[During the offseason, The Inside Pitch will provide a month-by-month look-back at the record-setting 2014 season. Beginning with a review of April on Sept. 9, fans can relive each month as we anxiously count down to the 2015 campaign.]
The bright lights of Durham welcomed Tribe DH Matt Hague, left-hander Andy Oliver and right-hander Casey Sadler to the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game and “second half” of the regular season.
Along with delivering strong individual performances, the star trio also helped power the Indians to a 53-46 record and share of first place in the International League West Division through July 13.
But after entering the break with three straight losses to their top-ranked counterparts from Columbus, the Tribe hit the Midsummer Classic in need of some much-deserved R&R for the upcoming stretch drive.
“I absolutely think this team can turn things around,” said reliever John Holdzkom in a pregame interview during the tough stretch. “The guys in that clubhouse, the [personalities] and talent, it’s too good to not (get back on track).”
Back in Durham, slugger Hague, who arrived on a last-minute flight at the tail-end of his promotion to Pittsburgh, went blow-for-blow with Triple-A’s perennial power hitters in the 2014 Home Run Derby. Hague slugged six homers as a semi-finalist in the competition, including depositing a towering blast off the “Durham Bull” target in left field to win each fan in attendance a free steak taco, courtesy of Moe’s Southwest Grill.
But more so courtesy of Matt Hague.
His final, steak taco-less bomb of the derby:
The Indians’ two All-Star hurlers of Sadler and Oliver waited one more night before showcasing their own talent during the IL’s clash with the Pacific Coast League on July 16.
Sadler received the ball in the fifth, erasing his first two batters on just four pitches. However, things took a turn for the weird with two outs and a man on first, as the right-hander’s strike-three offering to Gabriel Noriega scooted behind catcher Jhonatan Solano for a wild pitch that kept the inning alive.
Technically with three outs already to his name, Sadler rebounded from the added baserunner to induce a lineout and escape with a scoreless, four-out inning.
Oliver was due up in the eighth. The Indians’ southpaw also allowed two batters to reach safely before craftily escaping the jam, flashing 94 MPH en route to retiring Seattle Mariners No. 8 prospect Chris Taylor with a double-play ball that capped his appearance.
Unfortunately for Oliver, his swing-man, Luis Garcia, was unable to replicate the effort and allowed Oliver’s sponsored runner to score on an RBI double. In the overall picture, just a minor detail of the IL’s dominant 7-3 All-Star victory.
The Tribe emerged on the other side of the break with the welcomed reinforcement of reigning Pirates Minor League Player of the Year, Andrew Lambo. Sidelined since May with a nagging thumb injury, the heavy hitter returned to the lineup to produce seven hits in his first three games, highlighted by a four-knock effort in a historic 15-5 thumping at Columbus on July 19.
Historic by the fact six of 18 total hits left the ballpark.
With two homers from both Lambo and Robert Andino, plus a blast from Dean Anna and Chris McGuiness, the Tribe’s offense ranked just one big fly shy of the Victory Field Era (1996) record seven home runs from July 3, 1997 at Nashville.
What’s more, three of those six homers left the yard in the first inning, which also nearly matched the VF mark of a four-HR fifth inning on May 20, 1998 at Pawtucket.
The offense continued clicking from the six shooter to pace a 3-1 series win over the Clippers. The third and final victory of the divisional set also gave manager Dean Treanor his 300th victory at the helm of the Indians, moving the skipper into an impressive fraternity of just seven managers in franchise history to amass 300 team wins.
“(Winning) is not easy, and I’ve been very fortunate to have the quality of players that we’ve had,” Treanor said . “But that’s why the door to my office is closed a lot; there are a lot of meetings, there are a lot of one-on-ones (with players) and I’ve been fortunate to have a great staff too and that helps and adds to it.”
Treanor joined the rare company of Dave Miley (314), Donie Bush (365), C.C. Carr (370), Wade Killefer (455), Vern Rapp (513) and J.C. Hendrinks (764) as the elite echelon of the team’s 300-win club.
But winning soon became a luxury for Treanor and the Indians.
The club departed from Columbus and began a seven-game losing streak – tied for the longest such stretch of the season – from July 21-27. Following a home sweep by the Charlotte Knights, the Tribe dropped three of its first four contests in Rochester to fall to 56-54 on the year and two games back in the division.
In a tailspin, Indianapolis needed “outside” help to avoid an eighth consecutive defeat.
And there was no better solution than rehabbing Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, who struck out seven over five scoreless innings as the Indians’ pitcher of record in a 5-0 shutout of the RedWings.
“I expected a little more rust than what he gave me,” said backstop Tony Sanchez after the victory. “He was actually extremely impressive, fastballs to both sides of the plate with command. We elevated when we wanted to, and we kept the ball down (when we wanted).”
Tribe ace Sadler would follow Pirates ace Cole with the Indians’ final victory of the month on July 31 at Buffalo. Sadler used seven innings of three-run ball to pick up his team-high ninth win and improve the club’s overall record to 58-56 through the end of July.
The Indians’ tough month at 11 wins and 19 losses proved costly in the standings.No longer ranked atop the IL West, the Tribe hoped to gear up for the final month of the season to chase down a 1.5-game deficit to Columbus.
If a potential playoff berth was to figure into any future plans, the Indianapolis Indians’ final postseason chance lay waiting in August.
JULY PLAYER OF THE MONTH:
Chase d’Arnaud began July with a pinch run and pinch hit appearance, before hitting safely in 21 of his 25 starts during the month. He notched a season-high, 10-game hit streak from July 6-13, just one shy of his career best from the 2008 campaign, and also produced a team-leading .303 clip (30-for-99) during his 25 starts.
d’Arnaud wrapped up his award-winning month by claiming the No. 1 slot on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Countdown with his over-the-wall, homer-robbing snag in center field on July 20 at Columbus.