Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hold That Obit

While most people probably have a similar story of where they were when they heard of the extent of Jake Westbrook’s elbow injury, I was sitting in the 3rd base boxes of Comerica Park on Saturday afternoon, sipping some adult beverages and readying myself for what was once thought to be a “must-see” game in the AL Central, if not the whole Major Leagues. The cell phone in my pocket vibrated and the text simply read “westbrook out for year”. After asking (via text) whether or not the surgery that would put him out for the year had any connection to a former Yankees pitcher with two first names (“tj?” I believe was the exact text), my phone came back with the words “probably…who cares”. And I think those final two words get to the crux of the way that a lot of people are feeling about the Indians these days – who cares?

Between sports talk radio-fueled conjecture that the whole team should be blown up because “everyone outside of Sizemore and Carmona should be fair game…and the Indians should entertain offers for them because this team is going nowhere as it is currently constructed” (I think I have that flawed logic right) and questions of “how long until Browns’ Training Camp starts”, let’s hold off on the doom-and-gloom that pervades the Cleveland sports psyche for a moment.

Is the news that Jake Westbrook is essentially out for this year, probably most of next year, and may never be the same pitcher a crushing blow in a series of them for the Erie Warriors? Certainly…and it’s made worse by the fact that he’s getting paid $33M for this season and the next two seasons.

Does this news, along with the fact that the Indians have endured a nightmare month from C.C., a catastrophic drop in effectiveness from several key cogs in the bullpen, and playing without 2 of their 3 best hitters (Victor on one leg does not make a full Victor) have the I-480 bridge filling up? I hope not, but the storm that this team is weathering just picked up some extra steam with the Westbrook news, furthering the unlikelihood that the Tribe can climb its way back into the Central race.

But, contrary to popular belief, all is not lost for this once-promising team or even this once-promising season…even as the White Sox get hot as the Indians tread water in the Central. It is still June and while the White Sox are doing their damnedest to pull away in the AL Central, there is a lot of baseball left to play in this season.

Before getting into this, let’s get the simple math out of the way in terms of the AL Central. Assuming that the AL Central is going to take about 88 games to win, here’s how the Indians and White Sox would have to close out their remaining games to reach 88 wins:
Indians: 59-39 (.602 winning percentage)
White Sox: 51-48 (.515 winning percentage)

Surely, you jest.

But hear me out on this as I’m not ready or willing to throw in the towel on this thing…yet. The only reason that I’m holding out hope on this (and, yes, I do watch the games every night) is that the Indians figure to play in what SHOULD be some very winnable games for the next three weeks before they head out to face the White Sox in Chicago at the end of June.
The schedule for the next three weeks:
MIN (31-33) @ home
SD (28-37) @ home
COL (24-39) on road
LAD (30-33) on road
SF (29-35) @ home
CIN (31-34) @ home
Could these teams be licking their lips at the anticipation of facing the 29-35 Tribe?
Sure, but the Indians’ offense has shown signs of life (aided admittedly by the launching pad in Texas…but those games and their results still count) as they’ve scored the 3rd most runs in MLB in June, while their starting pitching remains strong despite the absence of Carmona and Westbrook and figures to get a boost when Carmona returns. The Indians have the opportunity get fat on the NL West while the White Sox are forced to play the suddenly dominant Cubs (40-24, by the by) six times over the next three weeks and attempt to close the gap before their June 30th tussle with the South Siders.

Could the Indians continue to fall on their collective face and be done in by a bullpen that seemingly remains undeterred by escalating gas prices as they always bring their handy gas can to the mound with them or an offense incapable of cobbling together strings of extra-base hits? Of course, but despite reports that the Indians are dead in the water and that the White Sox are running and hiding with the AL Central pennant, it all seems a little premature given the date on the calendar.

Even if the Indians don’t make a huge dent in the White Sox lead heading into the month of July, have we all forgotten what happened in 2005 so quickly?
June 10, 2005
CHI: 41-19
MIN: 35-24 (5.5 GB)
CLE: 29-30 (11.5 GB)

July 31, 2005
CHI: 68-35
MIN: 54-50 (14.5 GB)
CLE: 55-51 (14.5 GB)

September 8, 2005
CHI: 87-52
CLE: 79-61 (8.5 GB)
MIN: 73-66 (14.0 GB)

September 24, 2005
CHI: 93-61
CLE: 92-63 (1.5 GB)
MIN: 78-76 (15.0 GB)

Obviously, we all know that the Indians fell just short of making the playoffs in 2005 after making one of the more spirited runs at a White Sox team that faded down the stretch. But look at those dates again above and consider where we are today:
June 10, 2008
CHI: 37-26
MIN: 31-33 (6.5 GB)
CLE: 29-35 (8.5 GB)

Not that dissimilar at this point in the season from 2005, and the Indians slipped further out of it before they quickly closed a 7-game gap in a three-week stretch in September of 2005. Surely that represents and exceptional case, but it at least sets a precedent (involving the same two teams a mere three seasons ago) for the Indians to continue to attempt to gradually dig out of a hole that, at this point, seems to be getting deeper by the day.

