Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Leaving on a Jet Plane

After spending the last 2 days at the Jake (the laugher on Memorial Day, and the beautifully pitched game by C.C. and the crew on Tuesday), it’s time to take a break.

Actually, it’s time to go on vacation. The DiaBride and I will be the ones sipping fruity drinks with our toes in the pool in Aruba. If you’re in the area - stop by.

I’m expecting to come back next week with the Tribe less than 4 games back (a man can go on vacation and leave ALL his worries behind, right?), so I’ll expect the serial posters to keep the comments section going (as they did with the SauerBush story) to keep everyone informed.

So, I put it to you, Greg…sorry, I had an Otter moment there for a second.

See you, BOYS!

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Answer Man

Memorial Day is generally a point in the baseball season when it’s time to take stock of where your team is and make adjustments, as we’re nearly 1/3 of the way through our 162 game marathon. With that in mind, I thought that rather than simply diagnosing problems or complaining about shortcomings (as is the specialty of the Cleveland media), it’s time to offer some solutions.

With that in mind, this is how I see the lineup for the rest of the year:
Remember that it took a while for the Indians’ lineup to find its identity last year, and this year is no different. You take the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the season to realize what you’re bringing to the war, and adjust your battle plan accordingly.

Sure, Sizemore is probably a #3 hitter stuck in the leadoff spot, but a viable alternative simply doesn’t exist. So, he stays at the top of the lineup. Moving on, who would have thought on Day 1 that I would be proposing moving Casey Blake into the 2 hole and Ben Broussard/Eduardo Perez into the cleanup spot? Not me, but all three players are thriving and it’s time to adjust the lineup accordingly.

With Victor struggling, teams are pitching around Hafner and Peralta is scuffling in the 3 hole, forcing Hafner to press even more. Here’s the solution: let Jhonny work his way out of this from a lower spot in the lineup, where the pressure to perform won’t weigh him down; and ride the hot bats of Benuardo to protect Pronk, while allowing Victor some breathing room.

By the way, despite the fact that Hafner isn’t seeing many good pitches and is probably pressing more than he needs to, he’s hitting .314 with 14 HR and 44 RBI with a 1.072 OPS through 49 games. How do those numbers look projected out over 162 games?

The bottom of the lineup remains weak, with Belliard and Boone, who are both scuffling. Belliard, in particular, seems to have drawn the ire of the Atomic Wedgie and may see less and less of the field if Lou Merloni can be even remotely productive from 2B, as his grittiness and veteran leadership provide something that is lacking in the current Tribe lineup. Allow Michaels to ingratiate himself to the AL from the 9 hole, where he can put his OBP skills to good use, notably to get on base for the maturing SuperSizemore.

Notice that I’m not advocating a Boone demotion, or a new LF, or any major shake-ups; offensively, the talent is there (as evidenced by the fact that 5 of the 9 positions have driven in more than 25 runs - SS, 3B, 2B, and LF being the laggards) – it just needs to be reconfigured to maximize the potential.

On the pitching side of the equation, here’s how I’d like to see the rotation and the bullpen shake out going forward:

Essentially, jettison the dead wood in Johnson and Mota and replace them with your two top performers in Buffalo – Sowers and Guthrie. Sure, Johnson and Mota have each had good outings in their last appearances, but when analyzing a pitchers’ season, one has to look at it like a painting. You can’t simply look at the last few brushstrokes; you have to take in the whole body of work. And, what’s sitting on the canvas right now for those two don’t exactly bring “Starry Night” to mind.

With Sowers and Guthrie waiting in the wings (Sowers is 6-1 with a 0.94 ERA while Guthrie is 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA) in Buffalo, it’s not as if there’s a lack of talented arms ready for action.

Also, in the rotation – if Westbrook can’t turn this thing around (compare his 5.58 ERA to the 5.80 ERA that the much-maligned Johnson is sitting on), flip-flop him with Guthrie, who can serve as the long man until that move is made. If Guthrie struggles in the rotation, move Carmona into his spot.

This team can’t rely on their aCCe, a revitalized Byrd, a currently inconsistent Lee, and hope that Westbrook and Johnson have some sink to their sinkers in an attempt to get back into this race that’s been dominated by the superior pitching of the Tigers and the White Sox.

The bullpen seems to have sorted itself out (as long as Billy Flameout doesn’t show up), so we’ll leave that alone otherwise. I’d like to see Wedge stop using Jason Davis with runners on (he’s allowed all 10 runners he’s inherited to score), and throw him to start an inning. Leave the sticky situations to Cabrera and Betancourt until JD learns how to pitch with runners on. The arm is there with Jason Dangerously, the approach and mindset of a reliever are what’s lacking.

The changes aren’t huge, they’re mainly tweaks for an inarguably talented team that needs a kick in the pants to jump-start their season before the hill gets too steep to climb.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Where's the Fire?

After another listless loss on Saturday night, in which the Tribe wasted a solid outing by Paul Byrd as Justin Verlander handcuffed them, it’s time to play some “Who Said It?”

Who came through with this beauty on Saturday night?

"The execution was terrible, horrible. We didn't lose this game because of a home run, we lost this game because we didn't do what we're supposed to do on the field from the first inning," he said. "If they want to be a bad team, they can continue to do that, I'll play somebody else. I don't care who they are and what they do. My job is to try and win games and that's what I'm going to do. If they don't like what I say, they can leave and do whatever they want to do," he said. "We're better than this. We're way better than this. If you want to be in second place, keep playing like that. If you want to win, we have to be better and that starts right now. It's not because Detroit is winning."

The answer is Ozzie Guillen, after a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday night in extra frames. Look, Guillen – to me – is a blowhard who incredibly keeps pressing the right buttons over and over, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some emotion from our manager to fire up this team?

Make threats, call players out…do what needs to be done.

I know that comparing Guillen and Wedge is like comparing apples to oranges, in terms of attitude and managerial style; but how applicable is that quote to the Tribe right now?

