The Indians ended April with a Thud. Losing every game on a west coast trip is never a good way to inspire the fan base. Good thing April is over and we are into May. Let’s look at the Tribe one month into the season.
The Indians ended April 11-17 and on a 6 game losing streak. Not what you expect from a team with high expectations of making the playoffs. Is it time to panic? Not really. It is only one month. Last year they were 11-13 in April. They followed up April by going 18-12 in May. Last year the Indians had two 8 game losing streaks, and on June 10th they were 3 games under .500. This was a streaky team last year and I could easily see them rattling off 6 or 7 wins in a row. The team was at .500 before the 6 game west coast trip. So the record after one month is not a huge concern, but they leave themselves little room to continue their disappearing act at the plate, and in the field.
The Starting Rotation:
The starters began the year a little shaky, but have become the strength of this club. Masterson did not earn a win in the month of April, but he pitched well enough that he should have in three of his six April starts. Is Masterson a #1 starter? Maybe not, but he is definitely a #2. Would the Indians just pay this guy! Masterson’s agent reportedly proposed multiple offers to the Indians with a contract of around 17 million per year for 3 to 4 years. Usually the Tribe balks at contracts for pitchers because they are to long. The Tribe does not want to risk a lengthy contract on pitchers who are all susceptible to injury. Masterson is offering a shorter term contract which should make the Indians front office thrilled. I am just not sure what the Indians are expecting to pay for a starting pitcher who can anchor a staff. 12 million a year gets you an Ubaldo Jimenez type pitcher. Ubaldo has been atrocious in 5 of his 6 starts. He has a 5.19 Era in his first 6 starts and has walked 18 in 34 innings. That looks similar to the Ubaldo who pitched in Cleveland before last July. Are you feeling a little nervous about that signing now Baltimore? 3 years at 17 million per year seems fair to me, so the Indians need to stop with the excuses and sign Masterson. Otherwise we will be watching another warm body in the rotation next year. Yea you could gamble on a veteran coming off a poor year and get another Scott Kazmir, or you could get another Brett Myers. If the Indians are expecting to compete for a playoff spot they can’t afford to gamble on their starting pitching, especially when they would be replacing a front of the rotation starter.
Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister have been solid and consistent on the mound to start the year. I have followed Corey Kluber through the minors to the big league club since the trade with San Diego/ St. Louis for Jake Westbrook. Kluber was considered one of the Padre’s top pitching prospects. He had one off year and was traded. He has consistently been tops in the minor leagues in strike outs and walked very few. This year he has 48 K’s and 12 BB in 45 innings which is following his career norms. He projected as a #2 or #3 starter and that is holding true. Kluber has a 3.6 ERA even though he has pitched 5 games against some of the top offenses in all of baseball. Kluber has pitched two games against the #2 offense and one game against the #3, #4, #5 offenses in MLB. Kluber has always been one of my favorites, and he looks to be a solid #2 or #3 starter.
McAllister has been just as good, if not better than Kluber. He has a 3.16 ERA and like Kluber he doesn’t give a lot of hitter’s free passes. McAllister fits in nicely and has done a good job in the 3 hole.
The 4 and 5 spots have been a problem for the Indians. I am not to worried about Danny Salazar as he seems to be righting the ship after a rough start early on in the season. Even though he has not looked as sharp or seemed to have command of all of his pitches, he still looks like a major league pitcher. His demeanor on the mound just says successful pitcher to me, and I think in the long run he will succeed. Carlos Carrasco is another story. As I write this he has been relieved of his starting duties and placed in the bullpen. Carrasco is just another version of Roberto Hernandez aka Fausto Carmona. Carrasco is a pitcher with a great arm, who will consistently put runners on base and make me want to start watching MTV with my wife instead of baseball. Thankfully I will no longer be up to date on the “16 And Pregnant” episodes, as Josh Tomlin has taken Carrasco’s spot in the rotation. Tomlin has pitched great in Columbus to start the year. He was called up to Cleveland this week and in his first start he looked very impressive. Tomlin walks very few batters. Isn’t it strange how not walking people usually correlates to winning. I mentioned in my last post that Tomlin would be back and it took less than a month. Unless there is an injury I believe you have seen the last of Carlos Carrasco starting for the Indians. The Indians still have insurance in Trevor Bauer who has been pitching even better than Tomlin. This is in Columbus also which is a big time hitter’s park. So if there is an injury, Salazar regresses, or Tomlin can’t hold down the 5th spot (I am sure he will – you don’t get the nickname “The Little Cowboy” for no reason), Bauer seems to be ready to step in.
The bullpen so far seems stable. Vinnie Pestano was sent down early in the month after giving up hits to almost every batter he faced. He had a WHIP of 3.38. That means for every inning he pitched he put 3.38 batters on base. I think Hendrix’s WHIP in his first year of youth baseball where the players will pitch will be lower. A WHIP of 1.75 or higher is usually pretty atrocious. Pestano’s velocity has been down last year and the start of this year, and just a couple MPH has made him very hittable. The rest of the bullpen has been very good. The bullpen has stranded 50 of the 60 inherited base runners through May 7th. This puts them at the top of the league in keeping inherited runners from scoring. John Axford has not let one inherited runner score. Then again he has put them on himself and let them cross home plate a few times. Axford is the one part of the bullpen that I am not to sure about. He does have 9 saves out of 11 chances is which is not to bad in one month. Unfortunately he likes to walk batters and he is not unhittable. (I think there is something to this walking batters and a pitchers success rate) He has issued 11 walk and 11 hits in 14 innings. Axford has a 1.57 WHIP which is getting up there near that atrocious level. The Tribe could probably survive an Axford collapse by moving Cody Allen into the closer role and rearranging the bullpen. But ultimately this probably wouldn’t be ideal considering the teams other problems.
