Tag Archives: Mike Aviles

Tribe Time Now Weekend Update Ep. 6: Winning Out the Season

In this week’s episode of Tribe Time Now: Weekend Update…

Host Joe Coblitz (@BRBBlog) of Burning River Baseball welcomes in Jim Berdysz (@JBirdman27) of Indians Baseball Insider discuss the most recent week in Indians baseball focusing on the Rangers series and the increased offense. In addition, they make a plea to stop being so mean to Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez and David Murphy. After the past comes the future and it looks to be a good one with Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Shaun Marcum all scheduled to come back this week. They discuss the ramifications of that as well in addition to who is the most likely to be cut.

 

Topics:

  • Recap & Winning Every Game for the Rest of the year
  • Zach Walters’ woes & the Return of Mike Aviles & Yan Gomes
  • Stop Being mean to Lonnie Chisenhall
  • Stop Being Mean to Jose Ramirez & Why Lindor Should be Up Now
  • Who To Cut & Why David Murphy Isn’t A Good Option
  • The Return of Shaun Marcum & What to Expect

 

Links

 

Tribe Time Now online, all the time:

Tribe Time Now #10: Expansion by Inclusion

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

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

In addition we discussed the following:

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

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

Tune in Next week and Go Tribe!

2014 Cleveland Indians: Failure or Success?

As the MLB Playoffs continue the Cleveland Indians find themselves on the outside looking in. The 2014 campaign for the Indians mirrored that of the 2013 season in that it was an up and down roller coaster ride. With the goal in 2014 for these Indians being the playoffs I suppose it’s fair to say that this season was a disappointment, at least in that regard. But was the 2014 season really a complete and utter failure? The answer is no, and for multiple reasons.

First off, the Indians finished the season with a winning record, 85-77. While that is a step back from last year’s 92 win regular season it’s unfair to consider that bad. It isn’t. The 2014 Indians had a winning record. Were they maddening to watch at times this year? Absolutely, but fans of the Kansas City Royals would undoubtedly say the same thing of their team – and they made the playoffs this year (or postseason or Wild Card play in game, whatever you choose to call it). I’d also bet that fans of the Los Angeles Angels, owners of the best record in the league this year (98-64), were at times frustrated. Over the course of a 162 game season there will be frustrating moments. Frustrating moments don’t equate to a bad season. A losing record does. The Indians didn’t have that, it just wasn’t good enough.

KluberThe Cleveland Indians season could, and to a large degree should, be considered successful for several personal accomplishments that positively impacted the team overall in a big way. For starters, this team has both a Cy Young candidate and an AL MVP candidate on their roster. By all accounts, Corey Kluber should be the American League Cy Young award winner this year. He has a 2.44 ERA, 18-9 record, was second in all of baseball in strikeouts and had the second highest WAR among MLB pitchers (first in the American League). Now while I could also make the case that Kluber could also be the AL MVP as well (his 7.39 WAR is not only second highest among MLB pitchers, it’s the fourth highest overall in the league), Michael Brantley has made a strong case for that honor as well. His 6.97 WAR is sixth best in baseball and his .327 batting average is the third highest in the league. Also, consider this. In March (one game) and April Brantley had a .255 batting average, his lowest monthly average of the season. His batting average for the remainder of the season (May-September) was .341. He set career highs in nearly every statistical category, including home runs (20), hits (200), RBI (97), runs scored (94), stolen bases (23) and batting average. Defensively, Brantley played in 153 games (1304.1 innings) and only had one error to go along with 12 outfield assists (tied for fourth highest among outfielders in 2014).

Michael Brantley

These are the most obvious individual achievements that made the 2014 Indians a relatively successful season. There are others. For as bad a start as he had (and as low as his batting average is), Carlos Santana’s 27 home runs tied him for 17th this year in baseball. Considering both offensive and defensive performances, Yan Gomes was one of the best catchers in baseball this year. While he didn’t lead the league (among catchers) in any one statistical category, he is near the top in things like batting average, home runs, slugging percentage and caught stealing percentage. The Indians bullpen had the seventh best ERA in baseball (3.12) despite having pitched the fifth most innings (513.1). The bullpen was also seventh in the league in strikeouts (504). As a staff, Tribe pitchers finished with 1,450 strikeouts which set a record for most strikeouts in a single season.

