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A Eulogy For the 2015 Indians

What can you say about the 2015 Cleveland Indians? They had their moments, sure, but to compare the end result to where we figured they would be in late September before the whole party began in April, leaves an almost unexplainable discrepancy.

When the front office pulled off the coup of landing Terry Francona, straight out of the ESPN broadcast booth in 2013, it was supposed to be different. When they pulled out all of the stops for Nick Swisher, and then signed Michael Bourn, under the RADAR, it promised to be a new day in Cleveland.

All three had grossly underperformed in Cleveland, and two of them didn’t last three full seasons. The third, Francona, was brought aboard by someone who opted not to stick around to watch it all crumble. It crumbled in Boston, but they had a couple of shiny trophies on the mantle to remind them of the good times. Progressive Field has only a painted grey flag with the numbers “2013” to show for all of they hype that came with the 2012-2013 off-season.

The 2015 season didn’t mean the arrival of too many new faces; the headliner of the group was Brandon Moss, but the former Oakland Athletic was damaged goods, and the Indians’ brass was all about the reclamation projects (see: Kazmir, Scott). Gavin Floyd and Jeff Manship decided to come along for the ride, joining the pitching staff. They didn’t figure to need a lot of new faces, as the familiar faces were supposed to carry this squad to a title, said the experts at Sports Illustrated.

After all, they had the reigning Cy Young winner, in Corey Kluber1no longer Hans set to take the ball on Opening Day, and pick up where he left off in 2014. Carlos Carrasco showed the accountants enough in the second half of the prior season, that the club decided to extend him 5 years. Trevor Bauer was expected to turn the corner this season, Danny Salazar was expected to bounce back from a sophomore slump of sorts, and Gavin Floyd was the big veteran the team needed to eat up innings at the back of the rotation every fifth day.

It turned out to be the rookie Cody Anderson, and not Floyd, due to completely foreseeable injury, that owned the 5th spot, after Bruce Chen and Shawn Marcum reminded everyone why they were available to anyone willing to give them a shot. Bauer had his glimpses, but finds himself in a battle with Josh Tomlin for a 2016 rotation spot, after Tomlin showed flashes of brilliance, but no consistency in 2015.

Those who did start on the bump, on a semi-regular basis, all flirted with no-hitters. Trevor Bauer was first, but it was early in the season, so he combined with the bullpen for about 8 innings in Tampa, before Nick Hagadone blew the no-no and the shutout. Kluber went 5 or 6 on multiple occasions. Cody Anderson went 5, to kick off a remarkable streak of games in Tampa for the rotation. It was during that stretch that Carlos Carrasco came closest to finishing the job, surrendering a hit with 2 outs in the 9th. Carrasco was on a nice run last Friday against the Royals’ taxi-squad, the night after they clinched their first division title since 1985. Unless it happens in the next four games, Len Barker’s 1981 perfecto against Toronto will remain the last no-hitter of any sort from Tribe pitching.

In a time when the city has moved on to the Browns and getting Johnny Manziel on the field, you could put the celebrity quarterback in the same bucket with the group that plays 81 games a year in the building a few blocks south of First Energy Stadium. You might love the snapshots, but have to understand there’s nothing sustainable, just yet.

Carlos Santana is a first basemen; his days of catching or playing third base have gone the way of the dodo. That might be more of a Yan Gomes thing than a Santana thing, but the effect was felt when Gomes’ season was put on hold in early April, and we entered the black hole of the Roberto Perez/Brett Hayes platoon offensively. The thing offensive about that duo is that fans took offense to the lineup card, but Yan couldn’t go between suffering an injury on April 11th and returning to the lineup in late May.

Arguably, Yan never got things going with the bat all, after a 1-for-4 outing on Opening Day. It was June 6th before he broke the Mendoza line, and his water mark in the batting average category was .237, after a 3-for-4 day in a home loss to the Yankees in August.

At that point, who even cared? They were 7 games under .500, 14.5 games behind the Royals, and in the middle of spending a full month in the American League Central Division cellar. These are symptoms of a team whose clean-up hitter was batting .229, and I’m not talking about Ryan Raburn here.

Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley had some lofty expectations set on them, and despite some really badly-timed slumps, they’ve given everyone everything they can honestly expect at the plate, when you’re looking at the big picture. The problem is, that can’t do it alone, and the players who manned the left side of the infield on Opening Day in Houston weren’t cutting in the field or at the plate. Eventually, the club understood the formula for insanity, doing the same shit and expecting different results, wasn’t going to work, with Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, though Chisenhall was reborn as an outfielder, a la Alex Gordon, in the minor leagues.  There’s a definite “to be continued” happening there, so stay tuned.

