Sunday, April 05, 2009

What Lies Ahead

In lieu of the average season preview, it’s time to unleash the 2nd version of a modified “Season in Preview”, complete with inane incidents, fabricated numbers, and outright frivolity of what may come to pass this season. While the events that follow are wildly unlikely to happen in this order, it is one man’s best guess as we stand at the precipice of another glorious baseball season as to what 2009 holds in store for us.

The ups and downs, the surprises and disappointments…they’re all here as I kick back and let my mind just go:
April 6th vs. Texas - Season Opener
Proving once again that Spring Training stats are meaningless, reigning Cy Young Award winner Clifton Phifer Lee picks up right where he left off in 2008, pounding the strike zone with his fastball all afternoon and going 8 innings of shutout baseball before turning the ball over to Kerry Wood to close out the 9th for the 1st of his 38 saves of the year as the Indians start out their season on the right foot, winning 3-0. The offense is keyed by a big day for 1B Victor Martinez, who miraculously avoids injuring himself and blasts the first 2 of his 24 HR that he will hit in 2009, knocking in all 3 of the runs.

April 10th vs. Toronto - Home Opener
In his first start of the year, newly minted 4th starter Scott Lewis recaptures the success that he found early in Spring Training, lasting 6 innings against the Blue Jays allowing only 4 baserunners and 2 runs. Despite a scare in the 7th inning from Rafael Perez, who gives up 2 more runs in what will be the first of his early rough appearances attributed to “WBCitis”, the Indians’ early offense carries them to a 5-4 win as Kerry Wood makes his Progressive Field debut to much acclaim and fanfare by notching his 3rd save of the young season. The start signifies a stretch of competency for Lewis, who fills out the rotation adequately (when healthy) as he eventually finds himself 3rd on the team in wins at end of year with 9, yes…3rd on the team with 9 wins.

April 16th vs. New York (AL) - Opening Day @ Yankee Stadium
Connecting on the very first pitch thrown by new Yankees “ace” CC Sabathia in new Yankee Stadium, Grady Sizemore wallops the first of his 2 HR of the day off of his former teammate, making his Yankee debut. The superhuman efforts, and 5 RBI, by Sizemore prove to not be enough, despite Sabathia going only 4 innings as his pitch count tops 100 after only netting 10 outs. The day is saved for Yankee “fans” (and ESPN) as the Yankees score 5 runs off of Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez in the 6th and 7th innings, allowing the Yankees to take the day while CC is left to face a horde of NY reporters and tell them that he was NOT overly amped up to face his former team on Opening Day. It is the first such uncomfortable session of many throughout the year that Sabathia and the NY media will endure.

April 20th
David Dellucci is activated from the DL, as the Indians send Trevor Crowe, who had gone 1-3 in his very brief time with the Indians, back to Columbus for everyday AB to prepare him for the more permanent spot on the roster that awaits him in less than a month.

April 24th vs. Minnesota
For the second time in his three starts, Carl Pavano is pulled before getting out of the 4th inning as Zach Jackson relieves the Tribe’s ineffective “reclamation project”. Jackson does not fare much better as the Twins batter the Indians’ pitchers (a regrettable combination of Pavano, Jackson, and Kobayashi) for a final score of 14-5. With the win, the Twins assume first place in the Central, a spot they will not relinquish for the next five months as their strong starting pitching paces them and allows the team to assert itself as the leader of the pack in the Central for much of the season.

April 26th vs. Minnesota
Laying waste to a solid starting effort by Anthony Reyes, Masa Kobayashi gives up 5 runs in the 6th inning as Eric Wedge attempts to save his beleaguered pen (consistently overtaxed in the early season by short starts from Pavano, Lewis, and Reyes) for the defending AL Champion Red Sox, who come to town the next day. After the game, the Indians cut ties with Kobayashi, eating his $3M salary and calling Spring Training darling Vinnie “The Incredible” Chulk up to the parent club to replace Kobayashi on the team. Upon hearing the news, Kobayashi loads up the Wal-Mart shopping cart that he has inexplicably brought into the clubhouse with his “suction” machine, his home eyebrow waxing kit, and other gadgets to return to Japan, never to return stateside.

