The home woes continued for the Columbus Clippers this week as their roster is light several of its steady contributors in recent seasons.
At 16-19, the Clippers are just a game and a half behind the first place Toledo Mud Hens and a game in back of the second place Indianapolis Indians in the International League’s West Division, despite a shaky start. They have played the second-fewest home games in the IL this season, with just a dozen contests at Huntington Park this season, but that could be a good thing as they have gone 3-9 when playing hosts.
It was a beautiful sight to see as live Major League Baseball games were back in Arizona and Florida this weekend as 2017 spring training action got underway.
The Cleveland Indians opened their Cactus League schedule on Saturday as they hosted the Cincinnati Reds at the two clubs’ shared facility at Goodyear Ballpark. The Indians then went on the road to Mesa, taking on the Chicago Cubs before a packed house at Sloan Park, where 15,388 took in the exhibition.
For northeast Ohioans, temperatures far above normal for late February have given Cleveland Indians fans a case of spring fever, as people flocked outdoors to enjoy the unpredictable weather of the region while dreaming of their return to Progressive Field to cheer on their defending American League champion ball club.
The timing for the temperature spike seemed almost perfect, as it coincided with the start of regular spring training contests in Arizona for the Tribe. The Indians open up their Cactus League schedule on Saturday afternoon with a 3:00 PM ET contest against their Goodyear roommates, the Cincinnati Reds.
Unfortunately for Clevelanders unable to take in the game from warm Arizona and Goodyear Ball Park, they were dealt a harsh reminder from Mother Nature that spring, summer, and regular season baseball were still a long ways away as strong overnight thunderstorms brought with them a return of cooler weather with threats of that dreaded white stuff.
The casual Cleveland Indians fan, one who might have blinked and missed his debut and subsequent returns to the Major League roster throughout the season, learned the name of Ryan Merritt rather quickly during the American League Championship Series when the rookie left-hander made a Game 5 start and contained a power-packed Toronto Blue Jays lineup in one of the most unexpected contributions of October.
Now, Merritt waits for another chance to pitch on the big league stage with a starting rotation that should be back to health and full of five quality veteran starters who will block his path to the Show.
Merritt’s efforts won the affections of the Tribe faithful, who managed to not only hunt down the wedding registry for his pending nuptials, but filled up the gift requests of the couple in thanks for his contributions to the Indians winning the American League pennant. It was the highlight in what was likely a surreal year for the 24-year-old left-hander, who was only getting his first real regular season action at the Triple-A level when the season began.
The Cleveland Indians blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0, on Wednesday afternoon to claim the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Ryan Merritt channeled his inner Gene Bearden and gave the Indians nearly half a game of shutout baseball. Supported by a first inning run and a pair of home runs later, the young southpaw handed the game over to the dominating Indians bullpen, who got the final 14 outs to send the city of Cleveland to yet another world championship series in 2016.
For the first time since September 28, the Cleveland Indians lost a game when they were defeated by the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-1, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday. In the span to follow, they won each of their final three games to close out the regular season (and missed a game due to rain in Detroit), then swept the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series before taking a commanding three-game lead in the ALCS over the Blue Jays.
Now, in order to claim the American League pennant and advance to the World Series, the Blue Jays will have to do something to the Cleveland club that has yet to happen to them in 2016 – the Indians must lose four consecutive games. With their backs against the wall, the Blue Jays got enough offense and a dominant pitching effort on Tuesday afternoon in the 5-1 victory over the Indians to extend the ALCS to a Game 5. Aaron Sanchez outlasted Corey Kluber, and the productive Indians bullpen was touched for three runs in the late innings to make a close game a little bit more lopsided at the end of the day.
The season is on the line for the Blue Jays. The Indians know that they need just one win over the next three games in four days to clinch their first pennant since 1997.
For the first time in their collective histories, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays will meet in the postseason, with the winner’s prize a guaranteed ticket to host the World Series.
The Indians will welcome the Blue Jays back to town for a rare second trip in one season. Progressive Field will be home to Game 1 and Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night and Saturday afternoon before the action heads north of the border to Canada, where Toronto has won twice in walk-off fashion at Rogers Centre in its two home dates since the conclusion of the regular season.