Alas, we get the relatively unknown Giovanny Urshela up from the minor leagues to play third base, and not too far behind, but way too late for many die-hard Tribe fans, Francisco Lindor to play short. People who couldn’t pick the latter out of a lineup admired and pined for the services of Lindor in Cleveland. Going against the grain of everything not named LeBron James in Cleveland, Lindor has lived up to the hype, and should be named American League Rookie of the Year. In resetting a season that largely makes me frown, it’s all smiles when it comes to the 8th overall pick from the 2011 draft.

Lindor passes the eyeball test, even when he swings and misses. At shortstop, he turns into outs and fielder’s choices into double plays. While I liked Julio Franco, Omar Vizquel, and various stages of the Asdrubal Cabrera Experience, it’s fair to say this young man is one of a kind. He has fun, he takes instruction, and oh by the way, the numbers on the stat sheet are sexy as hell too. They’re not good for a rookie, they’re good for a baseball player. It’s all there in black and white.

The bullpen did some things, like suffer through CC Lee, Scott Atchison, and Anthony Swarzak outings. Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw didn’t look too bad on paper, but you always cringed when Tito called to the bullpen for their services. Cody Allen was able to stay the course for what he’s been over the course of his still young career, and he will continue to be the starter until he veers obscenely off course (see: Perez, Chris). Manship and Austin Adams seemed to be better with each appearance. We also saw some nice things from Floyd and Shawn Armstrong, but in very small sample sizes.

They sent Marc Rzepcynski packing at the deadline, when Brandon Moss and David Murphy were already gone. Due to their ability to clear waivers, Swisher and Bourn were moved after the traditional July 31 deadline. The moves brought back AAA slugger Abraham Almonte and the albatross contract of Chris Johnson in return; it’s very likely that neither are long-term options, but nice placeholders until the farm system develops recent draft picks a little more.

It was clear after a 7-14 April that this team was not World Series-worthy and the ceiling was reset from 94 wins to 83, and they will be very lucky to even reach that plateau. We’ll miss them anyway.

Rest in Peace, 2015 Cleveland Indians2…or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family.  I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club.  These players should enjoy their lives..

References
1 no longer Hans
2 …or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family.  I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club.  These players should enjoy their lives.

Cleveland Indians Playing Well in August

I’ll come right out and admit it, I had absolutely no confidence that the Cleveland Indians would be able to contend for a post season spot as of two weeks ago. I had said that, while mathematically in a similar position to the 2013 squad in terms of “games behind”, this team played like a team that is constantly about to turn the corner but never does. Their biggest fault was their starting pitching. It was awful. Many will point to the defense (which has been about as bad as possible too) but forget that last year’s team was also near the bottom in fielding percentage while the starting pitching was a strength. This year, the starting pitching was a glaring weakness. That is until recently.

The Cleveland Indians are 67-63 overall. They are still in third place in the American League Central Division, 5.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals and 4 games back in the American League Wild Card race. Since the All-Star break the Indians are 20-16, including 14-8 in the month of August. While the offense has cooled off a bit so far in the second half of the season (currently 14th in runs scored since the All-Star break with 145) the team is still winnings games (3 in a row and 7 of their last 10). Much to my surprise (and surly others) this has been done thanks to the help of the starting pitching.

In the first half of the season, Tribe starters combined had an ERA of 4.49 and a 1.40 WHIP. Since the All-Star break those numbers have improved greatly. Combined, the starting rotation has pitched 209.1 innings in the second half of the season. Collectively the rotation has an ERA of 3.31 and a 1.15 WHIP during this time. In the month of August (22 games) Tribe starters have pitched 127 innings and have a 2.83 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. The offensive, while struggling a bit, still continues to average just over 4 runs per game in the second half of the season. Not exactly an unstoppable force but enough to win games provided the starting pitching has been good. Since July, and especially in August, it has been good.

Corey KluberSince the break, the Indians starting rotation has two starters with a sub four ERA and two starters with a sub two ERA and in the month of August only Josh Tomlin (as a starter) has an ERA over four. Trevor Bauer has made five starts in August. In 29.1 innings of work he has a 3.99 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP while the opposition is batting just .219 off of him. T.J. House and Danny Salazar have each made four starts and pitched 21 innings for the Tribe in August. They each have a 3.43 ERA; House has a 1.38 WHIP while teams are hitting .268 off of him and Salazar has a 1.05 WHIP while teams are batting .208 against him. Corey Kluber has given a Cy Young worthy performance this season and he isn’t showing signs of regressing. So far this month Kluber has started four games and pitched a total of 28 innings. He has a 1.61 ERA, has struck out 35 batters, has a 1.07 WHIP and batters are hitting just .202 against him. And finally, there is Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco was written off by nearly everyone (myself included) as a starting pitcher. And while it’s far too early to make any serious claim otherwise, he has been lights out for the Indians this month. Carrasco has appeared in 5 games for the Indians this August, three as a starter and two as a reliever. In 23 total innings of work he has a 1.96 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP while batters are hitting just .183 against him. In his three starts this month Carrasco has logged 18 innings and has an ERA of just 0.50. It’s very possible that this short stretch is an anomaly for Carlos, but it’s also possible that something finally clicked for him during his time as a reliever. Should the latter be the case, the Indians could have a formidable pitching duo that could just carry this team into the postseason. Both Kluber and Carrasco are the scheduled starters for the Indians next two games (against the Chicago White Sox).

Carrasco has been solid since returning to the starting rotation.
Carrasco has been solid since returning to the starting rotation.

Looking ahead, the Indians have the ability to close the gap in the AL Central. Only two of their remaining ten series (not including a one game makeup against the Los Angeles Angels) are against teams not in their division (I am also counting their current series against the Chicago White Sox). This includes two series each against the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. The games against Detroit are of big importance as not only are both teams chasing the division leading Royals, both teams are also in the AL Wild Card Hunt (Detroit is currently a half game out of the second AL Wild Card spot and 1.5 games back of Kansas City). Should the starting pitching continue to be strong the Indians have as good a chance as any other team in the hunt to make the postseason.

Noteworthy Performances from Youngsters

The Indians have gotten some good play out of some of their call-ups as of late. Since being called up from Triple-A Columbus, outfielder Tyler Holt has batted .348 (10 games, 23 ABs) had hasn’t committed one error in the outfield in 60 innings of work. In the second half of the season infielder Jose Ramirez is batting .306 (25 games, 85 ABs) with three stolen bases and looks to be comfortable playing shortstop. Most impressive, or maybe most noticeable, however has been Zach Walters. Since joining the Indians (via trade) Walters is only batting .208 with a .255 on base percentage (13 games, 48 ABs). In those 13 games, however, Walters also has 6 home runs, 9 RBI and has scored 8 runs. He has a slugging percentage of .583 for the Indians in his limited action so far this year. Cleveland may have just found the big bat they’ve been looking for in the switch hitting Walters.

The Flailing Cleveland Indians

As it currently stands, the Cleveland Indians are in third place in the American League Central division with a 59-59 record. Last year at this time the Indians were 64-56 and in second place in the division, obviously a much better situation record-wise, but if you can believe it mathematically right now they are closer to first place than they were last year at this point. As it stands, the Indians are currently five games back of the division leading (don’t pinch yourself, it’s not a dream) Kansas City Royals. On this date last year, while in second place, they were six games back of the Detroit Tigers. The Indians are also still alive in the AL Wild Card race, currently 4.5 games out. Last season, every time this team was thought to be done they put together a long winning streak. It happened three times that I can remember. Mathematically the Indians are in the postseason hunt, as they were last year. However the difference between last year and this year is that this season I have absolutely no confidence at this point for the Cleveland Indians.

Last season we used words like clutch and magic to describe this team, especially late in the year. It seemed like every time the Indians needed to win in a big game, Jason Giambi would pinch hit for somebody and hit a walk off home run. The offense always came through. Our bats bailed us out. And this year our offense stinks. Except, that’s not really the case. For the 2013 season the Cleveland Indians hit .264 with runners in scoring position. So far this year the Indians are batting .263 with runners in scoring position. How about late game clutch situations? Baseball-Reference categorizes these situations as Late & Clutch, and defines them as “plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck”. Last year the Indians were batting .254 in these situations. This year, the Indians are hitting .244. Yes, a slight dip, but enough to cripple this team? Probably not, especially when you consider that last year the Indians offense collectively had 104 RBI and scored 110 runs in these situations while this year so far they have 95 RBI and 98 runs scored. Considering there is a month and a half left in the season it seems reasonable to project that the Indians will match or even surpass those numbers. Last season the Cleveland Indians were tied for 5th in the league in runs scored with 745 and were 13th in batting average, collectively hitting .255. This season, the Indians are 6th in runs scored so far with 522 and are 11th in team batting average, hitting .256. Last season defensively, the Indians as a team had a fielding percentage of .983 (21st) and were 11th in errors. This season the defense is the worst team in the league in terms of fielding percentage at .979 and first in errors, committing 91 so far. While those numbers are a step back and clearly not good (for either year), is a 4% drop in fielding percentage the reason why this team is flailing? It certainly doesn’t help, but I’d say it’s not the primary reason. Yes, the bats have been inconsistent at times this year. Guess what, they were last year too. The Indians averaged nearly 4.6 runs per game last year. This year through 118 games they are averaging 4.4 runs per game. Yes, they made no major additions, but they had no major losses from an offense that was in or near the top 10 in many statistical categories last year. That remains the case this year.