April 29th vs. Boston

After taking the first two games in the series from the BoSox, the Indians are unable to complete the home sweep when, after loading the bases against Boston closer Jonathon Papelbon down by 1 run, the erstwhile rally is snuffed out when Travis Hafner weakly grounds out to Dustin Pedroia, who initiates a 4-6-3 game-ending double play. The game-ending DP drops Hafner’s season OPS below .600 as his struggles from 2008 have carried into 2009 despite only playing a little over half of the games the Indians have played. In his post-game press conference, The Atomic Wedgie announces that Hafner will be dropped from the #3 hole in the lineup, which he has occupied in his limited starts, to the #6 spot in the lineup to “take some of the pressure off” of Hafner that he is allegedly putting on himself. Replacing Hafner between DeRosa and Martinez (who will drop to the #4 hole) on a full-time basis is SS Choo, who has shown early in 2009 that his second half of 2008 was no fluke as he leads the team in 2B and SLG, sitting at or near the top of both categories in all of the AL, through the first month.

May 3rd vs. Detroit
Despite making only his 3rd start of the season after being skipped in the rotation twice because of cautiousness about his elbow, Anthony Reyes leaves the game in the 4th inning complaining of “elbow discomfort”. In his first two starts, Reyes has been competent, if babied by the coaching staff in terms of pitch counts, allowing only 1 run in 11 innings in his first two starts. The “elbow discomfort” is diagnosed as tendonitis, which lands Reyes on the DL, a spot that he will not leave through the end of the year. In a surprise move, Jeremy Sowers is recalled to replace him in the rotation as Sowers’ performance in Columbus has vastly outpaced that of Aaron Laffey, the other assumed candidate to replace Reyes.

May 5th vs. Toronto
Fausto Carmona pitches 8 scoreless innings to run his consecutive scoreless inning total to 25 as he mows his way through the Blue Jay lineup in only 75 pitches before giving way to Kerry Wood, who has yet to allow a run as the Indians’ closer. Carmona is named the AL Pitcher of the Month in April, narrowly edging out Cliff Lee as Wedge sniffs in his post-game press conference that, “if it weren’t for those two at the top of the rotation and Wood and Lewis in the bullpen…I don’t want to think about where we may be this early in the season.”

May 9th vs. Detroit
Pinch-hitting for Ryan Garko in the 8th inning, Dave Dellucci pulls up lame as he attempts to leg out a weak grounder to 2B. He will return to the DL with the same calf issue that sidelined him at the end of Spring Training, replaced by Trevor Crowe who returns to the team after thriving in Columbus as an everyday OF over the course of the previous month. Little does anyone know it at the time, but it will represent Double-D’s final appearance in an Indians’ uniform as the injury will keep him on the DL for the next month and when he is ready to return, he is DFA’d by the club, cutting ties with The Looch.

May 16th vs. Tampa Bay
Zach Jackson comes in for Carl Pavano in the 2nd inning as each pitcher lets up 6 runs apiece over the first 5 innings of a laugher against the Rays. As the two seem to be competing for the worst ERA and WHIP on the team…no, make that the league, Wedge intimates to the beat reporters in the post-game presser that changes may be afoot. Those changes reveal themselves the next morning when the team announces that Carl Pavano (and his ERA over 7.00 and WHIP over 2.00) has been released and that Zach Jackson (and his ERA over 7.50 and WHIP over 2.25) has been sent to Columbus with Aaron Laffey and John Meloan being promoted to take their places in the rotation and the bullpen. Pavano blames the cold weather for his woes and leaves the clubhouse in a huff, while Jackson is told to keep himself ready for the garbage innings that he’ll be sure to eat up as the starters beyond Lee and Carmona (which, from this point forward is Lewis, Sowers, and Laffey…for now) continue to struggle to go further than the requisite 5th inning.

