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!
Ok first thing first. I’m writing a blog and you haven’t heard from me since opening day. What can I say, the game went 16 innings and we lost. It takes a while to get over a game like that. Really I have been very busy with school, studying for my Praxis 2 test, the boy …………….. I ran out of gas. I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT I SWEAR TO GOD!
OK I’ve been lazy. I don’t plan on blogging once every three months but who knows with me, I might. At least I am not one of those people who send you daily post. You rarely have to read my crap. A big THANKS to those of you who do, and I especially enjoy everyone who responds to my post. I will try and post more but don’t expect much, or you may be let down again. So as Joliet Jake says to Elwood as he drops Carrie Fisher and walks off, “Let’s go!”
Remember those great spaghetti westerns from the 1960’s starring Clint Eastwood, A Fist Full of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Tribe is starting to remind me of them. These movies were filmed on shoe string budgets. They filmed them in inexpensive locales such as Spain, and the actors they used were cheap. The cast consisted of new actors such as Eastwood who had few film roles to his credit before A Fist Full of Dollars. Sometimes the actors they cast into roles were well past their glory days. These movies tried to emulate Hollywood’s big productions on a much smaller budget. I truly enjoyed them, but they could be hard for some to watch. Same can be said for the Tribe. The Indians are hoping some young players who have never gone through a full season will carry them, and they have added some bit players who are at the end of their line to help. The team budget is what it is. Although the Indians have a much smaller payroll than the Yankee’s and even other teams in our division, they are still competing. I enjoy watching this year’s version of the Indians, but sometimes they just look low budget. So let’s review this season’s Cleveland Indians. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.
There is a lot of good that can be said of Tribe, but none more than Jason Kipnis. This guy is a tough ballplayer. I told you before that he was one of my favorites and he is going to take this city over. We are all Kipnises!
Shin-Soo Choo after a slow start came on after being moved to the lead off position. This move was out of necessity at the time, but Choo has taken it and not looked back. On May 14 Choo was batting .236 with one homerun and 13 RBI’s. That is the day Acta moved him to the leadoff spot. Now for the season Choo is hitting .299 with 10 Hrs, and 34 RBI’s. Choo has definitely been good, and the move by Acta GREAT.
Asdrubal Cabrera picked up right where he left off; showing last year was no fluke. Although he turns in that sports center play every once in a while, his defense could be better. Cabrera and Kipnis do make a nice double play combination which is a must with this pitching staff.
The bullpen mafia of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez: The rest of the bullpen has had its ups and downs, but this trio has been pretty much lights out. Pestano is fun to watch as he comes flying out of the bullpen and usually strikes out at least one batter if not more.
Michael Brantley has had a hit in every game since May it seems like. Actually he has had a hit in every game but three since May 20th. He is batting .288 with 44 RBI’s and 10 stolen bases while being moved all over the lineup. Maybe Bradley is not a superstar, but he is definitely an everyday player.
Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez: Both have had their problems this season, but both have looked like #1 starters for more than a few outings in a row. I could probably throw Derek Lowe into this group even though he has not been impressive lately, but he is pitching a lot of innings and doing what was expected. Zach McCallister in his few starts has looked impressive and very consistent. As the starting pitching goes so goes this team.
Lou Marson and Casey Kotchman are two of my favorites. Marson after a horrendous start where he had four hits at the end of May. He is now batting .293. Marson is a great defensive catcher who was said to have a great bat. Maybe he is finally starting to show it. Kotchman takes a lot of heat for his low batting average, but he is hitting .241 with 10 HR’s and 34 RBI’s. His glove at first is insane and a joy to watch. I haven’t seen a first baseman this good defensively in a Tribe uniform before. For all of the praise Hannahan gets at third Kotchman deserves some love also.
Travis Hafner. I like Hafner and always remember how much he was feared in the 2007 season. I am beginning to tire waiting for that player to return. This offense clicks so much better when he is in the lineup even though his numbers are dipping this year. The Tribe really needs Hafner to stay healthy and be in the lineup. They could really use his bat, but even if he doesn’t have the best year he makes others around him better.
Johnny Damon began to hit as June progressed. It certainly took long enough and his overall stats are not pretty. If the Tribe is going to hang on for this playoff run then Damon needs to play like the Damon of old. And another thing: Michael Brantley HATES Johnny Damon. If you go to a game watch Damon play catch with Brantley between innings. Damon throws the ball all over the place and Brantley is running around retrieving balls. It is like I was playing catch with Brantley. In fact when Damon is in the field that is what I envision I would look like playing left field in the majors. Really. He circles and stumbles around trying to catch fly balls hit to him. His throws will bounce numerous times to the cutoff man who is standing in the outfield. I invented a new drinking game. Take a drink for every time the ball bounces when Damon throws it in. Plan on getting drunk. Here is a hilarious example of Damon’s outfield adventures on YouTube that also stars Manny Ramirez.
The back-end of the starting rotation: Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez had a rough first half, Gomez so bad that he was sent to back to triple A. The Tribe doesn’t have the offense to have guys in the rotation with 5 + ERAs. Especially when your top two starters can throw a clunker at any time and your #3 starter is working towards a 5 ERA.
Any time the other team starts a lefty: The Tribe lineup is left handed dominate, and they struggle against left handed pitching. They bat .225 against lefties and .276 against righties. Their record is 35 -25 versus righties and 9 – 16 versus lefties. Other teams are calling up any left handed pitcher they have to face the Indians. Don’t expect to see a right handed pitcher come playoff time.
The bullpen: The backend of the bullpen has had its problems. Dan Wheeler (back to triple A), Jairo Asencio (released), Rafael Perez (DL since April), Tony Sipp, and a few others. The Tribe is looking for some stability from the last guys out of bullpen. Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes have showed promise but are new to the majors. Sipp is a home run waiting to happen anytime he enters the game.
Carlos Santana: Santana continues to walk, but the Indians need so much more from one of their core players. It would be nice to see Carlos get hot in the second half and carry this team. At the very least he needs to live up to his potential for this team to compete for the postseason.
Grady Sizemore: Ugh!
Lonnie Chisenhall: He was starting to look like a major league option and a bat this team could use. Then he gets hit by a pitch and is out for most of the season.
Nick Hagadone: One of the really good bullpen guys the Tribe had in the minors. Hagadone comes up and looks great. He has a bad spell for a couple weeks, nothing most rookies don’t face. It gets ugly when he decides to punch a wall with his pitching hand. Season over. Rule number one for pitchers don’t walk anyone. Rule number two don’t punch anything with your pitching hand.
Left field: I already mentioned Damon but anytime a lefty pitches and someone replaces him it is not pretty. Aaron Cunningham and The White Zombie (Shelley Duncan) make me cringe whenever they are in the lineup. The Tribe’s splits versus left handed pitchers and their troubles with no right handed bat/left fielder have to be their biggest problem.
The Tribe has been in first or within a couple games most of the first half of the season, so they are making the summer fun. Let’s hope Santana, Damon and Hafner kick it up a notch, the starting pitching doesn’t crumble, and the rest of the gang continue producing. No matter what happens I will still be watching. The Tribe is Joliet Jake and I’m Carrie Fisher when it comes to baseball. It doesn’t take much for me to fall back into their arms. Enjoy the ride and I will talk to you again hopefully before the snow flies. But don’t count on it.