Tag Archives: Asdrubal Cabrera

Cleveland Indians Thanksgiving

 

First off, I want to wish all of you readers out there a Happy Thanksgiving!

For the first time in several years, Cleveland sports fans can actually be thankful for their teams. That got us thinking at MTAF: Cleveland — What would different members of the professional organizations be thankful for as they sat around the table sharing Thanksgiving dinner?

As a fan of the Cleveland Indians, I attempted to delve into the mindsets of several different members of the organization, trying to ascertain what they would be giving thanks for.

Chris Antonetti & Mark Shapiro

My first thought with regard to what Chris and Mark would be thankful for would be getting Terry Francona to come on board and coach the Tribe. But then I sat back and looked at the larger picture. If I was Chris or Mark, I would be thankful for how well the trades they’ve made over the past ten years have worked out. Just look at how a handful of the following trades worked out (in terms of production) for the Indians:

Year CLE Sends CLE Receives
2002 Ryan Drese & Einar Diaz Travis Hafner
2008 Casey Blake Carlos Santana
2009 Victor Martinez Justin Masterson & Nick Hagadone
2006 Ben Broussard Shin-Soo Choo
2006 Eduardo Perez Asdrubal Cabrera
2002 Bartolo Colon Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips & Cliff Lee

And those are just a few of the trades that have been made. Think about this: In a three team deal involving the Cardinals and the Padres, we gave up veteran pitcher Jake Westbrook and received 2014 AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber. Had Matt LaPorta worked out better, the Sabathia deal (which included 2014 MVP finalist and Silver Slugger award winner Michael Brantley) would have been seen as more genius than the Colon deal.

As Mark and Chris pass the gravy boat, they’re going to be giving thanks that so many of their trades worked out so well.

Terry Francona

As Terry Francona rides his scooter to the store to pick up cranberry sauce, I imagine he too will think about what he’s thankful for. I would venture a guess that he’s thankful for several things:

1. His health

2. Mickey Callaway

Tito has probably never worried about his health (see: Urban Meyer). I’m not old by any stretch (I’m 23). I’ve found out that older men are thankful for their health, regardless of how healthy they actually are. Next, Tito should be counting his lucky starts that he has Mickey Callaway sitting on his bench coaching up his pitchers. Think about 2013. Mickey Callaway turned around a struggling Ubaldo Jimenez into quite possibly the best pitcher of the second half in the American League. I feel that if Tito had started Ubaldo in the place of rookie Danny Salazar, the Indians may have gone on to be World Series champions. Then we look back at 2014 and (channeling my innermost LeBron here) not one, not two, but THREE examples of what Mickey Callaway can do. First, Corey Kluber. Mickey has said that he really didn’t have to do much with Klubes this past season. As much as I’d like to believe that, there’s a reason he’s the pitching coach. Mickey worked with Corey to develop his secondary pitches and propel him into the upper echelons of pitching talent in the MLB. Next, there is Trevor Bauer. Bauer’s problem in 2013 was consistency and immaturity. Unfortunately for Trevor, he is young and often impatient. He need time to develop under more mature, accomplished pitchers. He got that with Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber. This year, while he had his troubles, Bauer was much more consistent and flashed some of the greatness that made the front office go out and get him. Finally, we have Carlos Carrasco. Known affectionately as “Cookie” among die-hard Tribe fans, Cookie experienced many of the same issues that Bauer faced — inconsistency and maturity. Remember his ejection and subsequent suspension in 2011 against Kansas City? How about his ejection for plunking Kevin Youkilis in 2013? That wasn’t a wild arm. Tito and Mickey worked with Carrasco and put him in the bullpen in 2014 and boy, did he deliver. Carrasco was electric out of the pen and proved to be the long-reliever we needed, especially when one of our starters couldn’t make it out of the 4th or 5th inning. How many times can you remember Carrasco putting in three to four quality innings, saving our bullpen arms for the home stretch?

Finally, The Indians are thankful for YOU, the fans.

When you go to a game or buy a jersey, you help finance the continued journey toward that elusive World Series title. When you get on Twitter or Facebook and talk about the Indians, you help them make a branding impact on new fans or fans who just don’t know it yet. When you write odes to Tom Hamilton or romanticize what the Tribe means to you on a t-shirt, you help the Indians build an regional identity. In a city like Cleveland, our professional sports teams need their fans as much as we need our teams. In some ways, we define one another. The Indians wouldn’t have much meaning without us and we wouldn’t have much meaning without them. So when the front office, the coaching staff and the players sit around their respective tables to share food and make memories, they will probably reflect, even if it’s only for a moment, on what it means to put on the Tribe uniform day in and day out for the best fans in the major leagues.

As for me, I’m thankful for football, a lot of food and a day off to enjoy it all with my family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving fans. Enjoy your turkey.