In my last post I stated how my main concern about this team was its offense. Well they haven’t changed my opinion much. The Tribe is next to last in the American League in runs scored, and 26th in MLB with a .231 team average. There are only 4 teams all in the National League (where the pitcher bats!) with worse averages. (Side note – The San Diego Padres have a .215 team average….Uh maybe I should stop complaining about the Tribe offense) Other than Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, David Murphey, Nyjer Morgan, Mike Aveiles, and Lonnie Chisenhall (3 of whom are part time players), the rest need to vastly improve at the plate. Jason Kipnis who is currently on the DL has a .234 average, while Michael Bourn is batting around his career average of .266. Unfortunately Bourn has done little else as he has played in only 15 games. He has 2 stolen bases but he has been caught 3 times, and he only has scored 6 runs all year. I didn’t think so at the end of spring training, but Nyjer Morgan needs to be on this team. Morgan is batting .294 with 3 stolen bases in 3 attempts, and 5 runs scored in half the at bats Bourn has had. Not to mention he is playing better defense.
The rest of the lineup would bring the San Diego Padres team average down:
Asdrubal Cabrera .215
Nick Swisher .202
Ryan Rayburn .167
Carlos Santana .139
And Mr. Blutarsky (Jason Giambi) .000
It will be almost Memorial Day before Giambi plays again. He has not reached first base since spring training, other than a hit by pitch. That includes games with the Indians and the Akron Rubber Ducks. He actually didn’t even get a hit in spring training. He reached base twice by walk. His last hit in a game was last year! The Tribe’s offense needs a jump and the Indians need to bite the bullet soon with Giambi. Jesus Aguilar is in AAA Columbus. Last year he set the Akron record with 105 RBIs in 130 games. He is off to a fast start in Columbus this year batting .319 with 7 HRs and 17 RBIs in 31 games. The Tribe is not good enough to waste a roster spot on a player who is not helping. Sooner or later Giambi is going to need to produce or the Tribe needs to make a change.
It is good to see Chisenhall producing and Brantley is Mr. Consistent. I believe the rest of the lineup will improve, but I do think this team needs one more bat. Preferably a right handed bat.
Where the hell do I start? This is the one area that has derailed the Tribe more than any other. The starting pitching has had a few bad games, the closer has let a few slip away, and the offense has been absent for most of the year. But it is the defense that has ultimately cost the Indians the most. This does not just a couple of players, but the entire team.
Yan Gomes- The poster boy for the Tribe’s bad defense. He has 9 errors already and leads the league with 4 PB (past balls). Last year for the entire year he had 3 errors and 4 PB. Yan you’re not going to get the last 2 years of that contract you just signed if you continue to play like that.
Michael Bourn – Who in the hell voted this guy a gold glove centerfielder in the national league? I have yet to see a gold glove defender, including last year. This year I wouldn’t put him in the top half of American League centerfielders. He only has one error but the number of bad routes I have seen, along with missed diving/sliding catches, and running into the other outfielders tells me he is not a premier defender.
Asdrubal Cabrera – has 5 errors and has not looked that great in the field. He had better start hitting because the Tribe has Fransico Lindor in Akron who is considered a gold glove defender, and I am sure he can hit .215 if not better.
Nick Swisher – 4 Errors and he could have been charged with more. I have watched a few games where Swisher has not given much effort on coming off the bag at first. I really expect more from Swisher.
The Tribe has plenty of time to turn the season around and get on the plus side of the win/loss column. They need the bats to come around but they really need the defense to step up.
Ok this is a Tribe blog but the NFL draft is tonight so a couple of things. One -Johnny Manziel reminds me of Doug Flutie. Flutie’s chance in the NFL came late in his career because everyone thought he was to short. Flutie was a great QB and I loved watching him. Manziel may be fun to watch also, but it is his off the field activities that tell me not to draft him. There was risk with Flutie and his size, but there was no risk with how Flutie carried himself off the field. The Browns are could be kicking themselves if they don’t draft Manziel and he turns out to be great. I just wouldn’t take the chance and would stick with the safer choice. Watkins, Mack, Robinson, and especially Clowney if they could get him.
Second – I really hope my Buccaneers or the Browns draft my man from Kent State, Dri Archer. The guy may not make it in the NFL if he isn’t durable enough, but man is he fun to watch. Who knows it could be Manziel to Archer soon.
For the first time in awhile I saw the top of my Cleveland Indians yard gnome. He has been buried in snow and sitting in sub zero weather for the last few months. I had to smile. I guess that is a sign spring is near. A sure sign is the Cleveland Indians 1st spring training game. You can’t take a lot out of the first spring game, but it is stimulating to see warm weather and baseball. It means the boys of summer are close to returning to Cleveland and warm weather can’t be far behind.
I haven’t posted since those heartbreaking loses last September to the Tigers. The Tribe had an incredible last 2 weeks to make the post season and grab the north coast’s attention. Then the Tribe entered the off season and the only real headlines were who had left the team. Still hopes are high for another run to the postseason.
THE STATE OF THE RESERVATION:
As I already mentioned very little seemed to be done in the off season other than let two starting pitchers go and the 8th inning set up guy (Kazmir, Ubaldo, & Smith); releasing our closer (Perez); and trading our starting right fielder (Stubbs). All to be replaced with players most fans would hardly know. Yea last year had a little more excitement due to the free agent signings of Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourne. But in all honesty it was the ho-hum signings/trades from last year that made the biggest contributions (Yan Gomes, Ryan Rayburn, Scott Kazmir, and Mike Aviles). With both the Browns and the Cavs imploding from the front offices out, I would liked to have seen the Indians be more active this winter. It was a great chance to excite and solidify the fan base. A major signing was not in the plans this year, but I still think some of the minor signing could end up being significant.
