Tag Archives: Terry Francona

More Than A Friday: I’ll Be Nice, Let’s Be Better

Thursday was a difficult day, a day highlighted by senseless loss of life. It was so difficult, in fact, that I considered blowing off the column this week, but that would be taking the tragedies of the day and making it about me. That’s simply not my style. Before I left the office, I learned of the C-130 (aka Sky Pig) that went down in Jalalabad, killing twelve people, but the 12 lives taken there weren’t the focus of conversation on Thursday, nor will it be in the coming weeks.

Look, we’re all fed up, if not fatigued by the stories of mass shootings. The incident in Roseburg, Oregon seems to be just another notch in the bedpost for someone’s agenda, and as much as we, most of us anyway, want to be sensitive to the families of the victims, we all have an angle. Most of us aren’t shy about discussing it. Blame the epidemic that is mental illness or blame the weapons used to obliterate the innocent, if you must, but my thesis here remains the same. Let’s treat each other better, and continue to strive to be worthy of all things we’re blessed with in this life.

I’m not sure what I was planning to publish for Friday, as I attempt to transition to sports in a not so subtle manner, but I’m definitely pivoting towards being nice this morning. I’ll be nicer about Jose Ramirez and how he should have been treated by the Minnesota Twins after violating age-old baseball code, and I’ll even be kind about two of my least favorite teams in all of sport being showcased in the NFL’s prime time event last night.

The Elite Quaterback1The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on. and The Dog Killer

For very different reasons, I abhor the the football chapters in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, known affectionately by everyone involved with the National Football League as the Steelers and the Ravens. However, when they’re on the same field of play and we have to hear about how wonderful this rivalry is, I despise the sum a lot more than the combined value of its parts.

Generally, I am reminded that I’ve held on to grudges for too long as a Browns fan, and I reluctantly knowledge that to be true. Generally, I also don’t care about the accuracy of any of that; my irrational feeling is my prerogative as a fan. On this day, a day that senseless stole the lives of so many, I was going to put all of that to the side and be nice.

With Ben Roethlisberger out 4-6 weeks, or 2-3 weeks if you consult Dr. Bill Cowher, the Steelers turned to backup quarterback Mike Vick2He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.. Now, if I wasn’t being nice, I’d bring (allegedly) sexually assaulted women and tortured canines to the conversation, but I’m being nice. So, before the game, I thought, “Get well, Ben” and “Good luck, Mike”.

These are fellows with families and mothers who love them unconditionally. I would filter those mean things I might want to say about them, if I knew I were in the presence of those families, so I know I’m capable of doing so. On the other sideline, you have the franchise that once existed as the Cleveland Browns. Very few people affiliated with the events that took place in 1996 would be involved in Thursday evening’s match up, so again, I’ll be nice.

Pittsburgh, in addition to missing the services of their quarterback, is also missing their projected starting center, so at 2-1 on the season, they’re thinking about damage control. Vick is there because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t healthy and Landry Jones isn’t good. They were going to run the ball and keep it simple for the ex-con taking snaps from the backup center. They were fortunate enough to start this run with a taxi-squad at home against a winless Baltimore team.

While we argued how valid some of the 3-0 starts were on this week’s Suits and Laterals Podcast, on the flipside of that coin, you could also question the lack of substance behind the Ravens’ 0-3 start. Denver was understandable, Oakland wasn’t, and the letdown against the Bengals was what it was. I’m sure they’re not proud of how they look in the standings, but John Harbaugh isn’t going to lead a squad that gives up that easily.

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The games between these two are usually close, and it usually means quality, but Pittsburgh’s 10-7 halftime lead didn’t represent that in any way. The Steelers defense isn’t very good, but the Ravens offense couldn’t quite exploit that. I’ll admit that Joe Flacco can be everything the Ravens want from their quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s that guy all of the time, and he most definitely was not even close to that in the first half. The Steelers, on the hand, were basically in line with the low expectations you’d have had with Vick.