May 24th vs. Cincinnati
Ben Francisco hits his 3rd HR of the season in the 9th inning, becoming the last player in the lineup that day to have at least one extra-base hit. The Indians, with Francisco’s HR providing the nail in the coffin for the Reds, sweep their in-state rivals with a 12-8 victory that gets the team back to the .500 mark for the season. The 12 runs scored puts the Indians back at the top of the AL in runs scored as the AL leader board for offensive categories is littered with the names “Sizemore”, “Peralta”, “Choo”, and “Martinez”.

May 30th vs. New York (AL)
Kelly Shoppach hits 2 HR in his first 2 AB of the game off of Yankees’ starter AJ Burnett, who leaves the game after the 4th inning with what is reported as “shoulder tenderness” which will ultimately lead to Burnett being placed on the DL three weeks later. The early scoring output is enough to win the game for the Indians, who find themselves locked down by the New York bullpen after Burnett’s departure. Ironically, the player who struggles most against the Yankee relievers is Shoppach, who strikes out in his final 3 AB of the game in what turns out to be a microcosm of the season for Shoppach, who finishes the year with the most HR of all AL catchers (despite playing only 130 games), but also leading all AL catchers in K…by a wide margin.

June 2nd vs. Minnesota
In the 54th game of the season, the AL Central leading Twins shut out the Indians with Francisco Liriano whiffing 13 Cleveland players. The game is monumental as Travis Hafner finally notches his 100th AB of the season (yes, in the 54th game) as the Indians’ reluctance to play Hafner in consecutive games has evolved into Hafner only seeing the field 1 to 2 games a week. Despite the rest, Hafner’s shoulder remains a nagging problem though, as neither the Indians’ medical staff nor specialists brought in to examine Hafner’s shoulder are able to pinpoint the problem, much less rectify it. In the plate appearances that he has netted, Hafner has shown the same predilection for soft grounders and lazy fly balls that plagued his 2008 season as his OPS has not (and will not) see the north side of .600.

June 9th vs. Kansas City
Scott Lewis earns his 6th win of the season by pulling a “5 and fly” that has become his specialty as a Tribe starter. The game is preserved by the emerging dominance in the bullpen as Rafael Perez (who has shaken off the “WBCitits”) and Jensen Lewis continue establish themselves as tremendous bridges from the 6th inning to the nastiness of Kerry Wood at the back end. The middle relievers remain in flux, with Joe Smith thriving against tough RHP and with John Meloan working his way up the Wedge ladder of progression in the bullpen, but the stabilization of the 7th and 8th innings that Perez and Lewis have provided has ensured many victories when the Indians’ starters hand them a late-game lead.

June 12th vs. St. Louis
Albert Pujols hits 3 HR in his first visit to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario since his 2001 rookie campaign. The victim of the first of the two moonshots, Jeremy Sowers, is sent down to Columbus after again finding it difficult to translate his early AAA success into MLB competence. In his 7 starts since being recalled from Columbus to replace an injured Anthony Reyes, Sowers’ ERA has hovered between 5.00 and 6.00 while he has walked more batters than he has struck out. To replace him in the revolving-door-rotation, the Indians add Dave Huff to the 40-man roster and promote him to Cleveland. Huff earned the promotion after starting the season off slowly in Columbus when he was asked to skip starts at the beginning of the season as the Indians’ gave Huff and his tendonitis the “kid-glove” treatment. Once the Indians’ deep thinkers took the reins off of Huff, he responded with a 6-start stretch that saw him average more than a K an inning and garner more strikeouts than hits allowed and BB allowed combined. Huff will continue his hot streak into Cleveland as he quickly establishes himself as the Indians’ 3rd best starter.