While there were no playoffs this season for the Indians, 2014 looks like it may be a stepping stone to some long term success for this team. The 2013 and 2014 seasons are the first time the franchise has had consecutive winning seasons since the 2000 and 2001 seasons. We also got a glimpse at some rookies, who to a degree helped contribute to the successful 2014 season. Tyler Holt, Zach Walters, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, Kyle Crockett and T.J. House all showed that there is some young talent coming not named Francisco Lindor. This is also a team that isn’t going to lose star players to free agency. Assuming he doesn’t retire Jason Giambi is the only unrestricted free agent. Mike Aviles has a $3.5 club option and a $250,000 buyout. Those are the only two potential free agent casualties. Everyone else (barring a trade) will be returning next season.

Looking at it strictly from a playoff standpoint, yes the 2014 season for the Indians was a failure and a disappointment. They finished in third place, 5 games back of the Detroit Tigers (AL Central Division winners) and 3 games out of the AL Wild Card spot. However, considering that the Indians managed to have a winning season, aren’t losing any major pieces on that team to free agency, have two players that are MVP candidates, one that should win the Cy Young and a handful of young talent to help with the future it’s extremely hard to consider the 2014 season miserable and disappointing. For the first time in a long while for the Indians success is here now and the future is bright.

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 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.

Five Storylines for the 2014 Cleveland Indians

With Spring Training underway, the Cleveland Indians are gearing up for a strong follow up season to the surprising 92 win 2013 campaign. While this off season lacked the major free agent acquisitions of last season, manager Terry Francona is still able to field the same core group of players that played a major part in their success last year. There is some concern that with the lack of a major roster addition the 2014 squad’s output will resemble the 2008 Indians, however the pieces remain in place for the Tribe to continued success. Here are five storylines for the 2014 Cleveland Indians season.

 

 

1. Improvements from Swisher and Bourn

While the Indians didn’t sign a big name free agent (David Murphy anyone?) there are still plenty of things to be excited about on the roster as far as the players acquired last season, specifically Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. With a free agent pool that was not impressive, the Indians instead are relying on Swisher and Bourn to rebound from underachieving seasons instead of taking on another large contract.

 

 

If you just go by the numbers, Swisher was slightly down but close to right on par with his career averages. Last year for the Tribe, Swisher hit .246 with 22 home runs, 63 RBI, 27 doubles and 74 runs scored. Compared to his numbers in four years with the Yankees Swisher disappointed, however more was asked of him as he was hitting higher in the lineup for the Tribe. While it’s unfair to expect Swisher to his upwards of .275 with 30 home runs, an increase in production isn’t unfathomable, especially considering his on base percentage was down nearly 20 points from his career average (.358 OBP career vs. .341 in 2013). Swisher’s overall power numbers also declined as he only had a .423 slugging percentage compared to a career average of .462. His lack of RBI production was partly due to the instability around him, but look for Swisher to improve after having a season to adjust to a new ball club and an off season to rest an injured shoulder that hampered him for the majority of the season.

 

 

The Indians will also be expecting an increase in production from leadoff hitter Michael Bourn. Bourn only appeared in 130 games last season, the lowest number for him since 2007 with Philadelphia. Hopefully Bourn put the injury bug behind him, but it’s his production down the stretch that the Indians are really hoping improves. The speedster boasted a batting average of .304 through the month of June when his hitting took a nose dive. Bourn never hit better than .247 following the month of June and in the months of July, August, September and October Bourn only hit .236. Bourn’s on base percentage dipped lower as the season progressed as well, never reaching above .300 for the last couple months of the season.

 

 

He also failed to excite once he got on base.

 

 

Known for his speed, Bourn only managed to steal 23 bases for the Indians in 2013. Compare that to the 42 stolen bases in 2012 and 61 in 2011 and the disappointment is obvious. While this might partly be due to playing his first season in the American League and partly due to injuries, these numbers – the steals especially – will have to improve for Bourn.

 

 

2. The Carlos Santana Project

The Cleveland Indians have lacked a solid third baseman since Casey Blake, and Blake won’t ever be confused Mike Schmidt. With Lonnie Chisenhall failing to take a strong hold of the position, the Indians are hoping to successfully move Carlos Santana over to third. Santana has spent the majority of his career at catcher but does have minor league experience playing third base, although the majority of that was very early in his career. Despite that, Santana has committed to a position change and despite what one would think the reviews haven’t been all that bad. While he may have looked a bit uncomfortable at first, reports from the Dominican winter ball leagues were generally positive and optimistic. Santana also spent time with fellow Dominican Republic native and former third baseman Fernando Tatis working on his game at the hot corner. Expecting Santana to be a gold glove third baseman would be naïve, and with Chisenhall and Mike Aviles on the roster the experiment could end up being short lived, but if Santana can prove to be a serviceable glove at third base the Indians might have found a way to maximize Santana as he would be able to see more playing time at third base than he would’ve at catcher. The Indians would potentially get more offensive output at third base in one year than they’ve had in several years combined should Santana become the regular third baseman.

 

 

3. The Goon Squad Graduates

The Indians roster depth last season played a huge role in their overall success. Dubbed the “Goon Squad” and made up of Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Jason Giambi, this group played a big role in the Indians post season push. Now these goons look to have an expanded role on the club.

 

 

Whether or not Santana becomes the everyday third baseman it seems fairly certain that he will not be the teams regular catcher, that role now belongs to Yan Gomes. Gomes played sparingly early in the 2013 season but saw more opportunities as the year went one, opportunities he capitalized on. Gomes showed some pop last year, hitting 11 home runs and 18 doubles in 293 at bats. Gomes also played extremely well defensively behind the plate and showed good chemistry with the pitching staff. If Gomes is able to build on his production from last season the catcher position will remain an asset on offense while becoming stronger on defense.

 

 

While the success Gomes had last year was a nice surprise, Ryan Raburn’s season was equally as surprising and impressive. Like Gomes, Raburn made the most of his opportunities and he was rewarded with a contract extension during the 2013 season. With the departure of Drew Stubbs, Raburn will likely see more time in the outfield. Whether the expanded role will result in an increase in production remains to be seen, and expecting him to duplicate an impressive .543 slugging percentage is probably unrealistic, but Raburn does have the talent to be at least a platoon player in the outfield.

 

 

4. The Starting Rotation

While the aforementioned Goon Squad played a big role in the team’s success last season, it was the starting pitching that played the biggest role in the Tribe’s 92 wins. Loaded with question marks last year, guys like Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister elevated their games while Ubaldo Jimenez finally became the pitcher the Indians traded for and was arguably the best pitcher in the American League in the second half of the season.

 

 

This year the Indians will need the same type of overachieving production. Jimenez is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles and Kazmir is with the Oakland Athletics. That means once again the likes of Kluber, Salazar and McAllister will have to elevate their games. Carlos Carrasco will have to realize his potential and more than likely somebody else will have to emerge much like Kazmir did last season. While prospect Trevor Bauer has the talent to emerge for the Tribe, don’t sleep on Shaun Marcum. The 32 year old right hander has proven to be a reliable starting pitcher during his career. If you take away a poor season for the New York Mets (1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 78.1 innings pitched), his career numbers are pretty solid (57-36 with a 3.91 ERA before arriving in New York). While he will never be a top of the rotation type of guy, Marcum is a very real possibility (assuming he is fully recovered from surgery and makes the team) as the Indians number four or five starter as the year progresses, especially if Carrasco continues to struggle in the big leagues. Marcum signed a minor league deal with the Indians with an invite to Spring Training.

 

 

5. The Ax Man

The Indians bullpen will have a new look to it this season, anchored by new closer John Axford. I’ll take a risk in saying Axford has big shoes to fill, considered how former Tribe closer Chris Perez’s time ended in Cleveland, but Perez as a whole was more good than bad and his departure left a definite hole in the bullpen. Axford is similar to Perez in that they both enjoyed dominate seasons recently and both have struggled to duplicate the production.