Incidentally, those comments were made about a team that sits at 31-17, or a full 8 games ahead of the Tribe in the Central.

In a bit of Lazy Sunday, Shelly Ocker weighs in on Jason Johnson’s role as the 5th starter, and how he came to be an Indian.

Speaking of Johnson, we’ll see if he can out-pitch Kenny Rogers and avoid the sweep by Detroit.

If he can't, the Indians are looking at being 12 1/2 games back by Memorial Day, a feat they didn't accomplish until June 24th of last year.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

These are the DETROIT Tigers, right?

After attempting to give myself a worldly perspective by attending the U.S. Men’s Soccer game at Cleveland Browns Stadium, imagine my surprise that the Tribe game was already over by 9:30PM, with the Tribe on the short end of an 8-3 contest against that rolling train that is the Motor City Kitties.

Let me get this straight, Westbrook made it through to the 5 innings, allowing only 3 runs, then fell apart his 3rd time through the order? Sounds about right. It seems that the complete game that Westbrook spun against the Royals is the aberration, and last night’s performance in Detroit is closer to the norm for the 2006 version of Jake.

Last night’s loss was not a great start to this crucial 7 game stretch, particularly with the Tigers throwing Kenny Rogers (and his superb wood-roasted fire rotisserie Chicken…wait, that’s a different Kenny Rogers?) on Sunday against Jason Johnson. Hopefully, Sunday will be the final chapter of Jason Johnson story in the Tribe rotation this year.

Has anyone else already chalked that one up as a loss and made other Sunday afternoon plans, in an attempt to keep the blood pressure down and the TV screen safe from flying objects?

Looking at that pitching match-up on Sunday makes tonight’s game that much more important, because the Indians are looking at the distinct possibility of getting swept by the Tigers and being 12 ½ games out before Memorial Day. Let’s hope Paul Byrd continues his success against the Tigers (he’s 6-1 lifetime with a 2.71 ERA) and that the Tribe can get to young flamethrower Justin Verlander, something that hasn’t been done very often this year.

Lord knows I’m trying to be positive throughout this stretch, but it’s time for a little bit more fire in the Indians’ game. Maybe more than an annoyed manager commenting that his middle infielders gave a “half-assed” effort. How about questioning the desire of the team and playing with a sense of urgency, regardless of what the calendar says?

I realize that it’s May 27th, but the Tribe is 10 ½ games of the Central and would be better served if they didn’t put themselves in a position that they had to fight and claw back into the race.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pocket Aces

With C.C. absolutely dominating the Twins today with a complete game 6 hitter that ran his record to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.52 (and a WHIP of 0.90!), the Tribe split with the Twinkies in Minneapolis.

The way that C.C.’s pitching, can we say that he’s “gotten it” (for those of you who thought that he hadn’t yet) in regards to figuring out how to be a dominant ace. His last two starts have been so overwhelming that the opposing team never even makes solid contact. The hits are all broken-bat jam jobs or soft liners that fall in front of outfielders.

Again, he has that free and easy motion working, where he’s nonchalantly throwing his fastball around 91 and throwing nasty breaking pitches. When he needs to, he rears back for a 95 MPH heater; but if you don’t have to use it, why tire yourself out?

In his last 4 games, he’s lasted 8 innings, 8 innings, 9 innings, and 9 innings (with pitch counts of 105, 112, 102, and 102) while allowing 3 earned runs in those 34 innings. That’s an ERA of 0.79 over his past 4 starts in which he’s posted a WHIP of 0.71! Those results and that consistency is exactly what the Indians need right now and solidify C.C.’s status as a bona fide ace.

C.C. - let me welcome you to the club of truly elite pitchers in all of baseball.

Luckily, with C.C. going the distance today, he saved us all from a Guillermo Mota sighting. Because you can’t spell FLAMEOUT without an M, an O, a T, and an A. After the Tribe battled so hard to get back into the game last night (particularly against Johan Santana), it’s a shame that Mota lost it for them.

One has to think that Mota won’t continue to struggle topside. Whether he gets DL’d remains to be seen, but he obviously has to work out some kinks or has something wrong with him. With the rest of the bullpen finally hitting cruise control, Mota can’t be the anvil weighing it down.

Elsewhere, let’s look at what Jeremy Sowers continues to do for Buffalo with his 8-shutout innings against Toledo today. He lowered his ERA to 0.94 and his WHIP to 1.03 by giving up only 3 hits and no walks today. Though the Bisons lost in the 10th, denying Sowers his 7th victory (he's 6-1), isn’t this what the Front Office asks its top prospects to do? They want their prospects to “force a decision” by excelling at the AAA level.

I would file Sowers’ performance this year as one that forces a decision. Maybe one that involves Jason Johnson…I don’t know, I’m just saying.

Looking ahead, If it’s possible for a make-or-break stretch this early in the season for a team, this is it for the Tribe.

They play 3 games in Detroit, and then welcome the White Sox to the Jake for 3. The Tribe trails those teams by 8 ½ and 7 ½ games in the early season.

We can’t be looking at going 3-3 in those games, the Tribe needs to string together some wins to close the gap between them and the current division leaders.

It’s not time to worry about whether the Tigers and White Sox can keep up their current pace; the Tribe needs to take care of the business at hand, when it’s under their control.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In Appreciation

With the Cavaliers valiantly forcing the Pistons to a Game 7 (though the end result was not what we were looking for), I thought that it was time to throw in my two cents on the phenomenon that is LeBron James.

Discussing LeBron with a friend from St. Louis (which doesn’t have an NBA team and is not a basketball town) who was asking me if LeBron was as good as ESPN and others (SI’s The Greatest Ever) had made him out to be. I shared with him this story:

During the regular season, my brother and I attended the Spurs-Cavs game, excited to see how LeBron would stack up against one of the elite teams in the league and some of the elite players in the NBA.