Alright, so what’s the point?

TomlinThe primary reason the Cleveland Indians are struggling, and will continue to do so for the rest of the season, is because of one thing. The starting rotation. Before giving a statistical analysis, consider this. The Cleveland Indians opening day starting rotation consisted of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The Indians have traded Masterson, McAllister and Salazar combined have made 19 starts in the minors (compared to 26 starts with the Indians), Carrasco lost his starting job (however has regained it, recently winning his first game as a starter since 2011) to Josh Tomlin (who has been as inconsistent as everyone else anyway), Trevor Bauer hasn’t successfully made the leap to consistent starter many were hoping for and lastly, people know who T.J. House is. Now, for the numbers. Last year’s starting rotation was far from lights out, but they were reliable. For the 2013 season Tribe starters collectively had a 3.92 ERA (14th in baseball) while the opposition hit .254 against them (13th). So far this year, Tribe starters collectively have an ERA of 4.37 while opposing offenses are batting .270 against them. As a whole, last year’s pitching staff (starters and relievers) had an ERA of 3.82 (15th) and the starters and an ERA of 3.92 while the offense averaged almost 4.6 runs per game. This year, the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.84 (nearly identical to last year, but 18th overall) while the starters have an ERA of 4.37 and the offense is averaging 4.4 runs per game. Keep in mind, the rotation’s awful ERA includes the 2.46 ERA of Corey Kluber. That’s how bad everyone else is.

Last season, the Cleveland Indians offense provided some support. That is also the case again this season. The difference between last season and this season, and the reason why the Indians have a small chance of making the postseason this year, is the starting rotation. Outside of Corey Kluber the Indians have nobody else to confidently hand the ball to. That’s a problem, and that’s why the Cleveland Indians are flailing.

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.

Cleveland Indians: June Ups and Downs

This Cleveland Indians team is, if nothing else, frustrating. Just when it looks like they are about to turn a corner they seem to forget how to play baseball. Most recently the Indians finally got themselves over the .500 mark in early June, thanks in large part to a stretch between May 30th and June 9th were the Tribe won nine out of ten games. In the thirteen games since the Indians have only won four and have been swept by the Detroit Tigers at home in front of over 100,000 fans (for the series). There is a silver lining to this unfortunate turn, however. And his name is Carlos Santana.

Carlos SantanaBy all accounts, Carlos Santana has been miserable this season. For the majority of the time his batting average has been under .200 and the experiment at third base was nothing short of sloppy defensively. Then something happened to Carlos, on the afternoon of May 25th while catching against the Baltimore Orioles a foul ball hit his catcher’s mask. He then missed the next nine games with a concussion. All he’s done since he’s come back is hit the cover off the ball, and that is a welcome sight for anybody associated with the Cleveland Indians – player, coach or fan. On the season, Santana is only batting .214 and has only driven in 31 runs. Over the last 28 days he has appeared in 17 games and is hitting .371 in that span, including six home runs (he has twelve on the year) and 14 RBI (almost half of his 31 for the season). Since returning to the lineup for the Indians Santana has been playing first base regularly. He hasn’t committed one error in this span (139.1 innings) which, let’s face it, is a small victory in itself for this team.

The production Santana has been providing recently has been much needed. As a team the Indians are batting .257 on the year. With the help of Santana the Indians are batting .270 over the last 28 days (23 games). Santana’s on base percentage, which for a while was his only redeeming quality, has also gone up during this recent hot streak. For the 2014 season his OBP is .366. Over the last 28 days that number has ballooned to .480 while his slugging percentage during this time is .710 (.408 SLG in 2014).

The Indians offense has also been enjoying increased production from Michael Brantley. Brantley, who also missed a handful of games with a minor concussion, hasn’t even come close to struggling like Santana has this season. But somehow, this guy continues to get better and better as the year goes on. On the season Brantley is batting .323 with a .390 on base percentage. He’s hit 11 home runs (a career high) driven in 49 runs (on pace to set a career high) has scored 51 runs (career high of 66 in 2013), has stolen nine bases without being caught once and has only committed one error (in the third game of the season). How does it get better? Over the last 28 games Brantley has hit .354 with a .424 on base percentage. He has hit two home runs, driven in ten runs and scored 19 runs during this time. Over the last two weeks he has hit over .400.

Now, can somebody explain to me why the Indians are only 11-10 in the month of June when they have two guys in the lineup producing like Santana and Brantley? Well allow me to answer my own question, bro.

Now it’s unfair to pin all of the Indians struggles on Nick Swisher, but he certainly isn’t helping anything. Like Santana, Swisher missed a chunk of time in late May and early June to an injury (knee). Unlike Santana, he has not come back swinging. For the month of June (he’s only appeared in 10 games so far this month) Swisher is hitting .132 with six RBI and two runs scored. His on base percentage is also a pathetic .132 during this time (meaning he hasn’t walked once) and he’s struck out 18 times – which is obviously a terrible strikeout to walk ratio. Unlike Santana, it seems like Swisher isn’t even seeing the ball, or at least he has a terrible approach. Regardless, the Indians fifteen million dollar man has to start producing something, even if that’s only like a five million dollar man.

Now, onto the biggest reason the Indians have struggled for the month of June (no, it’s not Nick Swisher’s fault). The Indians starting pitching has been a disaster as of late. This month Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and T.J. House have combined to make 21 starts, totaling 117 innings pitched (on average less than 6 innings per start) and have a combined ERA of 5.03. The opposition is batting .288 off of Indians starters during this stretch. And while our ace hasn’t been as bad as others in the rotation, he hasn’t been good either. Justin Masterson, who has been reported to be asking for an extension worth $17 million per year, has an ERA of 4.56 for the month of June (5.03 on the year). The only two consistent bright spots for the Indians in terms of pitchers for the month of June have been Cody Allen (1.80 ERA in 10 innings pitched) and Carlos Carrasco (1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings of work).

All of this adds up to a disappointing 11-10 record with a -6 run differential (102 runs scored, 108 runs allowed) so far for June. The offense is appearing to come around and is showing signs of stability (the Indians are 6th in the league in runs scored on the year and 7th overall for the month of June). But struggles from guys like Nick Swisher and nearly every pitcher on the staff are what’s holding this team back. The Indians are in third place in the AL Central (six games back of Detroit) and 4.5 games behind in the AL Wild Card standings. However if pitching coach Mickey Callaway can’t get quality starts from his pitchers (which at this point is like trying to get water from a rock) they may as well end the season now.

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.

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.

Cleveland Indians 2014 Season Preview

With the Cleveland Indians 2014 season right around the corner (their first game is 3/31 in Oakland) the Opening Day roster is starting has taken shape. These Indians will look to build upon a successful 2013 campaign that they feel was cut short after losing their one game Wild Card playoff game to Tampa Bay. The catchphrase this season seems to be “Unfinished Business”, but will the Indians be able to follow through on this claim? There are several factors that will determine whether this team will be 2014 playoff contenders or just a letdown (see the 2008 Cleveland Indians). With all that in mind, here is the Cleveland Indians 2014 season preview.

 

 

Pitching

Can Masterson repeat last year’s success?

The success or failure of the team will likely start and end with pitching, specifically the starting rotation. This is a rotation that lost Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency and, for all the success of last season, is a rotation littered with question marks. Starting at the top, Indians ace Justin Masterson is in the last year of his contract and despite his (reported) willingness to take a pay cut to stick around, extension talks have stalled. Masterson has said this won’t affect his concentration for the 2014 season but that remains to be determined. He posted career bests last season in wins (14), shutouts (3), strikeouts (195) and WHIP (1.20) while notching a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings pitched. Masty did all of this while receiving an average of only 3.52 runs per game, 15th lowest among qualified starters last season.

 

 

The concern for the rotation is less with Masterson and more with everyone else. Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco make up the Indians starting rotation after Masterson. Combined, they have all pitched fewer innings in their careers (782.1) than Masterson (1013). This inexperience is a major concern. Last season McAllister and Kluber were borderline starters to start the season. Salazar’s name was hardly brought up and Carrasco was looked to be brought along throughout the course of the 2013 season. Now all four are going to be relied upon heavily to guide the Indians towards the playoffs. While this isn’t an impossible task (McAllister, Kluber and Salazar did have some success last season) an increased role and more innings does not always translate positively. As was the case last season, the starting rotation will have to overachieve for this team to have success.

 

 

For Carrasco, this might be his last chance as he is out of options and has failed to live up to expectations since being acquired in the Cliff Lee trade.

 

 

Carrasco edged out Josh Tomlin to win the last starting job available in the rotation. Tomlin will begin the season in Triple-A, which might be for the best as he continues to shake the rust off after missing all but one game of the 2013 season (Tommy John surgery). Trevor Bauer will also join Tomlin in Triple-A as he continues to try and figure out how to get his skills to translate to the big league level. Veteran Shaun Marcum will open the season on the disabled list at the Triple-A level, but should his rehab go successfully don’t be surprised to see him in an Indians uniform, especially if Carrasco (or another member of the rotation) struggles. The 2013 season was a disaster for Marcum, but he has a career ERA of 3.88 with respectable K/9 and BB/9 ratios (7.3 and 2.7 respectively). He could act as the veteran presence in the rotation and, if healthy, could be a solid end of the rotation pitcher. Should Carrasco struggle early (or throw at somebody else’s head) and Marcum is healthy, expect to see the veteran in the rotation before the All-Star break.

 

 

The Tribe bullpen consists of some familiar faces with a couple new names sprinkled in. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Vinnie Pestano will all be a part of the Tribe ‘pen. They will be joined by Blake Wood, Scott Atchison, Josh Outman and new closer John Axford. Last season Indians relievers did a respectable job, finishing the season with a 3.62 ERA (19th) while the opposition had a batting average of only .239 (9th best). Still there is room for improvement as Tribe relievers gave up 221 walks (4th most) in 516.2 innings pitched. Terry Francona and (Tribe Pitching Coach) Mickey Callaway will be hopeful that Axford can lock down the closer role, Pestano can bounce back from a disastrous 2013 and that Allen and Rzepczynski can continue to be reliable middle relievers. As with the starting rotation, the Tribe bullpen has talent, but that talent has question marks.

 

 

Offense

Despite hitting only .255 as a team last year, the Cleveland Indians had a very productive offense. They finished in the top ten in runs scored (745), doubles (290), home runs (171), on base percentage (.327) and slugging percentage (.410). The Indians are actually in a position to put up similar numbers this season as they didn’t really lose anybody to free agency from their lineup. Despite not signing another marquee bat (unless David Murphy gets you excited) the Indians will likely have the same or similar lineup we saw late last season. Jason Kipnis will look to build upon an All-Star season last year. As I wrote about previously, Michael Bourn (once healthy) and Nick Swisher will look to improve upon last season’s numbers. With expanded roles in the offense, Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes hope to provide similar production. Despite all of this, one key stat will continue to be paramount for this offense.

 

 

In addition to the previously mentioned top ten numbers the offense posted in 2013, they were in the top ten in both hitting with runners in scoring position and hitting with runners in scoring position and two outs. The Tribe offense finished 9th and 6th in these categories respectively. The Indians don’t have a .300 hitter in their lineup, the closest thing to that coming in the form of Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Knowing this, the Indians will have to rely upon timely hitting. Last year 564 of the team’s 745 runs came with runners in scoring position, 231 of those coming with runners in scoring position and two outs. They hit 43 home runs and 80 doubles w/RISP; being able to repeat that success will be as important as the starting rotation overachieving.

 

 

What will 2014 bring for Chisenhall?

Quality depth was also key for the Tribe offense. The “Goon Squad” played a large part in the success of the team. New squad members this season in the form of Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy and Elliot Johnson will hopefully give Terry Francona a similar spark off the bench. Keep an eye on Lonnie Chisenhall as well. Chisenhall made the opening day 25 man roster, but not as the starting third baseman. That job now belongs to Carlos Santana. Francona made it clear that this is not a platoon situation, although it’s expected that Chisenhall will see some time at third base. As it stands now, the DH spot looks to be somewhat of a platoon situation. Now that Lonnie won’t have to focus on defense as much, keep an eye out for him to possibly become the teams regular DH. Chisenhall made it this far with his reputation of being a good hitter. While that hasn’t translated all that well in the big leagues so far, perhaps just focusing on hitting could be the key to unlocking his talents. In 52 at bats this spring, Lonnie is hitting .308 with 2 home runs, 2 triples, 8 runs batted in and 8 runs scored. If those numbers can translate to the regular season Francona will have no choice but to put his bat in the lineup regularly. With Santana having defensive success at third base (so far), that spot could be DH for Lonnie.