Now, if the Indians are sitting as far out as they were in 2005 this year at the Trading Deadline, there’s no question that the Tribe would be looking to move some pieces as the construction of the two clubs are at different stages of their maturation. But that date is over seven weeks away and the Indians still have the possibility to make up some ground in the Central prior to that date. Based on how quickly the Indians closed that gap in a three-week stretch in September of 2005, it’s not completely outside of the realm of feasibility…as hard as that may be to see given the recent road trip.

As frustrating as it is to watch this team scuffle (and the White Sox thrive), it remains early in a division that could tighten up in the next few weeks, so let’s hold off on the concession speeches and declarations of death for this team. With the caveat that if the Indians continue to go as they are (which is, playing about .500 ball against beatable teams and coughing up leads in winnable games) they’ll be fitted with a toe tag soon enough as they look to move some pieces (but, PLEASE, nobody not scheduled to become a FA after this season), the Indians are not out of this race based on precedent and what lies ahead.

All is not yet lost.
Don't get me wrong, it still could be...but not yet.
I'm still holding onto that towel in the corner.
I may be alone, but the towel hasn't hit the canvas by my hand.


Jeff said...

Tommy John actually broke into the bigs with the Indians. Played with the Tribe for like two years in the early 60s or so. Just throwing it out there.

Anonymous said...

Hold That Obit.....

Your optimism is why we all love you so much PC..

Learning to Swim said...

I share the hopes. Cy Young CC pitched a complete game tonight. Anytime the Tribe wins a one run game I feel the optimism rising, since 2006 is still fresh in my mind and the one run games were part of our downfall. Oh, and both the Red and Black sox (they'll never deserve their series) lost tonight, and well, those results bring much joy.

csusi said...

Barely know ya PC, but i got alot of love for ya. Why your not sitting in our dugout leading this team Ill never know. The hell if im dropping out of this season. Ive said it before, and ill keep repeating it. The white sox are not as good as the standings are showing. They'll fade. We got this.

Les Savy Ferd said...

keep hope alive!

also, you know what might also help this team out? Actually beating the White Sox in head to head match-ups!

You bring up 2005 and the story then was of tremendous disappointment. The Indians were 5-13 v the South Siders that year going an astonishing 1-8 at the Jake. This and the fact that 9 (!!?) of those 13 losses were surrendered by 1 run, a few in extras.

You change those head to head match-up results to even a 50/50 split between the two teams and the Indians make the post-season.

Contrast to this year:

Tribe is 3-6 v Chicago with the only one-run games (both losses) happening at Progressive field.

if this race is again close, and i do believe it will be, the remaining 9 games become absolutely crucial. 6 of those games will be in September, including the final series of the season at the Cell.

But maybe, just maybe it won't come to that. maybe we'll lock down and play lights out for the rest of the year and the White Sox will average out.

Go Tribe!!!

rodells said...

Back to back wins!

Time to keep moving forward without slipping back again.

Anonymous said...

Wish I shared your enthusiasm, my man, but you also have to look at the trajectories of the 2005 and 2008 teams. Those dates are points on vectors, not meaningful in themselves.

And the 2005 Indians were coming together right now, right? Guys getting healthier, guys heating up. Grady establishing himself, Jhonny and Travis tearing the cover off the ball, Howry and Rhodes and Fernando racking up holds, steady performances from Millwood and C.C. and Jake and Cliff, Scott Elarton being corporeally inhabited by the spirit of Don Drysdale...Everything was trending up by the Break.

And where are we now? The slugless Victor, Travis hurt and no sure bet for a comeback, two starters down, with few signs of improvement in the bullpen.

I'm not gonna play Debbie Downer all season -- I'd love more than anything to be wrong -- but I just don't see the same indicators of success that 2005 sported. We need three good bullpen arms (I've got a good feeling about Mujica, and about Lewis staging a comeback), we need a clean-up hitter (no train coming here), and we need the 2006 Jeremy Sowers (not to mention, no more injuries to the rotation). That's a lot to ask.

Paul Cousineau said...

