This is what makes Terry Francona great.
“I talked to the team today,” he said, a day after one of the worst, most embarrassing games of his 17-year managerial career.
“I told them I messed up,” Francona said. “I apologized. That (game) was a tough one. I didn’t sleep much last night. I’m not perfect. That one hurt, there’s no way around it.”
Francona manned up. That’s one reason why so many players like playing for him. Total accountability.
In Francona’s defense, bad bullpens can scramble brains, and that’s what Francona has been dealing with this season: an epically bad bullpen.
What’s the Indians’ 2018 bullpen experience like?
It’s like being chased by a pack of mountain lions through a snake-infested jungle, and then realizing your hair’s on fire.
Is this any way get to the World Series?
Tuesday night the Indians couldn’t even beat the last-place Reds, who scored seven runs with two outs in the ninth inning, most of it against the Indians’ best reliever, closer Cody Allen, who was relieved in the middle of the carnage by the wrong reliever because the right reliever got lost in the enunciation shuffle of a colossal dugout dodo moment.
“I said O.P. but Carl thought I said O.T.,” said jack of all acronyms, master of none Francona.
O.P. is verbal shorthand for left-hander Oliver Perez. That’s who Francona wanted, with the bases loaded and the game — not to mention a good night’s sleep — on the line. But pitching coach Carl Willis thought Francona meant O.T., which is shorthand for right-hander Dan Otero (Get it? O.T.? Me neither.).
Waiting in the weeds was right-handed pitching carnivore Joey Votto, who gleefully greeted O.T. with a TKO by slamming a bases-clearing double and putting the finishing touches on the Indians’ worst bullpen meltdown of the season — and that’s saying something (am I right, Cleveland?).
“That one lands squarely on me,” said T.F. of O.T.’s unfortunate arrival in the OK Corral.
In hindsight, however, as painful as that bullpen nuke job was — maybe O.P. to O.T. to Oh no! — came at exactly the right time. Because it further underscores how outscored the Indians have been in the ninth inning this season. It’s 47-30 as of this typing.
With the trade deadline just a couple weeks away, and the postseason less than three months away, Tuesday offered another reminder of who should be trade deadline shopping, and for what.
Simply put, Francona doesn’t have enough bulls in his pen for when the going gets gooey.
Maybe the Tuesday Night Massacre was less a communication breakdown than a cry for help.
When it comes to the bullpen, the Indians need more cowbell. Thanks to the flophouse division they’re in, they can reach the postseason with what they have now. But to run with the big boys in October they’re going to need a bigger boat.
So that puts the onus on the front office. Forget Manny Machado. The only phone calls Orioles general manager Dan Duquette should be getting from area code 216 is to inquire about Baltimore’s relievers.
The Indians need relievers. The Orioles have some. Discuss.
The most important takeaway from the Tuesday Night Massacre wasn’t the verbal mumbo jumbo that led to a lamb chop being thrown to the voracious Votto. It was this: The Indians’ second-rate bullpen remains second-rate, and it’s the middle of July.
Consider, for example, the debris from the previous four games prior to Wednesday:
Saturday vs. Oakland: The bullpen gave up six runs, seven hits, including three home runs, in the last four innings of a 6-3 loss.
Sunday vs. Oakland: In the last three innings the bullpen gave up two runs, four hits, including a home run, and two walks in a 6-0 loss.
Monday vs. Cincinnati: The bullpen gave up two runs, four hits, including a home run and a walk, in the last two innings of a 7-5 loss.
Tuesday vs. Cincinnati: The bullpen gave up seven runs, five hits, including a double, plus three walks and a hit batter, during a marathon 11-batter, 41-pitch ninth inning in a 7-4 loss.
So just in the previous four games, over the span of nine innings, Cleveland relievers gave up 17 runs on 20 hits, five of them home runs, with five walks and a hit batter.
Predictably, the Indians lost all four games.
Not surprisingly, the Indians’ 5.37 bullpen ERA is the worst in the majors. It’s been a horrific and rapid death spiral for what had been the league’s best bullpen the last three years.
In 2015, the Indians’ 3.12 bullpen ERA ranked second in the American League. In 2016, they ranked second (3.45). Last year, they ranked first (2.89).
This year: They would have to rally to be a train wreck.
The numbers don’t lie. It’s a second-rate bullpen.
With its hair on fire.
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