What transpired over the game was the most eye-opening and impressive performance that I have ever seen at a live sports event. The best way to describe it would be to make an analogy here (with apologies to the King of the Analogy – Bud Shaw) to allow most people understand what was seen.

Remember in Little League or High School sports, when there was one kid in the league who was far and away the best player on the field (or floor) at all times? Maybe it was the kid who threw the first curveball you’d ever seen, or maybe the freshman that contributed to the varsity squad. There was an aura around them and, knowing that you were going against that player that day, you were already inherently at a disadvantage. Everyone knew that this player would move onto the next level and thrive there. They were the biggest, strongest, fastest, most talented player you’d ever seen with your own eyes, and his superiority was obvious from the moment the game started.

OK, are we all on the same page? Do we all know the type of player we’re talking about?

Well that’s the player we saw that night at the Q. LeBron was the best player on the court at all times, without question. Did I mention that he was on the floor with the defending NBA Champions? That same feeling was evident throughout the thrilling playoff run.

When LeBron is on the floor, there is a level of confidence that I, as a fan, have. It’s that you have the best player on the floor, making the best decisions for YOUR team at all times. This, in Cleveland, is a rarity. Sure, we’ve seen the situation – but that player is generally wearing the other jersey. Not so with the 23 in wine and gold.

Finally, here’s the thing – there is no “higher level of competition” for LeBron to stack himself up against, there is no “next step”. This is it, and he’s 21 years old. The World is his; we’re just living in it. These playoffs have only reinforced that notion.

My buddy in St. Louis responded that the way that LeBron distinguishes himself on the court is identical to the way that Albert Pujols stands out on the baseball field. After questioning whether this LeBron phenomenon could possibly have a peer, he threw some numbers at me.
After 5 ML seasons, this is what Pujols has accomplished:
.332 / 201 / 621 / 1.037

Impressed? Now, here’s the high and low numbers for his first five years:
Low: .314 (2002)
High: .359 (2003)

Low: 34 (2002)
High: 46 (2004)

Low: 117 (2005)
High: 130 (2001)

Low: .955 (2002)
High: 1.106 (2003)

Unbelievable consistency, right? Now try this…he turns 27 NEXT January and these numbers don’t count 2006, as he’s only hitting .315 with 22 HR and 54 RBI with a 1.252 OPS through 43 games.

So, rather than lamenting the fact that the Cavaliers 2006 season is over, let’s time to take a step back, appreciate these two special talents and how they are making history every day that they lace them up.

Particularly when LeBron and the James Gang go into 2007 a year older, wiser, and better.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Rally Killer

Jason Johnson cost the Tribe another game last night as he wasted a 6 run outage by the offense, led by Grady’s continued maturation at the plate (he hit his 8th HR in game number 43).

Johnson has now gone 0-4 with a 9.73 ERA and a 2.27 WHIP (that means more than 2 baserunners PER INNING) in his last 6 starts. This is not a bump in the road or a few “off” outings; this is a poor pitcher who’s being handed the ball every 5 days.

So does Fausto Carmona (who went 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the Tribe in the game) take his place in the rotation? I don’t think so. The idea of a big-league pitching staff is to have the best available pitchers going for you every night, regardless of their role. So why not bring Sowers up to be the 5th starter and leave Carmona as the long man?

Sowers has proven that he can handle AAA pitchers and Carmona has proven that he can pitch out of the bullpen, so let’s get the best arms up here to overtake the Tigers and the White Sox.

I don’t expect the move to happen until maybe mid-June (after Johnson get another 2 or so starts), but it’s looking like more and more of a necessary move.

Also, Tim Laker has been promoted to take the place of Kelly Shoppach as the backup C. This move doesn’t resonate with me, as the idea of having Shoppach on the team was to give Victor some time off. Well, Shoppach (who was touted as a “key” part of the Boston trade) amassed 16 AB in 43 games, while Victor has played in 41 of the 43 games thus far. This is not really a great example of getting your catcher needed time off.

The reasoning from the Front Office that Shoppach needs regular AB to continue to mature as a player is strange because, at the beginning of the season, the company line was that he had done everything he could in AAA and needed to be challenged by Major League pitching. The idea that Shoppach will get more “seasoning” in AAA just doesn’t hold water.

If the Indians felt that they needed more of a veteran presence in the clubhouse (remember that Merloni just replaced Vazquez on the roster) – fine. Just don’t give the line that Shoppach needs more consistent playing time and that Tim Laker is a legitimate option when it’s time to give Victor a rest. Laker is a fine defensive catcher, and a veteran signal-caller who has handled his share of throwers – but an offensive threat, he is not.

One line of thought is that the Tribe is trying to “showcase” Shoppach in Buffalo to see if they could move him for a bullpen arm, a 2B of the future, or a legitimate corner OF prospect (as the Tribe “prospects” have looked more like “suspects” thus far).

If that’s the case, let’s revisit the Coco deal. Andy Marte has struggled in Buffalo – enough so that he’s not seen as a legitimate replacement for a struggling Aaron Boone (Prediction - Marte won’t see more than 70 AB this year as the Front Office seeks to limit his arbitration clock), Billy Mota has been dropped from a set-up guy to a mop-up role in the 6th inning, and Kelly Shoppach (the “upgrade” at backup catcher who would prevent one of your best offensive players from burning out) has been sent back to AAA and may be trade bait. Granted, Josh Bard has already been traded to San Diego, David Riske has been injured, and Coco has spent most of the year on the DL – but the early returns aren’t promising. It’s early, I know, but so far – neither team has been too positively affected by the much-discussed trade.

Regardless of Shoppach’s future in Cleveland, this move has one other message: Keep that catcher’s equipment on Victor. You may be sleeping in it, for all intents and purposes, until October or so.

To make room for Laker, Matt Miller has been transferred to the 60-day DL.
Good luck, Matty. We hope to see you next Spring.

