En route to blowing a 3-1 Cleveland Indians’ lead in the ninth to squander Corey Kluber’s incredible outing, John Axford’s true colors showed in capping off his second blown save to the Chicago White Sox. Kluber struck out 13 in eight innings before handing the keys over to Axford to complete the three-game sweep. The blown save was foreshadowed by six balls to begin the ninth as Axford’s weekend ended with two different tales.
Upon signing with the Indians last December, Axford’s major league comparison on Baseball Prospectus actually linked the 31-year-old to former Tribe closer Chris Perez. Much like what Perez brought, Axford’s last two save opportunities are exactly what we can expect from the right-handed reliever going forward — retiring the side in order on Saturday and allowing a three-run homer on Sunday.
His sporadic production is derailed by poor decision making plagued by ordinary pitches. The fastball hitting Dayan Viciedo saw four straight fastballs from Axford, with the fourth pitch missing up and over the plate. This tendency is nothing new for Axford, as he made a similar mistake to Alexei Ramirez three weeks ago that ended in walk-off big fly to left field. Similarities can also be linked back to his first blown save as both failed opportunities came the day after breezing through three batters. Not being able to survive pitching in consecutive game does not fit the responsibility for what manager Terry Francona had in mind for his closer.
Axford hasn’t allowed a lot of hits, but he has struggled in appearances where he allows runners to reach on walks. In 12.1 innings logged, Axford has allowed nine walks leading the charge for one swing to cause a great deal of damage. This nature of unreliable command can bring out the worst in Axford, allowing for losses like today to reappear when you least expect it.
As I have stated before, Axford will flash signs of brilliance and episodes of decay. For a team that has clawed its way to 13 wins through 31 games, dominant performances like Kluber’s today cannot be lost to closing opportunities in the ninth. The Tribe battled their way through bumpy stretches with Chris Perez in years past, but with a developing Central Division with the Kansas City Royals and White Sox alongside the Detroit Tigers, the Indians can’t afford to lose ground in the standings due to the inability to finish games.