 

 

Predictions

Despite some questions with the pitching staff, this team has the ability to duplicate their success from last season. The Detroit Tigers could take a step back this season with the trade of Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander showing he is in fact mortal. The Kansas City Royals actually lived up to their expectations (for a change) last season but are far from a runaway favorite. The Indians should be able to compete within their division as well as for one of the two AL Wild Card spots (hush hush Kenny Lofton). Predicting another 90+ win season for a team that lacks a true power hitter and has questions in the rotation is difficult. Look for the Indians to finish in the 84-87 win range and compete for a post season spot.
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2014 Indians Roster Preview, Predictions: Part Two

masty

Last week, I took a look at the Indians offense and made my predictions on who will don the Indians uniform at the start of the Major League Baseball season. This week, with the roster almost completely set, we will focus less on predictions and more about the Indians pitching heading into 2014. First a brief recap on how I did and what we currently know about the Indians roster:

 

 

Johnson, Morgan In, Frenchy Out:

 

 

I correctly predicted that super utility man Eliot Johnson would make the Indians and ultimately his versatility was too much for the Tribe to pass up. With the news that Michael Bourn will start the season on the disabled list, albeit for four games, Johnson becomes another option in center and a true emergency option at catcher. Speaking of center, I assumed that with Johnson’s flexibility and Michael Brantley’s experience that Nyjer Morgan would not make the Indians but ultimately he will join the Indians in Oakland. I expect Morgan’s stay to be contingent upon when Michael Bourn can return and without any setbacks, expect Morgan in Cleveland for a very short period of time. His excitement over “Tony Plush,” his alter ego also making the team is a perfect indicator of why he has a sketchy reputation in the game. Any good fan wants the best players on the team so if he gets a true opportunity and capitalizes on it, good for him but I find his act annoying and self-serving. The star player on a team shouldn’t be talking about alter egos, let alone the last man on the roster.

 

 

Outfielder Jeff Francoeur did not make the team as I hitting bench option, as Giambi does so ultimately this was either what doomed him or the Tribe just didn’t feel he was worth the gamble. I think he is and it will be interesting to see if he catches on with somebody else.

 

 

Santana to Man Third, Chis to Bench

 

 

Within the past few hours, a surprising decision was officially confirmed by Terry Francona: Lonnie Chisenhall will not start or platoon at third base to start the 2014 season. Although he did not have an outstanding camp, I figured Chis wouldn’t make the roster unless he was going to start everyday against righties. Although he has a history of dominating Triple-A pitching, I felt he would still benefit more starting every game in Columbus as opposed to a lesser role with the Indians. Perhaps the former Number One overall pick will respond better to the challenge of earning playing time in limited opportunities as opposed to being given the job but I must admit I am a bit perplexed by this decision. Santana looks good thus far at third but giving him the job is a risk and a storyline that will be followed very closely from day one.

 

 

With the current housekeeping out of the way, let’s discuss and predict the remaining members of the Indians rotation (one spot) and bullpen (one or two spots):

 

 

Starting Rotation:

 

 

Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar

 

 

If the Indians based this decision on Spring Training and minimizing risk, Josh Tomlin would get the nod over Carrasco. Thus far, Tomlin has been the most consistent pitcher in camp and with him the Indians would know exactly what they are going to get: A pitcher likely to keep the Indians in the game for 5-6 innings and little more after that. However, Carrasco will get the nod at this point because Tomlin can return to Columbus and baseball is a long season. By that I mean, Tomlin is capable of getting the job done at any point this year so why not give Carrasco the first crack? The worst case scenario is Carrasco struggles and Tomlin joins the rotation quickly. The best case? Tomlin can start whenever a spot starter is necessary and get the job done after the inevitable first injury.

 

 

The standards for these two pitchers are far different but that is what happens when one guy can throw in the upper 90’s. Carrasco certainly hasn’t alleviated concerns but he pitched well enough this spring to warrant the first shot and his performance on Monday is the kicker for me. He needed to pitch well to seize the opportunity and he did just that against the Reds with a six inning, three run performance quality start as at least six innings and three runs or less earns a pitcher, is what the Indians need from their second-fourth starters this year, not just the fifth starter. Carlos Carrasco will be the Indians hurler on April 4th, when the Tribe opens up the home schedule against the Twins.