June 17th vs. Milwaukee
In a win against the Brew Crew, Jhonny Peralta goes 4 for 5 with 2 doubles and 1 HR, lending the stability in the #5 hole that he does all season while lengthening the quality and depth of the lineup. Peralta, as he has for what seems like forever, provides a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup while not producing gaudy numbers, but never prone to the extended slumps that other players experience. His consistency is all the more remarkable when his movement between SS and 3B is considered as Peralta has seen 15 starts at 3B as Mark DeRosa has been asked to pick up some of the offensive slack at LF and at 1B, forcing Peralta to occasionally move to his right to cover 3B as DeRosa makes his way around the field as holes reveal themselves on the roster.

June 20th vs. Chicago (NL)
After dropping the first game of the series to the North Siders, the Indians take the Saturday afternoon tilt, thanks to a Mark DeRosa HR in the 9th inning that puts the Indians in front by a score of 5-4. DeRosa, despite the fact that he just hit a 9th inning HR off of the Cubs, is given a standing ovation by the Chicago crowd, which is dotted with “DEROSA 7” jerseys, bearing both Cubs and Indians logos. The lovefest continues for former Cubbies as Kerry Wood enters the game on the heels of DeRosa’s heroics to strike out the side as the (probably drunk) Cub faithful inexplicably cheer Wood on as if he was going for strikeouts #18, #19, and #20 as a 20-year-old wunderkind.
After the game, a not-so-random-group of Indians’ fans celebrates the day…at a site to be determined at a later date.

June 25th vs. Pittsburgh
Ryan Garko, manning LF to “keep his bat in the lineup” despite an OPS under .700, runs headlong into a wall at PNC Park, catapulting him into the stands on the 3rd base side. Garko is tended to by Indians’ trainer Lonnie Soloff, who helps a hobbled Garko off of the field with an assist from Mark DeRosa. After the game (a 9-4 win by the Tribe), Garko is placed on the DL with a thigh injury as the wall gets the better of the meeting. The Indians promote Matt LaPorta from AAA Columbus, where he has posted a eye-popping .625 Slugging Percentage and leads the team in most offensive categories not led by Michael Brantley (OBP and steals), to take Garko’s spot in the convoluted “platoon” of 1B/LF/DH which earns LaPorta a spot in the lineup nearly every day as Hafner’s shoulder and Francisco’s measured mediocrity make the chance available for LaPorta to thrive in MLB.

June 30th vs. Chicago (AL)
Lowering his ERA below 2.75, Fausto Carmona throws a 3-hitter against the flummoxed Pale Hose, the start coming on the heels of an 8-inning masterpiece by Cliff Lee against the South Siders that push the Indians again back above the .500 mark and push the White Sox below the Royals into 4th place. Carmona, speaking without an interpreter, tells the gathered press corps that this season has been great and all, but that he’s not really even trying out there. He explains further to them that he’s just throwing the ball to the catcher’s mitt. In the locker beside him, Victor Martinez is no longer able to contain the smile that he had been suppressing.

July 3rd vs. Oakland
In an appearance that rivals the post-game fireworks, Rafael Betancourt gives up a towering Grand Slam to Jason Giambi in the 6th inning as Betancourt’s command issues continue. After being relegated to mop-up duty (and looking up at Vinnie Chulk on the bullpen ladder), Betancourt is unable to find the success that he experienced even prior to his 2007 dominant season. After the game, Betancourt is placed on the DL with back spasms and replaced by LHP Tony Sipp, who had been serving as the Clippers’ closer in AAA to much acclaim as (finally fully healthy) he had found success against both LH and RH hitters to the tune of an otherworldly 8.5 K/BB rate.

July 9th
In a bit of a surprise, Asdrubal Cabrera is named as a reserve on the AL All-Star team, joining starting OF Grady Sizemore and pitchers Fausto Carmona and Cliff Lee, on the strength of his .850 OPS as a 2B (second only in the AL to the Red-Sox-2B-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned) and his nearly nightly appearance on Baseball Tonight’s “Web Gems” segment. AL Manager Joe Maddon tells the exasperated New York press (who assumed that Robinson Cano would get the nod despite poor defense and a sub-700 OPS) that he knows defense and that he knows real talent when he sees it and that Cabrera is the best defensive middle infielder in the AL, and knows it because he (like everyone else) still sees “Web Gems” despite judiciously watching it with the TV on “Mute”.

