Friday, August 31, 2007

Promoting From Within

Heading into the weekend’s series with the sinking ship that is the White Sox (with Cap’n Ozzie not exactly lauding the efforts of his crew and possibly going down with the ship), taking a look at the evolution of the current construction of the Indians’ roster is nothing short of unprecedented.

Consider for a moment how this team looked coming out of Winter Haven for Opening Day:




The players not on the active roster are in bold and if you’re counting at home, that’s 8 players from the Opening Day roster not on the team (yes, I know Dellucci is hurt and is allegedly returning soon – but for all intents and purposes, he has not been contributing for some time); so that means that nearly 1/3 of the 25-man roster is different today than it was on Opening Day.

When turnover like this on a roster takes place it usually means that either the injury bug has hit the team hard (thankfully, not true) or the team is out of contention and has moved the veterans to play youngsters to see what they have (like the Tribe did late in 2006). Since neither of those things have taken place (the team is healthy and firmly in contention), the turnover in roster is amazing. Even more amazing than that is the fact that Dellucci has been the only player lost to a significant injury (everybody knock on wood…now…and hard), as both Lee and Westbrook returned from oblique strains and Pronk’s lingering “issues” (there has to be some) have not been catastrophic for this team.

Now, look at the list above again. The Indians are also no longer getting significant contributions from Mastny (although I know he’s still on the team because I keep seeing him warm up during Borowski’s tightrope walks), Fultz, Barfield, Nixon (pies notwithstanding), or Michaels.

Adding those 5 to the 8 in bold above and the number of players not playing a vital role on the current team from Opening Day is a staggering 13! That’s over 50% of the Opening Day roster that finds themselves either elsewhere (like Buffalo), on the DL, glued to the bench, or remain in the dark on how to work the lock on the bullpen door.

Yet, this team has firmly established itself as the leader in the AL Central and is (arguably) playing their best baseball as the calendar flips to September.

Additionally, seeing as how the only players that the Indians currently use that were outside of the organization at the dawn of the 2007 are Kenny Lofton and Chris Gomez, these facts speak volumes about the depth and quality of the Indians organization and talent evaluation of young players.

Essentially, the lion’s share of replacements that are fueling the current team’s run didn’t come via trade or from other organizations. They came from nurturing the crops down on the farm. The list of players called up and contributing is long and illustrious with Carmona, Laffey, Perez, Lewis, Gutierrez, and Cabrera playing enormous roles in the club’s current surge.

But four players have distinguished themselves this season, some with a nice career progression, and others out of nowhere to put the team where it is today – sitting atop the AL Central with (as of today, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus) an 86% likelihood of making the playoffs:

The Faustastic One
Going into the season, Carmona was thought to be the all-important 6th starter with the hope that the train wreck that was his 2006 season wouldn’t ruin his confidence (remember the stuff was ALWAYS there as he was a ridiculously good set-up man before imploding as a closer) and that he could rebound into a fill-in if an injury happened.

Now if those are the expectations (to simply be able to rebound and become a serviceable MLB starter), Fausto just sunk your Battleship because he’s blown everything you thought you knew about baseball out of the water en route to a Cy Young-caliber season, in effect saving the rotation as Westbrook, then Lee, suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness and somebody exposed Jeremy Sowers to Kryptonite.

What Carmona has done is nothing short of extraordinary, acting as the 2nd ace of the staff, propelling the team to victory after victory. Carmona, too, is doing it with a pitching arsenal that has been described as “filthy”, “nasty”, “not fair”, and “makes you feel like you’re hung-over”, as he has complemented his sinking fastball with a slider and a change-up. Carmona’s learning curve has been so quick that he’s already arrived as a PITCHER, and not just a thrower. How long did we wait for Bartolo Colon or C.C. to make that transition?

Interestingly, the pitcher that I keep hearing as the comparison for Carmona is Kevin Brown – another sinkerballer who complemented his nearly-unhittable sinking fastball with secondary stuff that generated some phenomenal years. Brown was nothing short of dominant for those years with the Marlins, Padres, and Dodgers as his average year from 1996-1999 looked like this:
17-6, 2.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Um..yeah. I’ll take that production over the course of a few years.
But Brown didn’t post these gaudy numbers until he was 31, so it could be argued that it took him the 7 previous seasons in a starting rotation to perfect his arsenal. By comparison, the maturation for the 23-year-old Carmona (yes, 23) has taken about 4 months.

American League hitters, be afraid…be very afraid.

The Scarecrow
For some quick perspective, the list of relievers (not on the 25-man Opening Day roster) thought to be ahead of Rafael Perez in the organization breaking Spring Training:
Matt Miller
Mike Koplove
Edward Mujica

You might even put a guy like Tony Sipp ahead of Perez in the organizational depth chart (though not likely) to show how Perez certainly wasn’t widely thought to be a viable candidate to become a regular contributor in Cleveland this year, much less one of the most important players on the team.
By the way, don’t even ask where Jensen Lewis started the season on the organizational depth chart in April. It’s not on the first page, maybe not the second.

But back to the skinny LHP with the wicked slider, who really solidified the back end of the bullpen as much as the success of Borowski and Betancourt did. What Perez’s emergence did was shorten the game to 6 innings as he grabbed that 7th inning role and ran with it.

At the beginning of the season, that 7th inning role was seen as up for grabs and we sat and watched Hernandez age before our very eyes, Aaron Fultz proved to be effective only when starting an inning and a disaster with men on base, and Tom Mastny proved to be…well, Tom Mastny.

Perez worked his way up the bullpen ladder from garbage innings-eater to match-up lefty to dominant reliever. Not limited to only facing LH, Perez has proven to be effective against all comers (note the 3 swinging K’s in the 8th inning of Thursday’s game against LH Jose Guillen, LH Raul Ibanez, and RH Adrian Beltre) and has been nothing short of a lockdown reliever in tight spots with runners on base.

His development as a pitcher, and possibly as a future option as a closer, will be an interesting storyline to watch as most of the other relievers developed and nurtured by the Tribe have flamed out (CaBBrera, Jason Dangerously) at some point, forcing the Indians to rely on retreads and reclamation projects to fill the bullpen. Perez could be the trailblazer for a line of solid relievers to emerge from the Tribe’s farm system and could turn out to be the one that they all eventually hand the ball to when the 9th inning rolls around.

Frank the Tank
Entering 2007, Gutz was a bit of an enigma to the organization, with his talent and tools not yet translating to Big League success and stagnating in Buffalo. Coming out of Spring Training, the depth chart for OF in the organization broke down like this:
That would be Frankie, #8 on a list that mans 3 positions.

But something happened to the Tribe’s well-intentioned plans coming out of Winter Haven. Andy Marte struggled at 3B, then got hurt, moving Blake out of the OF mix. Choo was called up, then Francisco was in early May, but both were sent down days later as Frank got the call on May 6th. A mere 13 days later, he was sent back to Buffalo when Marte was ready to return. As Marte continued to struggle, Andy was sent packing and Gutierrez returned on May 31st.
Following all of these roster moves?

This time Gutz was in Cleveland to stay…just not necessarily to play. He kept himself busy splitting time with Trot Nixon in RF, logging 54 AB in June and 49 AB in July. Through his success in limited time (.882 OPS in June, .891 OPS in July) and some success against RHP (his HR against Beckett in the 1-0 win particularly stood out), Gutierrez did what every organization wants their young players to do – force their way into the everyday lineup with solid and consistent play.

When finally inserted into the everyday lineup, Gutz drastically improved outfield defense with his speed and arm while providing more power, speed, and athleticism to bottom of lineup than the Trotter could bring to the ballpark every day.

Gutierrez has continued his excellent play, particularly in the field and with his speed on the basepaths, and has claimed a legitimate stake on the RF job every day for 2008 and beyond. While the Indians certainly must have HOPED that this would have been the step that Gutz would have taken in 2007, his presence and consistency has laid the Oliver Stone OF (Platoon…get it?) to waste and has contributed to a stable lineup and a huge upgrade in speed, athleticism, and defense – something sorely needed for the playoff push.

If the players above constitute “pleasant surprises” and “talent realized at an opportune time”, Cabrera would fall under the category of, “who’s?…doing what?…”.
Realizing fully that you’re completely tired of seeing depth charts from 5 months ago, consider the ladder that Drooby Drooby Droo climbed in regards to Middle IF:
You could even throw Keith Ginter in there above Cabrera if you’re just talking about possible Utility IF.

Consider now that the Indians went outside of the organization to add Chris Gomez (and that there are all of two positions for Middle IF to play) and Cabrera’s ascent into the #2 hole in the lineup and a crucial role on this contending team’s stretch run is worth a double take.

When Cabrera was acquired for Eduardo Perez (who said the other night, tongue firmly in cheek, on Baseball Tonight that the Tribe got the best of the deal to nab Cabrera from Seattle), he was thought to be a great glove, no hit player who had been rushed through the Mariners’ organization as he had just turned 20 and was playing at AAA Tacoma. The Indians assigned him to Buffalo, where he played like you would expect a 20-year-old in AAA to play – inconsistently.

Going into 2007, the Tribe decided to start him in Akron to let him get his feet wet and earn his way to Buffalo (which, remember, was the halfway house for retread MI Rivas, Inglett, and Luna). Seeing as he was still 20 (turned 21 on August 8th of this year, by the by), it was a decision that couldn’t really be argued.

But, all AstroCab (this supposed reincarnation of Felix Fermin – smooth glove, spotty bat) did was hit. He posted a .310/.383/.454 line in 96 games in Akron with 23 doubles, 8 HR, and 54 RBI. With the Mighty Rouse struggling to put bat on ball (and put glove on ball, truthfully), the Tribe decided to see how he would handle Buffalo this time around. Showing remarkable consistency, Asdrubal posted a .316/.350/.395 in his 9 games as a member of the Herd.

With the Indians no longer able to handle Rouse’s inconsistency on the roster (and the Buffalo Blowhards not doing anything to impress), the Tribe called up Cabrera, mainly to spell a struggling Barfield and for the ability to have a dependable late-inning defensive replacement. Of course, soon after Asdrubal arrived, the Indians decided to bench Barfield and give Gomez and Cabrera a shot.

In effect, the situation could not have been better for Asdrubal. If Murphy’s Law is “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong,” maybe Asdrubal’s Law is the opposite as everything fell neatly into place for him to get his chance. And he has certainly seized it, providing a spark to a (at the time) listless offense and providing steady glove work in the field. He shows no signs of being overwhelmed by adjustments or of being intimidated by his new surroundings (the HR against Santana being the clincher), so he’s acting and playing like he belongs and that he has no plans of making the return trip East on I-90 to Buffalo. Watching him play, it’s hard to argue that he should even consider it.

But, as exciting as AstroCab’s performance on the field has been, the incredible thing about Cabrera’s success (albeit in a very small sample size) is his age. Again, he just turned 21 three weeks ago, and looking at recent Middle IF who made their first real contributions in MLB at either age 20 or 21, it is a pretty impressive list with players like Alan Trammell, Roberto Alomar, Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, and Ozzie Guillen offering a range of players with varying degrees of success.
Expand it to age 22 and the list doesn’t have much of a drop-off, with the likes of Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel (yes, Omar), and Ryne Sandberg dotting the high end.

Of course, you’ll also run into the likes of Mark Lewis, Jerry Browne, Miguel Cairo, Luis Rivas, and D’Angelo Jimenez as young infielders that debuted at a young age but never progressed much past being a Utility IF (or worse).

With only the early returns in, it looks like Asdrubal is the Real McCoy, exhibiting a nice approach at the plate (though that BB number could be higher) and a smoothness and fluidity in the field not seen here since (gulp…should I say it…dare I throw these expectations on this youngster) Omar.

Regardless of where he ends up playing (2B or SS) or what we say about him 10 years from now, Asdrubal (by the way, I’m getting a lot of flak for AstroCab and a movement is gaining ground that he could be the next first-name-only-player – like Omar, Manny, Grady, Victor, C.C., Fausto, etc. before him), his inclusion on this team and his accomplishments to date are above and beyond what even the most optimistic prognosticator would predict.

Had anyone predicted in April that these four players (plus Lewis and Laffey) would be playing a vital role in the season, you likely would have scoffed in disgust that all that would mean is that the Indians were experiencing a lost season.

Had that same person predicted that these players would be playing crucial roles in a playoff race, playing for a team sitting on top of the division by 4 ½ games as August draws to a close, you would have laughed at their blind optimism.

Yet, here we find ourselves, getting contributions from players we certainly didn’t see coming (for the most part) as the Indians find themselves relying on a bumper crop of youngsters produced by the farm system, and perhaps more talented than players available via Free Agency to make their push for the postseason.

Baseball’s a funny game that way, the unexpected (regardless of how unexpected) is often the norm and the smartest baseball people are right as often as the guy calling the sports-talk radio show (best example I can think of for the dumbest people in the world).

The future is now for the Indians, the Minor Leagues are producing quality players that are arriving at fortuitous times, and youth is being served on the North Coast.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pie Me

As the Indians pull victory from the jaws of defeat, they’ve now won 6 straight, put the Mariners a little deeper in the hole, and keep the momentum going.

With Jason Michaels receiving the rally pie (not alone as Underwood and Manning got them in the STO booth simultaneously), it’s time for the out-of-towners (or those that don’t make it down to the Jake) to see the Rally Pie Video they show on the JumboTron.
Garko getting the pie when looking for the low-five is the highlight.

Much more coming on the hot streak and the way that this team is peaking at the right time, regaining their confidence and swagger (I know I can’t just keep posting a picture and 3 lines and keep everyone happy); so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are You Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot?

5 in a row, 10 of 13 and...4 1/2 up in the Central.

Looking good, Ryan!
Feeling good, Joe Bo!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Armed and Dangerous

Good pitching beats good hitting.

At least that’s what has been said for years, whether it be 1995 as the Braves’ Three Aces shut down the historically great Tribe lineup, or watching the D-Backs ride Schilling and the Big Unit to a 2001 championship over a stacked Yankees’ lineup, or even the Cardinals’ riding a suddenly, and inexplicably, hot rotation to a 2006 World Series Championship.

Conventional wisdom dictates that a team receiving consistent, and consistently excellent, starting pitching puts the aforementioned team in a position to win most games, regardless of offensive output in the regular season and particularly in the playoffs.

So, if strong starting pitching truly is what carries a team into the postseason and dictates the postseason success of that team, how do the Tribe starters stack up against the rest of the AL contenders’ rotations?

Considering that much of pitching is recent performance (to wit, Jake Westbrook is 4-7 on the season, but is the hottest pitcher in MLB), the August statistics for the top 4 starters on contending teams in the AL with more than 20 IP in the month break down like this:
Jake Westbrook – 1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP
C.C. Sabathia – 2.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Fausto Carmona – 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Paul Byrd – 5.35 ERA, 1.49 WHIP

Josh Beckett – 2.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Tim Wakefield – 2.45 ERA, 0.97 WHIP
Curt Schilling – 3.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 3.81 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Los Angeles
Kelvim Escobar – 2.38 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
John Lackey – 3.63 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
Joe Saunders – 4.22 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
Jared Weaver – 4.85 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Jeff Weaver – 3.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
Felix Hernandez – 4.09 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Jared Washburn – 4.22 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Horacio Ramirez – 7.00 ERA, 1.78 WHIP

New York
Andy Pettitte – 2.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Chien-Ming Wang – 5.46 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
Phil Hughes – 6.11 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Mike Mussina – 8.87 ERA, 2.01 WHIP
* Roger Clemens does not make the cut for the qualifications having pitched less than 20 IP in his 4 starts in August averaging less than 5 IP per start, but is sitting on a 5.79 ERA with a 1.66 WHIP in those 4 starts.

Nate Robertson – 3.97 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Justin Verlander – 5.08 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
Chad Durbin – 6.53 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
Jeremy Bonderman – 7.11 ERA, 1.71 WHIP

Not too surprising that Boston’s talented rotation is the class of the AL in terms of how deep the quality of starters goes, but the Tribe’s Big 3 of C.C., Carmona, and Jake compares extremely favorably against all of these teams.

Out West, it looks like the Angels have a deeper rotation with more consistency than Seattle, but the Mariners’ rotation looks like the Tribe teams of the early 1950’s compared to what their Wild Card rivals New York and Detroit have been trotting out to the mound in the past few weeks.

Looking at the numbers for the Yankees and Tigers, both of those teams appear to be banking on bludgeoning their way into the postseason because of the dearth of quality or consistency in their rotations.

Back to the Tribe though, as throwing Carmona, Sabathia, and Westbrook (in that order, to break up the RHP and the sinkerballers with a pretty vicious LHP) would have to be seen as a distinct advantage in any playoff series. Whether the Tribe went with a 3-man rotation in the playoffs (the games are very spaced out and sinkerballers have historically been better on short rest) or they added the Byrdman (who had great playoff success with the Angels in the 2005 ALCS) or hoped that Aaron Laffey channeled his inner Jaret Wright (circa 1997, not 2007) as part of a 4-man rotation, one would have to like the Indians’ chances in the playoffs, based on their starting pitching.

Of course, getting to the playoffs is the focus right now as it doesn’t matter how well your starting pitchers are going if they’re sitting at home or on the golf course when the playoffs start.

But, the way the rotation is going, where the “weak link” (Paul Byrd) is 4-1 in the month of August, the Indians have momentum going and a legitimate shot to go on a sustained run to pull away in the AL Central. That momentum could carry into the playoffs, due to the phenomenal performances of the Tribe starters, for this team that seems to be cresting at the right time.

Triple Your Pleasure

If you haven’t seen the triple play from last night’s victory, here’s the ESPN game wrap page that has the video.

I’m not sure if AstroCab even touched the ball or if he pulled one of those slight-of-hand magician’s tricks where the ball just immediately changes directions and redirects towards 1B. To me, his transfer was the key to the whole thing being pulled off.
Chalk another game-changing moment up for the Droob.

By the way, the Indians lead all of baseball in Quality Starts (6 IP or more with 3 or less ER) with 78, including 11 of the last 12 being categorized as “Quality”.

The white-hot Jake (August ERA – 1.50) and always dependable C.C. (August ERA – 2.50) are scheduled to go for the final two in the Twins’ series.

Anyone else feel like this thing is gaining momentum?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don’t…Stop…Thinking About Tomorrow

With Sunday’s scintillating win in KC (the AstroCab jersey is en route…seriously), the Indians have won their last 3 series, all on the road. It hasn’t been pretty, but guess who’s won 4 of their last 5 and 7 of their last 10?

YOUR first place Cleveland Indians!

Consider that the three losses have all been by 1 run (4-3, 2-1, 2-1), and the Tribe is starting to crest at the right time of the year.

Sadly, not much to go on for a Lazy Sunday, unless you want to read Sheldon’s Mailbag with the title “Ocker, you pompous idiot!” (if you don't believe me, click the link) or read the first Bill Livingston column in a year that doesn’t mention that he was once a young beat reporter in Philly when Dr. J was a 76er, giving him proper perspective on all things sports. I think that the Livy article was about Carmona, but won’t link it as it only eats up about 5 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.

Rather, with the Tribe moving in the right direction (and many of the current issues evaluated in the past few posts), I thought it was a good time to bring up some questions about the team that may or may not be answered in the last 33 games of the season regarding the future of the makeup of the roster.

Regardless of how premature it may seem in the middle of a pennant race, here’s some food for thought about the long-term decisions facing the Indians:

The question has come up before, but the Indians hold options on Paul Byrd, Joe Borowski, and Aaron Fultz for 2008 – which options do the Indians pick up?

If they pick up Byrd’s option and 80% of the rotation is effectively spoken for, where does that leave Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers?
As trade bait?

Has Aaron Laffey leapfrogged both Lee and Sowers in the pecking order?
Will a strong finish to 2007 for him put him squarely in line for a spot in the 2008 rotation?

Where does Atom Miller (assuming he’s healthy) fit into that mix?

Has Frank the Tank done enough to earn a starting spot in the 2008 OF?

If Gutierrez does get the RF job next year, who plays LF?
Does Dellichaels stay in the mix?
Could Dellucci get moved despite 2 more years on his contract?
What about the BLC or Francisco?
What about the possibility of a Free Agent outfielder?

Will 2008 be the year that Casey Blake fills the Super-Utility player role most people think he is best suited to occupy?

Where do Josh Barfield and Andy Marte fit on this team going forward?
How has the recent performance of AstroCab (albeit in a VERY short timeframe) affected their future, as well as that of Peralta’s at SS?

What does the organization do if Hafner’s slump is more than just a slump?
What if an injury is found that is more serious than anyone thinks it is right now?

Are the pieces already in place (or at least in the organization) to allow this offense to recapture the success of earlier this year?

Will the team get anywhere with C.C. at the negotiating table?
Will C.C. cut off talks and pitch his way into Free Agency if a deal isn’t reached in Winter Haven?
How will a possible playoff run affect the negotiations?

Will the bullpen need it’s annual overhaul or are dependable arms finally emerging?
Has JoeBo earned another year of closing?

With Trot Nixon the only outgoing Free Agent (and he WILL be outgoing) after the season, how much roster turnover can be expected going into 2008?

Again, it’s entirely premature to have fully formed answers any of these hypotheticals (and I could legitimately commit 1,000 words to each), but they are questions that may be answered as the team continues to evolve through the end of this season. Seeing as how the shape of the Indians for years to come may be determined by the next 2 months (September and October), their first REAL pennant race (in 2005, they were really just playing an incredible game of catch-up, coming up just short) and possible playoff appearance, they’re still questions that need to be asked.

A very hot Minnesota team arrives in Cleveland Monday for a quick series with C.C. scheduled to go against Santana in the finale on Wednesday night.

Cleveland, welcome to the 2007 Pennant Race.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Happy Tomahawks

How’s THAT for tense, playoff-caliber baseball!

For all of the crying about how the Indians have missed the opportunity to run away with the AL Central due to lack of offense with the ridiculously dominant starting pitching that we’ve had, the Indians now have a record of 18-20 since the All-Star Break. In fact, in their first 16, they were 8-8. In their first 27 since the break, they were 13-14.

Is it a great model of consistency to play around .500? Certainly not and surely it would have been nice to run and hide with the division while the Tigers really struggled. But it’s not like this team is suddenly losing 2 of every 3 games since the Break.

Oh, and 2 ½ up in the AL Central feels like a pretty good perch today.
And with that, release the happy ‘hawks:

The announcement came earlier in the week that Aaron Laffey will get the start on Friday as the 5th starter over Clifton Phifer Lee, and it’s hard to argue with it if the Indians are adopting the idea of putting the best players on the field, regardless of age, experience, or contracts (please tell me that they are).

Laffey went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in two starts since being sent down, while Lee has been less impressive, going 0-1 with a 4.72 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP over his last 3 starts for the Herd. Laffey’s pitching with more confidence and with more of a sense of purpose than Lee, so it’s right for the Tribe to hand the ball to the hot pitcher and ride it out.

If The Taffyman struggles, Lee’s there to take his place and probably with a bigger chip on his shoulder than before. But, if Laffey continues at the rate he’s going, unaware that he’s pitching in MLB (Jair Jurrjens, anyone?), the Indians just found their 5th starter for the stretch run.

Speaking of the stretch run – looking ahead, here’s the breakdown of anticipated starts for the rotation for remainder of the season, including Laffey’s Friday start:
Sabathia – 7
Carmona – 7
Westbrook – 7
Byrd – 7
Laffey – 7
Spot Starter for one game of September 26th doubleheader – 1

With Carmona, Sabathia, and Westbrook going like they are, I'll take my chances. In August, the top 3 starters have combined for a 2.11 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and 3 times as many K as BB over their 13 starts.
I think that Eck said it best - WOW!

Not sure if anyone is as into Arrested Development as I am (probably the funniest TV show of all-time for me…yes, Seinfeld considered), so excuse me if I begin to refer to Franklin Gutierrez (who already is sitting on a few nicknames) as Franklin Delano Gutierrez.
Consider it homage to the puppet from Arrested Development fame.

If you’re not familiar with Arrested Development, this isn’t funny to you.
But if you are, here’s a montage of clips, including a video of the recording of “Franklin Comes Alive”, thought to be Franklin and GOB’s best work together.

Amazingly, September 1st is rapidly approaching and rosters can be expanded to help the parent club. MLB rules dictate that, for a player to be promoted for September, the player must already be on the 40-man roster.
So, who’s on the 40-man roster, but not on the current 25-man active roster?
RHP Mike Koplove
LHP John Koronka
LHP Juan Lara
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP J.D. Martin
RHP Matt Miller
RHP Brian Slocum
LHP Jeremy Sowers
PLUS whoever gets sent down when Laffey is called up for Friday's start (likely RHP Edward Mujica)

Not much to look at here, though Matt Miller could help eat some innings and Cliff Lee could serve as the long man/spot starter (particularly for one of the games of the September 26th doubleheader).

Of course, it’s possible that Lee could be kept in Buffalo so Victor can keep his sparring gear in his locker, but the Indians are going to need the possibility of having some length out of the bullpen and will need someone to start a game on September 26th, so Lee would probably return.

It’s likely that Sowers would stay in Buffalo to continue starts and stay on pace for his inning count progression. The rest of these guys are just filler, although Koplove does have MLB experience…ahem, Voltaire.

Position Players
1B Michael Aubrey
MI Joe Inglett
3B Andy Marte
OF Shin Soo-Choo
OF Ben Francisco
OF Brad Snyder

Position player-wise, with Dellucci’s return being pushed back, as he’s not even able to make a rehab appearance), it’s extremely likely that the BLC will make a return trip to Cleveland to add a LH bat off of the bench and some defense and speed. Francisco would do much of the same from the right side of the dish, existing primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner.

Inglett could get promoted, I guess, though his role is already being filled by Chris Gomez). Inglett can come up only if he promises not to shave his mustache. Marte, Aubrey, and Snyder (of whom Marte is really the only one who could still be called a promising prospect, and that’s pushing it) will likely stay in Buffalo to maximize plate appearances.

Beyond that list are players not yet on the 40-man roster that will have to be added to it in the off-season to avoid being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. With these players, it’s possible to add them to the 40-man now and get rid of some of the excess baggage (Koronka, Lara, etc), then add them to the Tribe.
The players who will be Rule 5 eligible after this year:
RHP Adam Miller
RHP Sean Smith
LHP Mariano Gomez
LHP Scott Lewis
RHP Randy Newsom
LHP Shawn Nottingham
LHP Reid Santos
RHP Jim Ed Warden

Position Players
C Wyatt Toregas
C Chris Gimenez
1B Ryan Mulhern
MI Rodney Choy Foo
MI Argenis Reyes
OF Brian Barton
OF Jon Van Every

Again, not much jumps out here, particularly if the Indians want to keep Atom Miller on a regimented schedule in low-risk situations. Ryan Mulhern might get a look as a RH power hitter, as might Barton – but both would fall pretty far down the list of options. They could always add another catcher to the mix (whether it be Toregas or Gimenez or just call up some AAA body) to give the added insurance of carrying a 3rd catcher.

The lack of a viable 4th reliever out of the bullpen still has me a little worried about the stretch run; but that is a discussion for another day.

For today, let’s enjoy the view from the top.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Unlikely Sources

With the team looking for that clutch hit and that big hit, raise your hand if you thought that AstroCab (the 2-out hit to start the rally in the 4th) and Frank the Tank (the 3-run bomb in the 5th) were the players in this lineup that would come through in the clutch.

Whether Frankie’s HR started the FRANK THE TANK, FRANK THE TANK chant in Comerica, I’m not sure.
I am acutely aware of one place where it WAS happening.

Look, I didn’t care who it was going to be.
I was ready to suggest giving Big Daddy Jeff Datz a look in pinch-hit situations (forget 25-man roster rules) to give this lineup a shot of adrenaline.

But the icebreakers proved to be two youngsters from Venezuela who started the season in Buffalo and Akron, respectively. The 21-year old and 24-year old Venezuelans performed on a night that the players that we’ve expected to break through and haven’t (Vic, Pronk, Grady) continued to scuffle as the game progressed. After Tuesday night’s loss, the offense was under the microscope like never before and the troika of Tribe stars started off much like they have for the past month stranding 13 runners (Grady - 4, Victor - 4, Hafner - 5).

Enter “Los Muchachos” (or “The Boys”, for those who didn’t take Spanish in High School), who took the burden off of the lineup to get the team over the hump in terms of getting clutch hits, which then came in bunches. Apparently unaware that they’re playing in Detroit (and not Toledo), Gutz and Droob calmly went about their at-bats and produced, setting the tone for the night and taking the onus off of the lineup to press and grip their bats a little too tightly. Seemingly unburdened by having to be “The Man” to get the hit, Hafner and Shoppach came through with two run-producing doubles in the 8th, cushioning the lead for the Erie Warriors, which came in handy at the end of the night.

One offensive explosion certainly doesn’t mean that the slump is over, but it’s nice to see some double digits on the board. The fact that they were led by two young Venezuelans should loosen the team up a little bit, as the main cogs (term used loosely) of the offense can perhaps relax and not try to do everything on their own going into the Detroit finale and the Royals’ series (while the Tigers have to face the Pinstriped Ones in Motown).

It’s well past time for the Indians to put the best players on the field, regardless of age, experience, or committed dollars. Count Frank the Tank and AstroCab in that category for the foreseeable future.

Viva Los Muchachos!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Groundhog Day

If ever a microcosm for the last month of baseball was needed, simply look to the 2 hours of Tuesday night as the Tribe dropped the first game of the series to Detroit:
Great Pitching + Zero Offense = Another Frustrating Outcome.

Fausto was tremendous, outstanding, marvelous, superb, masterful, phenomenal, and on and on and on. The superlatives don’t do justice to an 8-inning, 77 pitch, 3 hit, no walk, and 5 strikeout performance put up by the Faustastic One.

Carmona has a 1.80 ERA since the All-Star Break, and has gone 4-4!
The problem, obviously, is that Fausto is not the only getting burned by getting no offensive support. The dreadful approach (can it really be called an approach?) resulted again in few hard hit balls, many strikeouts, and me banging my head against the wall.

The widespread disease of swinging splinters has gone beyond epidemic as we’ve reached the point that I’d like to head into the Tribe clubhouse in one of those big yellow biohazard suits, put all of the Indians’ bats in a big box, and simply cart them out of the room…all without saying a word.

The Indians mustered one hit against a pitcher two starts removed from a AA pitcher and showed the same awful at-bats that have become the norm, not the exception.

No patience at the plate…
Trying to tie the game with one swing…
Not working the count…
Poor pitch recognition and selection…

At this point, it seems that Wedge could make the lineup card out on a dartboard and the result might be better.
If there was ever a night to tear things apart, it is tonight.

Flip the table, Eric.
Put the post-game spread on the floor.
Wake these guys up...NOW.

If you’re not willing to do it, maybe someone should check Jim Mora’s availability.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Invented the “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Coming to you live from the satellite office in Milwaukee (OK, my father-in-law’s computer room), it’s time for a confession – it’s not you, it’s me.

After attending two games of the Yankees’ series (obviously both losses) and the Tigers’ loss on Monday at the Jake, I loaded up the family truckster and headed west for the annual trek to Milwaukee’s Irish Fest. As I made my way out of town on Wednesday night (whoever said that driving through the night with an infant was a good idea should have their head examined), Carmona dazzled in a victory over the Tigers to split the 2-game set.
So the “jinx” left town and the Tribe thrived.

But here’s where things get weird - on the way to Wisconsin on Wednesday, we passed the I-75 exit off of the Turnpike (which can be taken to get to Detroit) just as Borowski retired the last out of the 9th. Good…great…grand.

Was there something to my location at the time of the end of the game, though?
Continuing west on the Turnpike, we hit Chicago just as the Reds’ Josh Hamilton hit a 2-run HR in Wrigley to beat the Cubs (after a long rain delay). Again, perhaps my mere presence was causing teams to drop like flies as the trip across the Midwest continued.

Those are isolated incidents, you say?
Consider, then, that the day I arrived in Milwaukee is the day that the Brewers lose (again) and the Cubs win to overtake the Brew Crew for 1st place in the NL Central, which is where they remain.

The Indians, meanwhile, seemingly released from whatever awful aura I bring to a ballpark or a city, promptly go to Tampa and take 2 of 3 from the Devil Rays behind (what else) strong starting pitching.

Maybe the Cleveland Sports Paranoia has gotten to me.
Maybe the lack of sleep and overabundance of Guinness (we are here for Irish Fest, after all) has sabotaged my ability to reason rationally.
Or maybe something larger is at play here, something larger than you or me.

Regardless, anyone know a place that I can stay in Detroit for about a month and a half?
I’ll get that out of the way first before I book flights for possible trips to Boston or Anaheim.

And with that, a quick Lazy Lazy:
Paul Hoynes examines how the Carlos Zambrano deal may affect the C.C. negotiations.
To me, between the recent Buehrle deal (4 years/$56M) and Big Z’s deal (5 years/$91.5M), the comparables are there for something to be worked out with Sabathia and the Tribe. As long as C.C. doesn’t come in looking for a guaranteed 6th, 7th, or (gasp) 8th year, the Indians may be able to work something out similar to the framework of the Zambrano deal.

I think it’s pretty apparent that the negotiations with the Hefty Lefty will come down to years, not annual salary. If he’s willing to take fewer years (4 or 5, with a player option) and hit the Free Agent market again when he’s in his early 30’s (as Zambrano’s contract is obviously geared to do), the Indians may be willing to give him money around $18M annually.
Don’t think that guaranteed years are the most important aspect of a starting pitchers’ salary? As much as Phil Rogers regularly comes off as a blowhard, here’s a fantastic read on how starting pitchers and long guaranteed contracts go together like oil and vinegar.

Hoynes also touches on Andy Marte’s future with the team and how Peralta’s role would be affected, Barfield getting benched, and Fernando Cabrera becoming a Free Agent (again, like Stanford, how much did Indians’ fans overvalue F-Cab?).

The Sheldon Ocker Mailbag Extravaganza returns this week and Shelly replies to a well-thought out question on the attendance at Indians games and the way that opposing fans have been able to make quite a bit of noise at the Jake with this wonderful retort – “Dear Bob, who cares?”.
And the ABJ printed it!
You’re a gem, Sheldon.
Keep it up, as you’re making the internet (and not traditional media like newspapers) a destination for more and more fans every day to get their Tribe fix.