Thursday’s Trade Deadline: Baseball Nerds' Christmas in July

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is a prime example of why the sport is so unique. Trades simply don’t happen as frequently or with nearly as much magnitude in other sports as in baseball.

Four O’clock PM Eastern Standard Time on July 31st is the annual deadline to finalize any non-waiver trades. (To be clear, players can still be swapped if they are passed on by all MLB teams, hence clearing ‘waivers’.) Ultimately the decisions to pull the trigger on deals are telling enough that by the next day fans have a good understanding whether their squad is chasing this year’s pennant or gearing up to make a run next season.

The final hours leading up to the deadline were the most active of any in recent memory with twelve deals being made on Thursday. Each general manager has a plan, some more thorough than others. Those intentions I cannot quite speak to because of extremely limited access. I can, however, speculate as to why certain moves were made while defending those I like and ripping the boneheaded ones.

Let’s start with the Twins stealing away a potential top of the rotation guy in Tommy Milone from the Athletics, giving up only Sam Fuld. Milone is a huge addition for Minnesota. Fuld can play a part in the Oakland outfield equation going forward but Milone might already be the best Twins starter.

There were a few deals made with the present in mind more than the future. Although it may appear one team got the better of a deal, that could very well change as prospects further develop. The Brewers and Mariners also added pieces to their outfields. Milwaukee acquired Gerardo Parra who won’t set the world on fire but is another solid option for the Brew Crew. Seattle upgraded in the form of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson via the 3-way David Price deal which they simply piggy-backed on, completely lucking out.

David Price
David Price

Left-handed Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller was dealt to Baltimore. The O’s would have done well to grab a starter but Miller is money out of the ‘pen. The Yankees acquired a good hitter and utility man in Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks who didn’t need him the way they’re playing this summer.

There were plenty of puzzling deals too. As good as the Prado addition was, the Yanks had me seriously scratching my head with the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson transaction. This one might be a case of both players needing a fresh start. It’s still odd to see Boston and New York trading with one another just before facing off in a weekend series in Fenway.

I was under the impression that Asdrubal Cabrera would be a building block in the current Cleveland configuration. Apparently I was wrong as he was sent to Washington for Zach Walters. His sudden departure might be the result of wearing out his welcome as I know was the case with the seemingly-indifferent Justin Masterson. The Tribes sent their former Opening Day starter to St. Louis for James Ramsey. That brings us to the Cardinals.

I cannot believe what the Cardinals did on Thursday. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are heading to Boston in exchange for John Lackey and a prospect. Trading these two guys away shows you how deep the cardinals are at all positions. Craig is a victim of the Oscar Taveras craze and Kelly was just a number in the shuffle of fantastic young pitchers that St. Louis is hoarding.

Lackey has a pretty good track record in the postseason going back to his rookie season in 2002 with the Angels. He pitched and won Game 7 in that Series against San Francisco. Last autumn, after losing Game 3 to the Cardinals, he won Game 6 to again clinch the Series. The dude literally WINS the World Series. The Cards have seen it themselves and apparently decided he’s a guy they want on the mound for their side. He is owed a fair amount of praise, but all those games were in American League parks. Now we’ll see if he can do it in the Senior Circuit.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester

The BoSox dealing away ace Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes was a blockbuster Thursday morning splash and early sign how exciting deadline day would be. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is going to look like a genius when he re-signs Lester to a new multi-year deal in the offseaon.

The 3-way cannonball deal that sent David Price to Detroit; Jackson to Seattle; Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to Tampa Bay was undoubtedly a direct answer to the Athletics landing Lester. And although the originally reported text from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to A’s GM Billy Beane about the deal was false it’s still a nice little storyline. Either way, I think it’s cool to see competitors acknowledge each other instead of ‘coach speak’ oozing from everyone who steps in front of a microphone.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.

Certainly the Tigers strengthened their starting rotation for this postseason but I think the deal was truly made as an insurance policy. Max Scherzer’s contract expires at the end of the season, he’s playing at an incredible level and he is a Scott Boras client. I can easily see him wearing Yankee pinstripes next year. Now that scenario wouldn’t hurt the Tigers nearly as much. The price Detroit had to pay was an everyday centerfielder. Jackson was pulled off the field minutes before the deadline. Sitting in my seat at Comerica Park I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Never have I been to a game where the starting pitcher and centerfielder don’t finish the game on the same team.

After letting all the ideas marinate in my head I think it’s clear the deadline day winners were the Red Sox and the Braves. Boston made moves for their future, Atlanta acquired for an immediate impact. They picked up the antithesis of every player they have in Emilio Bonifacio. His style of play can really help them going forward. Boston fans should be thrilled though. They’ve now got their corner outfield spots set up for years and a solid middle of the rotation pitcher with a high ceiling.

Boston’s 2014 is looking a lot like their 2012. Of course they won the World Series last year. That’s just something for your baseball brain to snack on going into next season.

For a more in depth look into the Boston Red Sox trade deadline activity check out Matthew Kline’s column.

Report: Cleveland Indians Trade Asdrubal Cabrera

With only a short time left before the MLB trade deadline the Cleveland Indians made their second move in as many days, this time shipping off shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Washington Nationals in return for shortstop prospect Zach Walters. This comes after yesterday’s trade of Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Minor League outfield prospect James Ramsey. It has been reported that Ramsey, formerly with AA Springfield in the Cardinals organization, has been called up to AAA Columbus with the Indians.

Back to the Cabrera trade.

AsdrubalCabrera was acquired by the Cleveland Indians in 2006 from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Eduardo Perez. In Cleveland, Cabrera was a two time All-Star (2011, 2012) with a career batting average of .270. His best season with the Indians came in 2011 when he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 92 RBI, 87 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. More recently, Cabrera fell out of favor with Tribe fans due to his plummeting batting average a shaky defense. Between 2009-2012 Cabrera never hit below .270 while his power developed. Since the 2012 season Cabrera’s batting average has dropped considerably (.242 in 2013 and .246 in 2014). Defensively Cabrera struggled at short stop. Starting in 2010 Cabrera has committed 69 errors, including 19 in the 2012 season, at short. For the Indians this year Cabrera committed 14 errors, second most among American League shortstops.

Zach WaltersConsidering that the Indians have Jose Ramirez and (top prospect) Francisco Lindor in the minor leagues (both capable shortstops) the move for Walters, a shortstop, may seem puzzling. While Walters has started most of his Minor League career at short, he has started 68 games at third base and 38 games at second base. This year with AAA Syracuse Walters has made 27 starts at second base, 14 starts at short stop, 11 starts at third base and 7 starts in the outfield (all in LF). He has also DHed once. In those starts he has committed 10 errors, 4 each at second and short and 2 at third base. Now for the upside. In 60 games for AAA Syracuse this season Walters has hit 15 home runs and driven in 48 runs while hitting .300 with a .608 slugging percentage. Last season in 134 games with Syracuse he hit 29 home runs and 77 RBI while batting .253 with a .517 slugging percentage. Walters has also played 40 games (47 at bats) with the Washington Nationals, 8 in 2013 and 32 in 2014. While his career batting average as a pro is only .234 he does have a .489 slugging percentage. He has only made 5 starts in his big league career.

Walters was a 9th round pick in the 2010 amateur draft. The 24 year old was named a Mid-Season All-Star in 2011 and 2013 as well as a Post-Season All-Star in 2013. He also won the Minor League Joe Bauman Home Run Award in AAA. According to Baseball America, Walters was also rated the best infield arm in the Nationals farm system following the 2012 season.

Given the depth the Indians have in their farm system at shortstop and Walters’ ability to hit with power, I find it unlikely the Indians will look to start him at shortstop, at least long term. Ramirez has already made starts at short for the Indians this year and Lindor is the heir apparent to the position. Walters could end up being the Indians starting third baseman, or perhaps he will be used in the outfield (given his strong arm) or as a DH. Either way, the switch hitting prospect has the ability to provide some power to the Indians lineup.

Report: Cleveland Indians Trade Justin Masterson to St. Louis

Justin Masterson’s time with the Cleveland Indians has come to an end. As first reported by Peter Gammons, Masterson has been dealt by the Indians to the St. Louis Cardinals, reportedly in exchange for prospect James Ramsey.

Masterson 2Before the 2014 season got underway, Masterson (a free agent in 2015) couldn’t agree on a contract extension with the Indians. Reports were that Masterson was looking for something in the neighboorhood of $17 million per season while Cleveland wanted to offer him less than that. Masterson struggled this year to prove he was worth that large extension. In 19 starts he has a 4-6 record and a 5.51 ERA. In 98 innings of work he has stuck out 93 batters while walking 56. He also spent time on the disabled list. For his career with the Indians he has an overall record of 48-61 with a 4.23 ERA. He was also never able to put together two consistently good years. In 2010, his first full season as a regular starter with the Indians, he went 6-12 with a 4.78 ERA in 29 starts. The following season Masterson went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA, he followed that up by going 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 2012 and then 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA as a starter in 2013. His inconsistency from year to year angered many fans and made the Indians hesitant to offer him the extension he sought.

RamseyThe Indians reportedly will receive minor league prospect James Ramsey from the Cardinals. The 24 year old Ramsey was rated the Cardinals #12 Minor League prospect following the 2012 season and their #8 prospect following the 2013 season, according to Baseball America. In 235 games and 864 at bats in the minors Ramsey, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, has a .267 batting average with 30 home runs and 101 RBI. He has 23 stolen bases, stuck out 246 times and walked 129 times in his minor league career. So far this year in AA Springfield, Ramsey is batting .300 with 13 home runs, 36 RBI, 4 stolen bases, 66 strike outs and 31 walks. He has made 36 starts in center field, 25 start in right field, 3 starts in left field and has been the DH twice. He also has not made an error in the outfield this season (4 in his career). Ramsey took part in the 2014 All-Star Futures Games during the All-Star break at Target Field. He was also named Texas League Player of the Week in April and was a Texas League Mid-Season All-Star. He will join Indians outfield prospects Clint Frazier and Tyler Naquin in the farm system.