July 17th vs. Seattle
After notching his 9th win of the season with another patented “5 and Fly”, Scott Lewis complains of a pulling in his ribcage, which is diagnosed as an oblique strain that will land SLewis on the DL. Coincidentally, Lewis’ start against the M’s falls on the same day as Jake Westbrook’s rehab appearance in Akron as Westbrook’s long road back from Tommy John surgery and hip surgery looks to finally lead back to Cleveland. After a brief roster shuffle that puts Rich Rundles on the team for an uneventful 4 days, Westbrook returns to the team to assume Lewis’ spot in the rotation, behind a cruising Dave Huff and in front of an on-again-off-again Aaron Laffey, where his presence will allow the starting rotation to finally settle into some semblance of consistent effectiveness.

July 23rd vs. Toronto
With Victor Martinez already playing in his 60th game at 1B because of Ryan Garko’s injury, Ben Francisco’s inconsistency and Travis Hafner’s struggles (which have allowed Matt LaPorta to play every day without taking AB away from Vic at 1B), and the Indians’ push to keep Kelly Shoppach’s bat in the lineup, the Indians win a 2-1 game in Rogers Centre as Cliff Lee outpitches Roy Halladay, who is able to ignore persistent trade speculation to pitch 8 strong innings, but is done in by a Martinez 2-run HR in the 8th. The victory gives Lee 12 wins on the season, trailing only Carmona on the team and only Carmona and Jon Lester in the AL, putting the Indians 6 games over .500 at 51-45, trailing the AL Central leading Twins by 8 games.

July 29th vs. Los Angeles of Anaheim of Orange County in California
Playing in his hometown in a 8-6 Tribe loss, Ben Francisco slides hard into 2B attempting to stretch a single into a double, breaking his right thumb. While Francisco’s playing time has diminished with LaPorta taking AB away from him in LF, the injury could not come at a worse time for Francisco, for whom part-time duty had suited him quite well as his OPS since LaPorta’s promotion had been raised over 75 points as he played the role of “platoon LF/4th OF to perfection. The thumb injury would prove to be too much for Francisco to overcome as his spot on the team will be filled by Michael Brantley, whose 27-game hitting streak in AAA had opened more than a few eyes as he led all AAA hitters in OBP. Brantley assumes the role that Francisco had found so much comfort in, netting a little more playing time in LF as Travis Hafner (still on the roster, but with a rehab appearance deemed by doctors to be akin to him “spinning his wheels” as playing in AAA wouldn’t be any different than playing in MLB) finds himself on the bench more frequently and LaPorta’s name is penciled into the DH spot on a more regular basis. As the evolution of the lineup looks to be nearly complete, Victor Martinez finds himself as the team’s everyday 1B with Shoppach behind the plate as LaPorta assumes the “almost full-time” DH mantle and Brantley takes over as the nearly everyday LF as the Indians get ready to feast on what looks to be the weak part of their schedule.

July 31st vs. Detroit
In a game pitting the Indians and what is essentially the Toledo Mud Hens, the Indians batter the stripped-down Detroit team by a final tally of 11-3, the first win in a sweep of the decimated Motor City Kitties. Earlier in the afternoon, just before the Trading Deadline, the disappointing Tigers had jettisoned Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Guillen, in an unprecedented day of roster overhaul as the Tigers, in financial trouble and in last place in the AL Central, attempt to re-stock their barren farm system and fill their 25-man roster with cheap talent necessary because of their unprecedented decline in attendance. The situation is so dire that Bud Selig, asked by some to look into the Stepien-esque roster dumping, can only throw up his hands after meeting with GM Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch and claim that he cannot fault the Tigers for the moves in the least.