Heading down to the game this afternoon.
Field Boxes behind Home Plate, then back home in time to see Game 7.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

And...We're Back

After a weeklong trip to the Windy City, it’s time for our own version of that awful TLC show that the DiaBride insists on watching, despite the presence of multiple amazingly annoying hosts: While You Were Out.

So, this is what great pitching can do for you? The Indians starters went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA over the last 4 games, all victories. Realizing that the games have been against the Royals and the Pirates, I’ll still take it. A win is a win, just like a quality start is a quality start. Most notable were the performances of Westbrook (nice to see him pitch a FULL GAME, not just 4 good innings, followed by a Chernobyl-like meltdown) and the continued excellence of the Hefty Lefty.

In case you haven’t noticed, C.C.’s gem last night has dropped his ERA to 1.95.
Still, let’s get the guy to a Jenny Craig, right? Wrong.

The only starter not to pitch during this 4 game win streak is Jason Johnson, who sits at 2-3 with a 5.44 ERA. On a COMPLETELY related note, Jeremy Sowers pitched a one-hitter in Buffalo to improve his record to 6-1 with a 1.07 ERA (yes, that number is right) and a 1.12 WHIP (again, that number is right). If Johnson throws a few more clunkers and Sowers continues to dominate International League hitting, change may be afoot.

The bullpen seems to have settled into some roles with the return of Rocky Betancourt, who has allowed Wedge to slot him in the 8th, which moves all the other arms (Cabrera, Davis) down the ladder to strengthen the weak rungs in the pen.

Speaking of Rocky, the Tribe sent Jeremy Guthrie back to Buffalo (as expected), but slotted him back in the Bisons’ rotation rather than allowing him to pitch out of the bullpen. When Guthrie was in Cleveland, the issue he had as a reliever was the preparation and his change in approach. He always seemed to struggle when he first came in (because he wasn’t used to the situation or the difference in preparation), and then got stronger as the innings went on.
So, if Guthrie projects to pitch out of the bullpen in the future, why wouldn’t the Tribe pitch him out of the Bisons’ pen to get him accustomed to doing so.
The Indians need to pick a role for Guthrie. With all of the money that they’ve invested in him, I’m starting to see some similarities to the Danys Baez situation. Live arm, big contract, club wants him to help today – not tomorrow. But where?

The hitting has continued its torrid season, led by Le Pronque and SuperSizemore over the past week. This team is toeing the line of an offensive juggernaut, as even if a few hitters are struggling (Jhonny and The Stick), they are still capable of putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

In roster news, Lou Merloni replaced Danny Graves on the 40-man and replaced Ramon Vazquez on the 25-man. Chords of Hallelujah were heard as far away as Chicago.

Coincidentally, Aaron Boone left Friday’s game in the 8th with a tight back, so Merloni may see some games at 3B because Boone is day-to-day.
But, as Keith Olberman says, “Aren’t we all?”

The next 4 games are against the lowly Pirates and the reeling Twinkies, so let’s keep this train rolling.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Storm Clouds are Gathering

With the 6th loss in a row, getting swept by the Royals and Tigers (at home) it brings new meaning to the phrase – when it rains, it pours…literally. Time to get out of town.

Heading off to Chicago for a business convention all week, so I’ll throw a couple of things out there to watch this week, when the Indians will face the Royals, then the Pirates at home.

The promotion of Carmona was a bit of a surprise, after Shapiro went on record saying that Fausto would stay in the Buffalo rotation last Thursday. What is he, throwing up smokescreens before the NFL Draft, like his buddy Scott Pioli? We don’t need the cloak and dagger stuff, Mark, just make your moves.

With the promotion of Carmona, the bullpen looks to shake out this way until Rocky Betancourt returns:
Long Man: Carmona
Matchup Lefty: Sauerbeck
5th/6th: Guthrie/Mota
7th/8th: Cabrera/Davis
9th: Wickman

When Rocky returns, either Guthrie will go down to Buffalo to further his education on how to pitch out of the bullpen, or Mota will be placed on the DL (something just doesn’t look quite right with his delivery in his past few outings). Betancourt would assume the 8th inning role and push Cabrera and Davis into the 7th.

Does C.C.’s delivery since coming off of the DL seem more free and easy? It doesn’t even look like he’s throwing hard, but he’s touching 94 and 95 on the gun. If this is the solution to him not straining any more stomach muscles, I’m all for it. He’s delivering more nasty sliders than White Castle these days.

Watch Westbrook on Tuesday to see if he makes it through the Royals’ lineup easily the first (and maybe second) time, then struggles his third time through the lineup. It happened today with Johnson. He cruised until the 7th, his third time through the lineup, despite a relatively low pitch count.
If he does, ask yourself: Is Westbrook best suited to continue to pitch out of the rotation, or does his stuff translate better to pitching 1 or 2 innings out of the bullpen? What about Johnson?

Why am I picking on Westbrook and Johnson, but not Byrd?
Let’s look at those pitchers last 3 starts:
Byrd: 2-1, 3.78 ERA, 7 K, 4 BB
Westbrook: 1-0, 6.62 ERA, 14 K, 6 BB
Johnson: 0-1, 10.38 ERA, 7 K, 5 BB
Byrd is showing signs of coming around to his career numbers, while Westbrook and Johnson seem to struggle during every start. Some of that could be attributed to them both being a groundball pitchers, with the Tribe’s infield struggling defensively; but every ball seems to be sharply hit against both sinkerballers.

Could Carmona’s promotion be an indication that he’s in Cleveland to take a spot in the rotation from one of those two pitchers?
Or could Jeremy Sowers, who is dominating in Buffalo, be just a phone call away?
Remember that Sowers is not on the 40-man roster, but (with Graves being DFA’d) there is an open spot on the 40-man.
Could Shapiro be clearing space for the lanky lefty from Vandy?

Whatever the solution is, expect the Indians to try numerous internal options before looking for help from another team. Not many teams are looking to throw up the white flag less than a quarter of the way through the season.

A few of those Royals’ relievers might look good in Cleveland…or maybe it was just the Tribe’s offense that made them look so good.

And, a little Lazy Sunday:
Sheldon Ocker weighs in on the Tribe’s troubles.

Paul Hoynes touches on some possible arms that may make an appearance in an effort to solidify the bullpen. Edward Mujica, in particular, would be one name mentioned to keep an eye on going forward.

Cross Steve Karsay off that list of potential replacements as he was traded to the A’s for cash.

Finally - "I'm both disappointed and concerned." - GM Mark Shapiro on the state of the Indians' pitching, particularly the bullpen.

Join the club.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


5 losses in a row, the Tribe dropping to 4th place in the Central, and it rained all day on a Saturday - so I need somebody to be my whipping-boy:

As if I hadn’t had enough already, I’m now starting a full-blown campaign to end the Aaron Boone Era at 3B. If he’s a “great character guy”, fine - let him be the utility IF to keep him in the clubhouse. Another 0-fer and an error tonight is enough for me.

What did that bleach blond Sinead O’Connor look-alike used to say on infomercials? STOP THE INSANITY!

Weak pop-ups and flailing strikeouts on balls down and away are almost expected when he comes to the plate. Now, with his defense being a liability (a team-leading 6 errors), what exactly is Boone contributing to the ballclub? Not much.

I’m no longer just upset about Boone’s daily insertion into the lineup; it disgusts me.

I’m waiting for Andy Marte to step to the plate to The Killers “Andy, You’re a Star”. Whether he ever becomes one or not, I’ll be the one cheering – mainly because it meens that his introduction at the Jake means that I don’t need to be exposed to Aaron Boone on a daily basis.

If you need some good news with the Tribe looking for traction on this slippery slope (because I do), here we go:

  • LeBron messed around…got a triple double, and put the Cavs on his back to take a game from the Pistons.
  • Jeremy Sowers went 7 innings in Buffalo, giving up 1 run to give him updated numbers of 5-1 and a 1.21 ERA.

If Jason Johnson struggles again tomorrow, it’s Sowers time.

Ugh, the anticipation of another Johnson lemon tomorrow has put me in a bad mood again.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Goodbye Gas Can

As soon as I finished posting, T-Bone texted me that Graves is no longer and Carmona will join the parent club.

And now, a Pictoral Retrospective of Danny Graves’ 2006 season with the Indians.

I think that sums it up.

Here's the Problem...

According the published reports and Mark Shapiro’s press conference, changes are coming – in the bullpen, at least. Apparently, Shapiro has read Terry Pluto’s article and maybe something somewhere else (yeah, right), but changes will be made when Rocky Betancourt comes off of the DL.

Shapiro singled out C.C. (who has made essentially 2 starts), Cliff Lee, and Wickman as the only people really pitching well (no arument here). He said that rotation changes are not imminent, but the bullpen will see some new faces and new roles. So, what does that mean?

Let’s read between the lines:
Wedge has said the Mota would move to middle relief to get more consistent work (though I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up on the DL with all of the control problems he’s had). So let’s figure that he’s moving to the 6th, and maybe the 7th inning.

Wedge has said that “we feel strong about the young arms in our bullpen”, presumably referring to F-Cab, Jason Dangerously and, to a lesser degree, Jeremy Guthrie.

So, who’s missing here? Graves and Sauerbeck! It’s about time. The Indians are going to make changes to the obvious problems in the bullpen.

I knew that there was a reason that Shapiro got the big bucks.

On the Graves front, he’ll probably be designated for assignment and replaced by Steve Karsay, who has pitched well in Buffalo recently. Karsay would slot into the 7th inning role with Cabrera and Davis, while Betancourt would move into the 8th inning role upon his return. Let’s all hope that Rocky’s success in prior years had nothing to do with something that others mistook for simple “flaxseed oil”.

The Tribe’s signing of Felix Heredia and, more rececntly Vic Darensbourg, show that Sauerbeck may not be long for the Jake. While Rafael Perez (who’s on the 40-man roster, opposed to the 2 veterans who are not) may be the first option if Sauerbeck is moved out. Again, no arguments here as this year has shown that experience doesn’t mean anything if you simpy CANNOT GET AN OUT.

My guess would be that Shapiro will try a number of arms (all from within the organization) to figure out how the 2006 bullpen will be constructed. Pitchers on the 40 man roster will all get the first look, whether it be Fausto Carmona coming out of the bullpen while auditioning for the rotation, Brian Slocum or Andrew Brown coming up from Buffalo, or Edward Mujica or Tony Sipp making the trip up I-77.

Let's hope it doesn't take another 40 games to come up with a solution, like it did to diagnose the problem.

Honestly, though, it really doesn’t matter who’s in the bullpen (I know that there’s no confidence in any of the guys) if Wedge doesn’t know when to pull them out.

I think that’s what they call the old Catch-22. Don’t want to take the obviously gassed starters out (before they get shelled) for an incompetent reliever (who is guaranteed to get shelled).

Another loss tonight to make it 4 straight. When I wrote that it was nice to have C.C. back, I didn’t mean I wanted to win ONLY when he started games.

C.C. is facing Bonderman, who the Tribe got 8 runs off of in 3+ innings earlier in the year, so it’s time for the aCCe to to put a stop to a losing streak.

Finally, prized Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching prospect Cole Hamels made his much ballyhooed debut tonight (he went 5 scoreless innings with 7 K’s), but it inspired a list of Cole Hamels’ accomplishments, strangely reminiscient of what Chuck Norris is capable of.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Paging Captain Popov

Back in college, my buddy C-Badd would (after a few drinks) get a little chirpy and turn into his alter ego, Captain Popov. Partly because it was inspired by a couple of bowls of loudmouth soup, and partly because he would simply “pop-off” on people - when Captain Popov came out, it became quite a scene. Never an ugly or uncomfortable scene, Popov just said what needed to be said, no matter what anybody thought.