With the trading deadline rapidly approaching and Masterson already gone, the Indians may look to move Asdrubal Cabrera next to make room for top prospect Francisco Lindor.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

The All-Star break is nearly over and the Cleveland Indians are getting ready to start playing baseball again. For the Tribe the first half of the season was a rollercoaster culminating in a 47-47 record, landing them in 3rd place in the AL Central behind the Kansas City Royals (48-46) and the Detroit Tigers (53-38). The first half ended on a positive note for the Indians, as they took 2 out of 3 games against the Chicago White Sox and have won 8 out of 12 in the month of July. Nick Swisher (hitting .289 in July) and Carlos Santana (hitting .276 since the end of May) are finally starting to hit the ball better while All-Star Michael Brantley continues to be the team’s best player. Corey Kluber (9-6, 3.01 ERA) has also emerged as the team’s best starter. Despite this, the Indians still find themselves 7.5 games out of first place. At this time last year Cleveland had a 51-44 record and was only 1.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the Central. Clearly there is still some work to be done for the 2014 Indians. Picking up from yesterday, here is part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review, this time focusing on the bad and the ugly. For part one (the good) click here.

The Bad

Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season
Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season

While the Indians offense at times has been maddening, they are currently ranked 7th in the league in runs scored with 417 and also have the 11th best team batting average at .255. So how does a team that scores runs at a fairly good clip (average of 4.4 runs per game) find themselves with a .500 record and in 3rd place? Poor starting pitching. Aside from Kluber the Indians starting rotation has been a mess. As a whole Tribe starters in the first half of the season (Kluber, Masterson, Bauer, Tomlin, McAllister, House, Salazar, and Carrasco) have an ERA of 4.49 while the opposition is batting .273 off them. Justin Masterson, who earlier this year was reportedly asking for a contract extension in the neighborhood of $17 million per year, is 4-6 in 19 starts with a 5.51 ERA. He’s averaging just over 5 innings per start, is second in the American League in walks (56) and leads the AL in batters hit by a pitch (11). Trevor Bauer (3-4, 3.84 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (4-6, 4.26 ERA) have been decent, pitching like end of the rotation starters, but all in all the Indians starters are a big reason why this team is in the hole that they are in. As a team the Indians have a -8 run differential (417 runs scored vs. 425 runs allowed). The 425 runs allowed doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the starters, however as a group they have allowed 307 runs (275 earned runs) to score this year. Injuries have played a factor into this equation (McAllister and Masterson specifically) but all in all the Indians starters, outside of Kluber, haven’t been all that great.

To continue with the pitching theme, John Axford has been a disappointment this year. Brought in to fill the closer role, Axford was stripped of those duties during the month of May. Statistically Axford hasn’t been all that bad this year. In 41 appearances (37 innings pitched) he is 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA. His K/9 ratio is 10.7 and the opposition is only hitting .221 off of him. Axford’s problem seems to be similar to that of former Tribe closer’s Chris Perez, he lost his mental toughness. The Ax Man saved 8 out of 9 games through the end of April, however ninth inning dramatics and a few blown saves forced manager Terry Francona to make the switch to closer by committee with Cody Allen being the committee chairman. Not a good look for Axford, who is getting paid $4.5 million to save games (or in this case not save games) for the Indians this year.

The Ugly

s19tribee.jpgDefensively, the Indians are a train wreck. As a team they are first in the league in errors (76) and, unsurprisingly, have the worst fielding percentage of any team in the league (.979). Cleveland is on pace to commit 130 errors this season, this would be the most errors by a team since the 2011 Chicago Cubs (134). Indians pitchers have also thrown 42 wild pitches (6th most) and there have been 7 passed balls (tied for 5th most). Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the Indians with 14 errors, which is good enough for third most errors in the league this year. Challenging Cabrera for the team lead is Lonnie Chisenhall with 13 errors and Yan Gomes with 11 (although the majority of his came very early in the season and he has been relatively error free since early May). Nick Swisher has also committed 9 errors. The third base and shortstop position combined has committed 36 of the team’s errors this season – offenders here include Cabrera, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles.

For the majority of the season two of the Indians heavily relied upon hitters have failed to produce much of anything. While it’s true that both Santana and Swisher are (possibly) turning things around, both were mostly bad for the Indians for most, if not all, of the first half. Santana is hitting .207 on the year. While he does have 14 home runs he was only batting .159 through the month of May. His one redeeming quality was a good on base percentage during this stretch. Currently Santana has an OBP of .349 (top 50 in the league) but a hitter with his potential hitting cleanup in the batting order needs to do more than draw walks. Nick Swisher has been a colossal letdown this year for the Indians. Injuries may be playing a small factor (suffered a hyper extended knee earlier this year) but Swisher has been pretty terrible in just about anything baseball related aside from giving high fives. This year Swisher is batting .208 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI with only a .288 on base percentage. July has treated Swisher better, hitting .289 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI (45 at bats), but in order to salvage his season he is going to have to do more than hit well in 12 games.

The Indians as a team have also played poorly on the road. This year they are 18-28 away from Progressive Field. Offensively they have been outscored 201-210 and pitchers have an ERA of 4.22 on the road (compared to 3.76 at home). While the Indians have played well so far in July they are about to go on an eleven game road trip (against Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City) to kick off the second half of the season. If this team wants to make a playoff run in the second half they’ll need to play better on the road and it must start immediately with this road trip. Already 7.5 games back and with all 11 of the upcoming games being against teams in the division the Indians could really help (or harm) their chances.

In Conclusion

By all accounts this team has underperformed. The rotation has been awful, key players have struggled mightily offensively and defensively they are the worst team in the league. Overall they play like a team that constantly looks like they are about to turn a corner but never do. If that doesn’t change than the 2014 season will go down as a bust for the Cleveland Indians.

The Tribe is Creepin' On Ah Come Up

Some call it comeuppance and some call it getting a pound of flesh. In baseball, more so than most other things in the world, things have a way of evening themselves out; of course, the timing isn’t always the way we’d like to think it should be. Now think about the Cleveland Indians since Terry Francona has assumed the helm, and remember that they needed every one of those 92 wins in 2013. Technically, two more wins would have given them a Central Division title, though we know Detroit collected their $200 and stopped on “Go” last September. In that same breath, two fewer victories, whether you subtract a game or two from that four-game sweep over Oakland last May or any of those games with Chicago in September they had no business winning, would have put the Tribe in a mad dash for tee times as the Major League Baseball post-season commenced last October.

Glancing at the calendar, I see it’s June and we can hardly call this season new at this point, but what goes around, comes around for the Cleveland Indians. After enjoying a 17-2 season series against the White Sox, a comedy of righteous moments that literally took words out of White Sox play-by-play personality Ken “Hawk” Harrelson’s mouth on several occasions. Now, taking 17 of 19 from anyone other than Houston involves a good share of favorable bounces, like the divine intervention that gave them the double-header sweep at “New Comiskey” on June 28th last year. In Game 1, we were all disappointed to see Trevor Bauer fail to get three outs in the first inning of a start, putting the Tribe in a 5-0 hole before batting in the top of the second inning; response runs were there for the taking, however, and after evening things up in the next frame, the Tribe would cruise to 19-8 victory. The night-cap was all White Sox and this twinbill was destined for a split until the away team put up 4 runs on 4 hits in the top of the ninth off Chicago closer Addison Reed for a 9-8 win. Downing the south-siders was just how it went in 2013; Jason Giambi had two walk-off bombs against Chicago in a year that he did little else on the stat sheet.

Thus far, it’s been a different story when it comes to Robin Ventura’s squad and the Braves of the Cuyahoga. While I personally don’t care for those that dismiss teams that are strong in the 1-run games as teams that should regress back to the mean, you have to admit four walk-off wins in nine home games opens the door for the credit to go to Lady Luck, but you can counter that by pointing out the back end bullpen is a big part of the game. The Indians know it all too well, having dropped two in walk-off fashion on the South Side already this season, and a third at home, where John Axford yielded three runs in the ninth, instead of locking down a 3-1 victory. Through 10 games, the upstart White Sox have taken 7 of 10 from the Indians, and sit in second place in the division, one half game above the Tribe, who trail division-leading Detroit by just 3 games. Better the standings look like this in early June, rather than early October.

Speaking of October, the Oakland Athletics have found themselves on the dance-floor in each of the last two seasons, and appear to be on their way back this season. I know it’s simple, but success comes in winning more games than you lose, and the A’s did that, turning out Win-Loss records of .500 or better against all but three of their opponents a year ago; they dropped 11 of 19 against Seattle, despite outscoring them by 5 runs on the season, and went 2-5 against the Orioles and the Indians. They were swept in Cleveland last May, on the strength of some solid starting pitching (the Cleveland starter got the win in each game), but also with the benefit of the doubt; an Adam Rosales ninth inning double that obviously cleared the threshold for home run somehow could not be upgraded with the aid of replay and Rosales was eventually stranded on third base when Chris Perez saved a 4-3 win for the Tribe. Oakland did bounce back in August, taking 2 of 3 from the slumping Indians at the Coliseum on the East Bay, but could only salvage 2 wins in 7 tries.