Last year I said that Scott Kazmir was my pick for the Cy Young award. He ended up with highest ERA of all the starters but it was a respectable 4.04. Ubaldo Jimenez was the player who pitched like a Cy Young award winner the second half of the season. Ubaldo compiled a 6 – 5 record in the second half of the season with a 1.82 ERA. Max Scherzer who won the Cy Young last year had an 8 – 2 record with a 2.44 ERA in that same time frame. Ubaldo only walked 25 in those 13 second half starts while striking out 100. The stats show that he began to control his pitches and thus be in charge of the game. No matter how well he pitched I never felt comfortable. I was so relieved to know that Danny Salazar (a ROOKIE) was pitching the playoff game other than Ubaldo who had been pitching like a Cy Young candidate. The Tribe reportedly never talked to Jimenez about resigning, which I believe speaks loudly about what the Indians think of Ubaldo. Jimenez is now in Baltimore. He may have figured out his problems last year and continue to pitch like a #1 starter. My guess is there is going to be a lot more cursing every 5th day in the Chesapeake Bay area, and my finger nails are going to look a lot better. Kazmir is the one player I thought the Tribe should have been more aggressive about signing. They did not put a qualifying offer in of 14.1 million, so they did not get a draft pick for losing Kazmir. He ultimately signed with Oakland for two years at 22 million. He may have accepted the Tribe’s offer but I think for a one year deal it was a price the Tribe could have lived with. Kazmir was the one lefty in the rotation, and the options to replace him are all right handed. The Indians are going into the 2014 season with a completely right handed starting rotation. Not as deadly as their past all right handed batting lineup, but not the ideal situation. Overall I believe the starting pitching will be fine. Masterson has grown and proven to be a top of the rotation pitcher. Remember when some wanted to put Masterson in the bullpen? Kluber and McAllister had great seasons and they came up through the minors projected as middle of the rotation talent. Kluber especially has shown throughout the minors to be able to get strikeouts when needed. Danny Salazar looked dominate during the last couple of months of the season. I can’t remember ever seeing a pitcher look that good just coming up from the minors. Sabathia struggled his first year and Jaret Wright helped get the Indians into the World Series, but he certainly didn’t pitch like Salazar. (Anyone else think of an Indians pitcher who looked as impressive as Salazar to start their career) The fifth spot in the rotation is undecided at the start of spring training. Candidates are Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Shawn Marcum, Aaron Harang, and Josh Tomlin. My thoughts are Carrasco fills the spot as he is out of options and cannot be returned to the minors. If he doesn’t fill the spot then one of the other candidates who pitches the best will. Carrasco seemed like a different pitcher when he returned last year and pitched out of the bullpen. Hopefully he can settle in, settle down, and become the dominate pitcher the Indians have been talking about. If not then I believe Josh Tomlin may get the next try or Marcum if he is healthy. Tomlin is smartest pitcher on the staff and does the most with the least “stuff”. Tomlin is pitcher that Francona and other managers love. He will be on the team as a starter or out of the bullpen. Marcum is coming off an injury, but he has proven in the past to be a very good pitcher. Again if healthy I expect him to contribute to the Indians staff this year. Rarely do five pitchers start a season and the same five end the season. The Indians have starting depth and I am sure that it will be utilized this year.
The biggest move was releasing Chris Perez. Good bye. It was fun while it lasted, but the last few months were terrifying. September 26th and the Tribe was leading Minnesota 6 – 1 in the 9th inning, enter Perez. The guy next to me says he can’t watch Perez anymore and goes to the bathroom until he is done pitching. 15 minutes later the inning is still going but the score is 6 – 5 Tribe as Perez is relieved of his duties. The gentlemen returns and I too could never watch Chris Perez pitch again for the Tribe. Luckily he will never get another opportunity. John Axeford should be able to handle the job. The Cardinals do a good job of identifying talent and he pitched well for them last year. Hopefully Axeford shouldn’t make me want to join other fans in the bathroom when he pitches. Other than losing Joe Smith, whose sidearm action brought a different look for hitters, the bullpen should be good. Smith has quietly been very reliable for the Indians in the 7th and 8th innings. Cody Allen should slide into that spot and hopefully Vinny Pestano can return to form this year to fill 7th inning. The Tribe brought in a few different options at the end of last year who performed well, in Marc Rzepczynski (took me only 2 tries to spell that right) and C.C. Lee. Rzepczynski should continue to stabilize the pen along with Bryan Shaw and either Carrasco or Tomlin. The final spot will be won in spring training by Josh Outman, Nick Hagadone, Scott Atchison, or C.C. Lee in that order.Overall most people are worried about the Indians pitching staff. I think they are fine in this area. I feel much better about the starting pitching than I did last year at this time, and they have options. The bullpen should not be horrible and there are alternatives in the minors.
The consensus is that if the Indians starting pitching is good the Tribe will be good. Yes you’re only as good as your starting pitching. I previously discussed my confidence in the Indians pitching staff. It is the offense that worries me and I have the most concern. Last year the Indians were 5th in MLB in runs scored. That came from a team that had off years from a number of players. Asdrubal Cabrera suffered through his worst year offensively, while the big free agent signings of Bourn and Swisher did not meet their past production. The Tribe received little production consistently from 3rd base or from the DH Jason Giambi. Brantley and Kipnis did have a productive year, but nothing they can’t repeat. The real surprises on offense came from the part time players, Yan Gomes, and Ryan Raburn. So why am I so concerned about the offense? I felt that the Indians offense could be sporadic at times last year. I am not sure they will get much increase on offense from any position (other than Asdrubal), and they might see a drop off from some of the players who had a great season last year. Finally I don’t think they addressed over the winter one of their major weaknesses, not having a true power hitter.
Here are the positions I am not worried about:
Left field: Michael Brantley is called Dr. Smooth. He will probably never be a superstar, but there is little that he doesn’t do well. I wouldn’t be shocked if he improved any part of his game this year. I would be surprised if his game regressed much. Maybe he doesn’t hit 10 HR’s this year, but I don’t see why he doesn’t hit .280 with 70 RBI’s, and 15 stolen bases. Francona bats Brantley in any spot in the order, and Brantley is capable of handling it. Brantley just goes out and does his job and he does it effectively.
Second Base: Not to toot my own horn, but I have been telling you that Jason Kipnis was coming and y’all was going to like him. He led the team in RBI’s, runs, and stolen bases. He was second in batting average, doubles, and third on the team with 17 HR’s. His style of play makes him a fan favorite and I see him becoming the face of the franchise. Could he regress from his All-Star year? Yea, but Kipnis hasn’t done anything but produce at every level. I don’t see much changing except for Kipnis becoming better well known.
