Tag Archives: Justin Verlander

Tribe Time Now Weekend Update #9: José Ramirez isn't very good

On this episode of the Tribe Time Now Weekend Update…

Joe Coblitz (@BRBBlog) and Mike Melaragno (@melaragno_22) repBurning River Baseball on the Weekend Update, talking about the Indians lackluster offense and tremendous pitching. After discussing the struggles of Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall, we get to break the news that one of the two has been demoted to AAA. In addition, we cover Justin Verlander’s start against the Clippers and who the Indians might take with their first round draft pick (update: It was Brady Aiken)

Topics:

  •  Two runs per game
  • Possible replacements for Chisenhall
  • Justin Verlander’s AAA Start
  • Breaking New: Ramirez Demotion
  • Potential draft picks

Don’t forget to join us Saturday, July 11th at Hoopples Riverbed Cafe for our first tweet up. Information can be found here.

It’s Tribe Time Now!

Before we delve into the Indians starting rotation for 2015, a shameless plug:

…For the new MTAF: Cleveland podcast: Tribe Time Now hosted by yours truly! This week, we broke open the show with Joe Coblitz from burningriverbaseball.com. We discussed a number of topics surrounding the Indians, Major League Baseball, expanding the strike zone, etc. Be sure to click the link below and subscribe (coming to iTunes Podcenter soon!):

You can follow us on Twitter @_TribeTimeNever

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Will Reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber be able to maintain his dominant 2013 form and lead the young Tribe rotation to the promised land?

The premise sounds very Hollywood — that much is true. Like the 2013 season, the Indians come into spring training with high hopes for their rotation. Corey Kluber returns as the staff ace after a stellar year in which he over-powered nearly every opponent he faced. Filling in the 2,3 and 4 slots are Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Gavin Floyd. The final spot appears to be up for grabs between Right-handed flame thrower Danny Salazar and southpaw T.J. House.

Their are three spots that are locked up for sure: Kluber, Carrasco, and Bauer. The final two spots are fluid and very dependent several factors that will present themselves as spring training progresses.

The first kink that will need worked out is Gavin Floyd

I wrote late last year about the Floyd signing and my weariness of it. Clearly, the Indians are hoping that Floyd can reinvent himself like Scott Kazmir in 2013. Unfortunately, lightning never strikes the same place twice. I just don’t see Floyd panning out.

Floyd’s best years are clearly behind him. His 2008 campaign was his best and only year that he eclipsed the 200 inning mark. Since that season, he has pitched 187, 193, 168, 24, and 54 innings in ’09-’14 respectively. In 2014, things were looking up for Floyd. Through 9 starts, he held a 2-2 record, had a 3.5 SO/W ratio, and a FIP of 3.8 (considered average). In a game in which he was pitching masterfully against the Nationals, Floyd was forced to exit the game after feeling something pop in his previously-injured elbow in which he underwent Tommy John Surgery. He would miss the rest of the season with the injury before he was signed by the Indians in the off-season.

The fact that Floyd came back from TJS in 2013 and began what appeared to be a promising 2014 campaign gives me hope for this season. Having said that, two major elbow surgeries in two seasons makes me on edge. There’s only so much the body can take and two consecutive surgeries on a very active of major league elbow.

Honestly, if the Indians could get 120 solid innings, a 3.40 ERA, a +3 SO/W ratio, and an average FIP stat, I would be extremely pleased.

The next question that needs to be answered is what do the Indians do with T.J. House and Danny Salazar

Anyone that has a decent memory and pays even the slightest bit of attention to baseball will tell you that Danny Salazar is special. Salazar has always reminded me of Verlander in his prime. For kicks, check out these two GIFs of the two pitchers throwing a fastball. The similarities between their mechanics is uncanny (click on each GIF to watch):

Justin_Verlander_Ultimate_2012_Highlights DET_CLE_Salazar_strikes_out_10_over_7_2_3_innings

Salazar’s leg kick and arm angle are eerily similar to Verlander’s. If Verlander’s success is any indication, let’s hope that Salazar figures it out this season and puts all the pieces together.

Salazar is your prototypical right-handed blazer who easily throws the ball in the mid-upper nineties consistently. What I love more than anything about his stuff is the discrepancy between his fastball and breaking ball. The split second the hitter has to decipher the rotation of the ball and the speed with which it is travelling towards him gives Salazar an edge not many others enjoy.