It has been a magic season for each team, as the Indians have had to overcome several significant blows to their roster, causing the losses of a former AL MVP candidate and their starting catcher for the majority of the season and two-fifths of its starting rotation for the playoffs. The Blue Jays had to scratch and claw just to make it into the playoffs, winning the AL Wild Card play-in game against the Baltimore Orioles before sweeping the Texas Rangers in three straight in the ALDS.
Carlos Santana came up a homer short of the cycle, Francisco Lindor busted out of his lengthy slump, and Ryan Merritt gave Cleveland five solid innings on the mound as the Indians gave the Kansas City Royals a rare home loss in a 7-2 final.
Kansas City would jump out to an early lead in the first against Merritt, making his first Major League start and just his fourth appearance in the Bigs this season, but the advantage would be short-lived for the Royals.
Billy Burns singled to left to start off the bottom of the first and moved to second on a sacrifice from Whit Merrifield. A single to right from Eric Hosmer scored the speedy Burns from second and the Royals had the edge just three batters into the home half.
The weather in northeast Ohio has already begun to turn some. Leaves are falling, the temperatures have cooled, and rains have steadily taken over the region. Fall is here and so too is the end of the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season.
The Cleveland Indians (91-67) head to Kansas City this weekend to play the final three games of the season. There may be one more to play on Monday, pending where Cleveland stands in the hunt for home field advantage and where the Detroit Tigers are in the AL Wild Card mix after the completion of Sunday’s games. Weather interrupted their series in Detroit during the week, as Thursday’s game was postponed and Wednesday’s game was called due to rain after five innings. It did not prevent the club from clinching its first AL Central Division title since 2007 on Monday night. The Indians are 11-5 against the Royals this season, outscoring one of their biggest divisional rivals, 76-52, this season.
The Royals (81-78) saw their postseason hopes and their championship defense thwarted after a three-game sweep in Cleveland when the two clubs last met earlier in the month. Decimated by injuries throughout the season, the Royals have had a roller coaster ride of a year and now play out the string playing for pride and to maybe disrupt the Indians’ ability to make it through the playoffs on an easier schedule. After being swept by Cleveland, they rattled off four straight wins before losing to Minnesota on Thursday.
Indians left-hander Ryan Merritt spent parts of six seasons in the Cleveland farm system, working almost exclusively as a starter. So of course, when he made his Major League debut back on May 30 against the Texas Rangers, he took center stage as a relief pitcher.
That was the expected life of a Triple-A starting pitcher in the Indians farm system this season with a stacked staff of options in Cleveland. Manager Terry Francona used every starting arm possible to shore up a struggling bullpen earlier in the season and now, with his starting rotation down its top three arms, the Tribe skipper is dipping back into the pool of young depth options to help out its ailing rotation.
A seventh inning grand slam by top prospect Bradley Zimmer broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh and the Clippers held on as Columbus defeated the Gwinnett Braves, 6-4, on Thursday night from Huntington Park.
Gwinnett’s Rob Wooten took over for starter Aaron Blair in the bottom of the seventh and promptly walked Yandy Diaz. A single by Guillermo Quiroz put Diaz into scoring position, but Giovanny Urshela lined out to center and Jesus Aguilar struck out. Michael Choice walked, loading the bases for the young Clippers outfielder, who delivered the clutch two-out bases-clearing bomb to right to give Columbus a 6-2 lead.
Barring a very dramatic collapse, the Columbus Clippers are well on their way to another postseason appearance in 2016. With a 73-54 record after scoring ten unanswered runs in Friday night’s 11-5 win over the Toledo Mud Hens, the Clippers have a nine-game lead over the rival Indianapolis Indians in the International League’s West Division with 17 games left on the Columbus schedule.
Over the course of the previous seven days, the Clippers have remained a red hot team, taking two of three from Syracuse and sweeping Durham during the first two series of a three-team homestand from Huntington Park. After a day off on Thursday, they welcomed in Toledo for three games this weekend before taking the ClipShow on the road for three in Indianapolis and two more with the Mud Hens in Toledo.
In other Clippers news from the Ohio state capital: