Monday, August 22, 2005

Hitting Their Stride

With the Tribe 1/2 game out of the Wild Card and an opportunity to pull into a tie with the A's if they can pull out the series opener in Tampa Bay, this team really seems to be running on all cylinders.

The solid starting pitching and bullpen work has been complemented by a lineup that looks to be cemented. Those factors should be enough to keep the Tribe in the Wild Card race deep into the season. Watching the national highlights while in Milwaukee, though, made me realize that the out of town posters are certainly correct in their complaining about lack of national coverage of the Indians, or even their inclusion in playoff discussions. It's almost as if the Indians aren't even involved, which is very frustrating.

In the most recent Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci names his All Under 25 Team (players younger than 25). The only Indian on the team is Grady Sizemore, who is compared to a young Jim Edmonds, with Jhonny Peralta getting a mention at SS (Bobby Crosby was Verducci's pick). C.C. also gets a mention as the youngest active pitcher to reach 50 wins, but doesn't make the team.

Shapiro was also quoted in the article as to how the quality of young talent is much more evident in pitching than position players. He added, "At the trading deadline it seemed everybody was looking for a hitter, and there was a reason they couldn't find one: They're not there. It's a cyclical thing - and now it's a down cycle for position players."
If that's true, the fact that the Indians are very talented and young at C, SS, CF, and DH bodes well for the future of this team and franchise.

Let's hope that the Tribe can take a couple from the red-hot Devil Rays (is that an oxymoron?) to keep their momentum going into the stretch run.


Cy Slapnicka said...

based on the results during my absence, maybe we should take up a collection and send me back? All checks can be mailed to my home. I also accept paypal.

t-bone said...

all the espn insider blogs are talking tribe today... eric karabel's fantasy baseball blog...

Terrific Tribe
Tuesday: OK, are you taking the Cleveland Indians seriously now? I mean, they are tied for the AL wild-card lead with the Yankees and A's. We've been trying to tell you about the Indians in fantasy, the major impact they have.

Let's do it again, discuss more than 10 not-so-little Indians.

• We wrote a few weeks ago that Jhonny Peralta was becoming the next Miguel Tejada, and he's not only a great keeper for now and the next decade, but get him now. I got some interesting feedback on that blog entry, with the negative remarks from people who didn't bother to look up the stats. Doesn't look so silly now, does it? Peralta won't stop hitting. He's already got six homers and 17 RBI in August, with a week to go. He's 15th in the majors in OPS, and his overall numbers are looking a lot like Tejada's (only two fewer HR, similar average). It's not a stretch to call Peralta the second-best shortstop in fantasy moving forward, ahead of Michael Young, Derek Jeter and the big basestealers.

• Nothing wrong with Victor Martinez now, eh? Fantasy owners weren't patient enough with the switch-hitting catcher, generally parting with him when he entered June with a mere four home runs and a .210 batting average. Bad move. Martinez knocked in 18 runs in June and July, and is hitting .349 in August. While Jason Varitek gets the pub as fantasy's top catcher -- and he is having a great season -- Martinez just passed him in RBI and is closing in for home runs and average. Martinez leads all catchers in RBI now, and they're coming in bunches. Basically, he's the best catcher in fantasy right now, and due to his age and that of Varitek, I'd call Martinez and Joe Mauer the top two backstops for fantasy in 2006.

• OK, you know the stars. No need to discuss the other big hitter for the Tribe, Travis Hafner, because he's owned in every league and deservedly so, with the fourth-best OPS in the game. Who can you still get? Don't laugh, but Aaron Boone is now owned in 6.9 percent of ESPN ML leagues and it's rising. Why? Since the All-Star break Boone has hit .297. Smart, patient fantasy owners knew this guy couldn't hit below .200 all season, and they've been rewarded. Boone also stole a pair of bases Sunday. Is he a great fantasy option? Well, I know many of you play in deep leagues, or AL-only ones. Boone's been a good hitter for years, so expect he'll keep his average in the .300 range and give you a few homers and steals the rest of the way. And don't forget Casey Blake either; his .200 average has under-the-radar risen to .243, and he's got 15 home runs as well.

• Guess how many players in baseball have at least 15 home runs and 15 steals. Only four players have done this, and not Carlos Beltran, Derrek Lee or Carl Crawford (though they're close). We've got Bobby Abreu, Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano and an Indian: Grady Sizemore. Grady's the real deal, a young, lefty-hitting outfielder who could be batting third for a lot of teams. He leads off here, and has the second-best OPS of any regular leadoff hitter (behind Baltimore's Roberts). Sizemore's definitely on his way to a 20-20 season, but he's also knocking runs in, with 12 or more RBI in each of the last four months, 17 in August. How can a leadoff hitter do that? It helps when the bottom of a batting order gets on base. Jeter has had years like this as well. Like Chase Utley, Sizemore is learning how to hit lefties, and next season you should draft Sizemore in the same range as Corey Patterson went this season, fourth or fifth round. Difference is, Sizemore's a better player.

• I cut Ben Broussard two weeks ago in an important league, a deep one, and already I'm having regrets. In four months Big Ben wasn't very big, hitting below .250 with only 10 home runs. What did I expect? Well, last year he hit .275 with 17 and 82, and I figured he'd hit fifth or sixth and knock in more runs, frankly. Owned in only 2.8 percent of leagues, Broussard platoons vs. lefties (Jose Hernandez gets the at-bats) and journeyman Jeff Liefer was stealing some of the other at-bats (including a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning, when both are lefty hitters; very interesting). Broussard has a pair of home runs in his last nine at-bats, as well as a double. Am I rushing to sign him again? No, but I think a lot of people in AL leagues are about one good game away from doing just that.

