Here’s the good news -- despite a rough week, the Cleveland Indians entered Friday with a 99.4% chance to make the postseason, per FanGraphs.
Here’s the bad news -- they’ll be required to score if they want to stay there long. Right now, that appears to be asking too much.
For the third straight game, the Indians lost while failing to generate more than one run. This latest defeat came at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, who didn’t need much production at the plate to bring home a 3-1 victory.
The loss spoiled yet another solid night on the mound from Shane Bieber. Cleveland’s ace started the contest a little shaky, but eventually settled in, giving his team enough quality pitching to keep the score close.
However, the Indians failed to reward him for his efforts. The Twins notched two home runs on the night, more than enough to tag Bieber with the L.
Cleveland spent much of the contest struggling to make an impact against Kenta Maeda, as Minnesota starter cruised to his third victory over the Indians this season.
The Tribe has now lost four straight, having scored just three runs in its last 33 innings.
Here are a few more observations from the defeat.
Bieber Makes History in His First Loss of 2020
7.0 innings pitched, five hits, three earned runs and eight strikeouts.
That’s the line for Friday’s losing pitcher, Shane Bieber. Such is life when Cleveland struggles this badly to generate run support.
To be fair, Friday started slightly rocky for Bieber, as he gave up hard contact on five of the first six batted balls he allowed. One of these landed in the left field stands, as Twins center fielder Byron Buxton barreled a slider which broke in over the heart of the plate.
After that, though, Bieber found his groove, inducing mostly weak contact through the rest of the game until Ryan Jeffers took him deep with a solo shot in the seventh.
It was, in any case, enough to ensure his team stayed in the game. Heck, the night should’ve been one of celebration, as Bieber set a record for fewest innings needed to notch 100 strikeouts in a season (62.1).
Unfortunately, the historic accomplishment is an impressive footnote in what ended up being Bieber’s first defeat of the summer.
Admittedly, facing Kenta Maeda is nobody’s idea of an elixir for a struggling offense. Minnesota’s starter entered the game having allowed just one run across his previous two starts against Cleveland.
Still, the Indians badly need to thaw their frigid bats, and this didn’t occur Friday.
Cleveland finished the game with only six hits. Were it not for José Ramírez’s ninth-inning home run being followed by a Franmil Reyes double, the team would’ve left the game without hitting for extra bases.
The lackluster effort came on a night when interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. attempted to shake things up by reorganizing the top of the lineup. Francisco Lindor was shifted to the leadoff spot for the first time this season, followed by César Hernández and Ramírez.
The trio combined to go 4-for-12 at the plate, which admittedly represented two thirds of Cleveland’s hits in the contest. However, it didn’t get the job done.
One of the Indians’ best opportunities on the night came in the sixth, as Lindor opened the inning with a single. Unfortunately, he led too far off the bag and was eventually picked off by Maeda. Hernández then struck out on the very next pitch.
Ramírez’s dinger was a mildly pleasant sight considering his thumb injury has sidelined him a few times this week. For the most part, though, the Indians’ offense once again remained absent.
There’s no getting around the fact Cleveland is enduring a brutal funk. How the team plans to escape it remains a mystery.
Maybe the lineup adjustment eases the burden on Lindor. After all, every one of his batted balls Friday night had an exit velocity of at least 97.7.
Or maybe his attempted eighth inning dust-up with Twins reliever Sergio Romo will light a spark in the clubhouse.
Whatever it is, something needs to shake the Indians’ offense out of the coma it's collectively suffering from.
Ramírez has been gutting it out with a bruised left hand. Carlos Santana is currently batting .195. Reyes just picked up his first extra base hit since September 1. New acquisition Josh Naylor has just five singles since arriving in Cleveland on August 31.
That last bit is something Tribe fans are sure to key in on the longer this slump lasts.
Of the six players Cleveland netted in trading Mike Clevinger to San Diego, only Naylor represented potential offensive help for 2020. While it’s too early to fully evaluate anyone who joined the Indians via said deal, the move hasn’t exactly reignited the team as a whole.
The Indians came into Friday boasting the fourth lowest OPS in the majors (.680). If they want to make something of their all-but-guaranteed playoff berth, they’ll need to wake up in a hurry.
Cleveland attempts to snap its skid Saturday night, as Zach Plesac toes the rubber against Minnesota veteran Rich Hill.
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