Expecting Good Things But Not Betting The House On It:
Catcher: Yan Gomes had a break out year last season. He led the team in batting average and posted decent numbers in only 300 AB’s. I assume he will get more AB’s this year so he should be able to match last year’s numbers if not improve upon them. If Gomes can bat .290 this year again great, I am just expecting a little regression this year. His defense is the aspect of his game that stands out and I don’t see any drop off. Although I am not sure if he can throw out 20 of 29 base stealers again. Tip to opposing base runners, Don’t run on Yan!
Shortstop: It is a contract year for Asdrubal Cabrera. I see him having a good if not great year. Asdrubal has wanted to be in those pressure situations, and until last year he has succeeded in them. This will probably be Cabrera’s last year in Cleveland. If the Tribe is out of the playoff race he could be gone by the trade deadline. Francisco Lindor is coming and there will be no stopping his progress towards the majors. If you don’t know who Lindor is you haven’t been following my blog (Superstar in waiting). There are some defensive metrics that say Asdrubal is the worst defensive shortstop in the game. He is better than Johnny Peralta, I don’t care what computer you use. I like Asdrubal and hope he has a career year. Then hopefully he signs another contract with the Tribe and slides over to third next year. I will settle for a career year in his final season in Cleveland.
Expecting The Usual:
First Base: I’m putting Nick Swisher at this spot. In reality the Tribe is MLB’s version of a contortionist. Their roster is probably one of the most flexible in baseball. 1st base, right field, 3rd base, and DH can be manned by numerous players on the roster, and this isn’t your David Dellucci/Jason Michael platoon. THANK GOD, I still shiver thinking about it. Swisher will be the DH, and in right field, but I see him playing mostly at first base. Swisher did not have a bad year in 2013, but he didn’t have a great year either. I see more of the same for Swisher in 2014. He is 33 and not surrounded by hall of famers as he was in New York, so I don’t see much improvement. He did turn it on the last month, and shined during the stretch for the playoffs (7 HR’s in September).
Centerfield: Michael Bourn had his worst season as a professional in 2013. Not that it was horrible, but he did not put up the numbers he had in years past. His average, steals, and runs were career lows except for his rookie season in Houston. Why am I not expecting more from Bourn? Bourn came from the Atlanta Braves and was advertised as a speedster on the base paths and the best centerfielder in the game. His 23 stolen bases were nearly half his career low while his 12 caught stealing was his career norm. No big deal maybe he moved to a team where they don’t push the stolen base as much, or he is adjusting to the American League. What really concerns me is when I watched Michael Bourn last year I did not see the best defensive centerfielder in the game. Not even close. Bourn lives on his speed, and when that goes so goes Michael. Bourn slowed on the base paths and he not did dazzle in the field. I wonder if he lost a step last year. He also had surgery on his left hamstring this winter. Just a feeling and I hope I am wrong, but I think Bourn may have already played his best baseball.
3rd Base: Lonnie Chisenhall is like the Cleveland Browns. Ok that is a little rough, but I keep expecting better results and I keep getting subpar performances (with the Browns it is plan lousy performances). So I have given up on the Browns and until they actually win consistently I will expect them to lose (consistently). The same goes for Lonnie. Until he proves otherwise I am expecting a subpar performance. I believe he is capable of putting up more than a .225 average as he did last year. He has not played a full season in the majors and yet he put up 11 HR’s in only 289 AB’s last year. If he could match his career minor league batting average of .282 we might be on to something. The problem is he struggles mightily against lefties. Thus he needs to be in a platoon. Enter Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles. I don’t think there is any way in hell Santana takes over 3rd base. I have seen him behind the plate where umpires hate him. He doesn’t move his body and block balls, so the umpire takes the hit. I swear I could see steam come out of umpire’s helmets last year as they stared down Santana after getting hit. I saw him enough at first that I loved Casey Kotchman and his .229 average. He can man each position but by no means is he skillful at it. I assume he could play third but ultimately it wouldn’t be pretty. Just wait for that first bunt attempt and he throws the ball into the stands. I imagine Santana is going to man third against lefties due to Chisenhall’s ineffectiveness against them. I will give Santana credit that I have not heard one complaint from him and he has tried to do whatever is asked of him (catch, 1st, 3rd, or DH)
Right field: Ryan Raburn had a career year in only 243 AB’s. He hit 16 HR’s with 55 RBI’s in what amounts to a half year of at bats. I assume he will come back to his norm this year which should be around 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s in 250 AB’s. He will platoon with David Murphy. Murphy replaces Drew Stubbs so we should see a better average, and maybe a few more HR’s. What worries me is Murphy is coming from Texas which is a hitter’s park. This team is in desperate need of a power hitter and Murphy needs to hit more than a dozen HR’s. Stubbs could hit a dozen and was the best base runner I have seen in an Indians uniform. Murphy and Raburn need to combine for 30 plus HR’s and 100 plus RBI’s. I am just not sure if they do that this year. I like the signing of Jeff Francour. I see him somehow making this team and being a big part of it, possibly as the DH.
DH: It has taken me 2 weeks to finish this blog. (That is because they are so damn LONG Randall) When I started, my thoughts were Giambi would make the team but probably start on the DL as he did last year. Well it was reported a couple of days ago that Giambi had a cracked rib and would start the year on the DL. A cracked rib sounds serious to me for a player who solely relies on power. As I mentioned this team is in desperate need of a power hitter. I see Francona using a lot of his interchangeable parts to fill the DH role as he did last year. I believe Santana may end up getting a good portion of these at bats. Santana may produce at last year’s level, but that is putting a lot of pressure on Gomes to improve upon last years numbers. Otherwise that is a decrease at the catchers position. Definitely the DH spot is wide open and may have to be filled at the trade deadline if the Tribe is in contention.
Overall I see Left field, 2nd base, and Shortstop matching last year or improving. 2/3 of last year’s super sub bench of Gomes and Raburn will be playing more of a full time roll thus weakening the bench. I don’t see much improvement from the other positions, maybe even a slight decline. The team also needs a true power hitter and possibly has an open spot in the lineup they could fill. The Indians don’t have players in the minors who are ready at the start of the season to help the offense. They do have a group of players in AA and AAA, but they are 1 to 2 years away. The positive is that Francona is leading this team and seems to know exactly how to put his team in a position to succeed. If anyone can do it Francona can.
Here is my 25 man opening day roster predicitions:
C: Santana and Gomes
Infielders: Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Aviles, and Elliot Johnson/ Justin Sellers
Outfielders: Bourn, Brantley, Raburn, Murphy, and Francour
Starting Pitchers: Masterson, Kluber, Salazar, McAllister, and Carrasco
Relief: Axford, Allen, Shaw, Rzepczynski, Pestano, Tomlin, and Outman
If you read all 3000 plus words, wow! I will try and cut back on future post. I really enjoy reading comments, and hearing how others enjoy reading my post. Thanks and pass along the blog to others.
It is the Dog Days of Summer, at least that is what they say. It feels more like October. The Tribe is on their very difficult West Coast road trip, and have upcoming games against Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels. 12 of their next 18 games comes against first place teams (Atlanta & Detroit) or teams ahead of them in the wild card standings (Oakland & Baltimore). So the weather outside may not be so hot, but for a team trying to make a playoff push things should be pretty warm.
Here is a look back at the week:
Asdrubal Cabrera gets thrown out of a game. Usually that is not a good thing. Last Sunday the Tribe was riding a 7 game losing streak and they were about to get swept for the second consecutive series in a row at home. Down 5 – 0 in the sixth inning with two outs, the Tribe bats came alive. One of those bats was from Cabrera’s replacement Mike Aviles. Nick Swisher and Aviles both hit two run homers. Cabrera, who has looked awful lately at the plate and in the field, did the Tribe a favor by getting sent to the showers early. By one out in seventh the Indians had the lead and stopped their losing streak.
Yan Gomes continues to push for more playing time. Francona has been working Gomes into the lineup more often. Gomes has responded by not only hitting the cover off the ball (.429 average for the week), but he is also great defensively behind the plate. Gomes has thrown out nearly 50% of would be base stealers.
Thanks for Nothing:
I mentioned last week the Indians only needed to make up one game a week to catch the Tigers. They made up a 1/2 game this week to sit at 6 1/2 games back. Not bad. Unfortunately the Indians only went 3 & 3 this week, the big bad Tigers went 3 & 4. The Tigers leave Cleveland and have a losing week, but the Tribe can only catch up 1/2 game in the standings. Indians must take advantage of their chances if they want to make the playoffs.
Other than Gomes .429, Kipnis .273, Aviles .250, and Brantley .250, the offense was putrid this week. None of the other nine position players batted over .200. That happens when one of the games you play a rookie pitcher (Andrew Albers) making his second start ever throws a 2 hitter with no walks. Uh doesn’t this happen always when Cleveland faces a pitcher for the first time. Even the great 90’s teams had trouble with rookie pitchers. Note to self – Next time Tribe faces pitcher for the first time bet HEAVILY on the other team. That should put an end to that curse.
Mark Reynolds has been released and replaced by Asdrubal Cabrera
Cabrera has been especially weak at the plate for the last month (batting only .175). Asdrubal has not looked good at the plate. He is consistently down in the count and swings at everything. Hence his 3 walks and 20 strikeouts over the last 30 days. Chisenhall has been just as bad as Asdrubal over the last month batting .176 with 1 RBI. Michael Bourn who has had a decent year only batted .212 in the last 30 days. If Bourn doesn’t change his pace his decent year will turn out to an average year. The Indians can ill afford to have numerous players batting under .200 for any length of time. Especially when two of those players are batting lead off and cleanup.
So here we are at the All-Star break 1 1/2 games out of first and 7 games above .500. I really don’t believe this team is going to collapse like years past. The Tribe is not perfect. They have their faults, but this team has a drive/desire to win. The schedule is going to play into their favor and I think a few of the position players can increase their output. Overall they seem to be a close knit team that is having fun. Winning is usually a good recipe for fun, and the Indians have been winning.
It is the so called half way point of the season, and I thought I should evaluate the players so far. I was listening to the radio the other day and the host compared a player to Keystone Light beer. He said he was cheap, but not very good. I got a chuckle out of that and decided I should rate the entire 25 man roster like that. Pull up a case of your favorite and lets get going.
#27 & 26 Genesee Bock – Nick Hagadone & Rich Hill
I remember in college buying a six pack of Genesee Bock beer with my buddy Emery. I can’t think of any reason why we bought it other than we thought the can looked funny. Who in the hell puts Goats and Flowers on a beer can? If the beer was any good they wouldn’t be putting it in a can! I remember that I didn’t like it and I never drank it again. The same can be said for Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill. I don’t like the way they have pitched as the lefties out of the bullpen, and I don’t care to see them pitch anymore like that. O.K. Hagadone is not technically on the roster at the moment, but he has been for the majority of the season. He has pitched so poorly that he is player who gets sent to the minors repeatedly when they need a roster spot to bring someone up. Lefty relief help is the one glaring weakness on this team. Francona has consistently shown faith in both of them, so Hagadone and Hill need to step up.
#25 Old Milwaukee – Ubaldo Jimenez
In high school most of my friends drank Old Milwaukee. When I went to college the same was true. I was not a fan, but when your buying cases of beer and sharing you go along with the majority. I really thought this beer tasted like crap, but it was beer so I kept drinking it.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a pitcher and they keep pitching him. He is not a great pitcher, but he serves a purpose just like Old Milwaukee. To be fair Ubaldo has not been horrible. He actually seems to be pretty good at times. Unfortunately every game by the fifth inning he is approaching 100 pitches or is past it already. The bullpen has had it troubles this year. Ubaldo can take part of the blame, because every time he pitches the bullpen never gets any rest. If this team is going to challenge for the entire year the bullpen needs to improve. The starters going deeper into games will help the bullpen. Ubaldo can not just go out and pitch, he also needs to be good and go deep into games. Who names something “Old” anyway?