Even though Terry Pluto writes about the Browns this morning, I would still encourage ANYONE who hasn’t read his “Dealing” to order it today. I read it in about a day and a half and learned more about the organization and the business of baseball than I had in any book since “Moneyball”.

Andy Call comes through with his nice weekly look around the Bigs. The great thing about Call’s column is that, while none of the stories directly reference the Tribe, all of them have some angle that indirectly has something to do with the goings-on in the Reservation.

Jim Ingraham checks in with much of the same.

Heading home tomorrow, though if anyone knows a spot in Detroit that I can set up shop for the week as the Tribe faces the Tigers for 3, I’m all ears.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Making the Pitch

After Detroit’s win in the Bronx last night, the Tribe finds itself again looking up at the Tigers. But, fear not, for the foreseeable future is rosy for our beloved Featherheads and it has nothing to do with the continued struggles of the offense.

The Indians are currently running on a 4-man rotation and will continue to do so until August 25th, when either Cliff Lee or Aaron Laffey will be called up to make a start (interestingly AstroCab and…wait for it…Barfield are listed as the players “on the bubble” when the 5th starter is needed). The four pitchers, then, that the Indians will throw every game until that point (and really for most of the remainder of the season) are the reason that the Tribe figures to stay in this neck-and-neck race, regardless of what happens with the offense.

Consider the four current Tribe starters’ numbers since the All-Star Game:
1.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 38 K, 16 BB, 7.4 IP per start
3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 43 K, 9 BB, 6.8 IP per start
3.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 21 K, 17 BB, 6.6 IP per start
4.89 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 12 K, 11 BB, 5.8 IP per start

Every pitcher, save Byrd, is sitting on an ERA under 3.75 and a WHIP under 1.30. Take away Byrd’s last start against the Yankees (which, I understand, is like saying that Earnest Byner had a great 1987 AFC Championship Game, except for…), and his ERA improves to 3.27, while his WHIP drops to 1.30 and his average start bumps to 6.6 IP.

The consistency and depth of the rotation have kept the Indians in games that they had no right being even in a position to compete. Additionally, the length of the starts has taken the still-very-apparent problems in middle relief out of the equation as starts that go into the 6th or 7th innings allow the Indians to trot out the Scarecrow, Senor Slo-Mo, and JoeBo (knocking firmly on anything that resembles wood) combination to pitch the last few innings of a game.

What this team, and rotation, have been built to do is keep the Tribe in games, regardless of the performance of the offense. If the offense was thriving and the pitching was spotty, the team would be constantly trying to bash their way out of the pitching staff’s mistakes, forced to win games 10-8 or 9-6. With the rotation performing like it has, though, the offense just needs to produce a few runs to get this team in the win column.

If (yes, I know, it could certainly be IF) the offense is able to attain some semblance of consistency and knock out 4 to 5 runs a game, the pitching is in place to go on a nice sustained run. At this point, with Carmona (who, you get the feeling could throw a no-hitter every time he takes the bump), C.C., and Jake dealing, the Indians have a chance to legitimately win 3 of every 4 games, with a solid Byrd outing simply acting as icing on the cake.

For years, Tribe fans complained that, while bashing opponents’ heads in was nice to the tune of a 13-11 game, strong and deep starting pitching was the key to making a steady playoff push without hoping that the likes of Dave Burba or Jason Bere could hold it together for 5 innings.

Well, here it is, a team built on the bedrock of a starting rotation with shoulders broad enough to put the team on its back to win games 4-2 or 3-0, if necessary. Obviously, a nice old 9-1 game would keep the blood pressure down and keep the TUMS in the medicine cabinet. But, irrelevant of the offense and its ability, or inability, to produce runs, the starters should give this team a chance to win on a nightly basis.

Heading down the stretch on a playoff push, that’s really all you can ask for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Serenity Now...

The stage was set with a playoff-like feel as the Tigers and Tribe were ready to duke it out. The Jake was filled (admittedly, mostly with people blissfully unaware that they sell Sugardale hot dogs, Stadium mustard, and buns at Giant Eagle, more than happy to stand in line for 45 minutes for $1 Dog Night) with an electric atmosphere as nobody sat down from the 7th inning through the bottom of the 9th.

All night, the situation was ripe for the picking:
Grady adjusted quite nicely to the 3 hole with a 1st inning HR to go up 2-0.
C.C. pitched marvelously, allowing just 2 runs in 7 innings.
Betancourt locked down the Tigers for the next 2 innings.

But, (stop me if you’ve heard this before as I feel like a broken record) the offense sputtered and squandered opportunity after opportunity (0 for 10 with RISP), letting down the team in a game they should have won.

Serenity Now…
Serenity Now…

The death of the 8th inning rally wasn’t the burr under the saddle as Granderson’s catch of a sinking ball to his right was superb and there’s no guarantee that the Indians win even if the soft blooper falls to put them ahead going into the 9th.

Ah, the 9th…
Serenity Now…
Serenity Now…

Chris Gomez leads off with a double, so he’s standing on 2B with nobody out. The air is thick with the smell of Rally Pies being baked as the Jake crackled with anticipation of another walk-off winner as surely somebody, anybody, could put the ball in play to advance the runner and get Gomez home.

Not much is needed.
A simple grounder to the right side of the infield.
A sacrifice fly to medium-deep outfield.
Anything to advance the runner!

Instead, we are treated to 3 consecutive strikeouts as Gomez stood like a man on an island as the inning came to an end. Even if someone puts down a bunt to get Gomez to 3B, it doesn’t matter because the last two batters failed to put the ball in play.

Serenity Now…
Serenity Now…

The deflating sound that was actually audible was the departure of hope from the denizens of the Jake. The feeling of, “that was it, that was our shot”, was only exacerbated by the debacle of the 10th inning.

Serenity Now…
Serenity Now…

The Tigers stole a game from the Indians that the Tribe should have won going away if somebody (again, ANYBODY) was driving in runs.

The loss, like so many before it, sits squarely on the offensive players’ shoulders. All of the players, who better collectively right themselves, and quickly, before these games scoring two runs or less become the norm and not the exception.

It has to get better or Lloyd Braun's prophesy will come to fruition.
Serenity Now…Insanity Later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

If It Takes Puking in the Clubhouse...

Since I don’t have access to any live chickens, I’m following the lead of fictional 3rd Base Coach Pepper Leach (wish I could be wearing a Leach jersey while doing it) and dropping off as many buckets of KFC as I can near the players’ parking lot on my way to the Jake.

Hopefully I run into the Trotter at KFC (meaning he’s not in the lineup) so they can “sacrifice” as many chickens as possible before the game because we’re “looking for some extra power tonight”.

Also, if you’re planning on bringing down golf club covers…you know to “keep bats warm”, the players’ parking lot is at the corner of E. 9th and Carnegie.
See you there.

On an unrelated aside, a DVR (or if you haven’t upgraded…a VCR) Alert as the 2006 Cleveland Browns’ highlight video will be on ESPN on Wednesday (8-15-07) at 1 PM. So if you want to catch the annual rose-colored video that can put a positive spin on ANYTHING to get hyped up for your 2007 Browns, set the DVR/VCR tonight.

If the Tribe bats remain in hibernation tonight, I’ll take it upon myself (having also attended 2 of the 3 Yankee games) to keep my jinx away from this team.

C.C. vs. Bondo tonight.
I'd like to see a couple of these “fired-up C.C.” shots at some point tonight.

Indians Fever…Remain a Believer!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Looking Forward

After spending Friday and Sunday watching the debacle of the Yankees’ series at the Jake, I’ve simply decided that it’s time to turn the page. Having LeBron James sit 2 sections over from us on Friday night (he did stand and cheer for Barfield’s HR) didn’t have the same lasting good feelings that it should have as the Tribe offense (and Paul Byrd) sabotaged the weekend. The series was awful in every way imaginable, but the Indians need to put this weekend in their rearview mirror and not dwell on missed opportunities (there were many), mental mistakes (um…Jhon?), or stacking themselves up against the charging Yankees.

Certainly lessons can be learned, but what’s done is done.

Larger matters are at hand after a day off Monday as the Tigers come into town on Tuesday with a ½ game lead in the Central. It’s time to focus on the Tigers and slotting The Hefty Lefty against a scuffling Jeremy Bonderman on Tuesday and Carmona against the ol’ TBD on Wednesday.

Taking two from the Tigers would put the Indians back in the driver’s seat in the Central and could go a long way to building some momentum going forward. Of course, if the offense fails to show up against the Tigers and the Motor City Kitties take two, the Tribe will find themselves in a veritable tailspin with any remaining confidence and momentum slipping further away.

After snapping the rearview mirror off the windshield, not much happening by way of a Lazy Sunday as most columns are devoted to either some guy in an abnormally huge San Francisco Giants uniform (He Who Must Not Be Named) or basically say that the Indians’ offense is struggling…and they don’t know why.

