Walk-off grand slam!

The Tribe just keeps on rolling and this time doing it in dramatic fashion.

With the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, Carlos Santana belted a walk-off grand slam off Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit. It was the Tribe’s first walk-off in that fashion since Jim Thome (also against the Tigers) in 2002.

And of course, we can’t talk about walk-off grand slam’s without mentioning Bill Selby. With two outs, two strikes and the Tribe trailing 7-6 against arguably the greatest closer in baseball history Selby – who hit just 11 career home runs – hit one of the most improbably homers in Indians history. It was the first walk-off home run allowed by Mariano Rivera, and is still the only walk-off grand slam he has given up.

Santana’s blast was also just the 11th walk-off grand slam for the Tribe in the past 50 seasons. Here are the others, curtousy of baseball-reference:

Pestano earning larger role in Tribe pen

As Tony Sipp continues to melt down (just as I predicted) Vinnie Pestano is starting take on a more significant role in the Indians bullpen.

Sipp, who recorded the final out of the 7th inning last night against the Royals, returned for the 8th only load the bases without recording an out.

Enter Vinnie Pestano.

One of the few bright spots in the brief Aquino era

With the bases juiced and no ones, Pestano got Billy Butler to pop out to short, the struck out Jeff Francoer and retired the side by getting Kile Ka’aihue to fly out to left.

Pestano was the first Tribe reliever to inherit a bases-loaded no-outs situation without allowing a run to score since Greg Aquino in 2009 against the Yankees. Aquino retired Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano in order after Jeremy Sowers had walked the bases loaded.

Of course, Aquino would return the next inning and allow four runs to pick up the loss, but hey, at least he had his one shining moment in a Tribe uniform.

Hopefully for Pestano this outing serves as a confidence booster as he develops into a reliable back-end-of-the bullpen pitcher. Unlike Aquino, who has yet to appear in the majors since his brief 2009 stint with the Tribe.

Another Masterpiece for Masterson

On August 26, 2010 – in his 26th start of the year – Justin Masterson picked up his 5th win of the season.

On April 26, 2011 – in his 5th start of the year – Masterson picked up his 5th win of the season.

What a difference an offseason makes.

Masterston is just the 9th Tribe pitcher to win each of his first five starts in a season over the post 90 years, and the first since Cliff Lee in 2008 (six straight).

Rk Strk Start End ▾ Games W CG SHO IP ER SO ERA
1 Justin Masterson 2011-04-03 2011-04-26 5 5 0 0 33.0 8 22 2.18
2 Cliff Lee 2008-04-06 2008-05-07 6 6 1 1 44.2 4 39 0.81
3 Greg Swindell 1988-04-06 1988-05-02 6 6 3 1 51.2 12 30 2.09
4 Bob Lemon 1955-04-12 1955-04-30 5 5 4 0 43.1 10 23 2.08
5 Jim Bagby 1942-04-14 1942-05-02 5 5 4 1 44.0 10 8 2.05
6 Wes Ferrell 1932-04-13 1932-05-01 5 5 5 0 47.0 12 16 2.30
7 Duster Mails 1920-09-01 1920-09-27 7 7 6 2 55.0 12 23 1.96
8 Jim Bagby 1920-04-19 1920-05-20 8 8 8 0 73.0 20 13 2.47
9 Stan Coveleski 1920-04-14 1920-05-09 7 7 6 1 61.0 13 25 1.92
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/27/2011.

It’s certainly an impressive list to be on, but when you look at Mastersons stats compared to the others it’s clear that he owns a lot to his bullpen. Masterson is averaging just over six innings per start and is the only pitcher on the list without a complete game in his streak. He also has the highest era (not that there’s anything wrong with 2.18) since Wes Ferrell in 1932.

Let’s hope Masterson (and the bullpen) can keep it up.

Can Brantley continue his hot start?

According to Baseball-Reference, Michael Brantley has made contact 92% of the time he’s taken the bat off his shoulder this year – good for the second highest percentage in the majors, trailing only Minnesota’s Denard Span (94%).

Brantley's patience at the plate may be too predictable

Brantley’s contact percentage, coupled with his incredible patience at the plate, is why he has been so valuable when leading off for the Tribe this season.

However, a pattern is emerging which may tip pitchers off as to how to attack Brantley.

Brantley may rank among the leaders in contact percentage, but he also has the 7th-lowest first-pitch swing percentage (10%).

His patience, particularly at the start of an at bat, allows him to get into a hitters count and pick out his pitch. However, when pitchers do get ahead in the count, Brantley struggles. After falling behind 0-1, Brantley is batting just .200 with a .254 OBP. When ahead 1-0, his OBP is .524.

Fortunately for Brantley he has gotten ahead 1-0 in over half of his plate appearances this season, but if his patient approach remains too predictable pitchers will start feeding him fastballs early in the count to get ahead.

It’s only a matter of when, not if, pitchers make this adjustment. And Brantley’s continued success will depend upon his ability to then adjust to their adjustments.

Tribe looks to extend 7-game home win streak

After a rough road trip to Kansas City and Minnesota the Tribe returns home to rainy Cleveland where they currently have a seven-game win streak at Progressive Field.

Since the park was built in 1994, it’s the 12th time they have won at least seven straight games at home. However, it is already the second-longest home win streak in the month of April.