#24 Busch – Vinnie Pestano
My friends drank Old Milwaukee, I liked Busch. It was cheep but I liked it. What more can I say. It can’t be that bad, the St. Louis Cardinals stadium is named Busch Stadium. Milwaukee is not named Old Milwaukee Stadium.
Vinnie Pestano is my Busch beer. How can you not like him. He runs from the bullpen to the mound at a full sprint whenever called on to pitch. He accepts blame when he pitches bad and does not shy away from the media. He answers questions honestly and has been dominate the last couple years. Unfortunately this year he stinks. I am not sure if he is healthy, but whenever he comes in get ready for a home run. I like Pestano and I want him to be good, but the truth is right now he is not a top reliever.
#23 King Cobra – Mark Reynolds
Their slogan is “Don’t let the smooth taste fool you.” Same can be said for Mark Reynolds. Don’t let his awesome home run power fool you. Yea he can mess another team up sometimes, but he can also hit under .200 for two months straight. Better yet he has hit .091 for the month of July. Yikes! Don’t let the 15 homes runs fool you. Four home runs since May 10, He was unstoppable in April/May, but now he looks like he drank some King Cobra. The one position player that I am truly worried about.
Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer that won a blue ribbon at the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893! You won an award in 1893 and your still bragging about it. I go to find out that there is doubt whether they even won an award at this event. If the last time you won was in 1893 then you had better try something else.
Giambi was great at one time and it wasn’t 124 years ago. He is not the same player he once was. That being said I still think he brings a lot to this team. He has about 1/2 the HR’s and RBI’s of Mark Reynolds in 1/3 of the at bats. He produces when runners are in scoring potion and I think he brings a great veteran presence to the team. His hustle and face slide into first earlier this year motivated this team. They went on a nice winning streak after this event. The problem is you can’t have Giambi and Reynolds both hitting .200 and getting everyday at bats. They need to start producing or the Tribe needs to move on to something else.
#21 Coors Banquet Beer – Nick Swisher
I am not really sure what Banquet beer means. It is cheap and you can supply a banquet if you need to? I just remember as a kid that when anyone went past the Mississippi river the neighbors would give them money to bring back Coors beer. Just because it wasn’t sold here it was special if you got it. Big time free agents don’t generally come to Cleveland. So when one does it seems special. Unfortunately Swisher is not preforming up to his capabilities. He may just be average and not the masher he was when surrounded by superior talent in New York. While not a failure he should be capable of more than he has showed so far.
#20 Miller High Life – Lonnie Chisenhall
Miller High Life calls itself the champagne of beers. Uh O.K.? It still stinks and I can’t stand that crap. Any half ass brewer knows you don’t put beer in clear bottles.
Chisenhall has one of the prettiest swings in baseball. His swing is the champagne of swings. To bad his production is more like High Life’s taste. Alright his production isn’t nearly that bad, but it could better.
#19 – 16 Budweiser – Matt Albers, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, & Joe Smith
I drink Budweiser all of the time. It is not my favorite but I can always count on it. It taste the same and I am rarely surprised. Same goes for the majority of the Tribe relievers. They have pitched pretty well so far. The few mistakes they have made seemed to be at the most inopportune times, or the defense has let them down. I am not to worried about them, but like Budweiser we don’t need to use them every day.
#15 Carling’s Black Label – Scott Kazmir
There was a time when Carling’s Black Label was one of the most popular beers. Just watch the movie Animal House. A reference is made to this fact in the bar scene. I still will have one when I find it.
A few years ago Kazmir was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has not been dominate with the Tribe, but you have to be encouraged with the way he has pitched this year. After all he was out of baseball for a couple of years. I like Black Label and I like Kazmir. I think he only gets better as the season goes on.
#14 Red Stripe – Chris Perez
Jamaica’s Red Stripe has to be Brody Baum’s beer of choice. That would be Chris Perez’s dog who gets packages of marijuana sent to their house. Perez has had a couple of bad games, but overall he has been o.k. He did spend a few weeks on the D.L. but seems to be over that. The Tribe needs him to be solid with the rest of the bullpen having some problems. If Perez can’t keep it together this team may be in trouble.
#13 Sam Adams Cherry Wheat – Drew Stubbs
S.A. Cherry Wheat is one of my favorite beers. We carried it at the bar I worked at, but I was the only one who drank it. The distributor kept dropping it because no other bars would buy it. Drew Stubbs is player I really like. Others don’t enjoy his contributions as much as I do. Stubbs doesn’t have the highest batting average and he does strike out often. I just enjoy the other aspects of his game. He is the fastest player on the team, and his speed changes the game. He is a very good outfielder with a pretty good arm, and when he gets on base watch out. He causes the other team to panic sometimes which leads to big innings. He also has some power to hit a home run. Maybe one day more people will join me in enjoying a Cherry Wheat and watching Drew Stubbs.
#12 Yuengling – Asdrubal Cabrera
Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery. Asdrubal has been a member of the Tribe longer than any other member of the team. Their are a lot of rumors that the Tribe may trade Cabrera. Fransico Lindor is now at double A Akron and could be in Cleveland by late next year. Lindor looks to be a star. Cabrera has had some difficulties especially in the beginning of the year, but he is definitely one of the players I see stepping it up. I do give Cabrera credit that I have not heard any complaining from him with all of the rumors. I think Cabrera thrives in pressure situations and I can see him becoming a force down the stretch in a close pennant race.
#11 – #9 Fosters – Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, & Mike Aviles
Fosters comes in the big oil cans and you get a lot of beer. Same could be said for Gomes, Raburn, and Aviles. The Tribe has found three players who give them a lot off of the bench. Aviles filled in for Cabrera when he was out for a month. He can play multiple positions and has some pop in his bat. The same can be said for Raburn who can man the corner outfield positions. Either one can play everyday if needed. Gomes might not be an everyday player, but he is much better than past back up catchers.