August 6th vs. Minnesota
Behind a solid 7 innings from Jake Westbrook, the Indians notch their 6th straight win and 10th in the last 12 to inch ever closer to the Twins as the Indians record, now standing at 61-47, puts them just 3 games back in the loss column in the AL Central. The return of Westbrook and the emergence of Huff look to be providing the stability that has eluded the rotation all season long as the team, riding the fully healthy and effective rotation of Lee, Carmona, Huff, Westbrook, and Laffey, look to begin one of their patented late-year pushes.

August 13th vs. Texas
Despite Aaron Laffey’s best start of the season, the Indians find themselves behind the Rangers 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th inning as Kerry Wood allows a 2-run HR to Josh Hamilton in the top of the inning. The Indians make some noise to start the bottom of the 9th as Victor Martinez and Matt LaPorta single to get men on 1st and 2nd with two out. After Wedge inserts pinch-hitters for both runners, Kelly Shoppach laces a ball to the gap as the pinch-runners, Josh Barfield and Trevor Crowe, circle the bases. Crowe runs through a stop sign by Joel Skinner to arrive at the plate at the same time as the ball, sliding just beneath the tag of Rangers’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to score the game winning run as the Indians and the home crowd go wild as the win gives the Indians sole possession of 1st place for the first time all season. The celebration is short-lived, however, as the blister trouble that had been bothering Kerry Wood for the past week and had affected his dominance (particularly on this day) is too much for Wood to bear and he is placed on the 15-day DL to give rest to the blister.

August 20th vs. Los Angeles of Anaheim of Orange County in California
In a bullpen suddenly thrown off-kilter by the absence of Wood, Rafael Perez loads the bases against the injury-riddled, 2nd place Halos with the Tribe ahead 6-4 in the 8th inning without getting an out. Joe Smith is called upon to face the teeth of the Angels’ lineup and bails the team out of bases-loaded jam by whiffing Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero, and getting Torii Hunter to harmlessly pop out to 3B to end the inning without any damage being done. In the 9th, however, Jensen Lewis gives up a 3-run HR to Jeff Mathis as the Angels complete the three game sweep of the Indians in Cleveland. The loss is the 5th of the last 7 games played and drops the Indians to 65-55 as the Twins pass them up in the standings once again while the Indians attempt to settle their suddenly leaky pen on the fly.

August 30th vs. Baltimore
David Huff throws a 4-hit masterpiece in Camden Yards, going the distance to best another former Indians’ 1st round pick, Jeremy Guthrie, to pick up his 7th win of the season while lowering his ERA to 3.63. Huff’s win is sealed in the 8th inning when Mark DeRosa drops a suicide squeeze down to score Michael Brantley racing from third base to ensure the 1-0 victory, only the 2nd win by the Indians in their 7-games on the road in Kansas City and Baltimore. After the game, Wedge comments that he hopes that Huff’s performance acts as the impetus for the team to stop losing ground in the Central as the victory should serve as a reminder that the Indians are still very much in the race at 67-63 as the Twins are unable to take advantage of the Indians’ struggles to pull away from Cleveland in the standings.

September 3rd vs. Detroit
On a cold night in Motown, Jhonny Peralta hammers a GW 3-run HR in the 8th inning off of Joel Zumaya to run his HR total to 27 on the season, good for 2nd on the team, behind only Grady’s 33 and just ahead of Shoppach’s 25, Victor’s 22, and Choo’s 20. Keyed by the 3-run blast, the Indians take 2 of 3 from the Motor City Kitties, finding the AAA team currently wearing Tiger uniforms to be just the balm that the team needed to stop the bleeding that had been occurring nightly to the team for the previous 3 weeks.