The Steelers had this game in hand; all they needed to do was close. And, they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s what they tend to do when they play from ahead. Vick notwithstanding, they have Antonio Brown to pick up the slack, and Le’Veon Bell isn’t a bad second option, especially when you want to shorten the game by keeping the clock moving.

Vick to Brown occurred a few times, but it was never effective or efficient. It was Bell that got the touches, the yards, and the Fantasy Football points, but he didn’t get the ball in the end. If I recall correctly, the Steelers had five opportunities to finish off their division rivals and failed to do so. Now, even though I was trying to be nice, there was a little bit of anxious giddiness to me when I considered an 0-4 start for the Ravens. And, when the Steelers failed to use Bell in short yardage on 3rd and 4th down, it bothered me as a football fan. After Josh Scobee missed a second field goal, each promised to make life difficult for Flacco and company on Thursday, I was stuck in nice-mode and forgot how much joy I usually take in Pittsburgh failure.

Even before Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit from 42 yards in the final seconds of regulation, I felt that Pittsburgh deserved to lose a game, though they controlled everything about it for so long. When Tucker hit from 52, after a questionable 4th down call by Mike Tomlin, who refused to go to Bell on 4th and 1 (or trust Josh Scobee3Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.to kick a 50-yard field goal), I felt justice had been served.

I wasn’t content that a team I’ve spent my entire life disliking lost. I just felt Football Team A was punished for screwing the pooch, a fine example of the universe evening itself out.

Everyone Loves Showboating, Everyone Except Me

The Indians and Twins played 18 innings of baseball on Wednesday, with both teams running out of time to grab a playoff spot. In dropping the matinee 7-1, Cleveland gave Houston a chance to effectively end the Indians season, regardless of what happened in Game 2 of the double-header at Progressive Field. In the eighth inning of a game the Twins trailed 7-1, the Minnesota skipper opted to walk Jason Kipnis to get to Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez responded by pulling a Ricky Nolasco pitch over the right-field wall for a 3-run jack, a ball that sailed all of 331 feet into the Cleveland night. After hitting his sixth home run of the year, the Indians utility infielder admired it for longer than he should have, and then he flipped his bat towards the visitors’ dugout. I know that things change, and that few understand the etiquette involved here, but you really can’t do that.

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This isn’t a participation trophy thing; it’s more about respect for the game, and when you get over on a pitcher for one of those 4-base hit, your feat and the scoreboard have done all the talking that needs to take place. I never saw Bob Gibson pitch and couldn’t quote any of his stats to you, but I know that he was notorious for not tolerating that shit. I mean, you could do it, but at a cost, as Gibson would put the next pitch he threw you into your rib cage. That was the fee for patting yourself on the back, and everyone seemed to be on the same page with that. And hey, I’m actually down with that arrangement.

These days, everyone seems to want to make excuses for the grand-standing. Now, athletes allegedly come from different cultures and don’t understand unwritten rules. I, on the other hand, like that some things are kept off the books, and don’t need everything to be so literal. I’m all about hashing shit out like men, and I don’t say that like some fake tough guy. Short of the whole “snitches get stitches” thing, I like the idea of settling things face-to-face without calling the police over every stinkin’ neighborly dispute, and in baseball, I like when the game polices itself.

Since the home run and subsequent bat flip occurred late in Wednesday night’s contest, Paul Molitor and the Twins could only verbalize their dissatisfaction with Ramirez. To their credit, Terry Francona offered no justification and basically apologized on his player’s behalf. Among the baseball people involved, the only ones who have opinions that matter, the Twins gripe had weight to it. No, Ramirez didn’t kill a guy, as whiners and defenders of bat flips so annoyingly pointed out, but he was in the wrong with it. He even offered an apology.

His manager even put him in a place to take his medicine, batting him lead-off in the final meeting between the two teams on Thursday. I saw this one going down one way, and it went like this. If the Twins opted to get their pound of flesh from Ramirez, it had to happen on the first pitch, it couldn’t be at the batter’s head, and you don’t get a Mulligan if you miss. As Tribe color man Rick Manning predicted, the Twins put a priority on winning a ballgame over the fireworks that come with the unwritten rules. Fair enough, they’re in a playoff race and don’t need to lose a starter in the first inning of a game over something silly.

It’s my belief that the umpires respect that code, and no ejection would have taken place. I’m not sure that Jeff Kellogg’s crew would act that way, but it’s my personal opinion that they should have and probably would have. Where I disagree with Manning, is with the suggestion that the Twins get theirs down the road. Nope. There’s a statute of limitations on the mitigating circumstance of “he threw the first punch”, and it expired when Tyler Duffey went down and away with his first pitch to Ramirez.

It was okay to do nothing in that situation on the field. I’m not sure many will disagree, regardless of how they feel about bat flips. So, let’s bring this thing full-circle, and remember that doing nothing is the wrong way to react to Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College.

That includes bitching about nothing being done. There’s a group in Washington that can do something to initiate change. We all have the ability to vote for or against at least one of them. Next month or next year, before you blindly cast a vote for or against any of them because of a letter by their name4Letters like (R) or (D)., take the time to understand what they plan to do, and if you don’t know, ask them. This is our country, as in yours and mine, make sure your represented…if you care, that is.

References
1 The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on.
2 He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.
3 Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.
4 Letters like (R) or (D).

A Eulogy For the 2015 Indians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical Mass: The Indians Playoff Fate Will be Decided This Week

Approximately 10 days ago, the Indians were just 4.5 games back from the second wildcard spot held by Texas. In front of them were the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins.

Today, the Indians remain 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot held by Houston. In front of them are the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels.

In 10 days and 9 games, the Indians haven’t made up any ground and the Twins and Angels have effectively traded places.

Such is baseball I guess.

Two of the four games against the Tigers were postponed and the Indians split the Sunday doubleheader with Detroit. The Indians then split their four game series with the Royals 2-2 and followed that up with a series win against Chicago winning 2 games and dropping just 1.

After an off day on yesterday, the Indians begin a critical three game set at Minnesota which could decide if the Indians are in or out by the week’s end. Houston continues its series with Los Angeles and, as much as it pains me to say it, the Indians need Houston to sweep the Angels. In doing so (accompanied by an Indians sweep of the Twins), the Indians and Angels will swap places and effectively turn the run for the second wildcard into a two man race: Astros vs Indians.

After the Astros play Los Angeles, they play a critical series against Texas. In this series, it is important that the Indians hedge their bets on Texas. The Indians have 0 stake in the AL West. Therefore, it makes sense for the Indians to root for any team that knocks teams ahead of them out of the wildcard.

In this case, that means Texas.

If Texas can pull through and sweep (or take 2/3) from the Astros (combined with a favorable outcome between the Indians and Royals), Cleveland may enter the final week of the season either in the second place wildcard spot or battling tooth and nail for it with the Astros.

The latter scenario is predicated upon the idea that the Indians do what is necessary when it is necessary. Unfortunately, especially this season, that has not really been the case.

On to more interesting talk though: the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year race:

Several weeks ago, the race looked to be all but locked up with Astros rookie shortstop Carlos Correa. A recent push by Francisco Lindor (at the plate) has made things much more interesting. Correa maintains a slugging percentage north of .500 and currently boasts 19 HRs and 12 SBs in 88 games. Lindor is holding steady with an OBP of just over .350 with a batting average higher than .300. Throw that on top of his gold-glove worthy defensive play at shortstop, and it becomes clear why Lindor remains neck and neck with Correa. Correa is a decent player defensively, but he is nowhere near the level of Francisco Lindor. If Francisco Lindor can continue to hit the ball at the clip he is at currently, it will come down to the last at-bats of the season to decide who wins the Al ROY award.

The next 6 games of baseball, for the Astros, Indians, and Angels, are critical. Depending on how things play out, the Indians could be in a neck and neck race for the second wildcard position or sitting 6+ games out of the second spot.

It’s all a matter of time. The focus should be on the game at-hand. Looking ahead could cause critical missteps that could endanger the run the Indians are on. Tito has had the boys here before (2013). If he can maintain their focus and keep them loose, I sincerely believe they can make a run for the 1 game playoff at New York. The problem becomes the position they’ve placed themselves in by not winning enough earlier – having to rely on others (namely Texas) to come through.

In one week, I will be able to tell you where we stand.

Hopefully I bring good tidings.

Indians drop series to Motor City Kitties; Bats continue to under perform in the clutch

Tribe drops series to Tigers in wake of Brandon Moss sighting; Bats stay silent in clutch moments

I reached the pinnacle of my “happy” Indians feelings at approximately 9 PM Friday night.

Granted, I was two Manhattans in at that point, but the fact still stands: Friday night was great.

In classic Indians fashion though, my happiness waned as the night carried on and the following two days were filled with disappointment and losses.

Brandon Moss

I was impressed with his performance Friday, sure. In fact I even thought for a second that we were finally going to usher in the Brandon Moss era that we were expecting back in December.

Deep down, I had a sinking feeling that the Moss we glimpsed would be fleeting. He would fall flat on the pages of the Saturday paper and fade to black in the game that same day.

He didn’t disappoint either. He went 0 – 4 and tacked another strikeout to the year’s tally. He helped to manage expectations yesterday by going 2 – 3 with 2 RBIs and, again, only one strikeout.

As I’ve stated on the Tribe Time Now podcast, it’s way too early in the season to be pigeon-holing people. I stand by that statement.

And yet, Brandon Moss is beginning to frighten me. It’s not an issue of his old hip injury, so please, don’t think I’m one to cop out to that excuse. More than anything, I’m just concerned this he is too up and down. What I mean by that is: What happens when Brandon Moss falls into a really awful slump? What happens when Moss becomes an offensive trench in the lineup?

Imagine Michael Bourn right now. That’s the kind of trench that I’m talking about. The Mariana Trench of all trenches.

Michael Bourn

Michael Bourn is in such a rut right now that his performance (or lack thereof) prompted Tito to move his “speedy” veteran to the 9 spot.

The N-I-N-E spot.

The $48 million dollar man is making it very hard me as a Tribe fan right now, but the move to the bottom of the lineup is somewhat* softening the blow.

On a brighter note, Carlos Santana continues to impress.

In the weekend series against Detroit, Santana padded his slash line (.250/.384/.433) and hit well (3 for 5) with RISP.

In addition, Ryan Raburn (of all people) continues to kill left-handed pitching. He’s hitting .381/.391/.762 with an OPS of 1.153. That is ridiculous. At the beginning of the year, I was calling for Raburn’s head (and I’m still weary. He has to come down to earth eventually). If I see him in the outfield more than once every…6-7 games, I am going to be one very unhappy camper. After last year’s…debacle, he has no reason to be out there. I would rather see him in the DH role (permanently) against LHP.

Starting Pitching

Danny Salazar pitched a gem on Friday night and had ample run support such that, if he made a mistake (i.e.: pitching in general to Miguel Cabrera), it would not have made the game even remotely close.

I don’t know if many people realize this, but Trevor Bauer was supposed to start Saturday against the Tigers but, due to a freak stomach bug, he was unable to do so and T.J. House had to make a spot start instead. As you would expect, House didn’t last long and was chased early on in the campaign (3.0 IP). The bullpen was, once again, able to come in and provide 5 innings of 1 run baseball; ample opportunity for the Indians to at least tie the game up. Unfortunately, the Indians could only muster 8 hits hit a paltry 2 – 9 with RISP.

Finally, on Sunday, Carlos Carrasco appeared to be coming back down to earth as he allowed 5 runs on 9 hits over 4.1 IP. He was replaced with Old Man Atchison who gave up an additional 2 runs on 2 hits before alphabet soup (Rzepchzynski) and Cody Allen (2.0 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 1 earned combined) came on to finish out the game. Similar to Saturday, the Indians hit .250 with RISP and could not make up the runs needed to make it a competitive contest late in the game.

