Game #52 Observations: Indians Drop One to Detroit After Eighth Inning Implosion

Casey Drottar

Once again, the Cleveland Indians spent an entire game struggling to score.

Unlike Friday night, though, they weren’t able to luck their way into a win despite that.

Cleveland notched just two runs Saturday. For a while, it seemed as though that would be enough to seal its third straight win, as it spent the bulk of the night maintaining a narrow 2-1 edge.

However, the Tribe bullpen face-planted in the bottom of the eighth, as Phil Maton and Cam Hill combined to give up four runs, all of which were tagged to the former. The late-game outburst was more than enough for Detroit to bring home the 5-2 victory.

Overall, Cleveland’s loss featured several trademarks displayed during its recent eight-game funk.

As mentioned, offense was hard to come by, as a third inning RBI double from José Ramírez was the only damage done by Cleveland. The Tribe blew several opportunities to increase the lead, going 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Additionally, interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. made another call which had fans scratching their heads, pulling Nick Wittgren after the reliever breezed through the seventh inning having thrown just 10 pitches.

Said decision was magnified after yet another late-inning collapse.

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Maton and Hill weren’t the only Tribe pitchers who looked shaky Saturday. Rookie Triston McKenzie also wasn't terribly sharp, lasting just four innings before being replaced by reliever Cal Quantrill.

This seems like as good a place as any to kick off observations from tonight’s defeat.

Struggles from Sticks

Considering he was facing the same opponent he blazed through during his rookie debut, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see another solid night on the mound from McKenzie. Instead, the 23-year-old hurler endured his second straight uneven outing.

McKenzie lasted only four frames Saturday night, throwing a total of 79 pitches and averaging almost 20 per inning. Though he allowed only one earned run, he gave up six hits and three walks while tallying three strikeouts.

Obviously, nobody will gripe too much about one runner coming home during McKenzie’s brief start. Likewise, though he gave up 14 batted balls, only four qualified as quality contact.

Still, McKenzie’s pitches weren’t as effective as we’re used to seeing, most notably his fastball.

To start, the average velocity with his four-seamer was the lowest we’ve seen from him this year (90.6 mph).

Additionally, said offering wasn’t fooling Detroit much. Tiger hitters swung at McKenzie’s fastball 19 times, only whiffing on two. He finished the night having generated just three swinging strikes, total.

McKenzie was still able to land 10 called strikes on 39 four-seamers. Yet, thanks to the velocity decline, Detroit batters didn’t find themselves behind his fastball too often.

This speed decrease has been a trend for Cleveland’s rookie, as the average velocity on his four-seamer has dropped with every one of his starts.

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McKenzie will likely return to the mound one more time before the regular season wraps up. What Cleveland has planned for him come playoff time remains uncertain.

Eighth Inning Implosion

With McKenzie exiting early, the Indians bullpen was counted on to step up in a big way. For the most part, it did just that.

Then the eighth inning happened.

After getting solid showings from Quantrill and Wittgren, Cleveland watched as both Maton and Hill struggled to carry the team into the ninth.

Though Maton walked the first batter he faced, he followed it up with a strikeout of Jorge Bonifacio. Unfortunately, that was the only out he’d log.

Maton gave up three straight singles, with former Tribe catcher Eric Haase knocking in the game-tying run right before Daz Cameron brought home Niko Goodrum to take the lead. He then walked the next batter he faced, loading the bases and then getting sent to the showers.

Any hopes of keeping the game close were dashed when Hill opened his appearance by walking in another run. A Willi Castro sacrifice fly iced the cake, giving the Tigers a 5-2 lead they wouldn’t relent.

Of the 10 pitches Hill threw, only one landed in the strike zone.

Cleveland entered the night with the fourth best bullpen ERA in the majors (3.46), so at the very least this collapse isn’t par for the course. Ideally, though, these are the kind of yips Tribe relievers get out of their system before October.

José’s Superb September

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? After all, if there’s a silver lining from tonight’s defeat, it’s that one of Cleveland’s most important players remains hot at the plate with playoff baseball right around the corner.

Though Ramírez went 1-for-4 on the night, his lone hit brought home his eleventh and twelfth RBIs of September. Coming into the night, Ramírez was slashing .365/.431/.750 for the month, with torrid numbers in both wOBA (.487) and wRC+ (211).

This type of production from Cleveland’s third baseman is crucial for two reasons.

One, it certainly appears as though whatever pain he was enduring from his bruised left hand has either subsided, or has become significantly easier to deal with.

Most important, though, is the fact one of the best bats in the Indians’ lineup is heating up at just the right time.

This kind of production from Ramírez a week away from the playoffs is exactly what Cleveland needs to see. He was a nonfactor in both the 2017 and 2018 postseasons, logging only two hits in a combined eight games.

With him now surging as the Tribe nears the finish line, the team can realistically hope for a much better showing this time around.

Of course, it’d be nice to have more than one hitter on fire as we get down to the wire.

The Indians get a final opportunity to ignite their offense Sunday afternoon against Detroit. After that, they return home to host the dominant bats of the first-place Chicago White Sox.

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