• Switching to the pitchers, Bob Wickman is a mere one save off the AL lead, remarkable considering the expectations he had back in March. I got Wickman for a dollar in an auction league, and for perspective, even bad closers like Jose Mesa were going for $8-10. But the point I want to make on Wickman is one of frustration. He's got 32 saves. He could finish with that and remain a fantasy steal. I'm wondering if he might actually finish with that! I traded for Wickman two weeks ago, and he's got one save. But the Indians win every night. Blame Peralta, I say. Too many runs. As good as Wickman has been, he's not a fantasy keeper. He might not even be an Indian, and there's no lock he becomes someone else's closer or that he duplicates this success. Looking at his peripheral stats (high 1.32 WHIP, few K's), it's hard to believe he's been this good.

• Who is Cleveland's top fantasy starter for the season? The Player Rater tells us it's Cliff Lee, barely beating out Kevin Millwood. The fact is, Millwood leads all Indians starters in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and until recently was the least owned in fantasy. Yep, hard to believe. But with a 7-10 record, fantasy owners have mistakenly ignored the other numbers. Millwood's just not getting run support.

• A few months ago, that guy was Jake Westbrook, but now he's 24th in the majors in run support. Doesn't hurt, right? Westbrook now has 11 wins, and a solid WHIP of 1.28. All Indians starters are worth owning, really, though fantasy owners complain about C.C. Sabathia, who has the worst numbers on the staff, and continue to ignore Scott Elarton, who is useful.

• Need a middle reliever to keep that ERA and WHIP down? Remove saves from the equation and Wickman is really about the fourth-best reliever on the team. David Riske has the most relief innings on the team, and a sparkling 0.82 WHIP. Rafael Betancourt has the best strikeout rate on the team, all pitchers included. Bobby Howry is among the AL leaders in holds and has a 3.06 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. And lefty specialist Arthur Rhodes, an enemy to fantasy owners for his past failings in closer chances, has a 1.98 ERA. It's no wonder this team doesn't cough up runs in the late innings.

• We need a 10th section here, so why not discuss the kids? Remember when Brandon Phillips was going to be the next great shortstop? Well, he won't be manning short for this franchise anytime soon. Maybe he slots in at second, and Ronnie Belliard heads elsewhere, but Phillips is only hitting .249 for Buffalo, and still strikes out too much. Jason Dubois has power, as he showed in the Cubs' organization before being traded for Jody Gerut, but there's no room on the Indians' roster. Expect him back in September to hit against lefties, though he hasn't done that so well this season. Looking at the Baseball America top 50 prospects for this season, a few Indians are there, but nobody we should watch for in fantasy this season: Adam Miller, a starting pitcher, is 16th overall, and could figure into the rotation next year. Michael Aubrey is a first baseman doing OK in Double A, and ranked 41st. Hey, as long as Hafner is the DH and Broussard underwhelms, Aubrey has a chance in two years.
posted: August 23, 2005 10:21:41 AM PDT | Feedback

buster olney's:

Surging Indians in familiar spot
The Cleveland Indians made a run toward the top of the standings last year, too. After slogging along at 42-46, the Indians won 21 of their next 30, hitting like crazy, doing everything right. On Aug. 14, Jake Westbrook shut down Minnesota, allowing only one run in seven innings, and Cleveland pulled to within a game of the first-place Twins.

And then the Indians utterly collapsed, plummeting into a precipitous losing streak which wrecked all the work they had done the previous month. "We just fell off," Westbrook said Monday. "Nine in a row."

The Indians are making another run now: They've moved into a first-place tie for the wild-card lead, and like mile runners who hear the bell for the final lap, they are elbow to elbow with the Yankees and the Athletics. Westbrook believes the knowledge gained last year will help them. "We realize we can't slack off, that we have to be more consistent," said Westbrook.

Ten days ago, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays went into Cleveland and swept the Indians, closing them out on Aug. 14, the exact date that was the high-water mark last year. "We kind of took a step back there, and we realized we didn't want to repeat what we did last year," said Westbrook.

Since then, the Indians took two of three from the fading Texas Rangers, and crushed the Baltimore Orioles in a three-game sweep, outscoring the O's 16-6. On Monday, the Indians pounded the Devil Rays, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning and racking up five homers in an 11-4 victory.

Westbrook will take the mound Tuesday night with a chance to pitch Cleveland into the lead for the wild card. He and the rest of the Indians are a different kind of contender than they were a year ago -- better prepared, more rounded.

Westbrook has learned to trust his nasty sinker, generating the highest groundball to flyball ratio (3.4 to 1) of any American League pitcher. Cliff Lee has pitched well, and has given the Indians depth in the rotation, along with C.C. Sabathia and Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton.

The bullpen was a mess last year, and this season, the Indians lead the majors in relief ERA, at 2.85. Only Houston has a higher strikeout-to-walk ratio among big-league bullpens than Cleveland's 2.63. Travis Hafner has recovered from his beaning and has returned to be the anchor of the middle of the lineup, with Jhonny Peralta thriving in the No. 3 spot in the batting order; he's batting .324 with seven homers and 24 RBI in only 109 at-bats there.

Oakland probably has better starting pitching, the Yankees probably have a better offense, along with Mariano Rivera. But you get the sense that this year, the Indians are not going to fade away in August.

Arthur Rhodes is close to rejoining the Indians, with a simulated game on the docket for the veteran left-hander. Even in defeat, the D-Rays are feeling good.