Sure, it’s only been three days since the Indians made the headliner trade of Mike Clevinger to the Padres. We won’t know who won or lost that deal until future seasons from now. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that Cleveland’s front office believed that was a move that made sense in the here and now, and in the future, because of the absurd pitching depth the organization possesses. 

Four of the Tribe’s five starters in their rotation are 25 years old or younger. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie combined for 12 innings with 12 strikeouts while allowing just one run. Their pair of quality starts – six-or-more innings allowing three-or-less runs – gives Cleveland a total of 26 out of 37 games on the 2020 season. Nobody else in Major League Baseball owns 18 such outings. 

No other contending team in baseball would dare trade away an ace-caliber arm on the race to October. The Indians did, and while there’s the element of not knowing how they made out until years from now, the fact that it’s something they can achieve and keep the rotation as strong as it can remain says it all. 


Five Series Wins out of Last Six 

While Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor have been known for the combination they can form in the Tribe line-up, on Wednesday night, it was a different duo doing the raking for the Indians. Tyler Naquin put up the second two-homer game of his career, racking up all five runs batted in for Cleveland in the 5-0 win over the Royals to take the series. The man preceding him in the lineup, Franmil Reyes, went 3-for-4 to make him 10-for-his-last-11. The more impressive note? “La Mole” completed the first 10-hit series by an Indian since Mike Hargrove achieved the feat all the way back in 1981. Considering the mashers the Tribe’s lineup featured in the 90’s, that’s saying a lot. With his performance Thursday, Reyes’ season average jumped to .336, catapulting him past the White Sox Tim Anderson (.333) and into the lead for batting average in the American League. 

As for Naquin, who leads Cleveland outfield with a .284 batting average after the breakout performance on Wednesday, the Tribe’s right fielder has added some sparks to a unit that has been searching for any offensive production it can find. 

“He’s been unbelievable. His swing is the best I’ve seen him,” Sandy Alomar Jr. said on a postgame zoom call. “He worked this offseason with (hitting coach) Ty Van Burkleo and some of the guys in Cleveland and he restructured his swing a little bit. He’s being more efficient with his swing. It’s pretty good.” 

“This game’s crazy,” Naquin said when asked about his performance Wednesday. “You can feel amazing at the plate. You can barrel some balls right at some people and you have nothing to show for it. I don’t get the opportunity for those RBIs without Franny (Reyes) doing what he does and you know, Lindor and him doing it again later in the game.” 

On the mound, McKenzie was sharper than his second big league outing, not that Friday’s start in St. Louis was anything to be concerned about. After a four-inning performance in which he allowed two runs and walked three last Friday against the Cardinals, McKenzie had his command in the six shutdown innings. His earned run average through three starts? 1.69. 

After waiting over a half hour in the Cleveland dugout to throw his first pitch last Friday due to the Indians’ four-run fourth inning, McKenzie did not have to wait nearly as long Wednesday. He actually came out from the bullpen for the start, but this wasn’t a strategic adjustment.

“That was completely unplanned,” McKenzie said after laughing when asked about changing up his routine. “I was running a little late. I sat a long time before the St. Louis start and I tried to time it a little better. Next time I’ll try to find that happy medium between sitting in the dugout for thirty five minutes because we had a nice long inning (in St. Louis) or getting out there a little late. But I felt good when I went out there.” 

McKenzie, who retired his first 10 hitters he faced, said the slider was a key to his successful outing. According to Statcast, the slider was McKenzie’s most-used pich besides the fastball, as the right-hander threw 17 sliders and generating six whiffs. Four of those came in the fourth inning, and the fifth swing in that frame produced a double play ball. 

In total, rookie needed just 81 pitches to roll through his six innings. While he’s made it look somewhat easy through his opening trio of starts, the jitters are still present taking that big league mound. 

“The nerves are definitely still there beforehand,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think that’s every going to go away. But, definitely going out there and treating it as a learning experience and going out there and competing, when mistakes happen, not getting too high and not getting too low and trusting the guys around me that they’ll be able to pick me up, and I’ll be able to go deeper into games.

Speaking of that trust, the man they call “Sticks” says the clubhouse has been welcoming to him, particularly the face of the franchise, Francisco Lindor. 

“It’s kind of everybody, but Frankie especially,” McKenzie said when asked about teammates who have helped him be comfortable. 

Speaking of Lindor, he’s hit safely in nine straight contests and 12 of his last 13 following a 3-for-4 performance on Wednesday. The Cleveland superstar shortstop is hitting .395 during the hitting streak


Injury Update: Roberto Perez

Gold glove catcher Roberto Perez is once again feeling right shoulder fatigure, which caused him to miss 17 games earlier in the season. Perez was pulled after his plate appearance in the top of the third inning of Wednesday’s game. The Indians say it was a precautionary decision. Alomar said the following on the postgame zoom call: 

“They did all the tests with him. It’s not the same kind of pain. They say his arm is kind of dead in some area, but it’s day to day. We’ll get more tomorrow (Thursday). We’ll find out more tomorrow and if it’s a day to day thing, he’ll have to go back (to the injured list).” 

While Austin Hedges certainly doesn’t provide anything more offensively than Perez on paper, the newly acquired Indians is strong defensively. Plus, Sandy Leon more than showed he could handle things defensively when Perez was absent for nearly three weeks. 


The Big Picture

The Indians overtook first place all by themselves in the AL Central Wednesday night, with the White Sox falling to the Twins. Cleveland holds a game lead at 23-14, with Chicago in second and Minnesota a game and a half back. The Twins have the Tigers for five consecutive games due to postponements earlier this season, while the White Sox visit Kansas City for four games this weekend. That leaves the Indians with the toughest series of the three teams on paper, as Cleveland returns home to host the Brewers. While Milwaukee is a disappointing 17-19, the Brewers are just a game back of second place in the underwhelming NL Central – besides the Cubs.

For Cleveland, the next seven games are crucial with Milwaukee in town, followed by four home games against the Royals. After that, the Tribe will visit the Twins for three and Cubs for a pair as part of the final road swing of the season. The good news? Cleveland is 14-7 away from home this year. 

“There’s still a championship we want at the end of this thing,” Naquin said when asked about the team’s mindset. “You gotta go out and play every single game hard. You can’t take a day off, especially in a shortened season. Obviously, we don’t ever come out here and take a day off, mentally or physically. You gotta just stay focused and play hard. The whole thing of this is just trusting the work that we put in during spring training, getting cut off, everybody going home and putting that work in, then coming back to 2.0, it’s a weird thing so we’re all just trusting the whole thing and not trying to do too much and realize that this is going to go by fast and we gotta stay focused. There’s no time to waver.” 

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