Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tales of a Promised Land - at Indians (L 2-1, W 2-1, W 10-4)

               The Tribe. The team I’ve always thought should be more of a rival than they are. Definitely more than the team that bested them in the Fall Classic, but for some reason not as much of the spite that our other neighbors in the Central bring to the table. It should have the same logical hate (like the Royals being co-owners with Jerry since 2011) or that weird, no reason “I’m not sure why, I just do” rival every team seems to have (Why is beating Detroit more fun? Some weird post-Magglio bias? Blue collar-ish? Hockey carryover?). Likely a baseball purgatory thing, the division slump panic attack from ’05 and the big brother complex from now don’t add up to the same neighborly spite, even in moments such as “DEREK HOLLAND IS THROWING A NO HITTER WE PUT IT ON THE BIG SCREEN AND IT AIN’T FAKE NEWS”. (Yes, I actually think the same message at Kauffman would have bothered me more.)
                But division rivals they still are, and their pennant party doled out our first bitter headshaker loss of the year.  The big takeaway, especially compared to previous years, was just playing good baseball against good baseball teams. My favorite little thing thus far has been the contact to right with a runner on second, something Rick had mentioned at SoxFest and that I had filed away in the “say something smart the fans will like” with everything else. It’s been a pleasant theme already, Asche getting it done today early and advancing the runner. No score on the play, but a tougher out for the next guy than last year.
                The double plays late in the game were plays that seemed few and far between last year, certainly not in duplicate, and certainly not against teams like Cleveland. The relief pitching looks solid, different as well from last year, not just in our bright spots (they have “Putnam” on the back of their jerseys) but in getting themselves out of jams, inherited or otherwise. Robertson looked solid in the ninth, Davidson gets a double pinch hitting (might have been really good in a similar situation Friday, but that’s none of my business).    
                Arguing balls and strikes remains the most useless contribution to baseball, though I don’t quite understand umpires that don’t call the outside corner.  My logic when behind the plate was always that a good hitter can still drill those pitches, and a good pitcher can hit that spot. Kahnle did, twice in row, to no advantage. Later brings it to a full count, and Brantley takes advantage.  The “should’ve had ‘em” losses are worse in a trying-to-contend year- I’m just happy to hang with a division rival in the last gasps of their pennant hangover. Still, man, nothing brings you back to reality more than the first loss like that of the year.
                Next day, same story, different result. Checking more off the “finally we’re doing these” fundamentals, working the count has been beautiful so far, especially the first batter of the inning. Davidson works the walk, Garcia doubles, Davidson singles. When the aggressiveness in past compromised on smarts, and patience turned into a mental stamina battle we’d usually lose, the refreshing mix of both done right is something I hope stays consistent.
                The pitching, as well: Holland and Shields have been nothing short of spectacular, though Holland’s day was one I’d take every single time, no hitter through five notwithstanding. Shields in strikeout mode is the trade return we’d hoped for and are getting now, but it’s quality starts the hard way: high pitch counts, battling back on batters, a twenty-turn roller coaster compared to the Monorail ride that was Derek today.  May need him to stick around that third man spot as a cool down. A smooth ride to Holland’s first win, now even for the tough loss to swallow from last week.  Only bumps: a blink and it’s over sixth for Salazar (though coming about five innings too late), and Abreu’s bobble at first (doesn’t seem as sharp at first, but, you know, game number eight).
                Rubber game? Blackhawks Christmas admittedly took priority (if I had a million dollars and had to pick either game to have a 1-0 score…), so I really shouldn’t comment too much… and a “manage your expectations” year… #TankForBeer… defending pennant champs…
                Aww hell, we beat the Indians by six runs. Crooked numbers. Lost to the Cubs last year because of an alleged grown men crying speech by Heyward. We’re not that far in, but that had to feel good, right? With our revolving door fifth starter on the mound (swear to God if we still somehow get shutout for Q tomorrow…)? After the frontwards Ks from pitches in the dirt, the losses either 2-1 or 8-7, the Central opponents being obviously better, this was a fun series. I’ve yet to watch the highlights, but the tweets from the first inning are enough to bring that weird early season joy to this team. Next stop, the team that just took the last series from us, and a couple stops later I’m sure the Tribe will regress to the mean and probably sweep us in the last four games of the year in their ballpark and clinch the division at ours earlier that month but…
                This was a fun series.
                Onward to Minnesota. In whatever weird “trying to tank but looking pretty good doing it” thing we have going on right now. 

                                                           Credit MLB, please don't sue

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