Making sense of another tough Indians loss

CLEVELAND — The Indians aren’t just losing these days; they are losing in painful and difficult ways.

Were it later in the season, it would be excruciating. Because it’s relatively early, the focus becomes the next day. But every loss counts. And when the second winnable game in three nights gets away, it matters.

Cleveland wasted an excellent start from Carlos Carrasco and then had a comedy of errors in the eighth and ninth that led to a 2-1 loss to Kansas City. That means the Royals are in second place in the American League Central, the Indians in third.

Indians hitters struck out four times with a runner on third, twice with the bases loaded. They had a runner on third with one out in the final inning and could not get him home. They saw a pop-up fall into no-man’s land in short right-center as the Royals scored the tying run in the eighth, and they saw a wild pitch that the catcher could not block turn into the winning run in the ninth.

And then there was the left-handed relief pitcher falling on his keester after fielding a bunt.

Explaining it all is not easy:

• Carrasco pitched seven scoreless innings and started the eighth. But after a base hit and sacrifice bunt, Indians manager Terry Francona took him out in favor of Brian Shaw. Francona was saving Vinnie Pestano for a possible save, and he had told Joe Smith before the game Smith would not pitch because he had warmed up “hot” on Sunday after pitching the previous two games. Francona would not ask him to go four days in a row. 

“I know he wanted to,” Francona said. “You can’t go to the guys every night or it won’t work.”

Ditto with Cody Allen, who was not available. So he went with Shaw, a guy Francona has said he considers virtually the same as Allen. 

Shaw got the second out, then gave up a flare to short center on a 1-1 count. The ball was too shallow for the outfield, too deep for the infield and turned into a double that scored Chris Getz with the tying run.

“Actually Shaw made a really good pitch,” Francona said of the classic bad-break bloop hit that tied the game.

• Francona brought Shaw out for the top of the ninth with the game tied, but relieved him after a leadoff double and walk. Rich Hill and his 7.79 ERA came in. David Lough put down a good bunt that Hill fielded, but when he tried to spin and throw he fell on his backside.

That was the only hitter Hill faced.

• Francona went to Matt Albers, who immediately threw two strikes to pinch-hitter Miguel Tejada.

Albers tried to get Tejada to chase a curveball in the dirt, but Tejada didn’t swing and Carlos Santana was able to stop the ball. But not the next one, another curveball in the dirt that skipped through Santana’s legs for a wild pitch that allowed the game-winning run.

“I really wanted him to chase,” Albers said. “It just kind of hit and kind of stuck. It didn’t really hop up.”

“I tried to block it,” Santana said. “I think I was a little late putting the glove down.”

Santana provided the Indians their only run with his 10th home run, but he has had issues blocking balls behind the plate all season. At times it seems that he tends to reach with his glove instead of using his body to block the ball.

The Indians lead all of baseball with 38 wild pitches this season, 29 with Santana behind the plate. He also has four passed balls, which is well below the league-leading total of eight (Toronto’s Henry Blanco, who catches a knuckleballer). The 29 wild pitches thrown with Santana as catcher are the highest individual total in the major leagues. Of course, they are called wild pitches for a reason — because the pitcher threw wildly. But the numbers, as they say, are the numbers.

• In the ninth, newly acquired John McDonald led off with his batting average below .100. Francona had Yan Gomes and Drew Stubbs on the bench but did not pinch hit.

“I’d rather have tried to let Johnny Mac get on and then let Stubbs run,” Francona said. “We had Stubbs and Gomes. If Gomes hits, we have to let him run. So it wouldn’t make much sense to me.”

McDonald flew out, Michael Bourn doubled and closer Greg Holland struck out Mike Aviles on a 99-mph fastball. Then Holland got Jason Kipnis to ground out to end the game. Kipnis hit over .500 last week, but Monday he struck out twice with the bases loaded and grounded out to end the game.

“Tomorrow is another day,” Santana said.

That is technically true, but at some point the “could have beens” add up, and the “could have beens” are something the Indians probably can’t afford — no matter when they happen.