With the Sons of Geronimo getting swept (SWEPT!) by what is essentially a AAA baseball team, it’s time to turn Captain Popov’s gaze to the Tribe:

Aaron Boone is a disaster at the plate. After leaving 6 men on base on Monday, he’s now sitting at .241 with an abysmal OPS of .683. His performance has nothing to do with an injury, a rehabilitation, or an adjustment – this is Aaron Boone. He is a liability offensively and will continue to be that until he is mercifully removed from the everyday lineup. If Andy Marte were doing anything remotely productive in Buffalo, he’d probably already be here. Even if Marte continues to struggle, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marte gets the call at the end of May, moving Boone to the Utility spot. That would solve two problems in getting Boone out of the lineup and Vazquez (who has an OPS of .404?!?) off of the roster.

On the topic of Vazquez, since it was in vogue for a while to decry his roster spot because Brandon Phillips was the second coming; it seems that “The Franchise” has come back to Earth. In his last 8 games, Phillips is 4 for 27 (a .148 average) with 0 HR and 3 RBI. Oh, and his average has dropped 65 points during that stretch to .291 while his OPS has dropped 112 points to .791. I’m not putting that in to justify Shapiro moving Phillips (because he got nothing for him); but I’m just saying – he’s not the second coming - of an All-Star, or even an everday Major Leaguer, for that matter.

Back to the Tribe - not that the lineup is hurting, but has anyone else thought that the 3, 4, 5 spots might look better with Hafner, Martinez, and Peralta being reshuffled to bat in that order? That would put Hafner (the team’s unquestioned best hitter) up to bat right after the “table-setters”, and ensure him hitting in the 1st inning, rather than potentially leading off the 2nd inning. It’s a little thing, I know, but it would also space the lefties and righties out a lot better (L, R, L, S, R, Benuardo). We all feel great that Peralta thrived in the 3 hole late last year, but let’s do what’s best for the team and return Hafner to where he belongs.

Or how about (and this is going to sound crazy, particularly from someone who dubbed the RF Kasey because he struck out so much last year) moving Blake to the 2 hole and moving Michaels down to the 8 hole? If Casey is going to hit, and make contact (only Victor and Bellliard have less K’s of the regulars), why not take advantage? He’s apparently choked up on the bat to give himself better bat control. And the result has been phenomenal (he’s hitting .368); so why not ride the hot hand? If he reverts to Kasey, you can always move him out of that spot. The move would also allow Michaels to continue his adjustment to the AL and to being a regular without the pressure of hitting between Sizemore and Peralta.

Would someone please let that windmill that stands in the 3rd base coaches’ box (Jeff Datz) that the idea is to get the runner there before the ball? How many times has the opposing catcher been standing at home plate, with the ball, waiting for the Indians’ baserunner? I never thought I would long for Joel Skinner’s decision-making, but that’s where we’re at.

Jake Westbrook, Paul Byrd, and Jason Johnson all look like the same pitcher right now – and that’s not a good thing. They’re all pitching to contact, and those balls are getting hit hard. Consider this: each is averaging less than 6 innings a start, each has an ERA over 5.00, each is allowing the competition to hit over .335. Miraculously, all at or above .500. This portion of the rotation (#3, #4, and #5) needs to perform better or changes will be made.

How’s this for an option? Move Westbrook to the bullpen, where he can work his way through a few innings (ever notice that he struggles the second or third time through the lineup, not the first?) without getting blown up. Promote Jeremy Sowers to see how he can handle pitching at the ML level (his 1.40 ERA in Buffalo is a good indication that he’s ready or VERY close to it) in his spot to give the rotation 3 lefties that can be separated by Byrd and Johnson. Desperate times (I know, we’re not there yet – but, we’re close) call for desperate measures. Byrd and Johnson certainly haven’t outpitched Westbrook, but maybe Jake needs to get his confidence back with some solid outings out of the pen.

If Johnson continues to struggle, send him packing and get Fausto Carmona back up here. If given the choice of those two pitchers, I’ll take Carmona – growing pains and all. Jason Johnson’s record prior to coming to the Tribe has served as a better indication of the type of pitcher he is…not his “stuff”.

My understanding of a matchup lefty is that they come in to face a LH batter (usually a good hitter in a precarious situation) with the idea that they have a better chance of getting said LH batter out than a RH pitcher. That’s the idea, right?
Well, here are the Indians’ matchup lefty’s numbers against LH batters:
Not real impressive, eh? How’s this?
In games that Scott Sauerbeck has pitched in, the Tribe is 5-10.
In games that Gas Can Graves has pitched in, the Tribe is 5-8.
When both have pitched, the Tribe is 2-7.
Essentially Scott Sauerbeck has replaced Gas Can Graves (who is not out of the woods by any measure) as the principal antagonist in the bullpen. The whole bullpen is a mess, but let’s prioritize things.

If I hear one more manager’s press conference that includes the phrases “grinding it out”, “making adjustments”, or refer to “the approach”, my ears may start bleeding. I’m not saying I need a Piniella-Dibble clubhouse brawl or a Hal McRae desk clearing out of the Atomic Wedgie, but a little bit of emotion would suffice. This vanilla, cliché-driven approach is wearing on me.

Shake it up, make some changes, put a little of the fear of God into this team. If you have to make an example that you’re in charge and that nobody is untouchable, so be it.

What I’d like to see is Wedge flipping over the buffet, hollering that something’s gotta give here, or as Dick Vernon would say, “The next time I come in here, I’m cracking skulls.”

Just a few thoughts, some more rational than others. But one thing is clear: this has to be turned around, and fast – before the White Sox mount a huge lead in the Central, with the Tigers in tow.