Oh, and his breaking ball is straight nasty. There’s that too:

CLE_CWS_Salazar_whiffs_10_in_just_3_2_3_innings

T.J. House debuted for the Indians in 2014 and had a perfectly normal season. He went 5-3 over 19 starts with a 3.35 ERA and 3.69 FIP. Additionally, his SO/W ratio was 3.64 and he pitched 102 innings (approximately 5 1/3 innings/start). Personally, I think that House, for those who are risk averse, is appealing because his first year is indicative of someone who can provide consistent, albeit not dominant, starts.

For those who fancy themselves as risk takers, Salazar is the clear option considering his high upside and unique skill set/pitch repertoire.

If House ends up in AAA Columbus to begin the year and eventually has to come up for a spot start or to fill the eventual hole that Floyd will leave, that would work for me. Right now, taking a chance on Salazar just makes sense. He has all the tools to be a very successful right-handed pitcher alongside Corey Kluber.

Indians news and notes: Week of February 11th

According to Jon Heyman:

For about a week now, various reports have surfaced linking the Indians to several different relief pitchers such as Barry Zito. It was reported last night and confirmed today that the Indians had indeed signed Bruce Chen to a one year/$1 million minor league with $1 million in performance-based incentives.

I have to agree with my colleague Joe Coblitz in that the Chen signing just doesn’t make any sense. His career numbers are nothing indicative of need-to-have talent. Chen’s ERA has been up and down all over his career and, as Joe puts it:

        “Chen’s up and down career provides and excellent reason to ignore conventional statistics and go straight to the FIP. Of those 16 years, Chen finished eight with an ERA above 5.00 and six below 4.00, but all but three of those seasons were within one run of his career average 4.91 FIP. Two of those three seasons (all of which were more than a run above 4.91) came when he pitched 45 games across 2006 and 2007 before missing all of 2008 with injury.”

There just doesn’t seem to be a place in which Chen fits. The Indians have a plethora of starters with several individuals that would spot start or jump Chen if the need would ever arise. Additionally, Chen is going to have to work is way in to an already above-average bullpen. I agree with Joe in that giving innings to Chen is an absolute waste of younger, higher upside talent in individuals like Nick Hagadone, Kyle Crockett, Scott Downs, or Nick Maronde.

Construction update: The New Bar has it’s Name!

I received an email today (as I’m sure many of you have asking about a few names for the bar that is being constructed along with the stacked bullpens, etc. Personally, option #2 is clearly the best and I can’t wait to enjoy a cold beer at The Corner of Carnegie and Ontario while I channel my inner Hammy.

Next week: Dissecting the Indians Bullpen

 Next week, I’d like to discuss the Indian’s bullpen in-depth. Normally  I would want to cover the entire pitching staff in one article, but I know attention spans are often short.

Please be sure to check out our new podcast and subscribe!

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!

If Choo, Cano Sign in the AL Central

Yesterday, I saw multiple reports that shook my inner Indians fan to its core.

First Buster Olney said this…

Then reports surfaced that Robinson Cano was on his way to Kansas City to sign with the Royals.

Gulp…

If you’re an Indians fan, this all hurts tremendously.

First of all, the Tigers, should they sign Shin-Soo Choo, might just be the best team in baseball. Take a gander at this lineup, should Shin Soo make his way to the Motor City.

Shin-Soo Choo
Ian Kinsler
Torii Hunter
Miguel Cabrera
Victor Martinez
Torii Hunter
Nick Castellanos
Alex Avila
Jose Iglesias

That lineup at its face value could easily take on any in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit houses baseball’s best pitching staff.

Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Anibal Sanchez
Doug Fister
Drew Smyly

The worst part of it all is that Dave Dombrowski seems to be on a World Series mission and will use all of the cash in the world to get there.

In other words, they’re not done yet. Not even close.

While the Tigers will certainly have the upper hand on the Indians seemingly regardless of the situation, the Tribe could at least compete with a Choo-less Tigers lineup. Once you put the former Indians star at the top of that order, who knows just how far the talent gap will grow.

All the while, Omar Vizquel has taken the job of first base coach in Detroit.

First Victor. Then Omar. Now Choo?

Detroit is slowly but surely destroying the Indians and their fan-base former player by former player.

Meanwhile, another AL Central team seems be on a mission and ready to spend some cash.

Rumors yesterday are showing that Robinson Cano may just be the newest member of the Kanas City Royals, in what would be an earth shattering development. Should that splash happen, the Royals could easily move into the second rung of the AL Central ladder and could become a legitimate World Series contender.

David Lough
Alex Gordon
Robinson Cano
Eric Hosmer
Billy Butler
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Salvador Perez
Alcides Escobar

Add in the top end of their pitching staff and they might be one of the most under-the-radar teams in all of baseball.

James Shields
Jeremy Guthrie
Ervin Santana
Wade Davis
Bruce Chen

First, the Tigers go out and get much better by moving Miguel Cabrera to first base, adding Ian Kinsler to the mix and potentially adding Shin-Soo Choo. Then, the Royals get the most highly sought after free agent in all of baseball.

Of course these are both hypothetical, but reported, circumstances, but in any case, can the Indians catch a break?
Sure, the Indians did get better on Wednesday by signing David Murphy to take over the everyday right field duties, but the Indians can’t compete with the suddenly big market teams in Detroit and Kansas City, should these deals go down.

The worst part is, there’s really nothing they can do about it.

The Indians don’t have the money to put a bid in on Robinson Cano. They can’t make a deal to bring back Choo. They just simply can’t make these splashes as, apparently, Detroit and Kansas City can.

This is all to say, Indians fans, that maybe last year, despite its heartbreak towards the end, was as good as its going to get. Maybe the magic that Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and Ubaldo Jimenez brought to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario last season was as good as its going to get for a while.

The Tigers and Royals may be on the verge of taking over the American League and leaving the lowly Indians, White Sox and Twins in the dust.

Despite all of the good that Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro have done for the Indians and for the city of Cleveland, it may all be for naught. The Indians, for the forseeable future, may be trapped in the dark, vast dungeon of the American League Central Division.

Is there anything they can do to get out, should Choo and Cano sign within this division?

Yes, but it would be very, very unlikely.

First of all could get out of the dungeon by getting lucky again and again as they did last season with Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. If Antonetti continues to pull off moves such as those, the Indians can compete.

Even then, however, things will still be difficult.

They would still have to spend money to solidify their rotation, which is decent but needs a little help. They would also need prospects like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar to be all that we expected and more.

Again, its not impossible, just very, very unlikely.

Other than that, just hope that these two rumors were nothing but. Hope that Choo and Cano sign with the Yankees, as that organization is a continual mess.

If you’re an Indians fan, however, just accept that should Cano and Choo sign in the Central, the new era of Indians excellence may come to a tragic and screeching halt.

All of the hope and optimism could be over with a few simple swoops of a fateful pen. Enjoy it, Tribe fans, because very soon, the fun could be over.

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.

Barefoot Clowns in October: JT’s Irrational Fear

October. One month out of twelve. It generally has some of the most pleasant weather of a New England year. Hockey season normally is just beginning. The year’s NFL contenders start to emerge. The NBA is right around the corner. It should be a great time for any sports fan. Why do I fear it so?

As a child I might have feared the month because I was just in the beginning of another long school year. As an adult, I hate all the buses during my morning commute.

Maybe it’s Halloween. I never knew what or who to be, so it was usually a last minute mask or fake teeth. No, that can’t be it either.

Ah, now I remember. October baseball, or to be more specific, October Red Sox baseball.

I was a Red Sox fan growing up and have remained one into adulthood. I, along with many others, have suffered through countless failings of the local ball club during the playoffs. I will not bother to reminisce about those painful details here, but suffice it to say, looking back to those dark times runs a chill up my spine. Sure, I know the Sox finally broke through in 2004, and even won another in 2007, but can those two fleeting moments really distract from the futility of years past?

I write this article in the middle of September. The Sox are rolling at the moment. They have just swept the New York Yankees in Fenway (quite possibly out of the A.L. wild card race). My colleague Matt Kline recently wrote that the Red Sox are a shoe in for the title this season. They have the best record in the American League, and are close to wrapping up home field advantage in the playoffs. Clay Buchholz is back, Jon Lester is more dialed-in than he has been all season, and Jake Peavy and John Lackey have turned in strong outings down the stretch. The offense, for the most part, has been clicking on all cylinders. Even the bullpen leading up to Koji Uehara is starting to take shape. The team looks primed and ready for a deep playoff run. Why am I still afraid?

I have many irrational fears. I hate walking barefoot. I really hate clowns. I don’t know why. They exist to make us laugh, yet they freak me out.

I look around the American League, and I don’t see any team that can take it to the Sox. Detroit has a strong team, but Justin Verlander hasn’t been right for much of the year and the Miguel Cabrera injury changes their whole offense. Oakland has strong pitching, but I don’t trust their offense. I feel the same about Tampa Bay. The Rangers have been so up and down this year that I don’t know how anyone can trust them. Cleveland will get a polite mention here, but they aren’t ready for what’s to come if they do make it. Everything points to another banner year for the Sox, yet I am still fearful. I really can’t explain it. I guess it’s just in my DNA.

October. The clowniest month. That’s just some guy in white face paint with a red nose, right?

Barefoot Clowns in October: JT's Irrational Fear

October. One month out of twelve. It generally has some of the most pleasant weather of a New England year. Hockey season normally is just beginning. The year’s NFL contenders start to emerge. The NBA is right around the corner. It should be a great time for any sports fan. Why do I fear it so?

As a child I might have feared the month because I was just in the beginning of another long school year. As an adult, I hate all the buses during my morning commute.

Maybe it’s Halloween. I never knew what or who to be, so it was usually a last minute mask or fake teeth. No, that can’t be it either.

Ah, now I remember. October baseball, or to be more specific, October Red Sox baseball.

I was a Red Sox fan growing up and have remained one into adulthood. I, along with many others, have suffered through countless failings of the local ball club during the playoffs. I will not bother to reminisce about those painful details here, but suffice it to say, looking back to those dark times runs a chill up my spine. Sure, I know the Sox finally broke through in 2004, and even won another in 2007, but can those two fleeting moments really distract from the futility of years past?

I write this article in the middle of September. The Sox are rolling at the moment. They have just swept the New York Yankees in Fenway (quite possibly out of the A.L. wild card race). My colleague Matt Kline recently wrote that the Red Sox are a shoe in for the title this season. They have the best record in the American League, and are close to wrapping up home field advantage in the playoffs. Clay Buchholz is back, Jon Lester is more dialed-in than he has been all season, and Jake Peavy and John Lackey have turned in strong outings down the stretch. The offense, for the most part, has been clicking on all cylinders. Even the bullpen leading up to Koji Uehara is starting to take shape. The team looks primed and ready for a deep playoff run. Why am I still afraid?

I have many irrational fears. I hate walking barefoot. I really hate clowns. I don’t know why. They exist to make us laugh, yet they freak me out.

I look around the American League, and I don’t see any team that can take it to the Sox. Detroit has a strong team, but Justin Verlander hasn’t been right for much of the year and the Miguel Cabrera injury changes their whole offense. Oakland has strong pitching, but I don’t trust their offense. I feel the same about Tampa Bay. The Rangers have been so up and down this year that I don’t know how anyone can trust them. Cleveland will get a polite mention here, but they aren’t ready for what’s to come if they do make it. Everything points to another banner year for the Sox, yet I am still fearful. I really can’t explain it. I guess it’s just in my DNA.

October. The clowniest month. That’s just some guy in white face paint with a red nose, right?

Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Preview

The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers begin a weekend series at Comerica Park this evening, and while the series is important to both clubs, it is crucial for Cleveland.  The Tigers hold a 6.5 game lead over the Indians in the Central and are coming off a poor series against the A’s; they were a strike away from being swept in four straight on Thursday.  The Indians, meanwhile, were just swept in Atlanta, scoring only three runs in three games and going 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position.  Complicating things further for Cleveland is the fact that they are 3-13 against Detroit in 2013, and the last time these two met, the Tigers completed their first four-game sweep in Cleveland since 1988.  Here are the pitching matchups and what to look for this weekend:

Friday

Zach McAllister (7-7, 3.51 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (10-7 4.49).  For me, the Friday matchup is the most favorable one for Cleveland.  Porcello is coming off a solid seven-inning start in Flushing, New York last Sunday. Although he’s very hittable (the league’s hitting .277 against him) and enigmatic.  As for McAllister, if he can locate his fastball (which was a major issue in his last turn against the Tigers on August 8), he’ll likely succeed.  Since failing to get out of the third inning against Detroit on August 8, McAllister is 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA.

