Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jump to Hyperspace

It seems that the team that everyone loves to dismiss and find fault with (or maybe I just spent a little too much time listening to Sports Talk today…then again, 30 seconds is too long) has slowly but surely mounted a bit of a run here to capture a 1 ½ game lead in the AL Central. The formula that they’re using to win comes as no surprise with the starting pitching leading the way, in historic fashion, picking up the slack for an offense starting to show signs of life and an unsettled bullpen (can today serve as the moment of transition to Masa as the closer?) still trying to find its sea legs. But, as always, the starting pitching is the constant with no signs of a even a crack in their armor as the Indians approach a terrific opportunity over the next two months (thanks to whomever is making these absurd MLB schedules) to separate themselves from the AL Central and pad their lead by taking advantage of what lies ahead.

The next 53 games leading up to the All-Star Break in mid-July pits the Tribe against some teams that aren’t exactly counted as the elite of MLB at the quarter mark of the season. This particular two month stretch of opponents for the Tribe, listed in descending order and not in chronological order (with their records as of Thursday morning and respective totals in terms of runs and team ERA) based on amount of games played up to the “Midsummer Classic” are thus:
Chicago White Sox (19-20) – 9 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.52
Team ERA – 3.70

Texas Rangers (20-22) – 7 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.76
Team ERA – 4.73

Cincinnati Reds (18-23) – 6 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.44
Team ERA – 4.71

Detroit Tigers (16-24) – 6 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.55
Team ERA – 4.96

Minnesota Twins (20-19) – 6 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.43
Team ERA – 4.24

Tampa Bay Rays (23-17) – 4 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.53
Team ERA – 3.69

Kansas City Royals (18-21) – 3 games
Runs Scored per Game – 3.53
Team ERA – 4.19

San Diego Padres (15-26) – 3 games
Runs Scored per Game – 3.41
Team ERA – 4.25

Colorado Rockies (15-25) – 3 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.27
Team ERA – 4.80

LA Dodgers (20-19) – 3 games
Runs Scored per Game – 4.95
Team ERA – 4.11

SF Giants (17-24) – 3 games
Runs Scored per Game – 3.49
Team ERA – 4.27

Looking at this schedule, it just feels like the Indians are Bruce Lee, slowly stepping into a circle populated by lesser men, taking on all opponents one by one, just waiting to vanquish them almost relishing the task at hand confident in his talent and the tools at his disposal.

Back to reality and before getting too in-depth on this two month stretch, how nice is it to see the DEEE-TROIT Tigers with the second worst record among these teams when we’re playing 7 of the bottom 8 teams in MLB, according to ESPN.com’s Power Rankings (which should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt as big as John Kruk’s pumpkin-sized head) as of May 9th, after hearing ad nauseum all off-season that the Tigers were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees in terms of offensive production and that their thin starting pitching (welcome to the AL, Dontrelle) and bullpen wouldn’t be a problem because their lineup boasted approximately 36 future Hall-of-Famers?

Hey, Dombrowski, how would Jair Juerrjens look in the rotation these days…or even Andrew Miller, who has put two terrific outings together for the Fish in the month of May? I know it’s awfully early to gloat, but I just don’t see an obvious solution to the Tigers’ pitching problems, particularly as each dreadful Verlander start passes (he’s given up less than 4 ER in exactly one of his eight starts to date) and The Gambler gets older (May 10th marked the halfway point of his 43rd year on Earth) that would save their season unless they start averaging about 10 runs a game.

But, I digress.
Back to the matter at hand, as over the next 53 games the Tribe will play teams that have a cumulative 184-240 record (a .434 winning percentage) while playing only three teams (among the 11) that have winning records to date. Less than ½ of the teams are scoring more runs than they are allowing (important to note that the Indians are averaging 4.25 runs a game while posting a team ERA of 3.32, which is the best ERA on this list and constitutes the best runs scored versus runs allowed per game differential on this list at 0.93 more runs scored per game than allowed) and the list looks to be populated with teams built on offense as opposed to pitching, which certainly plays into the Indians’ favor given the sterling performance of the Tribe starters over the past…well…over the whole season save a few early C.C. and Byrd starts.