The first topic will not have words wasted on it in this space (the last few issues of Sports Illustrated with The Hammer and The King of The Clear and The Cream on the covers and the latest episode of Costas NOW sum up my feelings pretty adequately) and the second topic has been examined here for the last two weeks.

Regardless, a few spots to hit:
Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News identifies the voice behind the Tribe pre-game show on the radio, Jim Rosenhaus, the former Bison play-by-play man. Rosenhaus does a nice job on the pre-game show and, while Hammy and Hegan block him in the radio booth, he could be an option if the increasingly error-filled broadcasts of Matt Underwood continue.

Underwood seems like a nice enough guy who has his moments, but he hasn’t found his footing in the TV booth, often being corrected by Rick Manning. Too often, Underwood tries to be Hammy Lite and, while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there can only be one Hammy.

While I know it could be worse (DJ and The Hawk, anyone?), Underwood has not been much of an upgrade over the perpetually vanilla John Sanders (only a year removed from him, do you even remember him?).
And don’t get me started on “Souvenir City”.

In roster news, in case you missed it, Jason Stanford and Mike Rouse have returned to Buffalo (looks like Stanford’s desirability to other teams was vastly overestimated) and F-Cab will be added to another team’s roster (possibly the D-Rays) tomorrow.

Tigers in town on Tuesday.
Quoth the aCCe last Tuesday, “There’s no doubt in my mind that we are going to win this division. I don’t think there’s anyone in this clubhouse who doesn’t believe that. …When we get hot, we’re going to be hard to beat. We haven’t even played our best ball yet.”

God, I hope he’s right.
Right now, it’s hard to see.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Check the Batteries in the Alarms

The Indians and Yankees have now played two games at the Jake and the worst fears have been realized. The potent Yankees’ offense is hitting on all cylinders, running roughshod over the Indians’ pitchers while the toothless Indians’ offense has mustered all of three runs.

Watching the games, it’s hard to remember that the Yankees and Indians are sitting on nearly identical records as these two teams seem to be heading in opposite directions…and the Indians are not the ones going north.

The team is struggling and have found themselves mired in quicksand, as the more they try to break free the deeper their problems become. Offensively, the team has become far too aggressive at the plate, leading MLB in K’s in August (89) while having the 4th least BB’s in the month (20). For a team that prided itself earlier in the year on working counts, wearing out pitchers, and taking advantage of opportunities presented to it, the drop-off has become difficult to watch.

Yes, it is only two games in August, but the warning flags are being pulled out of the cabinet and the flagpole is being manned. Very simply, the offense has been unable to capitalize on ANY situations, incapable of manufacturing runs and reliant on HR. Since the timely hitting or HR simply aren’t happening, the offense has put undue pressure on the pitching staff to pitch perfectly, knowing that any runs allowed could be enough to doom the game.

While the Tribe pitchers have been tremendous (a 3.02 ERA in August to lead MLB before Saturday’s game), the offense has sabotaged the success that the Tribe SHOULD be having and have ruined the opportunity to put some serious room between them and a Tigers’ team that thinks that it’s 2003 again (6.75 ERA, 4.33 runs per game in August). Thankfully, the Tigers have fallen apart to keep it close in the AL Central, but the Yankees and Mariners didn’t get the memo that all of the contenders are supposed to fall apart.

So what can be done?
It’s not as if moving Kenny Lofton and Franklin Gutierrez to the top of the order is going to be the balm that cures the offense’s problems. Lofton has a .292 OBP after the All-Star Break, while Frank the Tank bests him with a .297 OBP. Not exactly the number you want from a leadoff hitter, particularly when Grady’s sitting on a .326 OBP in the same timeframe. .326 OBP is no great shakes, but it’s better than the alternatives.

The chorus of “Frank, not Trot” has quieted a little as both players have participated in the team-wide struggles (Gutz - .509 OPS in August, Trot - .462 in August), but I’m still ALL for the idea that Trot should be in the clubhouse during games…maybe looking up pie recipes online. Regardless of Nixon’s performance against RHP, his presence in RF versus what The Tank brings to the party is apples and oranges.

Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that’s been put in the clean-up spot in Pronk’s absence (which, thankfully…I think…won’t last nearly as long as was once reported), so the hottest player on the team is right where you want him.
That hasn’t done much to help, though.

Perhaps Asbrubal Cabrera, or the newly acquired Chris Gomez, could give Josh Barfield a break at 2B to clear his head. Maybe the Indians could put Cabrera in against some good MLB pitching to see what they have in AstroCab going into 2008. Maybe Cabrera can outperform what Barfield has done at the plate recently (which is not much), but he’s still only 21.
But we’re concerned about this year, not evaluating prospects for 2008!

A lot of maybes out there:
Maybe a slump is just a slump and not a downward trend.

Maybe the team just needs ONE game to break out of this funk.

Maybe it’s time for one of these players to challenge the team’s heart or, perhaps, manhood.

Maybe the Indians are simply regressing to the mean, showing their true colors.

Maybe the vulnerability of this team (reliance on a few superstars) has been exposed.

Maybe the Tribe’s coaching staff hasn’t been able to identify the adjustments necessary to bust out.

Maybe other teams have figured out how to pitch to the Indians, rendering them ineffective.

Maybe we’re just all grasping at straws.

One thing is for sure – the Indians are not playing like the same team that put themselves in the position that they are right now, still on top of the AL Central, and the answers need to be found before the rest of the AL (and even the rest of the Central) catches up and erases all of the good feelings that have surrounded the season thus far.

Probably a late Lazy Sunday tomorrow as I’ll be heading down to the game again. Maybe (the word of the day) I’ll wear my shirt commemorating the 22-0 game in the Bronx.

Yes, I own that shirt.
When I got the T-Shirt, the DiaBride said, “Oh, did you get that because it was our 2nd Wedding Anniversary?”

Good Grief!

At a loss for words after last night’s disappointment, allow the geniuses behind Arrested Development to sum up my feelings leaving the Jake last night.

Click here to walk a mile in my shoes.

Another shot at the Evil Empire tonight...hopefully with better results.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Calling From The Cell

Serial poster (and self-proclaimed President of the Ryan Garko Fan Club) Cy Slapnicka spent the night on the South Side of Chicago last night and weighs in with a road report:

Wow, that was a rough one last night.
It sucks investing 13 innings and then the game ending like that. Thankfully Robin Williams rocked me to sleep chanting, "it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault..."

On a positive note, there were a good number of Indians fans there – far more than I’ve seen in the past. They helped balance the jeans-shorted, tank-topped, and tattooed White Sox fans – the ones that were blasted and heckling, whose only response to intelligent banter was, "Well, we won the World Series in 2005!"
Thanks fellas, but I could already tell by your wardrobe and arm band tattoo that you live in the past. I’d have more respect for their past championship if they weren't such douche bags.

The gene pool on the South Side never ceases to amaze me. I’m still waiting for my first positive experience with a White Sox fan that doesn't involve watching them get arrested. Speaking of which, some idiot ran on the field and did an admirable job at evading security. It was almost like he's done that before.
One of the security guys almost had a nice shoe string tackle but ended up with a handful of air as the shirtless wonder evaded capture. The fans of course went nuts, as I can only assume they were waiting for him to attack someone from behind (perhaps an ump?), as is tradition at The Cell.
That name seems so much more appropriate now that I think about it.

Anyway, a couple fun things:
It was so quiet during extras that when Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that hit a foul down the 3B line (in the 12th?); I actually heard the ump over there call it foul. I was sitting near 1B, so it was kind of cool to hear it so clearly.

We got the Frank the Tank chant going for a while, which I’m sure he heard. However, he still struck out. Is there a pitch he won't swing at?

The silence also enabled us to ask Jose Contreras how he thinks he'll like living in Gary, Indiana and if he likes the Rail Cats unis.

Some dork Sox fan a section over got hit in the chest by a foul ball. It wasn't a screamer, but he put his hands up to catch it and completely missed as it slammed into his chest. He made a nice recovery and got it off the ground, but had a full beer spilled on him in the process. Needless to say, he was heckled mercilessly and probably woke up with stitching welts on his chest. I can only assume he went right to the tattoo parlor and had it tattooed permanently.

As for the team, can we please stop talking about Kenny leading off? Now that I’ve officially seen him in person just walking to/from the dugout and playing catch, the thought scares me. His cool strut from the 90's has morphed into something that would only be cool at an Assisted Living property, only because he wouldn’t be using a walker. And I agree, he can only play against right-handers and it’s probably best we already have a full time leadoff hitter.

Hopefully, Hafner isn't too banged up. We were all confused when he disappeared from the game yesterday. I think it’s high time we slot Garko in the 4-hole and see what he can do tonight.