I’m not saying that this team is about to run away with this whole thing as obvious problems do exist, but the notion that the Central is over is premature given that the White Sox face a lot of the same issues that the Indians do and simply by looking at the schedule coming up for the Tribe.

The 2005 squad used the stretch of their schedule in mid-to-late June against the weak NL West (the collective Winning Percentage as a division in 2005 was .459) to go 11-1 in a two week timeframe. THAT put the team on a roll when all of those things that you mention started happening, as they had just lost consecutive series (against the White Sox and Twins) before using the NL West as their launching pad for the rest of the season.

The 2008 NL West’s collective Winning Percentage right now is .457, and we’re not playing the league-leading Diamondbacks, so who’s to say that some answers aren’t going to present themselves before the end of June, just as they did in 2005?

I guess the whole point of my “enthusiasm” was really just a call for patience. There’s no doubt that the problems you mention (all which look very real right now) have the potential to sabotage the next month of this season. But what if a few bats get hot, the bullpen sorts itself out, and Carmona returns to make the Tribe’s rotation still pretty tough one through five?

I guess the point of my original rambling was that all of these scenarios (good and bad) playing out are still very possible and that it remains FAR too early to simply hang our heads and say that this thing is over.

And, yes, beating the CWS head-to-head wouldn't hurt our cause for the rest of the year.

Rockdawg said...

Interesting note about Tommy John..for someone so "famous", he is not leading the good life. Last year, I worked at 2nd Swing Golf, where an old man in extremely ratty clothes and unkept personal appearance was a regular. He never bought anything, he just used to kind of bumble around the store. One day I asked my manager if our "regular" may be homeless. Another costumer heard me, and said, "You guys didn't know that's Tommy John?" "THE Tommy John?" I asked. After a debate, we called him over, and sure enough, he had the scar and license to prove who he was.

I was shocked, because I guess I just always figured that someone who's name is mentioned countless times a year on ESPN, in media, etc. would be better off....

Cy Slapnicka said...

did ole tommmy become the golf store mascot like in "Radio"?

regarding the indians, sure, you can say 2008 and is nothing like 2005. thats not the point, the point is we are 7 games out in june and the division leader can't possibly keep this up. right?

i just don't want my season to be over. we can all agree this is a flawed team, but they still have the potential to play in the ONE actober. and ya know what, i'd sell my left nut for a repeat of the fun that was the 2005 season, even though it was deemed a "failure" by some. its a lot to ask, yes. but why not? it is certainly possible.

all this talk about a comeback and 2005 brought back some painful memories, driving to cleveland for the debut of my supersizemore shirt, witnessing all three games of the season ending sweep, etc i decided to go back and read a few posts...

PC had an entry on the 2nd last day of the season titled "Don't Stop Believin" (years before david chase ripped him off) and the Baltimorian had a great suggestion for a column title.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains

Lie la lie...

Rockdawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rockdawg said...

I just heard a 3rd inning interveiw with CC, which just may have been the worst interview with any athlete in any sport I've ever seen. The uncomfortable silences and fake laughing was almost unbearable. So is Manning (who I do like) calling Sabathia, quite simply, "C".

Classic trip into Rip City for Byrd.

csusi said...

From here on out, whenever i get screwed or life throws me curve I will now label it with Webster's newest entry:

(pron): jay-bo
alt: jay-bowed


1. The act of being screwed.

[YOUR FRONT DOOR GETS EGGED]:"Dang, I just got j-bowed"
[FLAT TIRE]: "Isnt that a j-bo."
[CUT OFF IN TRAFFIC]: "that fricking j-bo"

Flows well. I feel it shows the correct amount of frustration/disparity over a certain situation.

And dont give me the whole, "he didnt lose the game for us, we were already down before he came in." Listen, i would see it alot easier on the ole mentality to come into the bottom of the ninth with the thoughts of, "alright, one run and we're back in this" rather than, "alright, 3 more runs and we're back in this."

And tell me this. When has this man ever, and i mean EVER came in and done his job WELL. Cause ive never seen it. Why is he here? Because he's all we got? My ass. They could hold a "fan of the night" contest at Progressive to provide us with a better closer each night.

Its getting real old watching this dude even walk to the mound.

Halifax said...

OK,feel better csusi? Now we'll try Betancou . . . oh, wait, we already did and he was worthless, too.

I totally agree, he's bad. But so is the rest of the team.

This looks like one of those years when nothing goes right. They happen. Let's sit back, don't take it too seriously and enjoy baseball. Sooner or later they'll get a hot streak that'll make it fun to watch, and after all, it is still baseball . . . well, sort of.

csusi said...

but to be able to play baseball, i would figure youd need to be a "baseball player". j-bo is a walking ulcer.