MLB is full of parity this year, to be sure…but guess what?
If we can complain about how ridiculous the schedule looks regarding our season series in terms of entertainment (done with the Yankees and only six games remaining against the Angels with “only” 121 games left to play) or in terms of interleague play crushing what once were AL East division “rivals” for the Tribe (the aforementioned conclusion of the Yankees’ season series, four games left against the Red Sox, three games left with Toronto), we can also chirp about how great it will be to face a struggling AL Central in nearly ½ the games leading to the All-Star Break and avoiding the Diamondbacks while playing every other team in the relatively weak NL West.

It’s a flawed schedule, thanks to the continued belief in the League office that people in Cleveland are dying to see NL teams (but that’s a whole other topic) and some lack of foresight in terms of traveling and off-days. However, if the Indians stand to come into what could be perceived as an “easy” part of their schedule sitting on a 1 ½ game division lead in the Central without playing their best (or even close to their best) baseball, isn’t this two month stretch a perfect time to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the AL Central like a hot knife through soft butter? The fact that they are playing so many divisional games gives them the opportunity to not only rack up some wins, but to fill the loss ledger of their AL Central divisional counterparts at the same time to put this thing away early…because it is still early.

But this stretch gives the team an opportunity to make that jump to hyperspace and leave the rest of the division light years away…punch it, Chewy.

18 comments:

Halifax said...

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal mentions in his latest column the idea of Colorado dealing Matt Holiday for a slew of low-levelers. How would that look for the Indians, their lineup and prospects gone? Holday is signed through 2009.

Man, this pitching has been ridiculously good. Match up some offense, any offense, and they're almost a lock.

Speaking of offense, nice job of situational hitting today by the Tribe (again). Three times a runner on third with less than two out, in those at ats with those same runners on third, 5 of 6 batters STRUCK OUT!

Sadly, this has been more the norm rather than the exception under Wedge's watch.He ripped them, but isn't it somewhat on him?

Steve said...

It is what it is. You can't get your daub down.

(sorry...had to do it...)

Halifax said...

I'm not. With this pitching the Indians are going to win the Central, but I'm afraid that's as far as it goes with their pathetic offense. When it really matters (Sept/Oct) the situational hitting is key and that's when the lack of it is really glaring.

Joshua Whitman said...

Question About Wedge:

It seems that his approach this year is to rest players in bunches (at least within the last week). In the last three series he has sat multiple players in the same game.

May 8th vs. Yankees: Martinez / Hafner / Cabrera

May 12th vs. Blue Jays: Garko / Francisco & Dellucci / Martinez

May 15th vs. A's: Martinez / Blake / Cabrera

Is seems the mentality is that the series is won, so let's get the resting out of the way and be ready for the next series. I'm not suggesting it is right or wrong or that Wedge is not trying to win every game, it is just an observation. I know last year one of his approaches was to make Shoppach Byrd's personal catcher thus giving Martinez a rest about every 5th day, but he's not doing that this year. Just wondering if you noticed and if you think there is anything to it.

Ryan said...

Loved the Lee and Star Wars comparisons. Keep up the good work.

Tribe finally makes it to my location this weekend, and I'm going to be in a cornfield three hours north of the action. Typical.

Here's hoping Wedgie can pull off his best Han Solo and get this team another shot at the evil empire, the BoSox.

Ryan said...

Further expanding my Star Wars dorkiness...

If Boston is the Empire, would that make ManRam the deathstar? And if so, would C.P. Lee take the role of young Skywalker going in for the kill?

Paul Cousineau said...

Hal,
You want a red flag on Holliday?
Career Road Statistics
.336 OBP / .444 SLG / .780 OPS
Career Home Statistics
.426 OBP / .664 SLG / 1.090 OPS
Coors Field anyone? I'll pass.

