Game #60 Observations: Cleveland's Missing Stars Shine in Clinching Comeback
Carlos Santana went 3-for-3 with a home run and four runs batted in as the Cleveland Indians finished off an 8-6 comeback win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
With thew Chicago White Sox losing to the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland (35-25) clinches the fourth-seed in the American League playoffs, and will play the New York Yankees in the Wild Card round.
Santana’s 1st-inning error led to the Pirates taking a 1-0 lead, but after falling behind 2-0, the first baseman slammed a two-run home run to tie the game in the 2nd. After four unanswered runs from Pittsburgh, Franmil Reyes cut the lead to one with a three-run homer in the 6th, before Santana turned in a two-run, go-ahead double in the 7th. Reyes finished off the scoring with a sacrifice fly later in the inning, scoring Santana.
Cleveland’s bullpen day included eight total pitchers, starting with three innings from Cal Quantrill. Phil Maton, Cam Hill, Oliver Pérez, and Nick Wittgren all appeared before winning pitcher James Karinchak in the 7th. Adam Cimber recorded two outs in the 8th before a four-out save from Brad Hand wrapped things up.
Hand’s 16 save cemented the lefty as the American League’s save leader in 2020.
Here are some observations from the final regular-season game of 2020:
The 60-game mark has generally been the first road-marker where front offices feel they can judge what they have in each player. Everybody knows that pitching has never been a question for Cleveland, and the returns have been tremendous, as expected.
It did not take 60 games to realize that Cleveland’s offense is poor. The team will enter as the worst offense in the expanded playoffs behind either the Milwaukee Brewers or Chicago Cubs.
Most troubling is that the offensive woes have not been isolated to the known holes in the lineup, but also a few of its stars. On Sunday, those stars willed Cleveland into home-field advantage to start the playoffs.
Santana has looked like a shell of himself over the course of his age-34 season, outside of his 18.3% walk rate. The first baseman’s entire slash line (.187/.339/.315), wOBA (.301) and wRC+ (84) are all career lows. The same is true with his barrel% (6.2) and average exit velocity (87.7 mph) Obviously, without the ability for regression in a full season, the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
The issues have seemingly poured over into his defense as of late, too. On Sunday, Santana tracked back awkwardly on a 2-inning pop-up, running into Cesar Hernandez, and causing the ball to fall to the grass. Pittsburgh’s Jose Osuna flared the next pitch into right for the opening run.
Santana is staring down a $17.5 million club option for his 2021 season and admitted in 2017 that his pending free agency had affected his play. That option being declined now seems like a foregone conclusion, and the switch-hitter will hope his big day on Sunday will be the start of a late-season turnaround.
Speaking of pending free agents, that title will shortly belong to Francisco Lindor if he continues to hit at a league-average clip. Perhaps the best all-around player east of Anaheim, Lindor is sporting career lows in batting average (.264) and slugging (.424).
The good news is that under the hood, Lindor’s statcast numbers are all on par with the rest of his career. The caveat is that the most important aspect of the surprising power-hitter’s slugging, his 5.7 barrel%, is as low as it has been since 2016.
Lindor was 0-for-5 on Sunday.
Reyes had been sputtering into the playoffs, posting a .170/.276/.191 slash line over the last two weeks of the year. The 265-pounder had not homered since September 1.
The Cleveland lineup looked acceptable against Pittsburgh on Sunday, though against the worst team in the league. If two of Santana, Lindor, and Reyes can get show up in any game where an actual starting pitcher toes the rubber, the team has a chance. Without them, it could be ugly.
Cleveland’s lone offensive standout, José Ramírez, was hit on the thigh by a JT Brubaker pitch in the 1 and was checked out by the training staff. When Santana doubled to the right-field corner, Ramírez chugged into third base standing up, lacking his speed and baserunning aggression.
Ramírez finished the game at third base and showed no further complications from being hit, but it remains worth monitoring. Should Ramírez be hampered by as much as a Charlie horse going forward, the depths to which the Cleveland offense could plunge may be vast.