Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Good Day…With Brighter Days Ahead

Watching the Browns run their record to 2-2 with their second AFC North win, then switching over to watch the Tribe win their 96th game (7th highest total in club history) amidst Cavaliers Season Ticket commercials, I realized that it’s happening.

The Cleveland sports teams are all cresting (forgive me for being overly optimistic about a 2-2 Browns record), and…has this ever happened before?

Everyone knows that no Cleveland team has won a professional championship since 1964; but, beyond that, how long (and how far-reaching) has the drought been for coincidental success by the Cleveland teams?

While a team making the playoffs has to be considered a success, a better gauge of success would be the success in those playoffs. Using that barometer, when have our three beloved franchises won at least one playoff series or game (in the case of the Browns) in their history?

Prepare yourself, the numbers are ugly, considering that we’re talking about more than 100 years with over 60 years of having at least two teams:
ALDS: Indians over Boston (3-1)

ALDS: Indians over Yankees (3-2)
ALCS: Indians over Orioles (4-2)

ALDS: Indians over Red Sox (3-0)
ALCS: Indians over Mariners (4-2)

World Series: Indians over Braves (4-2)

World Series: Indians over Robins (5-2)

Eastern Conference 1st Round: Cavaliers over Wizards (4-0)
Eastern Conference Semifinals: Cavaliers over Nets (4-2)
Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Pistons (4-2)

Eastern Conference 1st Round: Cavaliers over Wizards (4-2)

Eastern Conference 1st Round: Cavaliers over Nets (3-2)

Eastern Conference 1st Round: Cavaliers over Nets (3-1)
Eastern Conference Semifinals: Cavaliers over Celtics (4-3)

Eastern Conference Semifinals: Cavaliers over Bullets (4-3)

AFC Wild Card Game: Browns over Patriots (20-13)

AFC Divisional Playoff: Browns over Bills (34-30)

AFC Divisional Playoff: Browns over Colts (38-21)

AFC Divisional Playoff: Browns over Jets (23-20)

NFL Divisional Playoff: Browns over Cowboys (38-14)

NFL Divisional Playoff: Browns over Cowboys (38-20)

NFL Championship: Browns over Colts (27-0)

NFL Championship: Browns over Rams (38-14)

NFL Championship: Browns over Lions (56-10)

NFL Divisional Playoff: Browns over Giants (8-3)
NFL Championship: Browns over Rams (30-28)

That’s it.
11 playoff victories for the Browns, 9 playoff series wins for the Cavs, and 7 playoff series wins for the Indians.

Now look again at all of the years for a coinciding year.
Not there, is it?
There has NEVER been a year that two Cleveland pro sports franchises have both WON a playoff series or game in the same calendar year.
How absurd is that?!?

Of course, with the Cavaliers going to the NBA Finals and the Tribe facing off against the Yankees, the possibility is out there that 2007 could be the year. Once that ridiculous precedent has finally been set, the Tribe can eradicate the old “last championship in 1964” mantle from the city.

Things are turning around for our once-moribund franchises.
But, first things first, let’s take the Yankees down and make Cleveland Sports History.

Lazy Sunday on the Brink of October

With the Tribe loss and the Red Sox victory last night, Boston was permitted to choose the “short” or “long” series as they face off against the Angels. Apparently, very quickly, the Red Sox have chosen the 8-day series (the longer series), which means that the Indians will not have the luxury of an extra day off to throw Sabathia and Carmona twice in the ALDS. By default then, they will throw Byrd in Game 4, setting up the pitching match-ups as such:
Game 1 (Thursday, October 4)
Sabathia vs. Wang

Game 2 (Friday, October 5)
Carmona vs. Pettitte

Game 3 (Sunday, October 7)
Westbrook vs. Clemens (don’t think that the Rocket’s missing the start)

Game 4 – if necessary (Monday, October 8)
Byrd vs. Mussina/Hughes

Game 5 – if necessary (Wednesday, October 10)
Sabathia vs. Wang

Because of the short timeframe between games, it’s unlikely that Sabathia or Carmona could bump up a start as the games are just a little too close for comfort to throw them out there on 3 days rest.

By the way, all of the games will be on TBS with a possible Game 4 appearance on TNT. Don’t think for a minute that the Indians won’t be in Prime Time for ALL of their games. It might have something to do with playing the team from the largest market.

This week promises to be fun with some previews and some Tribe propaganda.
Although, if you’re looking for “position by position battles” you won’t find it here as baseball, to me, is the one game that has nothing to do with 2B vs. 2B and falls more into pitching vs. hitting with a little defense and some luck thrown in.

And with that, let the Lazy Sunday commence:
Terry Pluto’s superb article on how the 2007 Indians team is so exciting to watch and get behind and how it’s easy to like this group of players, something that the DiaBride commented on last night during the Tribe Pregame Show, in which they played the Top 10 walk-off wins for the year. She said that these guys all seem to just be having fun and enjoying themselves and the ride that they’re on, particularly because they seem to be doing it with their friends. And, while that may be sugarcoating it, she's right.

The article was accompanied by a picture asking fans to identify the current Tribe players:

Whoops, wrong underappreciated Tribe team. Here it is:

My only issue with Pluto’s article is the insistence that this Indians team is an “underdog” or that “they're Cinderella at the ball with a dress from Kmart” or the ubiquitous “Little Engine That Could” analogy.
But I’ll debunk all of those myths in the coming week.

After that piece of inspired writing, the other end of the spectrum appears with Sheldon Ocker’s plan for the off-season. Here it is…wait for it…Cliff Lee and Aaron Laffey for Carl Crawford. After a year when pitching depth is shown to be one of the most important reasons the Indians won the AL Central, Socker wants to part with TWO of the candidates to fill the 5th starter role. Granted, there is depth to deal from but why not throw in Sowers while we’re at it and see if the Rays want the grab-bag of LHP for the 26-year-old Crawford.

What’s that you hear, all the way from Tampa? Oh…knee-slaps and guffaws.
Stephanie Storm, please save the ABJ Tribe Beat soon. You’ve been toiling in AA long enough.

Out East, while many in the national media and “Yankee Nation” are quick to chalk up a quick ALDS, it seems that the mood in the New York clubhouse is decidedly more reserved. Of course, this could be from the old Lou Holtz School of talking up one’s opponent regardless of how you actually felt about them.
For good measure, the writer of the piece, Pete Caldera, throws in a little Op-Ed at the end to make everyone feel better, “Despite their wild-card status, and the potential of one fewer home game, the Yankees will be viewed as the favorite -- and Jeter will still plead that the Yanks' past performance against Cleveland doesn't make a difference.”

Over at Newsday, someone didn’t get Kat O’Brien the memo to be overwhelmingly, and irrationally, pro-Yankees as she lays out (extremely well) why the Indians are so dangerous in the postseason – strong starters with depth and a balanced lineup not overly reliant on one player who could slump.

Ah, this is better.
The memo made it to the New York Post.
No mention of the Tribe at all, just A-Rod.

One more game today (with zero consequence attached to it) and a Rally on Monday in the Gateway Plaza as we gear up for the playoffs to start…Thursday.
The countdown is on.

Friday, September 28, 2007

You Guys Buying or Selling?

As I sleep with my Postseason tickets firmly under my pillow every night, it seems that something is afoot with the sale/re-sale of Playoff tickets and (surprise, surprise) it looks like MLB has found another way to squeeze money out of its fans.

Serial commenter (and expatriate Clevelander living in Chicago) Cy Slapnicka takes over to share what he’s found out and what he finds disturbing about this latest trend in ticketing:

Like many of you, I entered the post-season ticket lottery as soon as I heard about it. I entered my wife, parents, in-laws, and any other people that I thought might take me to a game if they won. For purposes of setting a timeframe, this was at the end of August.

Late last week on September 19th, I received a message telling me I did not win the ALDS lottery and was on my own for tickets. No big deal, as it’d be hard to make the trip in from Chicago during the week for a game. I’d rather save my vacation time and money for potential ALCS or World Series games if I’m going to make it a weekday trip.

Then on September 25th, I received an e-mail from the Indians with a password to purchase ALDS tickets, as it seems that the lottery winners did not buy them all up. I was able to get some tickets for Game 2; however, these tickets still were not made available to the general public, only to those on the e-mail distribution list.

The ALCS ticket lottery took place yesterday, September 28th, and winners will presumably be notified about how to get tickets, as the presale begins today, Saturday the 29th, according to TicketMaster. After that, World Series tickets will become available (if necessary) at a future date.

To my knowledge, exactly zero Indians tickets have gone on sale to the general public unless they are season ticket holders, lottery winners, or on the e-mail distribution list from the Indians. Some teams have put their tickets on sale to the general public – for instance the Cubs sold out their NLDS tickets in 30 minutes (though only putting 15,000 up for sale). However, again to my knowledge, nobody has made any ALCS or World Series tickets available to the public, except to their season ticket holders.

The explanation varies by club – according to the Cubs, MLB is in charge of ticketing to all post-season events; according to the Indians, MLB gets a chunk of tickets to all post-season games.

You’re probably asking yourself, “What is the point of all this?”
Well, this past Wednesday (September 26th), I received an email from MLB directing me to StubHub to purchase playoff tickets for games…all the way through the World Series!

I’m not sure if anyone else received this or even paid it much attention, but it seems that there are many tickets available on StubHub for broker prices from the ALDS or NLDS through the World Series. Additionally, some Tribe Postseason tickets are available through the Tribe Ticket Marketplace (run by TicketMaster), where fans go to sell their tickets at higher prices.

But back to the StubHub development, as it seems that agreed to a deal with StubHub that allows them to be the official reselling marketplace for MLB tickets in 2008 (I’m not sure how the relationship works for the 2007 post-season, but it is obvious one exists) in lieu of places like the Tribe Ticket Marketplace. Starting in 2008 the teams have the option of using StubHub for their resale of tickets online. If they opt not to use StubHub, they are not permitted to be involved in the resale of tickets online.

In this case, it appears the Indians have set up their own deal with TicketMaster for 2007; however, one must assume they will move to StubHub next year. The deal with StubHub charges 25% of the ticket value in additional “fees”, which will be shared between StubHub and MLB teams share ownership of, thus they are pocketing a percentage of these fees and have collectively agreed to this.

The problem I have with this agreement is not necessarily that MLB teams decided to take a cut of the secondary market and “legitimize” it (I don’t see how online scalping is any more or less “legitimate” than the guy standing in front of Panini’s), it is their product and they can do with it what they want. Although I do find it ridiculous that MLB teams are, in effect, double-dipping on the tickets (as is TicketMaster currently with the Tribe Ticket Marketplace) without any media scorn.

Another problem is with the fact that before teams even release tickets to the general public, they are pushing scalped tickets to us at inflated prices which they get a cut of. Right now you can buy tickets to any post-season series at roughly double their face value. Yet the majority of fans (at least in the case of the Indians as Cubs NLDS tickets were available to anyone) cannot buy any tickets for the actual ticket prices.

For instance, say you buy a pair of StubHub (or the Tribe Ticket Marketplace, although I am admittedly not sure of their terms) tickets for $300. Let’s assume MLB already has sold that pair of tickets for $150 and made their money and TicketMaster got their cut through fees. Well now, the StubHub/MLB partnership makes another $75 on top of the ticket price! And this doesn’t even include the outrageous shipping charges and “handling fees”!

The reason this makes me furious is that they’ve limited the number of tickets available in some markets and prior to making the tickets available to me, you, and guy down the street, is pushing the StubHub tickets while the Indians pushed the Tribe Ticket Marketplace tickets…and Game 2 just sold out on Friday morning!

Finally, one thing that really makes me concerned about this is that MLB gets a chunk of tickets from each team for each playoff game.
What exactly happens to those tickets?
Why wouldn’t MLB take part of their ticket allotment and resell them via StubHub to inflate their revenues?
And why would a team care, as they are selling out their games and getting sharing the revenues from the StubHub deal?

One can only assume that when MLB looked into the Cubs selling advanced tickets to a broker across the street from Wrigley that the Cubs owned, they didn’t say “How could you stoop so low”, they said “I cannot believe we didn’t think of this sooner!!!” and jumped on board with another way to maximize their money.

The sad part to all of this obvious greed and backhandedness is – I still can’t quit the Indians.

Thanks Cy, and we’ll see you when you make the trip back to the true North Coast for Game 2 of the ALDS, those controversial little tickets in hand.
By the way, here is the projected post-season game schedule.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Knowing the Enemy

As the regular season winds down and the playoff slotting is all but certain, it certainly has the look of a Tribe-Yankees ALDS; but don’t tell that to the folks on the island, who somehow remain flippant about whom the Yankees will play in the playoffs.

Everyone around the country is aware that this is a COMPETITION and not simply a coronation for the Pinstripers, who have “overcome impossible odds” to work their way back into the playoffs (with a payroll close to the GDP of some small countries that didn’t hurt), right?

Perhaps it’s that the inferiority complex in Cleveland sports rivals the superiority complex in New York as we wait, cautiously, for the Yankees to come to town to play the role of the bully while Cleveland continues to fork over their lunch money as much as it is the unbearable obnoxiousness of Yankees fans and the New York media.

As much as Cleveland fans and media emit that knee-jerk reaction that the big, bad Bronx Bombers are coming in to take the steam out of the “Little Engine that Could”, the Evil Empire is just as quick to assume that the ALDS is merely a formality for what will become the latest chapter of the New York-Boston history.
The Los Angeles What…of Where?

To Yankees fans, the Indians are just a road bump on the way to their “inevitable” showdown with the Red Sox and to their birthright of another World Series title. The Indians could be one of any of their 28 potential opponents (not from Boston) – simply fodder for how the ALDS plays out.

If the Yankees win, it will be a glorious vindication of how they came back from adversity to re-establish themselves on their rightful throne and to bring order to the payroll universe (as, surely, a team with a payroll of nearly $200M can’t be beat by a $75M payroll team). The Indians will become an afterthought or an answer to a New York trivia question almost immediately after the final out is squeezed.

If the Yankees lose, nothing will be said of how they were beaten by a superior team or how the pitching of the Indians so vastly outclassed the New York rotation; instead, the focus will turn on what Joe Torre didn’t do or whether he’ll come back, how A-Rod is ill-equipped to handle the bright lights of Gotham, or how Mo Rivera has truly lost it and it’s Joba Time. All of the subplots and angles will be explored except for the performance of the team that beat them.

By the time that everything settles down, Game 2 or 3 of the ALCS will be underway and the national media will remain entranced by A-Rod’s opting out of his contract or what Free Agent the Yankees can bring to the money trough.

Not that anything’s happened in the playoffs, obviously, but isn’t it funny how Yankees fans always either say that their team “blew it” or that they “gave it away” when they lose, rather than conceding that they got “beat” by a superior team. It’s almost as if the other team is window dressing and the actions of their team are the only thing that determines the outcome of the game.

Often, the phrase is heard that you “tip your cap” to the other team for an outstanding effort or performance that resulted in a loss for your club. Not on the East Coast, where the search for the goat or “what went wrong” far outweighs any contributions from the team in the opposing dugout. Obviously, the sensationalistic tabloids and back pages play into this approach to the news, but I'd be surprised if the prelude to the ALDS is covered in New York as if TWO teams are participating.

Is that Yankees hatred stirred up yet?
Or do you need more to work yourself up into a rabid lather in anticipation of the Bronx Bombers’ attempt to trump our Pair of Aces?

No worries, there will be much more on the impending Yankees’ series, with a breakdown of what both teams’ rotations will look like and how the two teams match up (with some anti-Yankee rhetoric thrown in for good measure) as the best record in the AL race plays itself out, which should remain the focus of the Tribe right now…ahem JoeBo.

By the way, that T-Shirt shown above and other brilliant statements to plaster across your torso can be found at BustedTees.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keeping The Eyes on the Prize

Now that the champagne and beer have been washed out of the laundry and the eyes of most Indians players figure to be decidedly less bloodshot (there’s a TREMENDOUS recap of the clincher here), it’s time to realize that, while the goal of winning the AL Central has been achieved, the journey is far from over and the “To-Do” list remains long and daunting.

Still left to do in the last week of the season, first and foremost, is to finish with the best record in baseball, ensuring home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and allowing the Indians to choose the ALDS option that permits one more off day than the other.

As most know by now, by playing in the “longer” ALDS, the Indians would have the opportunity to throw Sabathia and Carmona twice each in the 5-game series, a decided advantage that the Angels (with Lackey and Escobar) would also love to have while the Yankees and Red Sox (with the anticipation of facing either Cleveland or Anaheim’s front end of the rotation) would rather avoid due to their lack of an obvious #2 (unless you really think Pettitte deserves that title).

The Tribe also still needs to flesh out their playoff roster of 25 players who will best serve them in the short ALDS. The players with a “locked down” roster spot make up an easy list to compile just by knowing who has played in the last month…then it becomes a little cloudier.
Position Players (11)

Starting Pitchers (4)

Bullpen (4)

That brings the total to 19, leaving 6 spots to be determined. If conventional wisdom holds true, and the Tribe takes in 14 position players and 11 pitchers, it leaves 3 spots open for position players and 3 for pitchers.

On position players, one would have to think that Chris Gomez, whose versatility and performance have been invaluable since coming over from Baltimore, would make the cut, as would Josh Barfield, who would serve as a pinch runner (his baserunning gaffe last week considered) for the playoffs due to his speed and the fact that he’s played that role since Asdrubal got the nod at 2B.

The final spot would come down to Nixon or Francisco and, while the Trotter has remained the prime example of what this team is NOT (older, lost a step, etc.), I don’t see that there’s any way that The Frisco Kid makes the roster over him and it has nothing to do with “veteran grit”. It has everything to do with the fact that Nixon is LH and that Francisco and Michaels are, essentially, redundant as the same RH bat off of the bench. While I'd rather see Nixon used to make sure that the post-game celebratory spread is in order than logging actual postseason innings, The Trotter gets the last spot for the position players.

On the pitching side of things, it would seem that the two relievers not listed above who have been used (albeit in garbage innings, except for one instance) are Aaron Fultz and Tom Mastny. Since it’s unlikely that Juan Lara or Mike Koplove is suddenly going to thrust themselves into the postseason plans in the final week, those two are about as much of a lock as the other 4 listed above.

The final pitching spot is entirely murkier with Aaron Laffey, Cliff Lee, and Jeremy Sowers as the candidates to fill the role of long reliever in the playoffs since the Indians are not in need of a 5th starter in the playoffs. Production-wise, Laffey is the obvious choice, but do the Indians really want a 21-year-old with 17 career relief appearances (all in the minors and only one above Kinston) stepping in to relieve a mess that’s been created by a starter?

Then Sowers, who will be getting the start on Wednesday to keep the pitching order intact, is the pick, right? The same Sowers that has ZERO relief appearances in his professional career, will be thrown to the wolves under the hot lights of the playoffs to build his suddenly-fragile confidence back up?
Again, no thanks.

No, as much as it pains me to say this given his 2007 performance (6.40 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, the scrape with Victor, the ridiculously self-centered comments to the media about “broken bat hits” and the like, the sarcastic cap tip to the fans that put the gas in his car to Buffalo), it seems that the final playoff roster is destined to fall in the lap of Clifton Phifer Lee. The manner in which the Indians have used Lee in the past month (3 straight relief appearances) seems to tip their hand that this was the idea all along. It’s true that Lee’s appearances out of the bullpen have been for 1 inning, 1 inning, and 2 innings, but the length is there in Cliff’s arm for him to eat up some innings in case one of the starters falls flat on his face. Lee’s last game (2 IP, 0 ER, 1 H) will hopefully be what he would bring to the table; but, truthfully, if ol’ Cliffie comes sauntering out of the bullpen in the ALDS, bigger problems exist in the game than the fact that Cliff Lee is coming to the mound.

With those decisions put to bed (in my mind at least) the other task facing the Tribe in the final week is to set up their rotation for the playoffs and, more importantly, determining who would pitch Game 3 of any playoff series.

The candidates are, obviously, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd and by simply looking at their season stats, the decision looks obvious:
6-9, 4.32 ERA

15-7, 4.55 ERA

Byrd gets the start, right?
Oh, how misleading simple wins and losses are.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the fact that Cliff Lee received more Cy Young votes in 2005 because of 18 wins instead of the more-deserving ERA Leader Kevin Millwood, who finished with 9 wins and realize that more factors (outside of simple W-L) need to be considered.

Take first the records of the two pitchers, career-wise and in 2007, against the both of the possible opponents for the ALDS:
Vs. Boston (career)
6 GS, 3-2, 4.81 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 12:19 K/BB ratio

Vs. Boston (2007)
1 GS, 0-1, 7.50 ERA, 2.23 WHIP, 6 IP, 1 K, 4 BB

Vs. NYY (career)
7 GS, 2-4, 5.29 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 27:22 K/BB ratio

Vs. NYY (2007)
2 GS, 0-2, 12.46 ERA, 2.42 WHIP, 8 2/3 IP, 3 K, 4 BB

Vs. Boston (career)
7 GS, 4-2, 4.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3:1 K/BB ratio

Vs. Boston (2007)
1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6 IP, 1 K, 0 BB

Vs. NYY (career)
8 GS, 1-4, 4.44 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.93:1 K/BB ratio

Vs. NYY (2007)
1 GS, 0-1, 31.50 ERA, 4.00 WHIP, 2 IP, 1 K, 1 BB

OK, are we all completely freaking out now and REALLY looking to get that longer series?

While Byrd has had overall success against Boston, the Yankees have had their way with him (particularly in his one outing against them this year) and Westbrook has historically struggled against both teams, though one of his starts against the Yankees came on April 17th, when his health was far from a certainty.

Perhaps just as (and probably more) important as how these pitchers have fared against the potential competition is to consider how each has pitched recently, which is to say how each is trending in their past 10 or so starts.

The last two months for each starter, starting with their more recent appearances:
9-23 vs. OAK (W) – 7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 9 K
9-18 vs. DET (W) – 5 IP, 3 ER, 12 H, 2 BB, 4 K
9-12 vs. CWS (L) – 6 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 5 K
9-7 vs. LAA (L) – 7 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 5 BB, 2 K
9-2 vs. CWS (L) – 5 IP, 3 ER, 11 H, 3 BB, 6 K
8-28 vs. MIN (W) – 6 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 4 K
8-23 vs. DET (W) – 8 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K
8-18 vs. TB (W) – 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K
8-12 vs. NYY (L) – 7 IP, 4 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 2 K
8-7 vs. CWS (W) – 8 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K
8-2 vs. TEX (W) – 6 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K
Jake’s numbers over the last two months has the team going 7-4 in his 11 starts (though that’s not his W-L record) with an ERA of 3.07, a WHIP of 1.28, and 49 K to 22 BB.

He’s also gone at least 5 innings in all 11 starts, with only 2 of those starts totaling less than a full 6 innings, so our workhorse Jake (the one who we all expected out of Spring Training) is back and is hitting his stride at the right time. The encouraging sign is that Jake, despite his predilection for giving up hits (and lots of them in some games) has yet to give up more than 4 ER in any of his last 11 starts, and has let up 4 only twice.

The bottom line on Jake is that, while it may not be pretty if the groundballs are finding the holes, he’ll keep the Indians in the game and grind out innings to get the ball to the reliable portion of the bullpen, often with a lead.

9-22 vs. OAK (L) – 4 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 3 K
9-17 vs. DET (W) – 7 1/3 IP, 4 ER, 10 H, 1 BB, 0 K
9-11 vs. CWS (W) – 6 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 K
9-6 vs. LAA (L) – 4 2/3 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 5 K
9-1 vs. CWS (W) – 9 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K
8-27 vs. MIN (W) – 6 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 0 K
8-22 vs. DET (W) – 5 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 K
8-17 vs. TB (W) – 6 IP, 1 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 5 K
8-11 vs. NYY (L) – 2 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 1 K
8-6 vs. MIN (W) – 9 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 K
8-1 vs. TEX (L) – 5 1/3 IP, 3 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 3 K
Again, in Byrd’s last 10 starts (though it is not his W-L record) the Tribe has gone 7-3 while Byrd has compiled a 4.82 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.

A nice problem to have, choosing between these two to start Game 3, isn’t it?

But examining the numbers a little more closely brings up an issue.
Byrd’s complete game shutouts against the White Sox and the Twins tend to skew his numbers. Take out those two starts and his ERA jumps to 6.65 and his WHIP jumps to 1.73, during which he threw some real clunkers – going 2 innings, 4 1/3 innings, and 4 2/3 innings in 3 of his last 10 starts. Throw in the fact that he hasn’t lasted at least 5 innings in 2 of his last 4 starts, and the alarms start sounding.

Thus, looking analytically at the recent performance of the two options, Westbrook is really the no-brainer starter for Game 3 as Byrd becomes probably the first 15-game winner (or maybe a 16-game winner, depending on his start this week) that gets passed over for a playoff start and maybe a start in a whole playoff series.

The other factor to consider (if the Tribe gets locked up in the longer ALDS) is that Byrd’s “change of pace” may be better served as a long man in case a long reliever is needed in the series and his rubber arm seems more well-suited to possibly pitching out of the bullpen than a “rhythm pitcher” like Westbrook.

An argument can be made that Carmona and Westbrook are both RH sinkerballers and shouldn’t be thrown back-to-back in Games 2 and 3 to mix up the type of pitchers that the opposition sees. That logic would dictate that either C.C. will have to concede to Fausto in Game 1 (you want to give our aCCe that news?) or, again, Byrd gets the nod over Westbrook.

The inherent problem with argument is that saying that Carmona and Westbrook are similar pitchers because they’re both RH and throw sinkers is like saying that Morton’s and Ponderosa are both similar because they serve steak. Not to discount Jake as a pitcher, and devalue him as some sort of an all-you-can-eat buffet of steak, but with Westbrook (like Ponderosa) you know you’re getting a dependable start (or meal) that will satisfy. It may not knock your socks off, but the desired result is achieved and everyone goes home fat and (hopefully) happy.

Carmona is that special night, the start that you have butterflies before because the chance of him pitching a no-hitter is always out there. Seeing him warm up, knowing that Torii Hunter is somewhere thinking of too many Crown Royals from the previous night, the anticipation of what’s coming is like when that guy at Morton’s wheels the angioplasty cart over to your table and you do your best not to fill up on bread as you breathlessly wait for the masterpiece that awaits you.

One hurdle has been cleared, but more (before the playoffs even start) remain as the Indians need to find a way to continue the momentous ride they find themselves on this week while keeping players fresh and rested, yet sharp and focused, as the Tribe sets themselves up for their ALDS opponent, both in terms of roster settlement and rotation order.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mission Accomplished...At Least One of Them

If a picture can tell a thousand words...well...
Arriving at our beloved corner of Carnegie and Ontario this afternoon, the smell of a pennant in the air, I was greeted by an old friend with a simple message.

The park was packed and the Red Sea had emerged.

The game never seemed in question, keeping the "Rally Pie" shirts on the rack.

Thanks to a (big surprise) team effort, Senor Slo-Mo threw the pitch that (ultimately) won the Central.
And, the celebration was on.

The team headed out to CF to raise the AL Central pennant while Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" blared over the loudspeakers.

Slider came on with his cursory bufoonery (which certainly doesn't merit a picture here), followed by...yes..."You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" (who says nobody in the Tribe organization reads this blog) as T-Bone and I stood there, mouths agape. As the team made their way back to the dugout, C.C. and Victor led the on-field comments and the glad-handing and congratulations were on.

The party carried over into the clubhouse, where Ryan Garko declared, "Party's on West 6th tonight...ask for Josh Barfield".

The souvenir lines quickly stacked up selling AL Central Champ gear.

The celebration wasn't limited to the field and the clubhouse.

Note the shirts at "Local Heroes" (worst name ever for a bar - the old Cooperstown) RIGHT after the game.

Many more hurdles stand in the way of the dream and it's a simple AL Central championship and nothing that breaks the trophy-less streak, but this is a day on that will live on forever.

So Close You Can Taste It

Isn’t it fun to have the Magic Number reduced even when Paul Byrd has to be relieved by Tom Mastny and Cliff Lee? It’s funny how you can tell how the game is going by simply looking at the relievers used, and how Lee has been relegated to eating up meaningless innings while getting his resume in order.

Regardless, the Magic Number stands at 1, the playoff ticket packet arrived this morning (yes, I got it on a Sunday as our reliable postal worker must have dropped them off some time after 8 PM last night), and I’m heading down to the Jake with some SRO tickets that T-Bone picked up so we can invade the Batters’ Eye Bar about noon and (hopefully) see the AL Central Flag raised above our heads today.

Since I have to get to the face painting (just kidding, although it is important to “support the team”), it’s time to take a round of Lazy Sunday:

A terrific bit from Terry Pluto on Frank the Tank in today's paper, but apparently didn’t link the piece, at least as of about 10:00 AM. They provided links for the absurdity of Shaw and Livy, and Pluto’s Browns thoughts, but you’ll have to pick up the print copy of the PD to see Pluto’s thoughts on Gutz and other Tribe topics.

Paul Hoynes owns up to his being wrong about the Tribe coming out of Winter Haven. I forgot that he picked them to finish 4th in the Central…4th!?!

Proving that his new desk must not be close to Sheldon, the ABJ’s Patrick McManamon gives a nice list of “Why Not” for the Tribe taking it all this postseason.

A little love nationally from Mike Bauman at, who sees the big picture happening at the Jake.

In case you missed it, Tribe Assistant GM Neil Huntington has been tabbed to become the new Pirates GM, with the announcement coming in the most awkwardly written story I’ve ever seen.
Some of the actual sentences from the announcement:
“He is an adviser to Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, specializing in player evaluations.”
“He also works as an advance scout for a portion of the season.”
“He was also an Indians assistant GM.”
Seriously, did someone just look in the Tribe Media Guide and replace the bullet points with “He is” and “He was” for this story?
Somewhere Fr. Streicher (the man who literally wrote the book on grammar) is howling.
As a final aside to the story (and with our sarcasm stick put away), Hoynes predicts that Joel Skinner will follow him there in 2008 to become the Bucs manager.

Andy Call has a nice bit on Bartolo Colon (who is still, allegedly, only 33) falling off the cliff that so many people predicted due to his weight issues and (more importantly for those who want to use Bartolo in the C.C. comparison) lack of interest in conditioning.

While many of us have complained about the lack of national coverage for the Tribe, imagine being smack dab in the middle of New York or Boston during this nonsense. Luckily we have the perpective of sporadic commenter Ron Vallo, who writes the terrific “Tribe Fan in Yankeeland” blog that is linked in the sidebar. In his latest, he references a recent poll that confirms what we all knew…people on the East Coast are vaguely aware that Cleveland has a baseball team and is blissfully unaware of the punch that said team packs.
Ron’s going to keep tabs on what’s happening in New York for us here as the Yankees certainly look like a possible ALDS opponent for the Tribe.

Finally, in case you’re not sure of what all of this “It’s Tribe Time Now” talk is, here’s the link to hear the song that introduces the games on WTAM.

Taking the camera down this afternoon (with new batteries), so hopefully I’ll be able to put together some pictures of the highlights of “Clinch Day 2007”.

Today feels like the day!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Look Back Before Looking Ahead

With the only question remaining of “When”, not “If” (though it’s been that way for a couple of days now) for the AL Central Pennant to be raised at the Jake, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the thoughts of one man prior to Opening Day.

Posted April 1st – the 2007 Team Outlook.

How about the predictions on Carmona and the mention of Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, and Asdrubal in the season preview?

If you’re keeping score at home for my predictions, they broke down like this:
AL East – Boston
AL Central – Cleveland
AL West – Oakland
AL Wild Card – Chicago

NL East – Philadelphia
NL Central – Milwaukee
NL West – Los Angeles
NL Wild Card – New York

ALDS – Cleveland over Oakland, Boston over Chicago
NLDS – Philadelphia over Milwaukee, New York over Los Angeles

ALCS – Cleveland over Boston
NLCS – New York over Philadelphia

World Series – Cleveland over New York

If it all breaks like that, sometime in late October or early November, Indians fans will rejoice worldwide and all will be right with the world.

Not too bad, with the notable exception of overrating Oakland, Chicago (AL), and Los Angeles (NL). The four championship series participants still look pretty good and I’ll continue to stand by them.

Gotta love the Baltimoran chiming in that none of PD writers picked the Tribe to make the playoffs though, while I know that to be true, I can’t find any record of the picks from the “experts” at the PD.

Back when I was about 12 I used to save those MLB/Tribe Preview Special Sections, but the realization that those guys know about as much about the Tribe as the folks hopping on the suddenly swelling bandwagon forces me to recycle that as quickly as the “Travel” Section.

If anyone has (or can find) the predictions from the local pundits, please post them.

In the meantime – it could happen tonight, it could happen tomorrow…but it is happening.
Get ready Cleveland!
The AL Central Pennant is coming back to where it belongs!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tomahawks Shaped Like Brooms

With a perma-grin plastered to my face after sweeping the Tigers out of town, out of the Central race, out of the Wild Card race (it just goes on and on) and the Central completely in our laps, it’s time for some Tomahawk Target Practice:

Correct me if I’m wrong after being bludgeoned over the head with the “Panic Button in Boston” talk, but the Red Sox and Yankees are really just playing for the AL East pennant, aren’t they?

They’re both in the playoffs and who they play will be determined by the final records of the Tribe and the Angels – not the order in which they finish in the East, right?

Which is to say, whoever wins the AL East will play the team (Cleveland or Anaheim) with the worse record, while the Wild Card will play the team with the better record. Can we get the same kind of media coverage for THAT race?
I doubt it.

Does anyone even remember that the Twins overtook the Tigers for the AL Central title last year and that the Tigers were the Wild Card?
Is this any different?

I suppose it’s compelling in that it would represent a HUGE turnaround from the events of most of the season in the AL East and plays into the inferiority complex of New England, but if the idea is to make it to the playoffs, both teams have essentially achieved the goal.

The way that the race is being covered, you half expect Bucky Dent to be added to the 40-man roster for the Yankees to bury the Red Sox.
But…the Red Sox will make the playoffs, and won’t face the Yankees in the first round, so what’s the big deal?

Are the races in the NL THAT boring (they’re not) that the same attention can’t be devoted to Milwaukee (who hasn’t been to the postseason in 25 years) and the Cubs (who, well, you know that story) or how the Mets are falling apart and the Phillies are backing up Jimmy Rollins’ preseason comments that the team in the NL East to beat plays in Philadelphia? How about the oft-overlooked West, with an extremely young D-Backs team trying to stave off the brilliant pitching staff of the Padres (of their 20 shutouts, 1 hasn’t involved the bullpen…1!).

This East Coast bias will never change and maybe this is the most interesting storyline to most of the nation, but I wish that the idea of just covering sports and not sensationalizing sports became the focus of ESPN these days.

My brother had an excellent point a few weeks ago when discussing the downward spiral of ESPN. He accurately compared ESPN, and specifically SportsCenter, to becoming the sports equivalent of Entertainment Tonight…all fluff and very little meat, covering the “hot topic” of the day or the most salacious story instead of simply reporting the happenings of the sports world with no agenda or “talking head” telling me what I should think.

When was the last time that you watched SportsCenter, or Baseball Tonight, for the news of the day and were completely satisfied with the tone and focus of the program?
5 years ago?
10 years ago?

Unfortunately, this will remain the status quo in Bristol until another sports entity (FOX Sports or even STO) realizes that a void exists for even-handed, rational sports coverage. In the meantime, enjoy the Red Sox-Yankees “Fight to the Finish” for the next week and a half (impervious to the idea that both are in the playoffs and are just playing for a division title) on a television near you.

Since the Angels are out as a possible 1st round opponent, the poll has been revised to identify which AL East team you’d rather see in the ALDS.

The spark that Asdrubal has provided has been well-documented, but how about this stat?
Since Cabrera was inserted into the everyday lineup (really, it was August 15th against the Tigers), the Indians are 25-8!
Considering that they were 14-19 in their previous 33, that’s a nice jump start that the only man I know that wears pearls (and pulls it off) has provided.

For those decrying the end of the Jacobs Field name, here's something to brighten your day. A rumor is out there that their alternate home jerseys (the vests, which are the worst), will be replaced for the 2008 season by these:

Best thing I've seen in quite a while. The return of the Block C, the feel that Bob Feller could come striding out of the bullpen...I love them.

Already thinking about what jersey to order and whether to get a fitted hat or one of those cotton ones that fit supremely better.

According to Tom Hamilton, prior to the Tribe-Tigers series, a number of Detroit players told him (though they wouldn’t go on the record) that if they could take 2 of 3 from the Tribe that the Indians would fold under the pressure and that the Tigers would be poised to overtake them in the Central.

Fold? Under the pressure?
Does getting swept out of the AL Central race and dropping 3 full games back in that race and essentially getting knocked out of the Wild Card constitute a fold?

The Tigers aren’t alone, though in getting KO’d by the Tribe.
Remember when Minnesota came in for that HUGE series in late August?
Prior to the series, Minnesota was 5.5 back in the Central and “within striking distance”. Three days later, the Twins were 8.5 back and their season was done.

Almost an identical situation with the Tigers as they went from 4.5 back to 7.5 back in three short days and the Tribe bought their coffin, dug their grave, and covered it with dirt before they were able to get out of town with their tails between their legs.

Finally, I received some tremendous feedback from the “War Cry” post with the suggestions coming fast and furious from a number of sources.

Some fell right in line with the 70’s theory, with some great suggestions:
Just One Victory – Todd Rundgren

No Surrender – Bruce Springsteen

Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty

You’ve Got Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest

Rock and Roll All Night – Kiss

We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister

Others took issue with the fact that the song needed to come from the vault of WMMS and suggested songs either more current or in different genres:
Beautiful Day – U2

La Vida Es un Carnaval – Celia Cruz

Attack – 30 Seconds to Mars

Hey – Jurassic 5

Thru Ya City – De La Soul

Also, quite a bit of support for those inspirational songs from classic 80’s underdog movies:
You're the Best Around - Joe Esposito

Win In The End - Mark Sefan

And, finally, some went with the local bend or even a baseball-centric bend:
Centerfield – John Fogerty

Randy Newman – Burn On

Go All the Way – Raspberries (Cleveland Natives)

Talkin' Tribe (among others)

But, after reading numerous comments about how many Tribe fans have good memories tied to Kenny Lofton’s on-field comments after clinching the 1995 pennant, seeing the work of poster fasolamatt from the comments section, providing alternate lyrics to “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” as well as a new link, I’m staying with the original selection.

In case you missed it in the comments section:

I went down to the ballpark, to see my favorite team
The great big giant scoreboard, instructed us to scream
I think, even if we're down three
A win is what we'll get, mmm
We'll break out the rally pies, and yell

You ain't seen nothin' yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet
Here's something that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet

And now I'm feelin' better, 'cause I found out for sure
We're goin to the playoffs, our lead is now secure
With CC, Fausto, Jake, Paul
We'll take what we can get, yes we'll take what we can get
Then turn it over to the 'pen
And say

You ain't seen nothin' yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet
Here's something, here's something that you're never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet
You need educated


Any hits a good hit
So we take what we can get, yes we take what we can get
Then well break out the rally pies
And yell

You ain't seen nothin' yet
Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet
Here's something, here's something,
here's something, mama, you're never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nu-nu-nu-nothin' yet
You ain't been around

You ain't seen nothin' yet
I know I ain't seen nothin' yet
I know I ain't seen nothin' yet
Baby, Baby, Baby
You ain't seen nothin' yet

Yeah, that clinches it - "I’ll stick with You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet".

The countdown is on to "Clinch Day".
Any guesses?
Should we just plan on going to the Jake until that magical day happens?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

War Cry

As the Indians put the final nail in the Tigers’ coffin and continue to simply roll to the AL Central Pennant, something occurred to me…this team needs an anthem.

Like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” will always take me back to Richfield (or GOB’s magic act) or Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” harkens back to the dark days of 2005 when the Boys in Black were making their WS run, the 2007 Tribe has reached a point where a rallying cry needs to be identified and played ad nauseum until they’re playing it in Public Square at the conclusion of the World Series Parade.

A song that we can all get behind and cue up to get the good times going, both down at the Jake and wherever Tribe fans congregate. And we’re not talking “Again Tonight” by Johnny Cougar Mellencamp or the various montages on the JumboTron, the 2007 Cleveland Indians need some walking music, some swagger to accompany this team to the win column night after night and through the playoff run that we all think is coming.

Realizing fully that this is Cleveland, the “Rock and Roll Capital of the World” (despite the fact that most of the city is stuck in the glory days of The Buzzard and isn’t aware of new rock from the past 5…make it 10 years), the song needs to be a pretty-well known song and being from the 70’s or 80’s wouldn’t hurt for most fans to recognize it.

First, what can be ruled out?
They already use the inspirational Rocky II scene when the bullpen door opens for JoeBo (though not exactly as the link shown), so that’s out.

“More Cowbell” is also used with AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells" to get the crowd fired up late in the game, so that’s out too.

Of course, WTAM’s Mike Trivisonno has identified Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” as the Tribe theme, but I could find more inspirational music at a grade school band concert. Great lyrics, great song…but just doesn’t get the blood moving like an anthem should.

Unfortunately, all modern music (particularly hip-hop and rap) are ruled out because…well, if you’ve been to the Jake recently, you don’t need the answer. Most fans at the Jake couldn't tell you what the difference betweeen SpeakerBoxx and The Love Below is, much less get behind a song from it.

It’s also time to put the old Cleveland stand-bys that have been leaned on far too heavily for the past 25 years by the town to bed. You know the ones, MSB’s “My Town” and “Cleveland Rocks”.
Really, this is how creative this city can be?
To hear these songs over and over to create some sort of civic pride?
We're still stuck on this?
No, that day has passed.

Let's also rule out movie songs as not everybody can recognize, say the outstanding music from the Balboa-Drago match in Rocky IV.
And the great "Top Gun Theme" always sadly somehow brings to mind the mind-bogglingly out of place Volleyball Scene that just about ruins the whole movie for me.

This team needs an anthem that plays up the attitude of the team – a team playing for one purpose, with the steam rising from the roster. So how about “Train Kept A Rollin’”?
Nah, Aerosmith’s from Boston and the Chowderheads can keep this one.

How about something that says that this team is what it is…a solid group of great ballplayers comfortable in their own skin, more than happy to take the criticism of a JoeBo tightrope walk or a Peralta error? Something that plays up the old “we’ll put our best players on the field, you do the same…let’s see who wins” idea of sandlot baseball.
Maybe “I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw?
Unfortunately this song got locked in with some show called “One Tree Hill” on a network I’ve never heard of, so it’s out.

What about a song that stresses their workmanlike approach, the way that the team simply goes out and takes care of the business at hand…how about “Takin’ Care of Business”?
As much as I like this one (and it does play every day to introduce Tony Rizzo’s show on WKNR), the Mets and Braves have apparently been using it for some time to celebrate their victories and if we’re just recycling other ideas…this one’s out.

But, we’re getting closer.

We need that inspirational song that everyone knows and can sing along to the chorus that’s easy enough for Grandma to sing along to it, but also has that moment when everyone can go absolutely bananas.
“Livin’ On a Prayer”, anyone?

As much as I LOVE this song (it was actually the last song played at my wedding), I don’t like one basic premise behind it for a supremely talented baseball team – why are we the ones hoping and praying that our time will come?

Can’t we be the ones walking into the situation with all the confidence in the world?
Aren’t the prospects of this team in the post-season and the overall outlook for this team in the foreseeable future rosy enough that we should EXPECT this?

To hell with this underdog card, it’s time to make an announcement to the AL and all of MLB…
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.
This team is taking the first strides in what promises to be a winning race. The Indians take a backseat to nobody and won’t rely on prayers to get this team a title.
We’re going to win on talent and pitching and guts…and it’s only the beginning.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Tribe fans.
Trust me, You Just Ain't Seen N-N-N-N-N-N-Nothin' Yet.

Monday, September 17, 2007


As the Indians stole a game from the Motor City Kitties that they had no business winning, the Magic Number has been reduced to 7 (as T-Bone adjusted the number while the Family Truckster was on I-90 speeding away from the Jake).

Thanks to Casey Blake, with some BIG assists from Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Rafael Betancourt, the Tribe sent the Featherhead Faithful home happy in the biggest game in the past…well…6 years at Jacobs Field, maybe longer.

Sitting in my perch in Pronkville, it was unbelievable to watch the Indians fight their way back into the game as the discussion in the mezzanine centered around what the coolest jersey to sport around Jacobs Field would be (the candidates – Asdrubal 13, The Tank 38, The Chin 1, Jacoby 26), mocking the Tigers fan who bought Whoppers from a vendor at the Jake (the malted milk balls, not the burgers), and watching some guy on the JumboTron do the Frank the Tank move with Gutierrez at the plate while the Erie Warriors willed themselves (somehow) back into the game.

Amidst a raucous (though small at 28, 825) crowd, with Tigers’ fans not nearly as numerous as earlier in the season, the feeling…the vibe…was there. The Indians won with persistence and moxie to put the AL Central away for all intents and purposes.

As Bob Feller’s shirt was telling me, “It’s Tribe Time Now” (too many pictures of the DiaperTribe rendered the batteries uncooperative as the requisite picture that should accompany that line is lost somewhere in the “CHANGE THE BATTERIES” message from the camera).

The Indians are going to the playoffs.
There… I said it. May the thunderbolts stay in heaven and the naysayers send their regrets.

October is a foregone conclusion after tonight…and maybe beyond.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pies All Around on a Lazy Sunday

The Faustastic One took his name out of the “Dark Horse Candidate” column in the ledger for the Cy Young and had it marked (in pen) in the “Frontrunner” column, as he lowered his ERA to an AL-leading 3.07, so let’s take stock of how things have exploded for the Tribe in the last month:

Standings on August 14th
Detroit 66-53
Cleveland 65-54 (1 GB)
Minnesota 59-60 (7 GB)

Standings on September 16th
Cleveland 87-61
Detroit 82-67 (5.5 GB)
Minnesota 72-76 (15 GB)

The Tribe, after losing their 4th straight against Detroit at home (after being swept by the Spankees) on August 14th, has simply run away with the AL Central by going 21-8 since that game. With 19 of those 29 games being played on the road, the Indians are taking on all comers and disposing of them quickly and methodically.

It should come as no surprise that the Indians find themselves on the hot streak as the starting pitching has remained consistently dominant, the bullpen has slotted very nicely to pick up the final two (or three) innings when needed, and the offense has shown that it can win with the long ball or with small ball.

While it’s easy to look too far ahead, the Indians have to continue to take care of the business that they control, particularly with the Motor City Kitties (just 2 ½ back in the Wild Card and certainly playing for something) coming to the Jake tomorrow.

And, with that, a Lazy Sunday:
Terry Pluto takes a nice trip around the bases on some Tribe topics, including a bit about the young confectionary LHP in the system, Laffey Taffey and Sweet and Sowers.

Also, in case you missed it, Pluto had a great article on Tribe attendance and fan interest, including a quote from some guy named Mark Cousineau from South Euclid, who claims to have been to 10-12 games this year, obviously thinking that sitting through the snow on Opening Day somehow counted for multiple games.

It’s been said before, but more Terry and less Shaw and Livy make my weekend better. The Sunday paper had NO sign of The Brothers Grimm (outside of their Browns’ picks), and that is far from a bad thing. Now, if we could only get Branson Wright off my front porch…

Down I-77, Patrick McManamon has picked up where Pluto left off, today commenting on the effort by the Tribe to re-capture the magic at the Jake that was so prevalent during the run in the 1990’s.
In case you missed the memo, the Indians have asked fans to deck themselves out in red for the final home games and the playoffs to create (presumably) some sort of Red Sea at the Jake. They’ve also started the sale of red shirts that read “It’s Tribe Time Now”, playing off of the WTAM intro song that has replaced the ever-popular “We’re Talkin’ Baseball…Talkin’ Tribe”.

Elsewhere, the sordid saga of Cliff Lee continues as he remains a man without a permanent home, seemingly passed by in the rotation by the first “wave” of arms and unsure of where he stands in the organization going forward.

A great piece from the terrific DFP writer Jon Paul Morosi on Sizemore vs. Granderson, two unbelievable baseball players who promise to be mainstays in the AL Central for the foreseeable future, much to the chagrin of the folks in KC, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

Finally, a nice blurb about the Tribe from’s Chad Finn.

Enjoy the beautiful Sunday afternoon that epitomizes Fall on the North Coast.
Wait, Tribe AND the Browns at 1 PM?
Fire up the DVR, “It’s Couch Time Now”!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Silent Superstar

Ask an Indians fan to choose an MVP for the 2007 season, and the answers and reasoning will be varied and (for the most part) justifiable:
C.C. Sabathia has established himself as one of the elite pitchers in the AL, capable of winning EVERY game he pitches in.

Fausto Carmona saved the rotation in grand (and superlative-inducing) fashion from injuries to Westbrook and Lee, then the subsequent ineffectiveness of Lee and Sowers as he sawed off bats of hitters all over the AL.

Victor Martinez picked up the slack from Pronk’s struggles to carry the run-producing burden on the team, while quietly improving his much-maligned defense and throwing.

Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez settled the back end of the bullpen, stepping forward to lock down the 7th and 8th innings, bridging the effective starters (who often went the requisite 6 innings…Cliff Lee not included) to Borowski.

Even Joe Borowski, who single-handedly increased the sales of Pepto-Bismal and TUMS across Northeast Ohio on his way to a potential record-setting season in saves, could merit a mention as we’ve learned with closers that style points don’t matter, just results.

Or how about Asdrubal Cabrera, whose promotion provided the spark to a lackluster offense and team, launching them on the run to the AL Central title. With his clutch hits and emergence as the #2 hitter, Cabrera became the X factor that the Tribe seemed to be waiting for, appearing out of nowhere to save the season.

A case can be made very well for all of these players, but a name seems to be missing in most of these discussions – the Indians’ best everyday player.
Why doesn’t Grady get the love despite another stellar season?

Is his omission simply an oversight or an indication that he’s somehow unnoticed?
How could he be a quiet contributor – the SI Cover Boy with his own Fan Club, the Golden Boy whose 24 jersey continues to fly off the shelf in the Team Shop?

Have we already taken his projected contributions for granted?
Yeah, chalk him up for 25 HR, 100 RBI, 125 R, 35 SB, Gold Glove defense…yawn.

Perhaps it’s what is perceived to be an off-year with his batting average sitting at .277 , as people fail to realize that Batting Average falls pretty far down the list of measurables for a hitter’s performance as it doesn’t take walks into account (as OBP does…and, as we all know from Little League, “a walk’s as good as a hit”), or weight extra-base hits more than just hits (as SLG does as hitting a 2B or a HR certainly carries more weight than hitting a seeing-eye single) and BA certainly doesn’t measure up to what many baseball fans have acknowledged as the preeminent statistic to measure a hitter, OPS (literally, OBP plus SLG).
So how does Grady look in these categories, not as well known by most baseball fans, but that serve as better indicators of a player’s performance at the plate?
OBP - .387
1st on Indians
14th overall in AL
2nd among leadoff hitters in AL (Suzuki)

SLG - .466
3rd on Indians (Martinez - .503, Garko - .481)
26th overall in AL
2nd among leadoff hitters in AL (Granderson)

OPS - .853
2nd on Indians (Martinez - .880)
20th overall in AL
2nd among leadoff hitters in AL (Granderson)

Using the statistics that many people dismiss as “fancy math” (though they’re no more complicated than Batting Average) and just aren’t as well-known as Batting Average (the benchmark for a .300 hitter remains), Grady’s certainly not having an “off-year” by any stretch of the imagination.

Maybe it’s the perception that Grady is miscast as a leadoff hitter and that his best use for the lineup would be to sit in the #3 hole to maximize his offensive skills. Well, if his skills are scoring runs and creating runs for the team, built on pitching and the run-producing capability of Martinez and Hafner (the way that Soriano is able to lead off in Chicago, allowing Lee and Ramirez to drive him in), then the leadoff spot suits him at this point in his career.

Consider his AB in last Sunday night’s game in Anaheim, when he bunted his way onto 1B, stole 2B, and scored on a grounder hit to 1B. He essentially created something out of nothing and, at the leadoff spot where he’s assured to get the most AB of any player, what’s the harm in allowing Sizemore to remain the catalyst of the offense?
It’s not as if he’s lacking in the categories usually associated with leadoff hitters (obviously, see above for OBP):
R – 111
1st on Indians
3rd overall in AL
2nd among leadoff hitters in AL (Granderson)

H – 160
1st on Indians
17th overall in AL
4th among leadoff hitters in AL (Suzuki, Granderson, Roberts)

SB – 32
1st on Indians
6th overall in AL
3rd among leadoff hitters in AL (Roberts, Suzuki)

At a certain point in Sizemore’s career, it’s entirely conceivable for him to move down the order to impact his run-producing ability as he continues to mature as a hitter. Certainly, his skill set isn’t being wasted at the top of the lineup where his speed and aggressiveness are constantly utilized to create run-scoring opportunities for the rest of the Tribe lineup.

But what of this power, beginning to develop in SuperSizemore?
Despite the fact that he had Trot Nixon and Josh Barfield batting in front of him for most of the season, Sizemore still put up solid RBI numbers. And, now with Lofton, Gutierrez, and Blake in front of him on a regular basis, the fruits of having a more complete lineup are apparent as Grady finds himself in more run-producing situations.
Grady, sitting on the top of the lineup, seems to be doing OK for himself in the “power” categories, in terms of his placement on the Indians and league-wide:
HR – 23
1st on Indians
14th overall in AL
1st among leadoff hitters in AL

RBI – 74
3rd on Indians (Martinez – 102, Hafner – 90)
35th overall in AL
1st among leadoff hitters in AL

To recap, Grady’s in the top 3 on the Indians in ALL of the categories shown above and in the top 20 in AL in 6 of the 10 categories.

So where’s the love for a wildly consistent player that just goes about his job, never asking for the spotlight while throwing his body around the OF and having his name penciled into the lineup card every day?

Perhaps it’s his K totals (144 that lead the AL) that frustrate people, particularly from the leadoff spot. But, going into this year, Sizemore said that he was working on improving his hitting against LHP:
.214 BA / .290 OBP / .427 SLG / .717 OPS in 220 AB
.274 BA / .372 OBP / .416 SLG / .788 OPS in 190 AB
Nice little bump for something that he focused on getting better at.
All of Cleveland spends the Cavs’ off-season reading about what facet of the game that LeBron has decided to improve (and if his FIBA performance and reports that he’s suddenly Jimmy Chitwood from the field, I simply won’t be able to contain myself), so why can’t we say that Sizemore’s doing the same thing – improving a different portion of his all-around game one piece at a time.

In the same vein, as fans often forget Sizemore’s relative inexperience when pointing to his K total, consider that he has all of career 2,010 AB before this season is dubbed a “disappointment”, in that he didn’t enjoy the break-out year that some were predicting (remember that Gammons picked him as his pre-season AL MVP).

With Sizemore, it’s important to remember that he JUST turned 25 and the two players that he compares most closely too in the history of baseball are Duke Snider and Carlos Beltran. Snider hit 42 HR when he was 26 as opposed to the 21 he hit while he was 25 and Beltran’s breakout year happened when he turned 27 (he hit 38 HR with the Royals and the Astros during that season that he put the Astros on his back en route to the World Series) and never hit more than 29 in the years prior to it. Of course, there’s no certainty that Sizemore will take the same steps as those two players, but those expecting a true “breakout” year this year may just be a bit premature.

It’s also important to remember that the 25-year-old is still growing into his skin as his quiet demeanor often defers to players on the with more experience than him. At this point, he’s a leader on the team in that he leads by example the way that a young SS did back in the 90’s in the Bronx.

Now, is Grady our Jeter?
That “Face of the Franchise” whose numbers may not sparkle like those of the sluggers, but whose contributions go deeper than just numbers in the winning attitude, the quiet confidence, the “pedal to the metal” approach to the game that sets the tone for his teammates without saying a word, and the steadiness that calms the stormy waters of the ups and downs of a baseball season?

While his consistency and steadiness may leave Sizemore taken for granted as a pillar of the Indians, it’s important to remember the old adage that “slow and steady wins the race”.
If that’s the case, and Grady is by no means slow with no signs of slowing down, what does “fast and steady” win?
Hopefully, more than just the (simple pennant) race.