Saturday

Scott Kazmir (7-6, 4.25 ERA) vs. Anibal Sanchez (11-7, 2.61).  This matchup sees two of the game’s best stories going head-to-head.  Kazmir was out of baseball last season after a disastrous stint with the Angels, and despite a subpar August, the former AL strikeout king has brought at least a modicum of stability to the Indians rotation.  Sanchez, on the other hand, is having a career year; according to some metrics, he’s having a better season than teammate Max Scherzer, who of course is 19-1 and favored to win the Cy Young Award in the American League.  Sanchez has a 2.43 FIP (fielding independent pitching, a statistic that in some circles is viewed as more accurate than ERA); that mark is fourth in baseball, better than Felix Hernandez (2.61), Max Scherzer (2.62), Jose Fernandez (2.66), and Yu Darvish (3.05).  This matchup should be a tougher one for the Tribe.

Sunday

Danny Salazar (1-2, 3.67 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.73).  The finale of this series is the most fascinating one on paper (at least to me).  Terry Francona will send out young flamethrower Danny Salazar, who dazzled through most of his last start against the Tigers, working into the eight inning and recording 10 strikeouts.  His three starts since then have been less successful; he’s failed to get out of the sixth in each of them.  But all eyes will be on Justin Verlander on Sunday.  The former MVP clinched his first double-digit loss season since 2008 on Tuesday, the latest twist in his strange 2013 season.  While Verlander’s not the same pitcher we’ve gotten used to seeing (his command has suffered noticeably this season, and it’s the biggest reason why he’s been volatile at times), keep in mind that he hardly “sucks”; he’s a superstar pitcher having an average year.  While he carved up Cleveland in his last start against them on August 6, it’s difficult to tell just how good Verlander will be on Sunday because of the consistency issues.  I’ll write more on Verlander next week.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy this weekend’s games.  You can follow me on Twitter @tweetsream.

The Indians: What Just Happened?

Four long and brutal days ago, I wrote this piece filled with my hopes and dreams for the Cleveland Indians and their upcoming series with the Detroit Tigers.

Today, I sit dejected, mulling over my thoughts and searching for any kind of answer.

What just happened?

Four days ago, the Indians were three games out in the AL Central Division and in the lead for the second AL Wild Card. Today, they’re seven games back of Detroit and three games back of the Wild Card spot.

Four days ago, Corey Kluber pitched, Mark Reynolds sat on the bench, and Ryan Raburn was still on a minor league contract. Today, Corey Kluber is on the DL, Mark Reynolds is no longer a Cleveland Indian, and Ryan Raburn is now a Cleveland Indian for the next two years.

Four days ago, I was filled with hope and optimism for this Tribe team. Today, I am working as hard as possible to keep up my optimism and my passion for this Indians team.

Only so much could happen in four days, you would think. In the past four days, however, it seemed as if the Indians completely fell apart.

It started in the ninth inning on Monday, an inning I was there to see. As I sat in the bleachers, I watched Chris Perez blow his first save since his return from the DL and break the collective spirit of the city of Cleveland at the same time.

In one mighty swing, Alex Avila may have crushed the Indians playoff hopes for this season.

Game two was more of a laugher, as Justin Verlander was essentially untouchable. Throwing by far his best game of the season just in time for the Indians, they had no chance of beating him, especially with Don Kelly’s .458 batting average against Justin Masterson.

Then came game three, the most heartbreaking of them all.

A back and fourth 14 inning affair when the stars shone brightest for the Tribe. Danny Salazar was incredible in his 7.2 innings of work. Nick Swisher finally got it going offensively, hitting two RBI doubles and putting the Indians ahead by a run. It seemed as if in the “must win” game of the series, the Indians were going to get the job done.

The bullpen was masterful for 5.1 innings until Prince Fielder, again, destroyed the city’s hope in one fell swoop, banging a gaper off of the newly acquired Mark Rzepcynski.

Nevertheless, the Tribe wasn’t done. Two out hits from Mike Aviles and Michael Bourn set up a scenario in which they were down a run with a man on third and two outs; a chance to comeback once again. Unfortunately, the hole that would have normally been filled by Nick Swisher instead held Drew Stubbs, who ultimately failed to deliver.

