June 28, 2016

Partly sunny

Indians commentary: Stellar bullpen has saved season

“Where would the Indians be without the bullpen?” was a question posed to manager Manny Acta after his team won a 5-1 decision over the Pirates on Friday.

The answer is fighting to stay out of last place in the Central Division, instead of battling with the Tigers for the lead.

There is no doubt the Indians bullpen has been the strength of the team this season, as it was throughout the second half of last year, when pitchers such as closer Chris Perez (2-2, 2.49 ERA, 17 saves through Friday) and left-handers Tony Sipp
(2-0, 2.15 ERA) and Rafael Perez (2-1, 1.32 ERA) began to establish themselves as top-shelf big league relievers.

Throw in a surprisingly dominant effort this year from right-hander Vinnie Pestano (1-0, 1.44 ERA, 32 strikeouts,
25 innings) and an efficient performance from sidewinder Joe Smith (2-1, 1.29 ERA, three earned runs, 23 games) and you’ve got one of the American League’s best relief corps.

In fact, with three relievers boasting sub-.2.00 ERAs nearly three months into the season, you have one of the best bullpens in the majors.

The consistent performance from the pen has been especially pivotal as of late, with the Indians’ offense sagging to new lows and their starting staff failing to offer up the consistently strong starts they did to start the season.

Cleveland’s pen has preserved a number of leads that had they gone in the loss column would have the Indians staring up at plenty of teams in the division. Without the bullpen, the fast start that allowed the Indians to build a substantial cushion in the standings would’ve been harpooned.

Now, if they could just get their offense going and figure out what’s wrong with ace Fausto Carmona, they’d be back in business.

Smooth move

Recent call-up Cord Phelps has been largely a bust since the Indians promoted him from Triple-A Columbus, thinking he was a better offensive option than scuffling veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Though it’s been limited action — six games through Friday — Phelps had just one hit in 16 at-bats and had struck out five times. It is clear that he was not a better option than Cabrera, who has always been steady at the plate and in the field and didn’t deserve a seat on the bench for the likes of Phelps, a nice prospect, but far from the answer to Cleveland’s recent offensive woes.

If the Indians continue to want to platoon Cabrera, next up could be left-handed-hitting Jason Kipnis, another top prospect who has been hot for Columbus.

The good

The batting average against Pestano with runners on base (.100) ranked first in the American League through Friday, while his overall average against (.143) ranked second.

** Travis Hafner was batting .500 (15-for-30) with two homers and 20 RBIs with runners in scoring position, while Asdrubal Cabrera was at .414 (24-for-58) with two homers and 30 RBIs.

** Chris Perez entered Saturday having converted his last 11 save opportunities and 17 of 18 on the season.

** Outfielder Michael Brantley entered Saturday hitting .327 (37-for-113) with four of his five homers and 15 RBIs at home.

** Smith’s last 14 appearances through Friday were scoreless.

The bad

The Indians were 8-24 when scoring three runs or fewer through Friday.

** Third baseman Jack Hannahan was batting .203
(29-for-143) against right-handed pitching.

** Grady Sizemore entered Saturday riding an 0-for-10 skid, while batting .219
(7-for-32) with runners in scoring position.

The ugly

Outfielder Travis Buck entered Saturday riding an
0-for-20 skid at the plate.

** Former third batter Shin-Soo Choo was batting .180
(11-for-61) with runners in scoring position, while former cleanup hitter Carlos Santana was batting .190 (11-for-58) in the same department.

** Adam Everett was 1-for-16 through Friday.

** Reserve outfielder Austin Kearns entered Saturday batting .195 on the season with two RBIs in 28 games. He was hitting .136 (6-for-44) without a homer or RBI at home.

** Sizemore had struck out 48 times in 38 games through Friday.

** Reliever Chad Durbin had allowed 14 earned runs in his last 16 appearances, with his season ERA standing at 7.39 in 26 games.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.
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