JW,
I think that was more of a by-product of the Yankees and A's games being day games after night games and the Toronto doubleheader to give guys some rest. I don't think there's too much more to look into.

Ron Vallo said...

I think all the lineup changes are out of desparation - throw things up there and hope something sticks.

While you can't argue with success, I'm going to try. Although Jhonny Peralta has produced during his two games in the 2-hole I just can't see that he, in any way, shape or form, is a No. 2 hitter.

Paul Cousineau said...

RV,
I think you're dead-on with the "throw things up there" strategy at this point...and, yes, the Peralta in the #2 hole makes me gag every time I see the lineup.

Halifax said...

I'm with you guys on the 2-gag.

On Holliday, not sparkling road numbers but with familiarity and routine I'd guess everyone's are somewhat skewed, just not sure how much.

Daedalus said...

don't let records fool you into thinking these games will be easy. for instance, this weekend, you have to face a young (though somewhat inconsistent) fireballer Johnny Cueto, one of the best pitchers in the NL Aaron Harang, and the 6-1 1.12 young flamethrower Edinson Volquez. Cueto and Harang have both been victims of low run support. All three are in the top fifteen strikeout leaders, and i noticed you guys are third in the AL in team strikeouts. Will make for an interesting series.

Halifax said...

Interesting article on Hank Steinbrenner and the Yankees:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/jon_heyman/05/16/cashman/index.html?eref=T1

Seems Hank really wanted Santana and is ticked at the performance level of his team as well as Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes.

JUST A QUESTION to throw out to you guys -- If Hank the Horrible has to have his way, would you deal CC for both Kennedy and Hughes (if he were off the DL)?

CC is now throwing well and the Indians have Laffey waiting for his ticket back to Buffalo after a sub-2.00 ERA in his stint there.

The move would solidify the Tribe's deep layer of arms while also allowing to move such fellows as Miller, Sowers and Lofgren, or even Kennedy for that matter, to bring some much needed offense. It would also line up youngsters Carmona, Hughes (who I still think is a star in waiting), Laffey, Miller, Sowers and Kennedy up to replace Westbrook, Lee and Byrd when their contracts are up. It makes a strength stronger for the Tribe, and we have recently seen just how important that strength can be in baseball. CC's gone after this year anyway, and if you can reload while having an adequate replacement, why not?

Unfortunately, the one bad thing it does is fortify the struggling Yankees staff, but the Indians probably still win the division and facing CC in the playoffs -- how bad could that be?

minktrapper said...

Last night was just a reminder for us that pitching a decent game, keeping us in it, giving us a chance to win, etc. etc. etc....just ain't enough...

Paul Cousineau said...

Can't win 'em all MT.

15-8 in the last 23.
I'll take that.

And, no, Halifax - I wouldn't trade CC this year under any circumstances with the Central looking to be ours and the overall parity in MLB. Trading CC weakens THIS team significantly for THIS year. I think this is the year that "building for the future" takes a back seat to the here and now.

Halifax said...

Wanted -- major league hitters, no Indians need apply . . .

Ben Farancisco appears to be a real player.

Tribe, get some offense, and a closer while you're at it.

Halifax said...

PS -- How many more games do we have to watch Jhonny Peralta at short when Asdrual Cabrera is available?

Rockdawg said...

I am not panicking as much as some in this forum, but I couldn't help but notice that the Tribe managed to insert NINE hitters today (pitcherse excluded) with an average under .242. Ouch.

Halifax said...

I'm not panicking, I just really dislike having Jhonny Peralta as this team's SS -- especially when he hits .220.

Speaking of ouch -- not a good turn facing the first team on Paul's list of mediocre teams we're playing. But really, people, going in there was a decent chance of getting swept when looking at the three pitchers the Tribe was facing paired with the way they're hitting. Even when we've won lately it's been slim margins, and the team is still relying on HRs to score (see the other night when they generated three runs, all solo shots , on 5 total hits).