 

 

While an Opening Day start from Carrasco could go many different ways for the Indians, the one guy that the Tribe can expect success from all year is Justin Masterson. Before getting to the other starters, I need to get the following off my chest in regards to the Indians and Masterson ending negotiations on a contract extension:

 

 

The Masterson camp did an excellent job of calling the Indians bluff and proved that they are not a team willing to invest big bucks in a starting pitcher, regardless of how many years he signs for. The Jake Westbrook/Travis Hafner contracts are a fantastic scapegoat for the Indians to hide behind but the reality is that the Indians blew a wonderful opportunity to make a statement to not only the fan base but to the entire league. Masterson needs to put it all together this year and he will do so while making the All-Star team. His Agent Randy Rowley will be smiling this time next year when Masterson gets four to six years from a team not named the Cleveland Indians. I said he was gone when I assumed that Masterson would go for the max number of years and amazingly he wanted to stay here for a few years. The Indians blew this one, they blew it badly and it is not an excuse for poor attendance but is an example of why some fans are lost, at least as ticket buyers, as long as the Dolans own this team. I don’t understand why anybody attends Browns games but that is another story entirely. I do understand why the Indians don’t get good attendance and a lack of trust is one of the reasons. I will continue to personally attend 15+ games as I do every year but I understand and do not begrudge the people that still choose not to support the Dolan family.

 

 

End of Rant.

 

 

So the Indians have three other starters’ right? Rather than going one by one with this guys, I will lump them all together by saying: These guys will prove that they can go deep into games to help the bullpen or the season will be long and disappointing. It’s not exactly rocket science but Corey Kluber, Zack McAllister and Danny Salazar are all major question marks. I tend to expect more from Kluber than the other two but they all need to pick up the slack without another known innings eater like Ubaldo Jimenez to help Masty. One of these three will not do this and that doesn’t mean the Indians will sink if a Tomlin, a Marcum or even a Trevor Bauer can seize their opportunity when it comes. It is the idea that two or three of these starters could struggle to put up innings that has so many pundits doubting the Indians this year…

 

 

Hopefully, the Indians depth options that I mentioned, coupled with the Opening Day rotation can eat up enough innings to keep the Indians in the races all year long.

 

 

Bullpen: 7*

 

 

John Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepcynzki, Josh Outman, Vinnie Pestano, Blake Wood

 

 

*If the Indians select Josh Tomlin as the fifth starter, Indians will carry Carlos Carrasco as eighth reliever.

 

 

Since Carlos Carrasco is out of options and will make the 25-man roster, the only person that I have listed on the roster that is not yet guaranteed a job is Blake Wood. This flame throwing righty, who had Tommy John surgery in late spring of 2012, is the wild card of this group and not because he is the last who will earn a spot on the roster. He has Closer stuff and could very well be an unsung hero for this group. Nobody in the ‘pen intrigues me more than Wood and he was simply fantastic in Arizona. He earned this opportunity and I envision a special year for the former Royal. If I am wrong, expect Chen-Cheng Lee to get the first crack at a roster spot. He’s ready to pitch in Cleveland right now but is a victim of age and the Indians stellar depth in the bullpen heading into 2014.

 

 

On the subject of earning an opportunity, Vinnie Pestano did what he needed to do this spring to prove that last year can be a one season blip on his radar screen. Pestano’s velocity is still down but he never thrived because of his fastball, he did so with deception and pinpoint command. He will likely get his innings in middle relief to start but it wouldn’t surprise anybody if Vinnie gets his old eighth inning job back at some point this season.

 

 

Among the names mentioned, Josh Outman is the guy that looked the least impressive in camp but any stats against righties are nearly irrelevant to me. He is a lefty specialist and should be relegated to that duty. He gets left-handed hitters out and along with Rzepcynski gives the Indians two more reliable options than last year’s lefty, Rich Hill, from the get go. Having Hagadone waiting in the wings is a nice consolation prize if one of these two suffer an injury or struggle. Or the Indians can always just pitch Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen every day, I’m more than alright with that!

 

 

All kidding aside, Shaw and Allen give the Indians a terrific bridge to new Closer John Axford. I’m optimistic that Axford can rebound based on his track record and success at the end of last year with the Cardinals but both of these guys can step in if needed. I contend that if either Vinnie Pestano or John Axford pitches to form that the bullpen will be a major strength this season. I say that as a dominant Pestano can re-take the eighth inning while Allen or Shaw serves as the closer. I do not envision this scenario but it is one of the reasons why the bullpen is the best unit on the 2014 Indians.