 

 

Axford has the ability to be a solid closer for this team, the key to that equation is whether or not Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway can get through to Axford. For a better explanation than what I can provide of what needs to be done to fix Axford, click here, but if he is able to get back on the right track Axford would be a huge asset for the Tribe.

 

 

Despite winning 92 games last year, there are plenty of questions regarding the 2014 squad. Whether or not Swisher and Bourn can produce at a higher level and who will emerge as a reliable starting pitcher are the two biggest concerns surrounding this team. The Indians managed to lock up a Wild Card spot last season last season with similar concerns, so if those concerns can turn into assets similar success can be had.

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.

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.

Talkin' Tribe: Losing Should Not Mean Panic

I’m going to state the obvious: the Cleveland Indians are struggling as of late.

They were swept by the Yankees, have lost 12 of their last 16 games, and are currently one game above the .500 mark. They have a tough stretch of baseball coming up that includes a trip to Comerica, a trip to Arlington, and a series against the Washington Nationals. Their bullpen has struggled, their offense has struggled, and their starting pitching has struggled.

The rough stretch for the Indians has been the inverse of their previous stretch of 18 wins in 22 games. During those games, everything clicked. The offense was hot, the pitching was dominant, and the bullpen did enough to win games.

So what has changed? Why are the scorching hot Indians now the ice cold Tribe?

The answer: nothing. Nothing has changed. This is just how baseball works.

Baseball is a crazy, crazy game. It’s a marathon, lasting an entire summer, which makes it incredibly hard to refute any thinking that isn’t judgement.

“The Cleveland Indians are winning at the moment, that means they’re great.” “The Indians can’t win a game right now, that means their horrible.” No. Both of these are oh,so wrong.

The bottom-line is this: the Indians are a decent baseball team going through a valley at this moment in time. They went up a hill, and have fallen down the other side. Here’s the good news: another hill is standing right in front of them. They’re going to start a new journey up that hill very, very soon.

The Indians are much more susceptible to the ups and downs of a Major League season than most because of their “feast or famine” offense.

It reminds me a lot of my mother when I was younger. When we would sit down and watch the Tribe together, every time Jim Thome, (my favorite baseball player of all time), would approach the plate, my mom would say, “well, he’s either going to strike out or hit a home run.” Most of the time she was right. That’s just the player that Thome was. His colossal hacks would result in more strike outs than majestic long-balls, but he still put together one of the greatest, and steroid-free, careers of all time.

On this current Indians roster, there are many guys who are a lot like Jim Thome. They’ll either strike out or hit a home run. Mark Reynolds is more like Mr. Thome than anyone else.

Mark Reynolds was in the AL MVP race for the first month and a half of the season. Now he’s tied for fourteenth, with fellow Indian Drew Stubbs, in the league in strikeouts.

After a decent start, Nick Swisher is mired in a mighty slump. He’s hitting .059 in the month of June, and his batting average has dropped 29 points, from .278 to .249, since May 29th.

Carlos Santana has gone through maybe the quietest, but largest, slump of them all. Santana started May with a .395 batting average and a .483 on-base-percentage. Fast forward to June 6th and Santana’s average has dropped over .110 points, to .284, and his OBP is now at .391.

These slides have coincided with the Indians lack of wins as of late. Just as they’ve slid down the hill, they’ll start walking up again, slowly but surely.

Some encouraging things we can take away from this slump, and I hope these stay true, go as follows: Ubaldo Jimenez, Mike Aviles, and JC Romero.

Ubaldo Jimenez has continued his dominance throughout the slump. While he was rocked in one start by the Detroit Tigers, who he faces tonight in a re-match with Justin Verlander, the Indians last win was thanks to a eight inning, four hit shutout from Mr. Jimenez. We all know what Justin Masterson can do, but if Ubaldo Jimenez can solidify himself as a good number two, the Indians are much better off than they were at the start of this season.

