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Tribe Time Now #10: Expansion by Inclusion

After extensive conversation and debate, the Indians get an A- on the off season upgrades and we conclude that, overall, the Indians expanded their fan base by increasing Progressive Field’s inclusivity.

Last night, I was joined by Stephanie Liscio (@stephanieliscio) of itspronouncedlajaway.com and we discussed a number of topics already present in this young 2015 season; the most prominent of those being the stadium renovations at Progressive field.

In addition we discussed the following:

  1. Wednesday’s game: CLE:4 CHW:2
  2. WP: Bauer | SV: Allen | LP: Danks
    • Lonnie, Sands, Bourn collect two hits a piece
    • Great bullpen outing
  3. Jerry Sands: Where does he fit on the roster?
  4. Roberto Perez: More than meets the eye
  5. Stadium renovations: Thoughts and analysis
    • The corner, mezzanine
    • Bullpens
    • Upper deck
    • CSU turbine
    • Gate C
    • Kids club house
  6. Detroit: Transitioning to collect a lot of hits over the long ball?
  7. Injury round-up: Yan, Dr. Smooth and Carlos Carrasco

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast: TribeTimeNow.com/subscribe

Tune in Next week and Go Tribe!

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!

Balk-ing Home with Hammy

Well, the secret is out, but knowing that the Tom Hamilton walk-off call, be it a home run call or anything a little Hollywood, is almost an unparalleled experience, especially if you’re a Tribe fan. Being off the reservation, or should I just say “out-of-market”, keeping up with the Tribe involves a financial decision each spring.

hamilton-tribe-booth-2009-ccjpg-b1fa14f41cbea61c

 

For years, I’ve shelled out the extra cash for DirecTV to add the MLB Extra Innings package to my already outrageous monthly invoice, but I made the leap to the more feature-rich MLB.tv Premium a few years back. With other sports offering broadband and mobile packages, in conjunction with the cable/satellite add-on, Major League Baseball was once again behind the times, or so I thought. Extra Innings only served its purpose when I was home, whereas the online service offered some flexibility on the go. One of those services made available was the radio call of all the games, with your choice of the home or away announcer and the Spanish crew, when applicable.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at the office, stuck in commuter traffic, or 1500 miles from home; if the Tribe is playing, I can listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the audio call. The exception to that, of course, is when I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, when I’m without broadband or mobile data service, as I was yesterday, en route to Chicago. To take soften the blow of Chi-town’s swamp-like humidity, I put the headphones on, and let the Voice of the Cleveland Indians take me home, in more ways than one, with an all-important, if not extremely unlikely, series sweep of the Detroit Tigers hanging in the balance.

To reset my perspective, the At Bat app, the one that drives MLB.tv and the bonus audio feeds, sends me an alert that the game is tied at 7 after Detroit added two in the fifth. I paused; seven runs thru 5 for the Braves of the Cuyahoga, but I thought Scherzer was on the bump for the Tigers! That was encouraging for this enigma of an offense that Terry Francona has marched out there, this far in 2014, but it doesn’t matter if you score 20, if you lose 21-20. By the time I was back on the grid, with “Hammy” and “Rosey” in my ear, it sounded as though a bad day from Scherzer wasn’t going to sink the Tigers, who now led 9-7, but David Murphy had no concerns about their backs being against the wall with one on and one out in the ninth.

“A swing and a long drive, deep right center…this ball is…”

GONE! I’ve got no video to go on, hence nothing analytical to add, just the raw emotion of a Missouri native-turned-Cleveland fan at heart in Tom Hamilton. The Detroit closer’s name was Joe, but you could call him Blown Save Nathan after that shot. Out in the visitor’s bullpen, I can only imagine Al Albuquerque thinking, ‘I know this feeling,’ having served up a game-winning bomb to Michael Brantley in the first game of this series.

The celebration didn’t last long, as theme for 2014 continued with the Indians pitching staff surrendering a response run; this potential back-breaking smash came off the bat of Alex Avila after a solid two and two-thirds of solid relief work from usual starter Josh Tomlin. Alex Avila! Must it always be the nobodies, like JD Martinez, Don Kelly, and Avila that punish Indians pitching? Well, in this case, maybe it did, considering Miguel Cabrera got the “Bye Felicia”, as Keith Olbermann would (and actually did) say, in the sixth. However, they still had the sizzling hot Victor Martinez and seemingly, regardless of early 3 games to 1 advantage Cleveland technically has on the Tigers in 2014, the Indians number.

Anyway, Tomlin managed to freeze Danny Worth on strike three to end the 13th, but with Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera due up, the Indians had work to do in the home-half of the frame. Down in the count against Phil Coke, Aviles hit one towards the hole at short that Worth could quite squeeze in the glove, and stood on first, representing the tying-run. Bourn, who according to Hamilton, is not the best sacrifice bunter the game has ever seen, laid one down the third base line so poetically that a radio listener may have ascertained scholars would talk about and praise for years. He was thrown out at first, and as my late-night viewing of Olbermann would reveal, he probably shouldn’t have been. Whatever, no need for Hammy to torch a guy with bad hammies in this situation.

Asdrubal Cabrera would be next, and Coke put the 2-1 pitch into his knee cap; the words from the WTAM call left me to wonder if Cabrera would be able to finish the season, let alone the game. Only Yan Games remained on the bench, not exactly your ideal pinch-runner, so after a few minutes, the Indians shortstop limped to first as the potential game-winning run. That meant one out and a runner in scoring position for Ben Maller’s favorite player to be named later against the Detroit southpaw. Left-on-right, left-on-left, it doesn’t matter for Michael Brantley, who delivered with a ground ball to the left side, which Aviles legged out from second to tie the game at 10 apiece.

No sooner than Gene Lamont, assuming the skipper role from Brad Asumus, who got the heave-ho in the Cabrera aftermath, summoned Monday’s goat Alburquerque from the ‘pen, did Terry Francona call Justin Sellers back to the dugout. Now, it was time for Yan Gomes to step into the right-handed batters box against the right-hander. Albuquerque tried two sliders, which went wide with no chase from Gomes, and then stopped the charade and put the Tribe’s usual starting catcher on first to load them up from former-Tiger Ryan Raburn.

It all came down to this at-bat, Raburn stepped in, and the strangest thing happened next. Alburquerque flinched!

“And a balk! Ballgame! How about that! WE NOW HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING! A walk-off balk! Unbelievable, Cabrera scores the winner on a walk-off balk!”

I am not sure it’s possible to transcribe any part of Hamilton’s note-worthy calls without the over-use of exclamation points. Happy to spend my Wednesday afternoon with you, Tom. Happy to be an Indians fan, like everyone back in Cleveland. Happy to have the option to listen to radio call from Chicago.

AP TIGERS INDIANS BASEBALL S BBA USA OH

11-10, Tribe wins! What a game, even the limited parts I caught; I sincerely hope it springboards us into “What a season!” mode. All in all, I’m quite content with the balk-off.  A win is a win.

Reflecting On 2013 Tigers And Theorizing Where To Go From Here

It’s been over for nearly two weeks.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerThe Detroit Tigers’ latest assault on that elusive fifth World Series title fell short last Sunday, as Shane Victorino’s Game 6 grand slam (which is still airborne) catapulted the Boston Red Sox into the World Series (which they are expected to win within the next two days). The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees made four in a row between 1998 and 2001. The Yankees won the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and were one win from another championship in 2001. The Tigers have won the pennant once out of these three appearances and won exactly zero games in the ensuing World Series. Pretty stark contrast.

Going so far as to call the 2013 season a “failure” appears at first glance to be a bit harsh, but consider that the organization’s brain trust has stated time and time again (especially over the past two seasons) that the goal of the Detroit Tigers is to win the World Series. They were very active at the trade deadline this season and last. They spent MORE THAN $500 MILLION DOLLARS to tie up three players: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander. The Tigers have had three good teams over the past three seasons, but they all had the same fatal flaw: a failure to score in the postseason. The Tigers averaged only 3.2 runs per game in the 2013 postseason, and have averaged 3.4 runs per game over the past three Octobers. The 2013 edition was extra-special because of their abysmal bullpen; the bullpen that cost Max Scherzer two wins in the ALCS and blew three wins for Detroit overall. The team appeared to be constructed well enough, yet there’s no championship. And when the franchise credo is “World Series or bust” and the franchise doesn’t win the World Series, then yeah, there’s a mildly compelling argument that 2013 was a failure, despite the third consecutive division title, despite the likely Cy Young Award for Scherzer, and despite the very strong possibility of another MVP award for Cabrera.

The Tigers’ latest postseason power outage cost them their manager, as Jim Leyland elected to step down after eight seasons on the job. As much vitriolic crap as Leyland frequently got from scores of angry Detroit fans, there’s no denying the impact he had on the club. When he arrived in 2006, the Tigers were irrelevant. They lost 119 games in 2003, their last winning season was 1993, and their last playoff appearance was in 1987. Since 2006, the Tigers have recorded the following: six winning seasons, four playoff appearances (three times as division champion), and two pennants. What that means: Jim Leyland is the second-best manager in Tigers history, right behind Sparky Anderson.

Now, regarding this team’s future. The way this writer sees it, there are two feasible routes the Tigers can go (no, neither of them involve hiring Dusty Baker and spending $250 million on Robinson Cano):

1) hire a younger manager from outside the organization (Brad Ausmus, Torey Lovullo, Tim Wallach), trade potential 2014 free agent Scherzer, and begin to utilize younger/unproven players on the major league roster (whether it be from the Scherzer trade or to fill voids left by the departures of free agents Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, and Jhonny Peralta). At the end of 2014, let Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez walk as free agents, and *consider* moving 2015 free agent Cabrera (unless he takes a discount), In other words, lay the miguel-cabrera-icon2foundation for a rebuild.

2) hire from within (Tommy Brookens, Jeff Jones, Lloyd McClendon), keep the band together (perhaps add an impact free agent because #MikeIlitchPizzaMoney), and give it another go in 2014. Extend Cabrera and/or Scherzer to keep a semblance of a championship window open for the next few years.

The rumors of the Tigers shopping Scherzer won’t go away, and with three guys making $20 million per year already on the payroll, general manager Dave Dombrowski may have to consider how to cut costs and get maximum value back for some of his assets. The Tigers’ farm system is one of the worst in baseball now, and it must be replenished eventually. Going route #1 would be disappointing to many fans, but no one really knows how much more 84 year-old owner Mike Ilitch can or will spend to rope in a title. And the current “win now” approach hasn’t paid all the dividends it was expected to.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Prince Fielder Press Conference

Route #2 would appease hungry fans and likely keep the Tigers in that upper echelon in MLB. However, the farm system would still be in tatters and the Tigers would be paying at least $20 million per season to FOUR players for the next several years. Close to half the payroll would be tied up in two pitchers and two hitters, and at least three will be getting paid well into their late-30’s, unless a Marlins-esque salary dump occurs. This payroll constriction will be a problem in the years to come if the Tigers develop any top-flight prospects in the next year or so, or if secondary guys on the roster need a raise.

The Tigers are definitely a team to watch this offseason because of all the questions they have to answer. They’ve blown two golden opportunities to win a World Series for Mr. Ilitch and a rabid fanbase over the last two Octobers, and 2013 could very well prove to be the swan song for this era of Tigers baseball. Only time will tell.