You might say Bob Melvin’s squad went out and got their pound of flesh, when it came avenging their dismal showing against the Tribe in 2013, being in the clubhouse with a 4-2 season-series win over the Tribe. It looked like it might be more of the same after the Indians took 2 of 3 in the season-opening series, with former Indians southpaw Scott Kazmir salvaging the only victory the A’s could manage to get on the west coast, but they responded to last season’s 4-game sweep at Progressive Field by taking all three games at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In the six games, Oakland outscored the Indians 40 to 15. Through 60 games in 2014, the A’s have outscored their opponents by 120 runs and sit 14 games over .500. The Indians, on the other hand, are in the red on run differential to-date, despite breaking even in the win column.

On the bright side, there is a flip side to this coin. Some might say this exposed the Indians for what they really were a season ago, a team that could beat up on the bums and didn’t belong in the same ballpark with the real contenders, but they stunk against the other playoff qualifiers in 2013. In seven games with the eventual World Champs, Francona’s former team took six. They were 2-4 against Tampa Bay and 4-15 against Detroit, who ended up just one game better than the Indians in the Central Division standings, a fact that needs to be qualified (again), since Jim Leyland shut the team down for a meaningless series in Miami to end the regular season. Being taken behind the woodshed by the contenders, thus exposing the Tribe as “pretenders”, provided some balance in the grand scheme, essentially canceling out their mastery of the American League bottom-feeders.

We probably didn’t think about it too much, as it was happening with the Red Sox, given the Red Sox were so emotionally charged when they came to Cleveland in April, on literally the day of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The one they call Tito would only get one win in seven tries against the organization he once to led to their first title in 86 years, when his lineup torched Ryan Dempster, Clayton Mortensen, and Alex Wilson for 12 runs in a 12-3 win at Fenway. As far as bouncing back is concerned, the sample size is a little small and we really have no idea what to make of the 2014 Red Sox, but they just completed a 3-game series sweep of Big Papi and company, which has to be a huge weight off the shoulders of Francona, whether he admits it or not.  Let’s also consider how many good things happened, as it pertained to confidence going forward in the series that ended with Asdrubal Cabrera’s walk-off home run to secure the sweep on Wednesday night (Thursday morning, to be technical).

asdrubalwalkoff

Then, you have Detroit, the team that knocks the Indians off their pedestal anytime they’ve gotten a little momentum in recent years. I’m sure most of us have not forgotten how quickly the 2011 came out of the gates, starting 30-15, an amazing run that included 3-game sweep of the Tigers, two of those wins coming in the form of walk-offs. Well, the next time the two teams met in June, the Tigers took two of three, knocking the Indians down to 36-31 and into second place in the division. In August of that year, the Tribe took a series at home, putting them within 3 games of Detroit’s divsion lead, but the Tigers won the last 10 matchups that year, and thoughts of the post-season were laughable by season’s end.

A year later, in 2012, it was a lot more of the same. Hell, the stat sheet shows the Tribe took the season series 10-8, but it comes down to the team from the Motor City killing their spirits. They were still outscored by 15 runs over the course of 18 games. They won 7 of the first 9, including a 5-3 win on July 26th that had some fools believing there was still life in this club. Of course, you can’t solely blame the Tigers for the 11 game losing streak that followed that inspiring win, though they were responsible for losses 7, 8, and 9. They’d pull out a couple more, and even scored one last walk-off win against Jose Valverde (aka Papa Grande) in September, you know, for old time’s sake. But much like [SPOILER ALERT] Tessio in Part I, the Indians and Manny Acta were already dead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d30Y0n1nDH4

Well, that wasn’t a depressing walk down memory lane or anything! Let’s bring it back to the present-day, and though we have learned to taper our emotions after early-season success, the clubhouse had to have been buzzing at the comeuppance that came with sweeping the Tigers at home last month, and the balk-off could really be seen as the exclamation point. Again, we look at our calendar and we know that it’s early, that this 4-to-1 advantage the Tribe currently holds over the Tigers could easily be 5-14 by season’s end, a la last year, but things feel different this year for some reason. Perhaps we’ve already seen the woes this team inevitably experiences every year since Dick Jacobs family name was taken off the ballpark’s marquee.

They didn’t get to 30-30 by starting 30-15, but from 24-30 (their low-water mark). They’ve shown they can beat Detroit and they can beat Boston, and it’s too early to think about whether or not they can beat San Francisco; they’re 0-3 this season and 0-6 in their last six tries, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Of course, if they don’t cross that bridge, they are only 2-4 against the team that shares the bay, so there are multiple pounds of flesh to be had in Northern California, come October, I suppose.

That’s a concern for another time, of course, but the Indians were left for dead just a few weeks back and now, to quote everyone second favorite Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony album, they are creepin’ on a come up. So, to all you busters out there, beware!