September 12th vs. Kansas City
In the midst of a successful homestand, the Indians are rained out on Friday against the Royals, forcing the scheduling of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday to make up the previous night’s game. Rather than taxing their rotation, the Indians dip into their 40-man depth, calling upon new farm darling Hector Rondon to pitch the second game against the Royals. Rondon, who continued the success he experienced in AA Akron to AAA Columbus, dominates the overwhelmed Kansas City batters, striking out 12 Royals in 8 innings before giving way to a fresh-off-the-DL Kerry Wood, who finishes off the last three batters via strikeout to herald his return as the Tribe takes the nightcap from the Royals by a 6-1 count. The win puts the Indians at 74-67, tied for first with the Twins in the AL Central with 21 games left on the schedule.

September 20th vs. Oakland
Against Roy Halladay, acquired by the AL West leading A’s at the Trading Deadline on his way to an AL Cy Young Award, September call-up Luis Valbuena smacks a bases-clearing double, putting the Indians ahead to stay 4-3 as the Indians win their only game among four in Oakland after losing 2 of 3 to the Twins in the previous series as the Twins now hold a 4-game lead in the Central. The weeklong skid by the Indians is caused by the team-wide slump, during which only Matt LaPorta (building his case for AL Rookie of the Year with his .850 OPS despite not getting called up until late June) is consistently able to drive in runs. Kelly Shoppach, who will leave 17 runners on base in the Oakland series alone, comments after the win that “Valbuena’s hit was huge because it feels like we haven’t been able to get a hit…any kind of hit…with a runner in scoring position all week.”

September 25th vs. Baltimore
Feasting on Baltimore’s September call-ups (one series after feasting on Detroit’s September call-ups), the Indians’ offense hangs a 10-spot on the O’s en route to a 10-2 victory, providing Cliff Lee with his 17th victory (one behind team leader Fausto Carmona) and bringing the team to within one game of the Twins in the AL Central race at 82-73. The Indians are able to take 5 of the 6 games in at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario against the Orioles and Tigers as the team, with the offense finally hitting again, looks to be firing on all cylinders – healthy and ready for the final week of the season with only series’ against the White Sox and Red Sox standing between them and the end of the season.

September 29th vs. White Sox
In a final argument in his case for AL MVP, Grady hits two HR (for an even 40, leaving him three stolen bases short of the 40-40 club) and preserves the win with a game saving catch in the 9th against the White Sox, allowing the Indians to sweep the final home series from the South Siders. With the sweep, the White Sox suddenly find themselves fighting the Royals for 3rd place, as time has simply caught up with the aging Chicago roster. When asked about Sizemore in the visitors’ clubhouse, Ozzie Guillen says, “What can I tell you (expletive)…I’ve been telling you that he’s the best (expletive)-(expletive) (expletive) in our division. Now there’s nobody (expletive) better in the whole (expletive) league.”

October 4th vs. Red Sox
Having won two of the first three games of the series against the AL East Champion Red Sox, the Indians throw Cliff Lee on their final game of the season, locked in a tie at the top of the AL Central with the Twins. Lee pitches 7 strong innings, while Jhonny Peralta hits a 2-run shot over the Green Monster against a Red Sox team admittedly already preparing for the ALDS. With the Indians up 4-1 in the 8th inning, the final score of the Twins-Royals game is placed into the scoreboard of the Green Monster at Fenway…KC 6, MIN 4, meaning that if the Indians can close out the final two innings of the game, the AL Central crown is theirs. After Rafael Perez blows the Red Sox away in the 8th inning, Kerry Wood comes on to notch his final 3 strikeouts of the regular season, preserving the win for the Indians and clinching the Central for the Tribe. The Indians flood the Boston infield as the Red Sox players, aware they’re looking at their ALDS opponent celebrate in their stadium, cast their vengeful eyes to the events in the middle of the diamond.

October 6th vs. Red Sox in ALDS Game 1
The Red Sox, with their rotation rested and in proper order, throw Josh Beckett against Jake Westbrook, as both Indians’ aces (Carmona and Lee) pitched the final two games of the season and will not be available until Game 3. The BoSox hit Westbrook early and often as Beckett cruises through an Indians’ lineup that simply looks happy to be in the playoffs as the Red Sox take the first game of the ALDS by a final tally of 6-1.

