Indians quickly learning that it is no longer 2013
The Cleveland Indians won 92 games and captured the second Wild Card slot in the American League in 2013 thanks in large part to two incredible, but ultimately unsustainable stats: their record against Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox (a combined 30-8) to go along with 11 walk-off wins.
Through the first two weekends of this season, it has become evident that it is no longer 2013.
The Tribe had a disappointing weekend in Chicago, dropping three-of-four to the White Sox. Add that to last weekend’s series against the Twins, when the Indians lost two-of-three, and things have taken a turn for the worse early in the season.
Cleveland almost got out of town with a split, but closer John Axford gave up a game-winning, two-run home run to Alexei Ramirez.
“We should have had that win,” Axford said on the team’s website. “(Corey) Kluber pitched an amazing game, especially for the rest that he took midway through [because of the rain]. Bullpen guys coming in, doing their job and then guys coming through in the ninth once again. We keep scoring runs like that in the ninth, we should win those games. Obviously, I just didn’t do my job today.”
It was Axford’s first blown save of the season and that’s going to happen.
What we found a big more disconcerting over the weekend was manager Terry Francona’s lineup, which had Asdrubal Cabrera (.188 on the season) leading off and Nick Swisher (.185 average and a .581 OPS) batting second in three of the four games. In those games, the duo combined to hit just .174 (four-of-23), which isn’t going to cut it.
Coincidentally (or not, depending on your perspective), the one game that Cabrera didn’t lead off was the game the Tribe won.
The decision to bat Cabrera in the lead off spot is a bit odd, seeing as how he did not have a single at bat from the No. 1 spot over the past three seasons, and that Nyjer Morgan is currently batting .348 with a .484 on-base percentage while batting lead off. Of course, Morgan can’t play every day, but to not have him play in three of the four games over the weekend is strange.
The Tribe could definitely use Michael Bourn back in the lineup – he was eligible to come off the disabled list on Sunday – but the team is taking it slow with Bourn recovering from a leg injury.
“He had a pretty good night physically,” Francona said over the weekend. “Still thinks another game is in his best interests, and I appreciate his honesty. I’ve been on him from the beginning that when we get him back, we want to get him back where he can change the game with his legs and not be thinking about it. He’ll play Sunday, and then we’ll go from there.”
The Indians were not helped by their starting pitching, outside of Kluber’s start on Sunday, either. Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson all failed to make it through five innings in their starts, giving up 15 earned runs, 19 hits and 10 walks in 13 combined innings of work.
“We just haven’t been able to get deep into the ballgame,” Masterson said after his start on Saturday. “We’ve all had glimpses of great things and then we’ve kind of gotten unraveled ever so slightly as we’ve gone along. Again, and you look at it too, there have been some tough breaks for other guys. You look at certain plays that go this way or that way and it could be a lot different story. There’s no one to blame but ourselves because we continue to hurt ourselves and get in trouble. But I think after getting a couple starts under our belts, getting our feet wet, I think you’re going to continue to see better things. As the weather heats up, I think we’re going to heat up, too.”
The Tribe better hope Masterson is right, as after a lost weekend in Chicago the Indians are now off to Detroit for a three-game series with the Tigers, who went 15-4 against the Tribe last season.
Let’s hope the trend of things changing in 2014 for the Tribe continues in Detroit.
The biggest one now is Norwich City
In what was surely one of the most exciting matches of the Premier League season, Liverpool took down Manchester City on Sunday and moved yet another step closer to capturing their first league title since 1990.
As has been the norm this season, Liverpool started out fast, taking a 2-0 lead into the half after goals by Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel, the latter’s seventh goal of the season – or as many as he has scored in the previous six seasons combined.
But as also has been the norm far too often this season, Liverpool’s defense gave the lead back in the second half on goals by David Silva and an own-goal by Glen Johnson.
Just as things were starting to look bleak, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany misplayed a ball, which landed at the feet of Philippe Coutinho, who found the back of the net with 12 minutes remaining to keep Liverpool at the top of the table with four games remaining.
“It was emotional, very emotional,” captain Steven Gerrard, who joined Liverpool eight years after their last league title, told The Guardian. “But we need to keep calm. There are still four big games to come but that meant so much. They got back into the game and you fear the worst at that point, but I think today we showed that we are going to go to the wire. We are going to go all the way. Nothing has been won yet but that was the biggest statement we have made so far.
“Every game is getting bigger because we are getting closer to the last game of the season. Man City was always going to be huge because they are in the race with us but Norwich now become Man City. Norwich become Chelsea. Norwich become Manchester United. That’s how big it is. We have got to treat Norwich like we treated AC Milan in 2005. That’s just how football is. We can’t think about what colour shirts Norwich are wearing and the personnel in them. We have got to treat them like the best team in the world.”
Liverpool has now won 10 matches in a row and travel to Norwich City on April 20 before facing their next “game of the season” – home to Chelsea on April 26.
Even though Liverpool is currently in control, there are still four games to go and anything can happen. Here is how the title race shakes out, according to BBC.com:
- Liverpool will win the Premier League title if they win their remaining four games.
- The Reds would also win if they draw against Chelsea and win their other three games – but only if Manchester City does not win out.
- Manchester City will finish top if they win their last six games and Liverpool drop at least two points.
- Chelsea will lift the title if they take maximum points from their last four games and City fail to win all of their remaining fixtures.
Liverpool knows they will be without Jordan Henderson for the next three games after he was sent off Sunday, and face the possibility of playing without Daniel Sturridge, who left Sunday’s game with what Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said was a “wee bit of tightness in his hamstring.”
With the way the Reds have been playing, and the way the breaks have been going during this magical season, it may not matter.
“We don’t need to change,” manager Brendan Rodgers said. “We play with no fear no matter who we play. We demand to dominate the ball, don’t think too far ahead. We’ve just got to concentrate on the games. I don’t think we’ll have any problem.”
Of course, one slip up and it could be all for naught.
“We have been on a magnificent run.” Gerrard told The Telegraph. “We could win 13 on the spin but lose the last one and we won’t get anything. Nobody will remember it. The only way people will remember it is if we go on and win it. Otherwise you get a pat on the back. We’ve all had them but they come and go. What is key as a footballer is getting something to show for all the hard work.”
Four games to glory. Starting with Norwich City.
(Photo by The Associated Press and Getty Images)