The only longer April home win streak in the Jacobs Field era came in 1996. After starting 0-3 at home, with losses to the Yankees and Blue Jays, the Indians rattled off 13 straight home victories – eight of them coming in the month of April.

The Tribe will try to match that eight-game April home win streak on Tuesday against the Royals.

Twins still own the Tribe

To win the AL Central you have to go through Minnesota. And the Indians don’t appear ready to take that step.

The Tribe’s loss on Easter Sunday extended their losing streak against the Twins to seven games, tied for the second longest streak since the franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota.

The only longer streak – an eight-game stretch – came at the hands of the eventual World Series Champions in 1991.

Additionally, the Tribe has now dropped six straight in Minnesota, which is also tied for the second longest such streak. The only longer drought in Minnesota was a seven-game stretch which spanned the 1963 and ’64 seasons

How the new playoff system would have looked in years past

Bud Selig recently announced that a new playoff system could be in place in 2012 which would allow five playoff teams from each league. Each league would have three division winners who automatically advance to what we now call the Division Series, while the two wild card winners would face off in (presumably) a one-game playoff for the right to face the team that finished with the best record.

If this system had been put into place instead of the current system in 1994, it would have resulted in two additional trips to the playoffs for the Tribe.

In 2000 the Indians would have qualified as the second wild card team, facing the Mariners in the play-in game. The Indians could have started Jason Bere or brought back Bartolo Colon on short rest to face either Freddy Garcia or Aaron Sele.

Instead, the Mariners disposed of the White Sox in the ALDS before losing to the Yankees in six games in the LCS.

In 2005 the Indians also would have been the second wild card team, facing the Red Sox. The pitching matchup likely would have been Cliff Lee against Bronso Arroyo, unless the Tribe used CC Sabathia on short rest.

Instead, the Red Sox were swept by the White Sox in the LDS on their way to winning the World Series.

It will be interesting to see how this new system is perceived by the fans. Personally, I’m not crazy about it.

Take 2004 for example – the Red Sox won 98 games and finished with the second best record in the AL… but they trailed the Yankees. Is it really fair to force their season to come down to one game against the A’s, who won seven fewer games during the regular season?

One-game playoffs simply don’t work in baseball (unless absolutely necessary, such as in the event of a tie). In football or basketball you can make the case that the better team will win most of the time – that’s not the case in baseball.

In baseball, the team with the better pitcher wins most of the time, not necessary the more complete team.

Using 2004 as the example again, the Red Sox were clearly the better team, but in a one-game playoff Rich Harden (the likely scheduled starter for the A’s) certainly could have out-dueled Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling.

In a one-game playoff between great pitchers, anything can happen. It might make for one night of great TV, but would it really be better for the game in the long run?

Tribe Farm Report

Since Friday’s game at Minnesota was rained out now seems like a good time for an update on some of the Tribe’s top prospects:

  • Down in Columbus, third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall has gotten off to a slow start. He’s batting just .222 with one homer through 14 games.
  • Second-basemen Jason Kipnis has also gotten off to a somewhat slow start, batting jut .255. However, thanks to 10 walks in 14 games, his OBP is .371. That type of patience from a light-hitting second basemen could make for a nice No. 2 hitter behind Brantley or Sizemore in the near future.
  • Cord Phelps, who has split time at second, third and short, is off to a hot start. He’s batting .373 with a .478 OBP and an OPS over 1.000.
  • On the pitching side of things David Huff is solidifying himself as a AAAA pitcher. Through three starts he is 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA. But his 8-10 K-BB ratio indicates he probably won’t be joining the big league squad again any time soon.
  • Alex White, however, is making a strong case to get called up sooner rather than later. Through three starts he has posted a 2.00 ERA with a 0.944 WHIP. With a 20-3 K-BB ratio in just 18 innings of work, he could find himself at the back end of the Tribe’s bullpen in the near future.

Masterson joins Lee, Feller

Somehow I managed to miss this note the other day when Justin Masterson improved to 4-0 through his first four starts of the season.

With the win over the Royals, Masterson joined Cliff Lee (2008) and Bob Feller (1951) as the only Indians in the past 90 seasons to start the season with four consecutive wins while allowing two or fewer runs in each game. Both Lee and Feller would go on to win 22 games.

Another quality start

I’m not a huge fan of the “quality start” stat. However, I feel obligated to continue to update this note for two reasons:

1. It’s so incredibly improbable that a staff featuring Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, etc would be off to such a great start.

2. The other teams on this list show why the Indians could still finish 15 games under .500

Over the past 25 seasons only three American League teams have had more quality starts than the 2011 Indians through 18 games. Here they are:

Rk Tm Year #Matching
1 CLE 1991 16 Ind. Games
2 CLE 1988 15 Ind. Games
3 BOS 1988 15 Ind. Games
4 LAA 2011 14 Ind. Games
5 CLE 2011 14 Ind. Games
6 CHW 2003 14 Ind. Games
The note itself sounds great, but then you look at the teams it becomes painfully obvious how meaningless it is. The 1991 Indians had quality starts in 16 of their first 18 games and still managed to lose 105 games. The ’88 Tribe didn’t fair much better, losing 84. At least the ’88 Red Sox give us some hope – they made the playoffs before being swept by the A’s.

So while we’re enjoying the fast starts of Tomlin and Carrasco, just remember, they aren’t doing anything that Scott Bailes and Rich Yett didn’t do before them.