I’m back for more at the cell with the wife in 7 hours.

Thanks Slappy…and it’s time to bring home a victory from the South Side.

I doubt that I’ll be able to slip in another post before the weekend as I’ll be heading down to the Friday game myself, which pits Fausto and Yankees’ “Phenom” Phil Hughes. I’ll be sitting behind home plate with my buddy Captain Popov, quenching our thirst and (likely) shouting down Yankees’ fans that dare to enter the Jake donning Bomber gear. I’m sure there will be a few “diehards” cheering on their hometown Yanks. You know the guys…the ones that grew up in Medina, North Royalton, and Willowick.

I’m terribly excited, if only to see if Phil Hughes does, in fact, walk on water or if he is able to feed the crowd on hand using only a small amount of fish and bread. That’s what the Worldwide Leader claims he can do, so who am I to argue?

I’m interested to see how the hype machine in Bristol promotes this one and if they even mention the fact that Carmona is pitching or that the Indians are even playing the game during the beatification of Hughes.

Speaking of the Faustinator, file this away as another great El Diablo quote:
Twins’ OF Michael Cuddyer on whether Fausto Carmona has the best stuff he’s seen this year, “'Yes, and nobody's even a close second. Ask a lefty and he might tell you something different. But for a right-handed hitter, nobody is nastier than him.”
Remember that Torii Hunter commented earlier in the year that facing Carmona was like trying to hit a baseball hung-over.

I think El Diablo has the Twins’ attention.

Hey, Hey, Hey...Let’s Go Tribe!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Widespread Panic?

As the starting pitching has started to come around for the Tribe in the last two weeks (aCCe, El Diablo, recent Byrd sightings, the return of the Jake we know and love, and…whoever), the offense has prevented the team from making a huge run and putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the AL Central as the offense has hit a collective rut and has been unable to take advantage of some tremendous outings from the starters.

Just to watch the team, or peruse a box score, is to know that the team is struggling mightily offensively. But how has this offense, which had developed into such a balanced attack earlier in the season, fallen into such a funk?

Sure, the team has the 2nd most K’s since the All-Star break in MLB (one behind the White Sox heading into Tuesday’s game), but they were pretty close to the top of the league (5th in MLB) in strikeouts before the All-Star break, so other factors must be at work.

The team that scored the second most runs prior to the Break (5.35 runs a game) has fallen to the back of the back in the league (down to 4.29 runs a game since the festivities in San Francisco) and the slump has not been limited to a couple of players.

To give an idea of how widespread the offensive funk has become, consider the differences in OPS for the Tribe, using pre-All Star OPS / post-All Star OPS / difference:
Martinez / .936 / .722 / -.214

Sizemore / .864 / .818 / -.046

Hafner / .849 / .705 / -.144

Blake / .838 / .650 / -.188

Garko / .821 / 1.148 / +.327

Peralta / .812 / .742 / -.070

Gutierrez / .811 / .890 / +.079

Michaels / .795 / .561 / -.234

Nixon / .668 / .872 / +.204

Barfield / .626 / .459 / -.167

Not included in the comparisons are David Dellucci (.690) and Lofton (.606), but using the comparison, it’s a .084 drop.

For traditionalists that feel that Batting Average, HR, and RBI are the only stats you need to know, consider the list of MLB leaders in OPS this year.
Looks like a pretty good stat to measure the offensive performance of a player that offers a quick and dirty way of valuing a hitter.

Perhaps an even better way to compare the drop-off would be to use Runs Created per 27 outs, a statistic created by Bill James to measure how many runs a lineup of 9 of the same individual would in a game (27 outs).

Don’t ask me how these numbers are figured, as I can’t seem find my little green banker’s visor that is necessary for any and all math questions.
If you’re confused by RC/27, let’s just say it’s a pretty fair way to gauge how a batter is performing at the plate, taking into account multiple factors. If you don’t believe me, again look at the list of 2007 leaders.
Suffice it to say, it’s an awfully good indicator of offensive prowess.

Again, the first number indicates their pre-All Star RC/27 value, the 2nd is their post-All Star RC/27, then the difference:
Martinez / 7.57 / 4.05 / -3.52

Sizemore / 7.50 / 5.73 / -1.77

Hafner / 6.60 / 3.99 / -2.91

Blake / 5.88 / 3.27 / -2.61

Garko / 5.87 / 11.54 / +5.67

Peralta / 5.70 / 5.01 / -0.69

Gutierrez / 5.51 / 6.62 / +1.11

Michaels / 5.35 / 2.05 / -3.30

Nixon / 3.87 / 7.80 / +3.93

Barfield / 3.41 / 1.71 / -1.70

Again, taking Dellucci (3.90 pre-All Star RC/27) and Lofton (3.18 post All-Star RC/27) nets a 0.18 drop in RC/27 for the Tribe.

Looking at these numbers, it’s obvious that the numbers for everyone (except Gonnie Garko, Frank the Tank, and the Trotter) are down…and in a pretty big way. But more important is to look at the first 3 hitters listed (The Stick, SuperSizemore, and Pronk) as their performance more or less dictates how this team fares offensively.

The Indians are built around Martinez, Sizemore, and Hafner and the lineup can handle when one of them is slumping without completely falling apart. Some would say that Hafner has slumped all season, but prior to the All-Star Break, he was sitting on a .849 OPS – nothing to sneeze at, though certainly not Pronkian. Even if he was slumping, Martinez and Sizemore stabilized the lineup with steady play, so the offense still retained its potency.

As an aside, do you realize that Sizemore has one more HR, 20 more RBI, 10 more SB, and a higher OPS than Alfonso Soriano, whom is generally considered one of the top five players in baseball and has remained in the leadoff role as it best suits his gifts?

But I digress.
Back to the construction of the Tribe lineup, as when more than one of the pillars of the lineup struggle, it simply becomes too much for the rest of the lineup to absorb and pick up. The post-All Star Break numbers is where things get ugly for Hafner, as well as a precipitous drop for Martinez. Neither thumper in the middle of the Tribe lineup has cleared an OPS over .750 since the Break as their RC/27 have been nearly cut in half.

Without their steadying presence in the middle of the lineup, the dominoes have fallen as the other players in the lineup have followed suit with HUGE drops for the likes of Blake, Michaels, and Barfield (who has really fallen off the cliff in the past few weeks – a .459 OPS since the Break).

While these numbers and assumptions are only based on 24 games, that’s still about 15% of the season, an awfully long time to have the team in a prolonged slump. The way this team is built, reliant on production from either (or both) Victor and Pronk, it’s simply not able to handle both of them scuffling. Since that is the case in the past 3 weeks, the Indians’ offense has slowed to a crawl, despite the best efforts of Sizemore and Garko. The arrival of AstroCab (who will thankfully fill the Rouse role as well as giving Barfield’s mind and Peralta and Blake’s body some much-needed rest) is not going to magically remedy this offense, nor will any other of the complementary players.

It comes down to Victor or Pronk.
Now, for about the 10th time, I will say that I hope Pronk’s solid hits (including the laser beam HR) on Monday night is the harbinger of things to come.
It has to be, doesn’t it?
Regardless of whether Pronk is ready to go completely wild and put the team on his substantial shoulders, until one of either Victor or Pronk is able to snap out of their funks, this team will continue to struggle to score runs because the Indians simply aren’t built to overcome the concurrent struggles of both.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Painful Lazy Sunday

The offense remains in a deep slumber and wasted some good pitching performances (Carmona and Laffey’s combined numbers - 12.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 7 K) to drop the last two listlessly in Minnesota. While the standard answer has been that this is a “team slump” and these players have too much of a track record to worry, I hope that someone in the organization has located the Panic Button on the console…just in case.

To put the youth of the Tribe starters for the weekend in perspective, the baby-faced Aaron Laffey (22) and Fausto Carmona (23) were born when Kenny Lofton was attending Washington High School in East Chicago, IL. Lofton was enjoying his junior year in high school when Carmona was born (12-7-83) and preparing to graduate when Laffey was born (4-15-85).

One more game to go in the Twin Cities, so let’s take a quick Lazy Sunday:
The answer as to why the PD’s Paul Hoynes had so little to report on Trade Deadline rumors becomes known as he recounts his experience as the president of the Baseball Writers Association of America at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. I think I speak for everyone when I give Hoynesie a pass on this one.
Given the choice of sitting on a bus and listening to HOF players talk shop and wondering which bullpen arm would save the Indians season…I think the answer is fairly obvious – “Octavio Who?”

Not sure what the ABJ’s Sheldon Ocker’s excuse is for swinging and missing on the Trade Deadline talk as it looks like his beloved, and always entertaining, mailbag has been replaced by generic MLB wire reports over at the ABJ.

