Game #46 Observations: Indians Score, But Not Nearly Enough in 8-4 Loss to Minnesota
Entering Saturday night, the Cleveland Indians’ rotation was worth more wins above replacement than any other unit in the majors (6.9). The group has been elite on an almost routine basis.
So, should one of Cleveland’s starters have himself a shaky showing, it seems fair to ask the offense to step up and bail him out.
Zach Plesac had one of those nights Saturday. Unfortunately, while Cleveland provided him some support, it wasn’t enough to avoid an 8-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
The defeat marks the Indians’ fifth straight. They’re averaging 1.5 runs per game across the last four nights, and have fallen from first place to third in the standings since Monday.
In fairness, Cleveland had more productive plate appearances Saturday than what we’ve seen lately. Heck, the team scored more than one run in a game for the first time since Tuesday night.
However, home runs from Marwin Gonzalez, Willians Astudillo and Byron Buxton gave Minnesota an early lead, which was padded in the eighth after reliever Nick Wittgren allowed back-to-back dingers to Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sanó.
All in all, it was yet another night ending with Cleveland heading into the clubhouse searching for answers. While the team’s playoff odds are still favorable, the situation is hardly feeling as secure as it did earlier this week.
Here are a few observations from the loss.
Plesac’s First Rocky Start
In his previous 34.0 innings pitched, Plesac had allowed a total of five earned runs. Said run total officially doubled after Saturday night’s start.
To be fair, Plesac’s line wasn’t terrible. He went 7.0 innings, allowing five runs on six hits while striking out five. Unfortunately, he was undone by a few poorly located mistakes.
The first came against Gonzalez in the second inning, as Plesac left a changeup over the heart of the plate which was barreled high into the right field bleachers. In the very next at bat, Astudillo lined a curveball just over the left field wall.
In the blink of an eye, Minnesota had grabbed a 3-0 lead.
Though he received a little run support from his team in the fourth inning, Plesac allowed Minnesota to pad its lead further in the following frame. After beaning Brent Rooker, he gave Buxton a four-seamer right down the pipe. The pitch was loudly deposited deep into center field for a two-run bomb.
Overall, Plesac was far from sharp, giving up hard contact on 40% of the batted balls he allowed on the night. However, compared to his previous starts this year, Saturday’s defeat certainly seems like an exception to the rule.
Some Offense, But Not Enough
Unlike Cleveland’s previous three losses, a lack of offense wasn’t entirely to blame in this one. While four runs didn’t do the trick Saturday, it was mildly refreshing to see the Indians plate that many runners considering how poorly this week has gone.
There were even brief moments where it appeared Cleveland was about to shake out of its collective funk completely.
José Ramírez opened the scoring with a 420 foot bomb in the fourth inning, adding a little swagger by taking it in for a bit before rounding the bases. Carlos Santana then followed it up with a double, eventually coming in to score on an Oscar Mercado sac fly.
However, any time Cleveland showed signs of life, the hope was snuffed out by either response runs from Minnesota or a failure to convert in clutch situations.
The most glaring example of the latter came in the sixth inning.
After Santana opened the frame with a walk, Buxton made a rare defensive miscue, muffing a warning track catch on a Jordan Luplow fly ball. The play was scored as an RBI triple, bringing the deficit to 5-3. With one out and a man on third, the opportunity was there for the Indians to further cut into Minnesota’s lead.
What followed was a weak ground out from Mercado and Roberto Pérez striking out looking.
Ramírez provided more offense on his own later in the game, following an eighth inning single by stealing second, advancing to third on a wild pitch and then coming home on a passed ball.
As mentioned, though, the four-run output was all for naught, as solo heroics from Ramírez were made irrelevant after Minnesota’s eighth inning homers put the game out of reach.
Catching Woes Continue
Considering how many catchers Cleveland has carried on its active roster this year, it’s remarkable how little production the team is receiving from the position. Between Pérez, Sandy León, Austin Hedges and Beau Taylor, the Indians have yet to find a catcher who can provide consistent offense.
Of the four, Pérez is the only one currently boasting a positive fWAR (0.2). He got the start Saturday, but struggled to make much of an impact.
Pérez finished the night going 0-4 and striking out three times, twice looking. He’s now been punched out 27 times in 75 plate appearances.
To be fair, Pérez has been playing through shoulder pain for the bulk of the 2020 campaign. However, this doesn’t change the fact catcher is one of several black holes in Cleveland’s nightly lineup.
Overall, Indians catchers entered Saturday with a combined OPS of .477. None of them has an OBP above .290. Pérez has the most RBIs of the group.
Are there other concerns on Cleveland’s roster? Absolutely.
Still, the Indians continue insisting on carrying an entire crop of catchers. It remains quite jarring to note that not a single one of them has been able to provide the slightest boost to the back half of the lineup.
Cleveland looks to stop the bleeding Sunday afternoon, as rookie Triston McKenzie takes the mound hoping to prevent his team from getting swept.