How they decide to do that is not my job, but I’m ready to see some heads roll. Until that happens, I suppose I'll keep skulking around the house, cursing like a sailor.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Minor Matters

In light of the Tribe dropping Game 1 to the lowly Royals (ugh) and with a trip to Niagra Falls over the weekend, which included a drive-by of Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo (where the Bisons are really struggling), let’s take a look at some players of interest on the Farm (high levels only – I only have so much time):

Here are the principals playing for the aforementioned struggling Buffalo squad:
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Jason Dubois – .308 - 6 – 23 - .931
Ryan Garko - .262 – 3 – 24 - .792
Ben Francisco - .267 – 5 – 15 - .778
Franklin Gutierrez - .266 – 2 – 10 - .740
Andy Marte - .255 – 0 – 5 - .692
Dubois continues to tear up AAA pitching (he hit 31 HR in 109 games in the AAA Cubs’ organization in 2004), but the whiff is still there as he’s gone down on strikes 32 times in 101 AB’s. Marte’s numbers are a concern, as he’s not hitting for much power (although he does have 9 doubles).
With the way the Tribe is hitting, none of these players is going to be called upon any time soon, injuries notwithstanding. The whole Bisons team is reeling, as they’re 3-7 in the last 10; so, it looks like all of the Tribe AAA positional prospects have hit a cold streak together.

As for the pitchers in Western NY:
Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Jeremy Sowers – 4/1 – 1.40 – 1.27 – 26/14
Steve Karsay – 1/1 – 1.93 – 0.71 – 11/1
Andrew Brown – 2/0 – 2.41 – 1.45 – 15/17
Brian Slocum – 0/0 – 1.35 – 0.68 – 14/3
Sowers is the only starter really rolling as Carmona has struggled since his return and Jake Dittler, Jason Stanford, and Dan Denham have struggled. The bullpen has remained solid, though, with Steve Karsay pitching well in particular. One has to think that the Front Office is watching Karsay pretty closely as he’s probably going to be the next one called up in case of another bullpen injury. Brown and Slocum will probably both stay in Buffalo most of the season and will likely help the Tribe once the rosters are expanded (along with Rob Bell, Hyang-Nam Choi, and Ben Howard).

Down 77, here’s a few of the Aeros’ hitters:
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Joe Inglett - .500 – 1 – 2 – 1.258
Kevin Kouzmanoff - .417 – 1 – 11 – .985
Jonathon Van Every (OF) - .304 – 4 – 18 – .956
Ryan Mulhern - .298 – 5 – 22 - .841
Brad Snyder - .250 – 4 – 18 - .730
Interestingly, Joe Inglett was demoted from Buffalo (where he was hitting .321 with a .816 OPS) to get some reps in at SS, the only position he isn’t tremendously defensive proficient at. Now why would that be? Could it be that Ramon Vazquez simply can’t hit? Or because an Assistant GM could take the quick trip to Akron to see Inglett at SS to assist in a decision? Inglett may get the call to the Jake this year to replace Vazquez, if he doesn’t start hitting, or they may be grooming him to be the Utility IF (or, dare I say it, 2B) in 2007.

And the Akron arms:
Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Adam Miller – 4/1 – 2.76 – 0.98 – 31/6
Tony Sipp – 2/0 – 2.14 – 1.00 – 31/6
Sean Smith – 2/0 – 3.18 – 1.29 – 15/10
Nick Pesco – 2/1 – 4.82 – 1.43 – 24/13
Bear Bay – 2/3 – 3.77 – 1.52 – 28/11
Edward Mujica – 7 saves – 0.00 – 1.14 – 15/9
Look at those numbers for Adam Miller, he’s reestablished himself a bona-fide stud prospect in a short time. Smith is a 22 year old who has already earned a promotion from Kinston and could be a name to watch. Speaking of names to watch, Mujica has yet to give up a run in 16 2/3 innings. Remember that the White Sox relied on a flamethrower from AA to give them solid innings down the stretch. I’m not saying that Mujica is Bobby Jenks, I’m just saying that Mujica could certainly find his way to Cleveland at some point this year.

If the Tribe goes down again (and with Johnson on the mound it’s a disticnct possibility), get ready for me to unload some things off my chest that have been stewing for a while. And I mean unload.

Of course, that now being said, the Tribe will probably rattle off some W’s. They better.

Monday, May 08, 2006

We Spell Ace with 2 C's

Nice to see C.C. put up 8 shutout innings against the Mariners, even if it was just the Mariners. The problem with this Indians’ team, this far into the early season has been the inconsistent starters. More has been made of the struggles of the bullpen, but strong starting pitching can make a bullpen look good very fast by allowing roles to develop and limiting the amount of relievers used.

Hopefully, the return of C.C. will allow the rotation to settle and form into a cohesive unit. Wedge needs to do some juggling of the rotation to separate C.C. and Lee (the lefties) and Westbrook and Johnson (the sinkerballers), so we’ll see how the rotation performs for the next few weeks as that shakes itself out. The next 13 games include 7 against the Royals and 3 against the Pirates - so there will be no time like the next two weeks to set a tone.

Lee has been solid in C.C.’s absence to the tune of a 3.64 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. His record of 2-3 essentially shows that he is now receiving the offensive support that Kevin Millwood got last year, while Paul Byrd has taken Lee’s phenomenal run support for his own. Consider that Byrd is 4-2 (Millwood had 9 wins all of last year) with a 7.11 ERA. Byrd is a notorious slow starter who has pitched better as of late, so there shouldn’t be too much cause for alarm.

What is causing some alarm, though, is the performance of Jake Westbrook - who seems to have reverted to the days of letting the big inning get to him. A typical outing by Westbrook is marked by most of his innings going off very smoothly and quickly, and one (or two) innings in which every ball is hit hard, every grounder finds the hole, and Jake just can’t get out of it. That pattern needs to turn around, and soon, or Westbrook may find himself on a shorter leash from the Tribe.