I’m actually saddened by this as it was always fun to see how Ocker could alienate and unnecessarily embarrass and talk down to people that took the time to write in to him.
Maybe his banished mailbag can catch on wherever Roger Brown prints his Sunday column.

Could the retirement of the Ocker’s mailbag (if it is permanent) be the first move to open the door for Stephanie Storm (who reports on her phenomenal blog that Brian Barton is headed to Buffalo soon) to take over the Indians beat from the curmudgeon?

More on the ball is the Canton Rep’s Andy Call, who explains the Waiver Wire Trading Deadline and identifies some players that could be available to help down the stretch.

The LMJ’s Jim Ingraham details Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski’s account of the Gagne/Dotel talks (which sound like they probably could have come from Shapiro as well), also addressing Buddy Bell’s announcement of retirement and how ex-Indians are faring at 1B in the Emerald City.

Back to the Tigers, something that bears watching in Motown is Gary Sheffield’s shoulder.
Why so interesting?

Sheffield has been told the shoulder won't need surgery. He has had two prior surgeries on the shoulder, and, when asked what he would do if doctors said he would need major surgery, he replied, "That would be it for me."
Sheffield, 38, expects to honor the remainder of his current contract, which will pay him $14 million in 2008 and in 2009, "as long as I don't have to have surgery. If I have to have surgery, then that would probably be it."
As in, it for his career?
"Yeah," he said. "When you go through as much as I have, I get to a point where I'm only going to push myself so far. I know how long this takes to rehab. I know what you have to go through to come back and be the same player.
"It takes a lot to do that, and I don't know if it's in me."

Leo Mazzone may try to resuscitate the career of another once-promising ex-Indian, with reports that the Orioles are interested in Fernando Cabrera. Interestingly, if Cabrera does head to the Orioles, he could end up replacing Paul Shuey on their 25-man roster. By no means does this mean that Baltimore is where Cabrera will end up, but it shows that there’s interest in Cabrera, meaning that the Indians will get something in return for CaBBrera. The Tribe has until August 11th to consummate a trade for the young reliever, so if the Orioles are interested, the return will be more than what they got for Hector Luna.

Finally, from the “To Buy a C.C. Jersey or Not” file, it looks like Carlos Zambrano is ready to go for a 5-year, $18M/year deal (once the Cubs are sold, of course). Zambrano’s contract, whenever it is signed, will serve as a decent guideline for what Sabathia might be looking for after the 2008 season.
More important to watch than the annual salary is the number of years included in the deal. A 5-year deal is not as excessive as the 7-year deal that Zito received and would set a good precedent for any Sabathia negotiations with the Tribe.

The Tigers continue to falter as the once-dominant AL Central is showing some chinks in their collective armor as the Tribe and the Tigers are falling back to Earth with the same problem – offense.
Let’s hope that the Indians can pull it together before someone in the AL really catches fire.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tom-E-Hawk's Time

A few things to celebrate today as the Indians sit atop the AL Central after becoming the 1st team ever to beat Johan Santana 3 times in one year last night. If the Indians can celebrate the “birthday” of a confusing combination of pink fur, yellow spots, and dripping snot in an Indians’ uniform, it’s time to one-up them and recall a better time in the days of Indians’ mascots.

A day when political correctness didn’t remove all portions of “Indians” from the Cleveland Indians, when a mascot actually looked like something, and a time when Slider didn’t exist to ruin my game experiences. That’s right, in honor of the long-gone mascot Tom-E-Hawk (I do have the whole Wheaties set from the early ‘80’s), it’s time to release some tomahawks:

With Lofton, Sizemore, and Gutierrez patrolling the OF, how many balls are going to find their way to the wall in the gaps? Last night, in the Metrodome of all places, K-Love and Frank the Tank were cutting balls off in the alley, limiting Twins’ hitters to hard-hit singles.

The more I see this defensive alignment, the more I like it. Michaels should still be playing against LHP (and Nixon should spend the whole game BAKING pies in the clubhouse), but Lofton should be running wind sprints in the tunnel when Michaels starts so he’s loose as a late-inning defensive replacement.

The Scarecrow, Rafael Perez, is quickly working his way up a short list of ridiculously effective middle relievers for the Indians in the past 5 years. Opposing batters are 1 for 8 against him with the bases loaded, including two swinging K’s on Wednesday night. His stuff is lethal against LHP, but also tremendously effective against RHP, meaning that he translates very nicely into a back-end-of-the-bullpen arm instead of a LOOGY.

The fact that he has a pitch that is virtually untouchable (his slider) means that he falls into that small category of pitchers who throw a pitch (Mo Rivera’s cutter, Trevor Hoffman’s change-up) that renders hitters helpless. By no means is The Scarecrow in the class of upper echelon relievers, but the stuff and poise (as witnessed by his pitching with RISP) could mature into something pretty special at the back end of the Indians’ bullpen.

Speaking of “future closers”, but on a much more somber note, the DFA of Fernando Cabrera (who once was K-Brera, but quickly devolved into CaBBrera) signified a sad end of a career in a Tribe uniform for a player that flashed SO much potential just a few years back. Coming into Spring Training last year (yes, 18 months ago), the question was WHEN Cabrera would assume the Closer role from Wickman.

Whether he was screwed up by the World Baseball Classic, was a victim of not being able to handle the pressure of the back end of the bullpen, or if his mechanics just became completely altered and out of whack, Cabrera’s downward spiral goes down as one of the bigger disappointments in recent Tribe history. More so than Jason Dangerously, who was never able to find his rhythm out of the bullpen, Cabrera had all the potential in the world (I believe that I once claimed that, “F-Cab is our K-Rod”) but, for whatever reason, was never able to put it all together in Cleveland.

Perhaps he’ll catch on somewhere else and thrive, but his taking up a roster spot (with the inability to be used in a game of ANY consequence) became too much to handle for a team in a pennant race.

Anyone else worried that Aaron Laffey’s pro debut will come in a nationally televised game on FOX? Perhaps he’ll go Bullet Bob Wolcott (remember him from Seattle) and thrive on the big stage; but The Taffy Man turned 22 in April and had a mere 20 starts above A ball when the season started, so let’s hope that Laffey can keep his emotions in check and not get flustered by the Minnesota “Piranhas” on their home turf.

He’s such an unknown quantity that had a picture of Brad Snyder (as Aaron Laffey) as part of the game preview. How’s that for some bulletin board material? No respect.

I haven’t been this excited for a debut since Carmona’s last year (proof that I was excited), as we see if we can add Aaron Laffey’s name to the roster of LHP that could impact the Tribe rotation going down the stretch and into next year.

As crazy as it sounds, because of Victor’s fantastic season, the disappearance of Pronk, and the continued frustration of the all-too-frequent Trot Nixon sightings, lost is the fact that Grady Sizemore is putting up another historic season in an Indians’ uniform.

Grady? The SI cover boy? The guy who steps to the plate with 2Pac’s “All Eyez on Me” (the second time up) not in the spotlight?

Because of his consistent approach, he’s quietly on pace for 28 HR and 40 SB (not to mention 89 RBI), meaning that he has a legitimate chance at being the 2nd Tribesman to hang the 30-30 plaque on his wall (Joe Carter went 32-31 in 1987).

Did I mention he turned 25 on Thursday and that he will remain in Cleveland until 2012?

Scanning the waiver wire, Futility Infielders St. Ignatius grad Matt Kata and ex-Blue Jay (among others) Royce Clayton were given their walking papers this week. Not such a great reflection on your current Futility Infielder when players cut by the Rangers and Pirates (Kata…this year alone) and the Blue Jays look like an upgrade.

With Josh Barfield struggling like he is at the plate, he becomes a prime candidate to be pinch-hit for, but that means that Mighty Rouse has to enter as a defensive replacement. Just using the past two weeks as a sample, Rouse has booted a ball in the 9th at SS, thrown a ball too high to miss getting Torii Hunter at the plate which became the winning run, and muffed a throw from Jensen Lewis at 2B in extra frames. All three plays were tough plays and none guaranteed a victory, but if Rouse is our defensive replacement in the infield he cannot be a defensive liability, particularly in the late innings.

Reportedly, Joe Inglett is getting some work at SS (where he needs it) in Buffalo, so a move could already be in the works. It’s also entirely conceivable that the newest Bison, Asdrubal Cabrera, could help the parent club with the slick glove we’ve heard about when September call-ups roll around.

Whatever the solution is, it’s pretty apparent that Mike Rouse is not part of it.

Some food for thought while watching the nationally televised game:
The Indians hold club options on Joe Borowski, Aaron Fultz, and Paul Byrd for next year.
How many should be picked up?
How many will be picked up?

Not as easy as it looked a few months ago, does it?

Enjoy Kenny Albert and Joe Girardi this afternoon!
Go Taffy Man!