The key to Indians season thus far has been the lack of run support and lack of hits with runners in scoring position. If the starting pitching and middle relievers hand Tito a 2-3 run performance and the Indians can’t muster more than 1-2 runs/game – that’s not a pitching problem, it’s a hitting problem.

Just imagine where we’d be if the Indians bats were hitting slightly above league average – certainly not in the cellar of the AL Central.

Upcoming Series: Kansas City

Beginning tonight (6:10 EST first pitch), the Indians take on the reigning AL Champion Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field for a three game AL Central showdown. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar will be manning the bump and hopefully the friendly confines will allow the Indians to get a series win. The Royals send Vargas, Guthrie, and Ventura to the bump in response and look to beat up on the Indians and regain the top spot in the AL Central.
The keys to the series for the Indians are (and continue to be) hitting .500+ with RISP, getting quality starts from their starters, and minimizing mistakes (both errors and near-errors) defensively.

Another interesting statistic: The Indians are last in the majors in steals allowed (20 over 17 games or 1.18/game). One steal a game; no big deal right?

Wrong.

A majority of those steals are baserunners moving from first to second (scoring position). Instead of a single moving the runner to third, that runner is scoring. The Indians have to be better at holding runners on first and throwing runners out at second in the process of stealing. This statistic no doubt is a byproduct of Yan Gomes not being behind the dish.

The phrase “You don’t run on Yan” didn’t just appear out of thin appear.

The Royals (Ned Yost in particular) will be sure to exploit this weakness with his faster players and you can guarantee that it may be the difference in tighter games during the series.

On Friday, look for my article concerning the outcomes of the Kansas City series in addition to a preview of the 4 game weekend home stand against the Blue jays. Also be sure to take a listen to the Tribe Time Now Podcast, this week featuring Mike Brandyberry from Did The Tribe Win Last Night and Craig Brown from Royals Authority (7 PM EST Thursday April 30th).

Hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em long – hell, just hit ‘em! Go Tribe!

Tribe Time Now #11: R-E-L-A-X. RELAX.

In this week’s episode of Tribe Time Now, Hayden (Indians Baseball Insider) and Ryan (MTAF: Cleveland) explore the reactionary culture of #IndiansTwitter, the concept of defensive sabermetrics, what an error really is, and much, much more!

 

Tribe Time Now #11: R-E-L-A-X. RELAX.

Topics:

a. Today’s game

b. Lineup, Raburn, reactions

c. Lindor, Holt, Wolters, potential call ups: when, where and why

d. Schedule, off days and errors

e. Starting pitchers

f.  Bullpen issues/concerns

g. What’s going on at IBI, next week’s guest, the big dog is coming

 

 

You can subscribe to the Tribe Time Now podcast (and all other Tribe Time Now features) by following this link!

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!

Indians sign Kluber and Carrasco long-term; Buck 20 year trend in the process

In the last week, the Indians front office has bucked a trend dating back to the great teams of the 1990s

On Sunday, the Cleveland Indians announced they had signed 2014 AL Cy Young recipient and staff ace, Corey Kluber, to a 5 year $38.5 million deal and two additional club option years worth $13.5 million and $14 million respectively. The deal also includes escalators based on where Kluber finishes in the AL Cy Young race between 2015-18. Over those years, it could increase Kluber’s deal to nearly $77 million.

Kluber said that he “wanted to be here” and “that was the driving force behind it for me”.

Then, on Tuesday, the Indians announced the contract extension of SP Carlos Carrasco. His deal spans 4 years and is worth approximately $22 million. It also includes club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Carrasco said “They never gave up on me. They always gave me the opportunity. That’s what they did last year. They gave me a big opportunity and I didn’t waste it. I took it and I think everything has worked out.”

There are two things here that are relevant and important to the story at hand:

  1. Both pitchers want to be here. They see the value in being a pitcher in this organization
  2. The Indians front office signed both pitchers to long term extensions; something they do not have a history of doing. Ever.

