Sunday, August 28, 2005

1994 vs. 2005

Despite taking the series (2 of 3) from the Jays, the Tribe finds itself behind the Yankees, who took advantage of playing the Royals to stake a lead in the Wild Card. Interestingly, the A's have pulled ahead of the Angels, who were swept by the Rays in St. Pete, in the West. That's right, those same Rays, that the Tribe took 3 of 4 from, knocked the "mighty" Halos off of their perch in the AL West.

Elarton will lead the Tribe into the Jake tomorrow to face Jeremy Bonderman. I'm hoping that a crowd of more than 20,000 show up; we ARE in a playoff race at the end of August. I guess that taste of letting Sandy Alomar go is still bitter in a lot of mouths.

Speaking of Sandy, I was thinking about how this year's Tribe reminds me of the 1994 team, with young talent sparking the way to meaningful games late in the season (strike notwithstanding). This team, however, seems to be made up of more players that fit into the "Cleveland" profile of hard-workers, accessible players, and overachievers.

The teams of the late '90s had players that, while immensely talented, never embraced the city the way that Cleveland begged to be embraced, particularly after the Browns left. In addition to the obviousness surliness of Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton always carried himself with an arrogance (remember how he dropped his bat on home after ball 4?) that Cleveland fans believed was a "swagger" that set the tone. In fact, I think that most of those players were out for themselves and their stats while subscribing more readily to the old "25 players, 25 cabs" relationship, allowing their unbelievable talent to make up for shortcomings in chemistry. How many of those players were genuinely likable? Carlos Baerga was, as was Alvaro Espinoza. The argument can be made that Manny, Thome, and Omar were likable; or was it that we wanted SO badly to have that one true hero that we threw the mantle of "Cleveland's Best" on those three, in that order, until they ultimately left town for greener (pun intended) pastures.

Those teams were likable for the brand of baseball that they played (pummel opponents into submission) and because of the improbable 1995 season, when it seemed like they won every other game in the bottom of the 9th. That season is what truly captured the city's attention. You feared to miss a game, lest you miss Belle's bomb off of Lee Smith or Eckersley walking off the mound saying,"WOW" after Manny did what he does. The players became heros because of what they did individually, not how they played as a team.

The 2005 team, however, seems to have players that play well together, often conveying a chemistry that probably isn't seen too often in an MLB clubhouse. Between Victor's ridiculous handshakes, Grady's almost otherworldly confidence (not to be confused with Lofton's arrogance), and Pronk's quotability (he said that he finished in the top 10 academically in his high school class, later chiming in that it was a class of 8), I cannot help but root for this team.

Since 2001, I've been determined to live by the idea that you cheer for the name of the front of the uniform, not the back. As the end of the '90s showed, becoming emotionally attached to individual players only leads to resementment towards the modern professional athlete.

However, I'm on board of this talented group of players, who seem to play their guts out every game (to use a Butch Davis term), never giving up.

Let's look at this weekend. Grady had a straight steal of home with 2 strikes on the player with the 3rd highest Average in the AL! Hafner hit two MONSTER bombs! The Stick had 7 straight hits! Millwood responds to the fact that he gets ZERO run support by saying, what's he going to do cry about it? He'd rather have a beer.

How is this town NOT embracing this team?!?

Off of the soapbox, with Miller and Rhodes on the DL, the bullpen remains lights-out as Bobby Howry seems to have hit another level as a set-up man. Seeing as how Wickman, Howry, and Sauerbeck are the only relievers not under contract next year, I see the 2006 bullpen shaking out like this:
Howry, assuming we sign him to close
Rhodes (not a true match-up lefty)
A Match-Up LH (either a FA or Tallet, Stanford, Traber, etc.)

Now, assuming that Scott Elarton signs a deal with the team (he apparently realized after Colorado that being in a comfortable situation is more important to him than counting every last dollar, which Millwood and Boras will certainly do this off-season), the Tribe has 4 starters in line:
The fifth spot could go to a FA, though the names out there aren't going to set the Cuyahoga on fire, or giving Fausto Carmona a shot at the fifth spot, with more young stud starters (Sowers, Miller, etc.) in the pipeline. I'd like to see what Carmona could do, though I'd like to see it as an open competition to force him to earn a spot, as C.C. memorably did a few years back.

Who's noticeably absent from this list? Jason Davis, who I believe will be part of a trade to land either a 1B or RF for next year. I would guess a RF because Ryan Garko (the top 1B prospect) seems a lot closer to being major league ready than the outfield prospects (Gutierrez, Snyder, and Cooper, to a lesser degree). Davis is still young and has a live arm, but as has happened to Tallet, Traber, and Cruceta (claimed off of waivers by Seattle), more talented arms have emerged and staked their claims into figuring into the future of the organization, perhaps more than Jason Dangerously.

With all of the thoughts and options on my mind about next year, I'll touch on building through Free Agency (a la the Yankees and the Cardinals) vs. building from within (a la the A's and the Braves) in the next post.

In the meantime, if you're anywhere near the Jake in the next three days, head to the game. I'll be there on Wednesday, which coincidentally is my anniversary. The Bride's comment after sweeping the Orioles, "If they're hot when they get back to town, we'll skip dinner and hit the game". That date will also be the year anniversary of the 22-0 drubbing of the Yankees in the Bronx.


Cy Slapnicka said...

God bless you Katie. Do you think I could sit you down with my new bride so you could explain this sort of rationale to her?

Is it sad that I am openly proposing skipping a dirt cheap trip to San Diego the weekend of October 1st so I can be in Cleveland for the season finale series vs the Sox? Is that battle winable or should I chalk it up to the wife? If I go to the game and she goes to Cali, am I sewing the seeds for an unhappy marriage?

Baltimoran said...

yes you are sewing the seeds, you need to find something in cleveland that she would like to spend 3 hours at some stupid outlet in Leesburg VA. then get stuck in an hours worth of traffic for some hick town fair...but my wife has bought me Tribe and Cavs tickets for the past x-mass and b-day so its all worth it in the end.

PC, enlightening post...when i think about it, who in their right mind wouldn't take Pronk and Grady over Belle and Kenny with solid young pitching outranking more big bats.
Happy Anniversary, its seems like only yesterday.

Cy Slapnicka said...

In case anyone isn't paying attention, 7 games back from the Sox if the Rangers lead holds in the 9th.

The strength of our schedules are almost identical the rest of the way, some weak teams, a good team from the West and a couples series with each other and MIN And one nice thing, we have 4 days off in Sept compared to one day for the Sox.

Crap, as I wrote that the lead has shrunk to 2 runs. Hopefull T-Rex Everett weakly flys out.