Cleveland Indians On Pace to Turn Season Around

The Cleveland Indians are currently 18-21 coming into today’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. They are in last place in the AL Central, seven games back of the division leading Detroit Tigers, and have the third worst record in the American League (ahead of only Tampa Bay and Houston). They’ve demoted their closer (John Axford) and are the worst fielding team in baseball. These Cleveland Indians are also on the verge of turning things around.

I’m not going out on a limb here when I say the Cleveland Indians have disappointed so far this year. Several early concerns materialized on the field into actual issues, like would the starting rotation be good enough, was Axford the real answer as the closer and was the offense good enough (despite scoring 745 runs last year). They’ve also failed to hit with runners in scoring position (team batting .222 w/RISP – 26th in the league; .160 w/RISP and two outs – 28th). But like the 2013 Indians, the 2014 squad seems ready to put all of this behind them.

Offensively, this team looked to be lost. For the majority of the season the top of the lineup has failed to generate any sort of offense. For the month of April the team’s best hitters were two backups (Nyjer Morgan and Lonnie Chisenhall) and David Murphy. Collectively, the Indians had a batting average of .232 for the first month of the season. Things looked bleak, and then the calendar turned from April to May. Now this isn’t to say the Indians turned into an offensive juggernaut, they haven’t. But so far for the month of May the Indians have raised their team batting average 25 points and are now hitting .257 (12th in all of baseball for the month of May). Over the last week the team is hitting .285. Mike Aviles, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Asdrubal Cabrera all have batting averages over .300 this month. An anomaly? That’s very possible, but if last year is any indication this could be a trend. Keep in mind, for as favorably as we may remember last year’s team they dug themselves into a similar hole to start the season. It was right around this time last year that things started to click for the offense. It appears that’s the case for this team as well. (For what it’s worth, the 2013 Indians also hit .257 as a team in the month of May, although that was after hitting .262 in April)

The offense hasn’t been the only issue for the Indians, or even the biggest issue. The pitching, specifically the starting pitching, was mostly bad to start the year off. In the first month of the season the starting pitching posted an ERA of 5.16. That includes a 4.84 ERA from staff ace Justin Masterson and a 6.95 ERA for Carlos Carrasco. So far this month the rotation has settled down (and swapped Carrasco for Tomlin) and things have been much better. This month the Indians starting rotation has an average ERA of 3.23. Corey Kluber went from an ERA of 4.14 in April to a 1.84 ERA in the month of May. Only Zach McAllister has seen his ERA increase this month (from 3.82 in April to 4.09 in May) and in swapping Carrasco for Tomlin, the 5th spot in the rotation has gone from an ERA of 6.95 in April to a 2.13 ERA in May. This has translated to the opposition having a batting average of .282 against Tribe starters in April to a batting average of only .244 in the month of May.

The recent positive production has obviously led to better results on the field and in the win column. The Indians went 10-17 in the month of April (11-17, counting the season opening win on March 31st) and had a run differential of -26 (106 runs scored vs. 132 runs allowed). That’s a winning percentage of .393 while being outscored by almost a full run per game. So far for the month of May the Indians are 7-4 with a run differential of +12 (51 runs scored vs. 39 runs allowed). That’s a winning percentage of .636 while outscoring opponents by over one run per game. Things appear to be headed in the right direction, and help is on the way.

The Indians are currently having success with one of their best hitter on the disabled list. Jason Kipnis, who is on the 15 day DL with a strained oblique, is set to resume baseball activities and his return would be welcomed. While he has struggled for the majority of the 2014 season (batting only .234 so far this year), he was showing some signs of life before his injury. He shouldn’t be rushed back from an injury (especially one like a strained oblique which can be lingering), having Kipnis back in the lineup and ready to go would be a huge boost, especially if he can get back sooner rather than later. Historically, May and June are Jason’s most productive months at the plate. He has a career batting average of .309 for these two months, including a career average of .338 in June. 19 of his career 41 home runs have also come in May and June. Expectations should be tempered for Kipnis considering he’s coming off of an injury, but plugging him back into a lineup that’s already hitting well (or at least better) could be the push this team needs offensively.

Pitching help could arrive at any time as well, in the form of Trevor Bauer. Bauer, who already has one successful start so far this year for the Indians, has been pitching very well in Triple-A Columbus. He is currently 4-1 (7 starts) with a 2.15 ERA this year in the minors and if Danny Salazar continues to struggle (or at least be wildly inconsistent) he and Bauer may switch places.

This isn’t to say people should start purchasing playoff tickets just yet. The Indians have a long way to go before it can be said they’ve fully turned it around. The starting rotation has to prove it can be consistently good for more than just a few weeks, Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher need to start hitting and the defense needs to stop looking like somebody put butter on the baseball. They are also only hitting .226 with runners in scoring position so far this month, something that must improve for sustained success. However, this team appears to be trending in the right direction and we can learn from last year that a slow start isn’t the kiss of death.

Should Fans Believe in Tribe?