#8 Michelob – Carlos Santana
Michelob comes in those fancy bottles that look all high class. In reality I think it’s just Budweiser in a fancy bottle. I expect a lot more out of it. Carlos Santana is pretty good and critical to this teams offense. I just expect more from him, and his defense can be atrocious sometimes. I am waiting for him to hit .300 and be a home run threat every time he steps to the plate. Teams do pitch around him but I am looking for that MVP type player to show up. Santana is probably just what we see, a really good offense player but not elite.
#7 Blatz – Zach McAllister
I loved Blatz beer. I could drop those little oblong bottles and they would just bounce. But whenever I drank it I was worried about what was going to come out the next day. McAllister was one of the Tribe’s best pitchers before going on the DL with a finger injury. He had a better ERA than Masterson. He has done a spectacular job so far. I am worried about what going to happen tomorrow with McAllister. If he can come back and continue pitching like before that will be a big boost to this team. Hopefully he bounces back from his injury. If he does lets pray he is not a flash in the pan and the league doesn’t start figuring him out.
#6 Milwaukee’s Best – Michael Bourne
Michael Bourne came relatively cheap to the Tribe. He is doing what he does best and that is use his speed. He plays a very good center field and when he gets on base he is a threat to score from first. He might not be the best player on the field, but he is just what the Indians needed.
#5 Bud Light – Cory Kluber
This is one player I was not expecting much out of this year. Kluber has turned into one of this seasons more pleasant surprises. If not for Kluber and McAllister becoming good starting pitcher, this season could have been disappointing. I wasn’t buying Kluber this year, but since he is here I will keep drinking it.
Labatts is my beer of choice. On a day in day out basis I choose Labbatts over any other beer. It is not expensive. I like the taste and I can find it in most stores as long as I don’t cross the Mason -Dixon line. It is everything I want. Michael Brantley is my Labattt. He plays a great left field along with being able to play the other outfield positions. Zero errors so far and he is amoung the league leaders in outfield assist. When the Indians need a hit Brantley is the man. He is batting .370 with runners in scoring position. That is 4th in the American League trailing Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. The two AL MVP candidates this year. I had a bad experience once with Bradley. If I could just get past that he could be one of my favorite players. I have had a few bad experiences with Labatts and that hasn’t stopped our relationship. So no more hard feelings Michael.
#3 Guinness – Justin Masterson
Justin Masterson is not your everyday ball player. He seems like a player you might actually be friends with in life. He is funny and joking around all of time. Last year he got money together from the players to fly Jack Hannahan home on a private plane to be there for the birth of his child. I think he keeps the team loose while also being a leader. Not to mention he is having an All-Star season.
Fat Tire still has not made it to Ohio. It is the one craft beer I truly enjoy. When I get some I hoard it and drink it only on special occasions. It is in my opinion a great beer. I have been telling you for a couple years now about Jason Kipnis. Like Fat Tire the entire nation has not got to enjoy his play. I think he is an incredible ball player. He doesn’t lead the league in any categories but he does everything. He leads the Tribe in average, hits, triples, home runs, and stolen bases. He is only one behind Santana for team lead in doubles. This guy is a tough player and should become the face of the franchise. His teams have won championships wherever he went, I hope that holds true in Cleveland.
#1 Tequilla – Terry Francona
Francona has been the biggest factor in the success of the Cleveland Indians this year. I don’t think the Tribe would be where they are at today without Francona. The team believes they can win, and they play as a team. They never look ahead playing one game at a time. Eric Wedge use to preach about taking it one game at a time, but he never seemed to connect his message with the players like Francona has. Francona has won two world series in Boston so he has a reputation. Players respect him and they want to play for him. I am not sure if the Indians would have signed all of the free agents they did this past winter if not for Terry Francona. He definitely brought a different way of thinking to the Indians and that alone has been the biggest positive so far this season.
Yes spring is finally here. Today is opening day and the Tribe will be playing tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays. Mark your calendar, 162 games to go plus some hopefully. It is time to start having some fun!
This has been one of the busiest off seasons ever for the Tribe. No move was more important than the hiring of Terry Francona. Francona immediately brought a fresh voice to the organization and a new vigor. Francona would probably disagree with me, but this move alone could result in a .500 season. Manny Acta had this team in first place, or within a few games at the All-Star break two years in a row. If Acta could accomplish that, I don’t see why Francona couldn’t improve upon that final record a little. Yea Francona had a complete collapse his last year in Boston, but that was Boston. Everyone jumped ship that season. The GM left and took the Chicago Cubs job. Yeah the Cubs who make the Indians look good when it comes to winning. They haven’t won a world series since 1908. It has been so long that I think they should change their name back to the Chicago Orphans. The Boston media was all over the team, especially about chicken and beer. Chicken, Beer, and Pills Francona had to deal with some of the game’s biggest egos and prima donnas in Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and the failed Carl Crawford signing. He dealt with Manny Ramirez the years prior to his final season in Boston. So Cleveland should seem like a paid vacation to Francona. I appreciate that Francona wanted to come here. The comercials on the radio he states how he grew up a Cleveland fan. Acta choose to come here too over Houston, but here is where the difference lies. Francona actually has the ability to get free agents to want to come here too. I am not sure if any of the free agents other than Reynolds and Myers signs here if Acta is still coaching. After hiring Francona, the Tribe proceeded to spend 117 million dollars in free agency on 1B/DH Mark Reynolds, SP Brett Myers, OF/1B Nick Swisher, and CF Michael Bourn. The last time the Indians were relevant Trot Nixon was running around the dugout smashing shaving cream pies into everyone’s face after a win. I get the same feeling again this year. Francona and Swisher have made the Tribe clubhouse fun. The team has already put together a Harlem Shake video and Siri spoof.