In the 5th spot, Jason Johnson has performed essentially like…a 5th starter. Sometimes he keeps the Tribe in the game through 6; sometimes he muscles his way through 4 innings, and sometimes he just implodes.

Now with C.C. back, and looking like he did in the 2nd half of last year, the rotation should settle into a bit of a routine with the Hefty Lefty leading the way.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Juuuuust a Bit Outside

With the Cavs moving onto the 2nd round (the first Cleveland team to win a playoff series since 1997) and the Tribe on the West Coast, it’s time to go a little off topic.

Major League has been on HBO all month. And after watching it for the 6th time in 2 weeks the other night, it’s amazing how after not watching a movie for a while, you can pick up a lot of the subtleties. Some items of note:

Harry Doyle and One-Liners
Anything that Harry Doyle says in reference to the team is outrageously un-PC or unbelievably funny. The highpoints:
-Refers to the team as “Wigwammers”, “The Erie Warriors”, “Sons of Geronimo”
-Calls the fans “Wahoo Maniacs” and “Friends of the Feather”
-His call-in show is called “Pow-Wow Time”
-Best intro to the stadium – “Welcome to the Happy Hunting Ground”

My other favorite is, “We don’t know where Hayes played last year, but I’m sure he did a hell of a job.”

The other non-Harry Doyle favorite is Rick Vaughn’s “I look like a banker in this” at the French restaurant.

Actors who got a start in Major League
-Wesley Snipes (Wildcats doesn’t count)
-Rene Russo
-President David Palmer AKA Dennis Haysbert
-“Scrubs” janitor plays the construction worker who says, “Who are these f’ing guys?”

The Brilliance of Lou Brown
Does Lou Brown push all the right buttons down the stretch, or what? From starting Harris in the one-game playoff to going with his gut to bring Vaughn in to face Haywood, Brown puts his team in a great position to win.

The other thing I’ve always marveled at is, with the Indians sitting at 60-61 (after Charlie Donovan tells Lou about Rachel Phelps’ plan), Brown tells the team that they have to win 32 games to clinch the division. That means they have to go 32-9 to finish the season at 92-70, according to Brown’s math. And guess what? He nails it, right on the head.

Unbelievable foresight from the skipper.

Most Underrated Scene
Rick Vaughn, thinking he’s cut, launching a chair across the room before his tirade against Lou Brown and his fight with Roger Dorn. Nobody makes an entrance like the Veg-Head.

Random Thoughts
Where can I find a Jobu statue? Or how about a Chief Wahoo blazer that Lou Brown and Harry Doyle wear? That would go over like gangbusters at the next wedding.

A Few Questions
Why was it filmed in Milwaukee?
-My first trip to Milwaukee included a drive-by of the Dorn household, a beautiful house on the shore of Lake Michigan.
-The bride has friends who attended the final game in the movie, against the Yankees’.

So, why couldn’t these games be played in Municipal?

There is no “All Saints on Euclid”, where Lynn is supposed to get married. Trust me, there’s not.

Watching the movie with my friends’ mother, who works at the Cleveland Public Library, I am VERY aware that the Jake-Lynn library scene did not happen in Cleveland. Trust me, as a 12-year old, you remember your parents’ Mom yelling in the theater, “that is not the Cleveland Public Library”. Something I’ll never forget.

Favorite Character
1B Coach Pepper Leach, who is memorable for simply saying, “Take it to ‘em” and is referenced in the Lou Brown line, “Starting to come together Pepper, starting to come together.”
The fact remains that if I were to get a Major League inspired jersey, it would be Leach 16 or Gentry 47 (the player who DOES find a red tag on the last day of Spring Training).

Name that Tune
If you’re worth your salt as an Indians and Major League fan, you can answer this question:
-Woke up one day, what did I find?

Answer: Holes in my pocket, memories on my mind.

It comes from the timeless Bill Medley song “Most of All You” that serves as the Jake-Lynn Romance theme. Right now, you should be humming the tune, thinking of the bullpen car pulling up to Lynn’s apartment.

I can’t be the only one who has not only memorized this masterpiece of American cinema, but also noticed the subtleties.

C’mon Cleveland, wherever you are - let me hear you.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's the Soup du Jour?

To paraphrase Harry Dunne, standing in the middle of the Great Plains, as Lloyd Christmas pulls up on a moped:
“Just when I thought you couldn't look any worse, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself!”

After attending Monday’s debacle (that’s really what it was) and going through the gamut of emotions that accompanied Jim Thome back to the Jake (see the comments section from the last post, including a shot of Thome from a Dugout Suite, courtesy T-Bone), the Indians totally redeemed themselves by shelling Mark Buehrle and the White Sox to the tune of 7-1.

Amazing how a team that looks so disinterested and unmotivated one night can look like a completely different team the next day when the starting pitching is solid (welcome back, C.C. – you’ve been missed), the bullpen holds up, and the offense (led by Hafner) gets into his groove.

In other news, Cabrera has returned from the DL, as Wedge will try to carve out some roles in the bullpen. Outside of Mota and Wickman closing games, expect Davis (who briefly reverted back to Jason Dangerously on Monday by overthrowing and losing control of his emotions…and the game) and Cabrera to work their way through the 6th and 7th. Guthrie will serve as the long man, and could work himself into the long-term plans if he can prove that his stuff translates into a relief role. The two weak links, Gas Can Graves (who, I have to admit has improved) and Scott Sauerbeck (who has done a HORRIBLE job as a match-up lefty) will have to do as the bullpen remains a work in progress.

Tribe heads off on a West Coast trip to face the A’s (minus Esteban Loaiza, Rich Harden, and Milton Bradley – and maybe Jason Kendall after today’s brawl) and the M’s (where they’ll face Indian killer Jaime Moyer on Friday).

These are the games that start at 10PM, end at 1AM, and forced someone like me to invent TiVO.