launch angle. With a hit probability of 97%, the ball was dead on arrival when it fell into Alex Gordon’s glove after 363 feet.

Top 5: Perhaps less physically impressive, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar put a fine swing on a 7th inning pitch from Nick Goody that launched at 30 degrees and 97.7 mph, yet the ball only travelled 350 feet.

Bottom 5: “Yonder scolded his and Escobar scolded his,” Francona said. “That’s the way it is sometimes here in April.

“I thought both teams actually really played through some horrendous conditions. There were some balls hit really well to left field that didn’t go anywhere and the game wasn’t sloppily played, again by both teams. I thought the players did a heck of a job.”

Top 6: The game, for players’ safety purposes we’ll say, could have been called after one inning. The Royals struck with two early base runners, an RBI groundout and an RBI single before going completely stagnant for 13 at-bats. The Indians first five reached, capped off by Brantley’s single, they went reached on Royal miscues in the 4th and 5th before a Brandon Guyer double in the 6th and a Rajai Davis double in the 7th ended their day offensively.

Neither team scored after the first.

Bottom 6: The only reason the Indians were able to stave off the Royals in an eight-inning struggle was because of the strength of their pitching. Carlos Carrasco escaped a jam in the 1st inning by inducing an inning-ending double play, 6-4-3. He did so again in the 6th after intentionally walking Mike Moustakas, when he punched out Lucas Duda and got Cheslor Cuthbert to lineout.

Top 7: Francona informed the media that Carrasco had a calf cramp that flared up in the 6th inning, prior to the jam. Carrasco told the media that he wanted to make sure he did not do any self-inflicted damage.

“But when he came out of the game, we were going to take him out anyway, but he goes, ‘I’ve had this cramp,’” Francona said. “He’s pitching through an intentional walk, bad conditions, good hitters and did a terrific job.”

Bottom 7: Not often one to get himself into jams, Andrew Miller had a tough time retiring hitters in the 8th. The lefty came into the game on three days’ rest, and was wild early, walking Jon Jay and surrendering a single to Whit Merrifield in the next at-bat.

Miller responded by striking out Moustakas, Duda and Cuthbert in order to end the frame as if nothing ever happened. The final call against Cuthbert was perhaps a gift, but also perhaps one earned by reputation.

Top 8: Postgame, Francona quipped that Miller looked like he was his own reliever, to which Miller said, ‘I’d rather not be.’

“I'd like to come out and fire strikes,” Miller added. “I haven't done that the last couple times. It's nice to be able to make a pitch and get out of it. We have a great defense. You can trust them when you need to get back in the zone, you can start firing over the middle of the plate. Yeah, that's not how I want to do it or write it up, but the job is still 'Put up a zero.' I've been fortunate the last few times out to be able to do that.

Bottom 8: Beside maybe the weather, Duffy was his own worst enemy on Friday. The southpaw walked Francisco Lindor on four pitches to start the game before gifting Jason Kipnis a free pass a batter later. After Jose Ramirez singled home Lindor, Duffy walked Edwin Encarnacion on five pitches.

Before Brantley’s 1st inning single, Duffy had thrown 15 balls in 20 pitches.

Top 9: Things could have and maybe should have gotten even more dicey for the lefty against Encarnacion. With a mighty wind blowing, Encarnacion asked for time, but it was not given to him by home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz.

When Duffy saw Encarnacion starting to step out of the box, he stopped his pitch, at which point Ortiz intervened and gave the hitter his requested time out. Francona emerged, arguing the decision with vigor, but to no avail.

“I was trying to tell (Ortiz) that you can’t do that,” Francona said. “He just kept telling, ‘We gotta start the game up.’ I said, ‘I’d rather start it up with him at second.’”