October 9th vs. Red Sox in ALDS Game 3
Back in Cleveland after dropping the first two games in Boston as Aaron Laffey fared no better than Game 1 starter Jake Westbrook, the Indians turn to 19-game-winner and AL Cy Young runner-up Fausto Carmona to stave off elimination from the playoffs and Carmona does not disappoint, going 8 innings of 4-hit baseball, relieved by Kerry Wood in the 9th to slam the door on a 5-0 win made possible by a 4 RBI night for Big League Choo, who hits 3 doubles off of Daisuke Matsuzaka on his way to a 4 for 5 night to keep the Indians alive for one more night.

October 10th vs. Red Sox in ALDS Game 4
With Cliff Lee finally rested and ready for action, the Indians throw their second “ace” against Boston’s Josh Beckett, who is pitching on three days’ rest and tells the adoring Boston media that he “owns this team”. Beckett makes good on his boasting, shutting down the Cleveland bats for 7 innings, going scoreless inning for scoreless inning with a cruising Cliff Lee. In the 8th, the 0-0 tie is broken by a solo HR to right-center field off of the bat of Kevin Youkilis as the Red Sox bullpen gets busy to notch the final 6 outs of the game. Despite the Indians men on 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the 9th against Jonathon Papelbon, Mark DeRosa’s long fly ball to CF is hauled in by Jacoby Ellsbury, ending the Indians’ season and sending the Red Sox to face the eventual AL Champion Oakland A’s, who on this night will beat CC Sabathia for the second time in the ALDS to punch their ticket to the ALCS.

After the game, a disappointed Grady Sizemore, mere weeks away from being named the AL MVP, shows that his status as a Clevelander is near completion as he wearily looks at the assembled press corps around his locker and mutters, “well, I guess there’s always next year.”

8 comments:

Vince said...

Good work as always, Paul. We all appreciate the vast amount of time you spend on the blog, and your invaluable insights. But, just as a sort of foot note, I'm not sure how Wood would get his first save in a 6-0 win . . .

bookelly said...

That was depressing.

Les Savy Ferd said...

fantastic as always.

I think the least far-fetched thing in your season narrative is the Sizemore for MVP campaign. At the very least he'll be in the top 3, the only possible sabotage being an Indians club that fails to make the postseason. But with it being opening day, for the time being we're undefeated.

Also, if Oakland landed Halladay my A's fan brother (don't ask--that apple feel inexplicably wide of the family MLB tree) would simply soil his knickers. I already get an earful of their allegedly megasuperawesome young staff.

Paul Cousineau said...

Vince,
Fixed...I was a little too excited for a blowout AND and a Wood appearance to let something like "Rules for Saves" get in the way of Opening Day.

boo,
I don't disagree that it's depressing, though I can't reasonably post the "WE'RE GOING TO WIN THE SERIES" every year...just every other year.

LSF,
I don't know why, but I think that Billy Beane is going to be that guy going out and getting players while everyone else is trying to jettison salaries because of the economy. Call me crazy, but I think the A's are going to be good this year.

csusi said...

im with you on the A's thoughts.

48 degrees and rain for the home opener.

see you guys at the double header on saturday.

Philip said...

Looks like C.P. Lee picked up where he left off in 2007...not 08.

R.M. Jennings said...

Wrong. Foot.

Dave said...

Paul,

I think you forgot to mention the acquisition of a starter at (near) the trading deadline, which I totally see happening if the Tribe is in contention.

48 degrees and rain for the home opener, huh? I'll take that over the relatively nice weather we had last year for the opener - see where that got us???? Gimme a snowstorm any day; one of the best moves I've ever made has been to set a personal policy to never ever go to the home opener again without booking a room downtown. When Byrdie was throwing a no-no in a blizzard, I felt no guilt at all in saying to my wife "Go ahead and go back to the room, I'm staying." Then again, where exactly did that get me???