Indians deviated from norm with multiple misplays in Game 4 loss
By Ben Weinrib
The Indians took their first loss of the postseason, a 5-1 defeat against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, in part because of an uncharacteristically poor defensive showing.
If the Tribe hopes to clinch a World Series berth -- it currently leads the American League Championship Series, 3-1, and was the only team in the Major Leagues not to lose four straight games this year -- Cleveland would do well to shore up its defense.
A strong defense has been a trademark of the Indians all season. They ranked fourth in the Majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (35.6 runs saved) and ninth in Defensive Runs Saved (17) while ranking 12th in fielding percentage (98.5 percent).
The first misplayed ball came in the fourth inning, when Ezequiel Carrera popped a ball into shallow center field that Tyler Naquin could not come up with.
According to Statcast™, Naquin started the play 100 feet from where the ball landed, and the ball had a hang time of 4.8 seconds; outfielders facing those circumstances made the catch 58 percent of the time this season. However, Naquin's poor route led him to run 96 feet, while the ball landed 28 feet away from him.
Carrera's single scored shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from second base, but Cleveland escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts. It was certainly a tough play but could have made a drastic difference early on.
"We were shaded to pull; nobody was getting that ball," Naquin said. "They've got a good team over there, and so do we. It just didn't go our way, and we'll have another chance tomorrow and we'll see what happens from there."
The Indians' defense came back to bite them in the seventh inning, when they were facing a 2-1 deficit. After allowing a leadoff single, reliever Bryan Shaw barehanded Jose Bautista's soft grounder only to throw it down the right-field line for an error. Instead of having a runner on second with one out, the Blue Jays had runners on the corners with no outs.
Cleveland chose to intentionally walk 2015 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner Josh Donaldson, but Shaw then gave up a two-run single to Edwin Encarnacion.
"We've been playing good baseball," catcher Roberto Perez said. "Especially good defense. You don't want to see a pitcher throwing it away, you know, it would have been a different game. It was 2-1 at that point. But like I say, those things happen and you've got to move on."
"I should have had him all the way," Shaw said. "I just rushed it a little bit. Had I planted my foot and made a better throw, he would have been out. It wasn't too tough a play. I got over there, I got the ball, I just opened up too much and spun and threw it away."
Already down three runs, another poor route effectively put the nail in the coffin for the Indians in the eighth inning. Carrera hit a hard liner 65 feet to the left of where right fielder Brandon Guyer was standing with a hang time of 3.5 seconds, and on plays like that, the ball is caught only 2 percent of the time.
However, Guyer broke toward the liner instead of going backwards to try and hold Carrera to a double. Guyer didn't get to the ball, Carrera recorded a triple and he scored on next batter Kevin Pillar's sharp sacrifice fly -- to Guyer, who attempted to atone by making a marvelous diving catch. But had Carrera been held to a double, he may very well have been stranded with a popout ending the inning after Pillar's flyout.
The Indians' poor defense is certainly uncharacteristic, but it is something that needs to be improved going forward. Certainly they will need to score more than the one run they plated on Tuesday, but with the first three games won by two runs or fewer, every play and run is precious.
Ben Weinrib is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.