Down 3-0, the Indians had to face Max Scherzer, the undoubted 2013 Cy Young winner,  and had no chance from the get go. For many Tribe fans, they just wanted to see the series end, regardless of where the Indians are.

10 runs later, the Indians fell to 0-4 in their biggest series since 2007 and in the meantime lost one of their most reliable starters, least reliable power hitters, and that budding optimism that kept fans around the ballpark for the entire series.

Long story short, the Indians blew their chance in so many ways.

First of all, they blew a chance to prove that they belonged in the race for the AL Central. Clearly Detroit is a MUCH better team, but it seemed as if the Indians didn’t belong in the same breath as the mighty Tigers.

They also blew a chance to put this talk of an annual “August Collapse” – a thing in which I did not believe that I’m starting to put some thought into – and keep the Cleveland fans in the ballpark for the rest of the season. The Browns played a very nice game last night and in doing so, may have turned the focus of this town to the gridiron.

Finally, and worst of all, the Indians fell three games back in the Wild Card- their seemingly only route to the playoffs thus far. It seemed as if the Indians were all but a lock to contend for the play-in-game, but now even that seems far off in the distance.

So what do we do now? What do they do now? The questions have piled up in ways they wouldn’t have, should the Indians have won a game or two in this series.

For the Indians, the most important thing to do is to show resilience. While they are on the precipice of a stunning collapse, there is no reason why they should fall. They’re not an elite-level baseball team like the Tigers, but they’re also certainly not the 2012 Cleveland Indians either. Stay away from the August collapse and hope that it’s good enough for a Wild Card berth; just take things day-by-day. The AL Central chapter is over. Open up a new chapter, the Wild Card chapter, and find the love, hope, and optimism that you possessed just before this heartbreaking set. It’s as easy, and as difficult, as that.

For the fans, just keep the faith. Just keep watching this team until they have in fact “collapsed” in the month of August. I truly believe that this team will meet my expectations and hunt for the Wild Card deep into September, but most fans don’t share my optimism. The fact of the matter is, the only way to keep fans around is to win, and in the biggest series of the year, they didn’t. Now, they have to start winning again and giving this town reason to believe in their Tribe.

Regardless of what you may say, Cleveland is itching for the Tribe to return to the playoffs, despite the Browns and their season. Cleveland hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2010 and would support any team that got them back to the promised land.

While this has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and demoralizing week, just believe. Believe that this team is going to prove to us that they’re in this for the long-haul. Give them the opportunity to prove to us that they deserve to have our butts in those seats. Give them the opportunity to prove that despite their recent struggles, they’re still a strong and resilient baseball team.

Despite this horrible, terrible, awful week, I still have faith that this is the team that’s going to get us back in the postseason, be it this year or next. Until that becomes fact, however, don’t give up on this team. They’ve done too much to this point to have their fans abandon them just as the going got rough.

Although it’s tough, and the wind is completely out of our sails, this season isn’t done yet. There’s still a month and a half to go and it’s an “easy” month and a half in terms of the schedule.

Believe that this Indians team won’t fall short of our expectations again.

It’s not over.

Not even close.

The Tampa Bay Rays Have the Worst "Fans" and Other MLB Thoughts

The Tampa Bay Rays have been so ridiculously hot of late, that I actually spent yesterday afternoon cheering on the New York Yankees as they attempted to take down the 1st place Rays.  While the Yankees would eventually win in the bottom of the 9th, the Tampa Bay Rays are still 21-4 (.840) over their last 25 contests.  They’ve been so hot of late that they went from being in last place on June 23rd to holding on to first place by 1/2 half game at the end of Saturday’s games.  Despite that, the Tampa Bay Rays still rank dead last in attendance in the American League.  In case you don’t recall, the Houston Astros moved to the American League this past off-season and currently reside in last place in the A.L. West [1. 26.5 games out of first place and 22 games out of a wild card spot] with 7 more losses than the Tampa Rays have wins.  Despite that, the Houston Astros have drawn 1,057,987 (19,236 per contest) through their first 55 games.

Continue reading The Tampa Bay Rays Have the Worst "Fans" and Other MLB Thoughts