This is a complete makeover of the positional players from last year’s team. DH Travis Hafner is in New York
and will probably be splitting time with Ben Francisco who the Tribe released during spring training. Now stop for a minute and think about that. The Tribe signs Nick Swisher from New York and the Yankees take Travis “I might play 100 games DH’ing” Hafner who has to share the DH role with Ben Francisco who was not going to make this team out of spring training. What in the Wide, Wide, World of Sports is going on here? Starting 3rd baseman Jack Hannahan is the utility infielder for the Cincinnati Reds. I did enjoy watching Casey Kotchman play 1st base, but Oh how painful it was to watch him pound every ball into the ground while batting. I think I can count my hands how many balls he hit out of the infield. Kotchman is now playing for the Miami (everything must go) Marlins, probably one of the worst teams in the league this year. 2012 starting left fielders Austin Kearns (who was released in the middle of last season and did not sign elsewhere) is playing for the Miami Marlins, and Shelley Duncan is playing for Tampa Bay’s AAA team, Aaron Cunningham was with Texas to start spring training but has sense been released, and Johnny Damon is at home dropping everything and stumbling around his mansion. (I am going to miss seeing Damon wonder around the outfield and throwing the ball around between innings. It made me giggle to go the game and watch him in the field. Thank you Johnny for making me laugh like a little school girl.) Our utility infielder this year Mike Aviles was the starting SS for Boston and Toronto last year. So as you can see even if the free agent moves this off season turn out to be horrible the Tribe should be making gains. DH, LF, 1st base, and 3rd base gave us nothing last year offensively and LF was a mess defensively. No matter what there will be improvements from those positions this year.
So offensively this team looks to be improved no matter how the year goes. No more of the entirely left handed lineup that Acta had to trot out last year every game. The Indians brought in right handed bats in Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Mike Aviles, Ryan Rayburn, and switch hitter Nick Swisher. Opposing teams will not have the luxury of bringing in a left handed pitcher this year and let mow down a left handed dominated lineup. The Tribe only hit 37 HR’s right handed last year as a team. Reynolds has averaged 33 over the last five years. The Tribe will be striking out a lot this year. Every free agent starting positional player signed was in the upper ranks for strike outs last year. Swisher was 27th in MLB, Bourn 15th, Reynolds 12th, and Stubbs 10th for strikeouts last year. So get ready for a lot of whiffing. I do like the speed brought to this team. Bourn who will be playing CF and batting leadoff has a career .379 on base percentage which is great. He has 257 steals in the last 5 years which is the most in MLB (Averaging 52 a year). So he can easily turn a walk or single into a double. The Tribe also added Drew Stubbs who has averaged 33 steals the last three years to join current players who are fleet of foot Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley. I am going to guess that with all that speed that the aft mentioned power hitters who happen to strike out rather regularly may see a greater majority of fastballs. The speed and power can complement each other quite nicely. I believe the fans may see an influx of homeruns this year. Swisher has averaged over 25 homeruns the last six years, while Mark Reynolds as mentioned has averaged 33 over his career. Not to mention Stubbs, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall who are all capable of 20 HR’s. Oh and there is this guy named Jason Giambi too. Not sure why he is on the team other than he has hit a few homeruns in his career, let’s just hope he is not Johnny Damon 2.0. I always hated seeing the Twins come to town and Denard Span in centerfield. It seemed that no ball hit to the outfield ever made it to the ground. Span ran everything down. The Tribe now has their own version of Span in center and close replicas in left and right. Bourn was rated as the best defensive center fielder last year by numerous outlets. Stubbs isn’t far behind defensively, and Brantley is no slouch. I anticipate seeing nightly highlights from this group in the outfield and I expect our pitchers will not be disappointed. Don’t walk anyone and keep the ball in the park pitchers!
Pitching is one area of concern. The improved outfield defense should help, but last year Indian pitchers usually shot themselves. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez regularly walked batters (7th and 3rd in the league) and then proceeded to let them steal (1st and 2nd in stolen bases allowed), threw a wild pitch (2nd and 3rd in league) or hit the next batter (1st and 2nd in the league). Amazing! The three remaining 2012 opening day starters were WORSE or got hurt. I am assuming the starting pitching cannot be that horrible again. Masterson and Jimenez have looked much better this spring. At least they are not walking batters and then plunking the next one. Oh yea and Roberto Hernandez aka Fausto Carmona is in Tampa as the 5th starter after posting a 5.33 ERA this spring. I am going to enjoy watching Fausto on the other team laboring through 30 and 40 pitch innings. I believe that Scott Kazmir will have a great season. My dark horse for the Cy Young award. At least that is what I am hoping for. (As I write this I find out Kazmir will possible start on the DL, Oh well 😦 If Kazmir has any kind of decent season and Masterson and Ubaldo are not terrible, the Indians may have a shot at hanging around the playoff chase. They do have some options in AAA in Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco if one of the before mentioned pitchers proceeds to stink or Zach McCallister /Brett Myers falters. The bullpen once again should be the strength of this team. Even if one or two players have off years the Indians have bullpen depth in the minors to cover all but epic fails.
Hopefully the Indians can make the entire year as much fun as spring has been. For the first time in a while people are talking about the Tribe and there is a buzz in the air. This team opens the season against Toronto who is a favorite to win the AL pennant, followed by Tampa Bay, the Yankees, the White Sox, and Boston. Tough opening two weeks so a good start would be comforting and help spur on the enthusiasm built in the off season. The Tribe did make some moves that I believe have to help improve the team. They also have some wild cards. Carlos Santana could bust out and become a superstar. Lonnie Chisenhall could add a big bat to the bottom of the lineup, Asdrubal Cabrera becomes even a better hitter with protection around him, or Kipnis in his second year takes it up another notch. Ultimately the team’s fortunes lie with how well the starting pitching performs. Let’s hope they can have some fun and relax. Maybe McCallister grows in his second year; he has the potential to become a top of the rotation pitcher. Kazmir becomes the dominant pitcher he was when he came up with Tampa, or Bauer comes up and develops into the Ace he was touted as. There is the possibility this year that Swisher and company can entertain us and make this one fun summer. And hopefully a fun fall!
I have been following a web site on SI.com called Extra Mustard. The site deals with sports related topics on the internet that are usually quite funny. In staying with my fun summer theme I will try and add some content to each post during the year. Make sure you check out the videos.
Who knew that Danny Mainus name was so funny?
By the way for those who haven’t heard me and Danielle are expecting another child. Due on October 19 right around the start of the World Series!