Entering Tuesday night’s series opener in Toronto, your Cleveland Indians have an 18-20 record. For a team coming off a 92-win campaign, one would think this is a poor start. The First Place Detroit Tigers sit eight games ahead of the Indians in the loss column and the Royals and White Sox are just about on par with the Tribe (18-19 and 19-20 respectively). Minnesota is not a contender for the playoffs so their 17-19 record doesn’t really factor into the equation and Chicago is also unlikely to hang around with a poor pitching staff. Kansas City is the ultimate wild card if only because they are so well respected by the national media despite putting up Randy Wittman-like results every season.

Whether KC can get one playoff appearance a la Wittman’s Wizards and restore some minimal respectability remains to be seen but I’m certainly not a believer. Is it worth believing in the Tribe however? Given their record as compared to their play, I actually think so.

It’s funny to read these words because watching this team so far as a fan has been just brutal. They make errors constantly, the one, two, four and six hitters have been mostly atrocious and the best hitter on the team, Jason Kipnis, has either been poor or injured throughout the young season. The closer despite only two blown saves has already lost his job, for now, and the bullpen has been very solid but has relied upon only a few pitchers to retire the majority of the important outs.

This team has as much flow as the stereotypical white man, it’s a joke politically correct readers don’t freak out, and yet they remain in a decent position. One hot streak coupled with the Tigers returning to earth and the large gap in the loss column will narrow. A return to any kind of consistency from the veteran bats and this team can really fly with the excellent starting pitching they have received for much of the season.

Justin Masterson has been just ok overall but the righty has started to return to form lately and Zack McAllister, Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin in limited action have been simply excellent. Danny Salazar is showing improvement too and that Trevor Bauer guy is throwing some serious gas and most importantly strikes in Columbus, making him an appealing option should an injury or collapse occur. Baseball is a 162-game grind but the rotation appears to be not only less of a concern then originally expected but may wind up being a strength of this club. Then we get to the Indians offense…

And Nick Swisher is still not hitting (sentences shouldn’t start with AND but Swisher shouldn’t still be allergic to success so it’s ok). What happened to this guy? He never belonged in a cleanup role at any time in his career but Swisher has been a consistently solid player throughout his career until coming to Cleveland. I predicted he would have a major rebound year and I am becoming increasingly less confident that this is possible. He just does not make good contact very often and he doesn’t have an injured wing this year to be used as an excuse. Beyond Swisher, Carlos Santana has also been agonizing this season without any real approach at the plate besides hoping not to walk. Given his age, I feel more comfortable giving Santana the benefit of the doubt but he needs to start taking advantage of his good eye by looking to drive the ball earlier in the count. Walks are all well and good but he has natural power and needs to start looking for pitches to drive early in the count as opposed to taking early and finding himself in a hole nearly every at bat.

On my list of annoying Indians, Michael Bourn always seems to be at or near the top. What has made Bourn even more frustrating this season has been watching a spring training invitee, Nyjer Morgan, mirror the type of player that we all envisioned Bourn to be when he was signed before the 2013 season. Morgan’s personality has been infectious but what makes him such a likable player right now is his ability to get on base, use his speed and make plays in the outfield. If Nick Swisher was half the player as an Indian that he was prior to, he would be a fan favorite but a big personality is even more frustrating when a player isn’t stepping up. Should “Tony Push,” as Morgan calls himself sometimes, start to falter, his antics will no longer be enjoyable.

Which brings us to a player very different than a Morgan/Swisher type: Michael Brantley. If only this guy could be cloned and bat in three spots in the order. It is amazing how a player who is just solid can be so pleasurable to watch but that’s what happens when most of an offense struggles. You begin to appreciate even more the players that do things the right way. Brantley is a model of consistency and he is well on his way to the All-Star team, as I predicted he would be, as long as he stays healthy. I feel completely comfortable saying that because his track record speaks to a player that will not falter but could only improve. With his newfound homerun pop, the best is yet to come for Dr. Smooth.

So getting back to the question of this article, how long can the Indians in fact hang around? I’m betting they won’t go anywhere because the hitting has to improve. Maybe Asdrubal Cabrera in need of a good year to earn a new contract from somebody else really is turning it around? Perhaps Santana’s strong performance on Sunday in Tampa Bay is the first step toward a resurgence. Conceivably Nick Swisher and/or Michael Bourn will remember how to hit again for more than five minutes. This team has been so awful to watch and yet they have a record that is keeping them afloat.

Should they get it together offensively, and I think enough of the guys struggling will get it together that they will, this team will be poised to make their presence felt. And in a town with a basketball team in disarray and a football team’s best offensive weapons career up in the air, as well as his mind, this under the radar group may just be in the thick of things come September. Yes, I realize I started another sentence with AND but I’ve decided it is appropriate to commonly held writing rules when basing a sentence on something or someone extremely irritating. And I hope Swisher doesn’t read this because after that he definitely won’t let me be his bro. Shucks…