Now, when I said Mike Aviles, I meant the Indians depth. We all know that Asdrubal Cabrera could spend some extended time on the disabled list, so having a guy like Mike Aviles to take over his role is huge for this ballclub. It allows the Indians to not miss a beat, and that’s something they haven’t had in the past. Yan Gomes, like Aviles, is also a guy that is invaluable to this ballclub. Carlos Santana has had his woes behind the plate, so having a guy like Gomes to step in, play great defense, and hit the cover off of the baseball, is helping the Indians greatly. You also have Ryan Raburn coming off of the bench to give the outfield a break, and that’s a commodity in it’s own right.

Finally, JC Romero. Romero was recently signed by the Indians to a minor-league deal, but I would expect to see him at Progressive Field sometime in the near future. The Indians have been aching for a solid left-handed reliever and Romero could be a great fit, as far as a “rental” is concerned. I don’t see him around for more than 2013, but Romero adds something to a bullpen that certainly needs all that it can get.

I’ve seen a lot of you panicking about the Tribe, and I guess that’s founded. We’ve all seen what has happened the past couple of years; the great start and subsequent tumble has become a pattern. However, the “I am sick of Tito”, “trade Stubbs”, “bench Swisher”, and “demote Jason Kipnis” talk is ludicrous.

The Indians need to keep the status quo, aside from one thing: Lonnie Chisenhall. Chiz is putting up LaPorta like numbers in Triple A and I think it’s safe to say that he has his confidence back. Especially with the loss of Cabrera, it’s time to bring Lonnie back up to the club.

I’m not saying that Lonnie is the reason that the Tribe has collapsed, as I believe it could be purely coincidence that the Indians are 10-14 since his departure, but it certainly can’t hurt to bring him back now. Terry Francona has said that Lonnie is going to be a big part of this ball-club going forward, so I think he needs to at least see if Lonnie’s numbers were just Triple A pitching or Lonnie being Lonnie.

Lonnie would also help end the Mark Reynolds experiment at third base, which has been an absolute train-wreck. Reynolds needs to be a consistent fixture at the DH spot and first-base. Third base should be a once in a while thing for him to give Lonnie a day off. Reynolds is simply one of the worst defensive third basemen I have ever seen, and his hitting has slowed tremendously since becoming the every-day third baseman.

Aside from the promotion of Lonnie and putting Mark Reynolds back where he belongs defensively, the Indians need to stay the course, even through this mighty storm.

The Indians are still a game above .500 and only down 2.5 games in the AL Central Division, with a HUGE opportunity to close that gap this weekend. If the Tribe get swept and look awful against Detroit, I still wouldn’t be all that worried.

This team is going to have streaks like this. They’re going to win a ton and lose a ton, and it’s going to be back to back, all season long. Just as you can’t get too high when they win 18 of 22, you can’t get too low when they lose 12 of 16.

I have trust in Tito, and you should to. This guy has won in situations filled with pressure that we could never dream of.

The baseball season is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We, as the most crazy, passionate, and loyal fan-base in America, must learn to calm down and take things in stride. There’s a lot of season to go, and I’m confident that we’ll be right in the thick of things come September.

What the Tribe Needs to Do at DH

It was recently reported that the Indians are looking at two former sluggers of their own to fill the DH spot: Jim Thome and Travis Hafner. While I would love one of these two in the lineup, I don’t think either should be in f9r a full time role.

The Indians have an abundance of options when it comes to the DH spot. The current lineup probably looks a little something like this:

  1. Michael Brantley (LF)
  2. Drew Stubbs (CF)
  3. Mark Reynolds (1B)
  4. Nick Swisher (RF)
  5. Carlos Santana (C)
  6. Jason Kipnis (2B)
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)
  9. Mike Aviles(DH)

This may be the opening day lineup, presuming Thome isn’t brought it in, but regardless, this will rarely be the lineup. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Carlos Santana will be spending less and less time behind the plate, so here are some options to incorporate Carlos into the DH and First Base spots:

  1. Michael Brantley (LF)
  2. Drew Stubbs (CF)
  3. Mark Reynolds (DH)
  4. Nick Swisher (RF)
  5. Carlos Santana (1B)
  6. Jason Kipnis (2B)
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)
  9. Lou Marson (C)

or

  1. Michael Brantley (LF)
  2. Drew Stubbs (CF)
  3. Mark Reynolds (1B)
  4. Nick Swisher (RF)
  5. Carlos Santana (DH)
  6. Jason Kipnis (2B)
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)
  9. Lou Marson (C)

Presumably, these lineups would be options if none of the starters were resting. They seem plenty feasible, but rest is going to come into play at some point. That’s where Jimmy comes in. You’re not going to need Jim a lot. He’s going to come cheap and I feel that will make him the lowest risk move possible. You can assume that he will be productive, even if he’s rarely playing, so I don’t see the downside. Here are a few lineups with Santana or Reynolds resting.

  1. Michael Brantley (LF)
  2. Drew Stubbs (CF)
  3. Carlos Santana (1B)
  4. Nick Swisher (RF)
  5. Jim Thome (DH)
  6. Jason Kipnis (2B)
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)
  9. Lou Marson (C)

or

  1. Michael Brantley (LF)
  2. Drew Stubbs (CF)
  3. Mark Reynolds (1B)
  4. Nick Swisher (RF)
  5. Jim Thome (DH)
  6. Jason Kipnis (2B)
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)
  9. Lou Marson (C)

Essentially, if Santana is catching, the DH hole becomes a problem. If Santana isn’t catching, the DH hole is filled by Santana or Reynolds. That’s why I don’t believe that Santana should be catching that much as it is. Marson is a great defensive catcher, and while his bat isn’t much at all, I believe that Santana’s bat will come alive with less time catching.

If Lou’s bat can catch up to his fielding potential, the Indians lineup could very well be set. They would be in the race for the Central Division crown if Marson can pull through and Santana does improve with a lesser role behind the plate.

Essentially, there is no real “need” for Thome which is why I think they could bring him in. You may be asking, well, if they don’t need him, then why would they bring him in? They should bring him in for a slew of reasons.

First and foremost, Jim is often considered one of the best teammates out there and would definitely help this club’s “chemistry”. I would love to see him mentor some of the younger guys like Santana, Kipnis, and even Marson. Honestly, I would rather see him in Cleveland as a hitting coach, but it doesn’t seem as if he is ready to retire just yet, and that doesn’t seem like a real option. Finally, I’m sure the Indians could get him for next to nothing. What’s the risk in getting a guy you use sparingly for little to no money? There is none. The rewards very, very, very much outweigh the risks. There is no risk; the worst thing that happens is that he never plays and sits on the bench, wasting what few dollars the Indians gave to him. Even in that case, he’s still bringing his expertise and leadership to the ball club, both of which are invaluable tools.

I’m not one for bringing in older veterans to fill huge holes. Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, we saw how those turned out. I am a fan of bringing in older vets to fill the smallest of positions for the team. This DH position is a perfect example of that small role that should be filled by a vet.

If the options are Jim Thome, Travis Hafner, or no one, I think you have to pick Jim Thome or no one. Hafner comes with too large a price tag, too big an ego, and too little of the invaluables that Thome would bring. Hafner simply brings no value to this team. Sure he can connect every once in a while, but then again so can Thome. Jim Thome can do anything that Travis Hafner can do, but with infinitely more value.

I’m also ok with the Indians letting both of them go and letting someone like Mike Aviles take the DH spot when Santana is catching. Aviles was brought in to be a utility man, so why not allow him some ABs? I would even consider Nick Swisher to fill the role if he ever needed some time away from right field.

The Indians are lucky to have plenty of good assets on their baseball team. They have a good solid bench that allows them to be flexible in terms of the lineup. Whether they want to bring in Jim Thome or not, they will be perfectly fine. Thome’s role would only become noticeable if he started putting up major numbers and producing mightily for this baseball team. The rewards would be noticed, but the negatives wouldn’t. I am a huge Jim Thome fan, but would be ok with the Indians deciding to fix the problem internally. The only thing I’d have a problem with would be forgoing Thome for Hafner. That’s a high risk, low reward solution, one that I don’t think the Indians can afford to make.

Follow Hayden on Twitter @H_Grove