Monday, July 02, 2007

Halfway Home

The season…she is halfway home and it’s time to pull out the old red pen. At the urging of the guys over at SportProjections.com, I’ve decided to polish the apple on my desk and play the role of teacher.

First Half Report Card
Pitching Grade: B+
Hitting Grade: A-
Fielding Grade: B+
Managing Grade: B
Overall Grade: B

First Half Summary
The Indians have played the part of Team Teflon in the 1st half, overcoming two of their starters (Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook) spending significant time on the DL, having four games snowed out, playing “home” games in Milwaukee, a two month stretch when Travis Hafner was simply Travis Hafner and not Pronk (.228 average in May, .218 average in June), and lacking any kind of consistency from their middle relievers to sit atop the wicked AL Central.

Behind strong starting pitching (that is actually now finally hitting on all cylinders), a vastly improved defense, and a balance attack on offense (6 players are on pace for 75 RBI season, not counting the production of the LF platoon that has driven in 45 runs), the Indians have found ways to win, seemingly in every way imaginable.

Essentially, the immensely talented team that most pundits picked to be World Series contenders going into the 2006 season has finally arrived.
About a year late…but, better late than never.

First Half Star
Solidifying the middle of the lineup in the absence of consistent production from Pronk, Victor Martinez has put up numbers worthy of consideration for AL MVP in the first half of the 2007 season. To date, Vic the Stick ranks 11th in the AL in Batting Average, 9th in HR, 4th in RBI, and 9th in OPS to put the Indians 2nd ranked offense on his substantial shoulders and keep the Tribe offense productive and balanced. On pace for a 29 HR, 132 RBI season, Martinez has been the guiding light for the S.S. Tribe as it sets sail through the AL Central.

However, bigger than his offense, arguably, has been the rebound in his defensive efficiency. Manning two positions, Vic has seen his defense behind the dish improve to the point that he's thrown out 28.8% of potential base stealers this year (up from 18% last year) and has yet to commit an error in 16 games at 1B. His versatility has allowed Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Garko to thrive in their limited, but expanding, roles and served as the leader of the defense - unafraid to challenge a struggling pitcher.

If Grady Sizemore is the face of the Indians and Pronk and C.C. are the muscle that flexes to show this team's prowess, Victor is the heart of this team. His steadying influence on the offense and the pitching staff (he has the 5th best Catcher's ERA - or what the cumulative ERA of the pitchers he catches - in the AL) has been invaluable in the young season.

First Half Struggling Player

After Andy Marte was injured, the RF job (designed to be a platoon of Trot Nixon and Casey Blake) fell solely to the Boston Dirt Dog as Blake moved to 3B full-time, where he has thrived. Unlike Blake, however, Nixon has struggled as his numbers have consistently spiraled downward into embarrassment.

His OPS by month is as follows:
March/April -.786
May - .688
June - .522

Throw in the fact that Nixon has 2 HR and 12 doubles in his 246 plate appearances (1 HR, 8 doubles in his last 178) and the writing is on the wall for the veteran OF that his power has disappeared. Whether he is not fully recovered from off-season back surgery or he is simply a shell of the player he was in Boston, Nixon’s usefulness as an everyday (or even platoon) player has passed.

With youngsters Frank (the Tank) Gutierrez and The Ben Francisco Treat waiting in the wings and impressing in their short stints over the past month, anything more than a LH bat off the bench/pinch hitting role for the Trotter is irresponsible management.

Second Half Projection
The Tribe will continue to ride their rotation to success in the 2nd half, relying on the nasty 1-2 punch of C.C. Sabathia and emerging star Fausto Carmona, much like the Twins rode Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano to the AL Central crown last year.

On offense, the Tribe will remain near the top of MLB in terms of run production and the OF situation (with Nixon’s ineffectiveness) will be remedied from within, likely by Ben Francisco, who will be given a chance to play every day and could emerge with as another nice complementary part to augment the core triumvirate of Sizemore, Martinez, and Hafner (who, by the by, will have a monster 2nd half after signing a contract extension to finish close to his career averages).

The Indians will acquire one bullpen arm from outside the organization to ease the burden on super set-up guy Rafael Betancourt and allow Joe Borowski to pick his spots to close for fear of burning out the arm that failed a Phillies’ physical in the off-season. The arms on the lower end of the Indians’ radar in the farm (think Scott Lewis or Joe Ness) and possibly a young OF (Gutierrez or Brian Barton) will be used to pry the arm away from a team out of contention.

With the 7th inning solved by the acquired veteran arm, the Indians will use a combination of LHP Rafael Perez and prized prospect Atom Miller (doing his best Adam Wainwright impersonation) to solidify the remainder of the bullpen.

The Indians will remain neck and neck with the Tigers until the last week of the season, but pull away to win the Central to join the three other best teams in all of MLB (Boston, Los Angeles of Anaheim of Orange County in the Commonwealth of California, and the Motor City Kitties) in a tightly contested playoff AL scenario.

2007 Final Projected Record
96-66

Projected Year-End Divison Standings
1. Cleveland
2. Detroit
3. Minnesota
4. Kansas City
5. Chicago
It’s called Indians Fever, folks. Catch it!

2 comments:

Voltaire said...

I like it.

davdyer111 said...

I like Chicago in last. Nice touch.