Both pitchers want to be here

I think the most interesting part of this collection of signings is the players involved see value in being a part of the team. The brand that the front office, Tito, and the coaching staff is building is one that appeals to players. That’s huge when teams are competing for free agents and money becomes a non-factor. The next question an agent may ask of the teams in contention are the culture in the locker room, living quality of the city in question, etc. Cleveland is on an uptick and the culture on the team is one that is contagious; players and people want to be around it.

The Indians front office signed both pitchers to long term extensions

The Indians are notorious for not signing starting pitchers to long term extensions. They’re so notorious that I even addressed the issue in an article during spring training last year – Well Masty, It was nice knowing you – and made the point several points that fly in direct conflict with what has happened over the past week. It’s funny because I ended the article with the line “Our players are assets. We must always remember that. Enjoy the time your favorites are here because you can always count on contracts staying short in Cleveland.”

It would appear that this year, my summation does not apply.

This following chart from Tony Lastoria’s (of Indians Baseball Insider) article last year around the same time (@TonyIBI) shows just how out of character these signings are with respect to history:

TABLE 1

PLAYER CONTRACT
Charles Nagy 4 years, $24 million
Jake Westbrook 3 years, $33 million
Chuck Finley 3 years, $27 million
C.C. Sabathia 3 years, $24.75 million
Paul Byrd 3 years, $21 million
Jack McDowell 2 years, $9.5 million
Dennis Martinez 2 years, $9 million
Dwight Gooden 2 years, $5.5  million
Orel Hershiser 2 years, $3 million

 

Clearly, Corey Kluber’s deal in particular surpasses anything (in terms of time) that has been agreed upon in the past 20+ years.

 

The core of the Indians is locked in and the time to compete is now

With players like Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco locked up for the long term, the Indians’ front office clearly believes they can compete and compete for years to come. With players like Lindor, Frazier and others in the minors continuing their respective developments, the Indians will continue to compete after some of the deals with current deals being to expire.

It’s an exciting time to be an Indians fan. Not just because of the short term potential of this year, but also the potential to compete over the long haul.

Go Tribe & remember to tune in to the Tribe Time Now podcast every week at tribetimenow.com/subscribe for the latest Tribe news and opinions from your favorite sports writers, bloggers, and opinionists.

2015 Cleveland Indians Spring Training Preview

As we enter the final 10 days before pitchers and catchers report, the 2015 Cleveland Indians lineup and depth chart all but appears set.

While the Indians didn’t make as many moves as their AL Central opponents this off season, they didn’t lose a lot of talent along the way. None of the major minor league pieces the Indians brought into the off season were traded and the additions of Brandon Moss and Gavin Floyd help to bolster problem areas from 2014.

The depth chart (according to Indians.com) looks like this:

 

Cleveland-Depth-Chart.0

 

Outfield

There have been no upgrades to any position except for right field in the past offseason via the addition of Brandon Moss. Michael Brantley will once again patrol the friendly LF corner and the oft-injured Michael Bourn will man CF.

Michael Bourn continues to be a point of contention amongst Indians fans this off season. Bourn is in the fatter end of his 4 year/$48 million deal in which he will be paid $13.5 million. Considering the drop off in production from his 2012 all-star campaign and his injury-riddled 2013 season, I’m not the only one hoping that the Indians find a way to move his contract out to pasture.

There isn’t much that needs to be said about Michael Brantley. Earning 3rd place in the 2014 MVP voting behind Victor Martinez (DET) and Mike Trout (LAA), Brantley’s production should maintain If not increase this season barring any time off from injury. Defensively, Brantley had a decent year among his fellow AL outfielders. His errors/defensive chance was a slim 1/284 (0.4%) and was tied for 2nd with 12 assists.

Right field is the area in which Terry Francona is hoping to squeeze a little more defensive efficiency in the 2015 campaign. As mentioned previously, Brandon Moss is a welcome upgrade to David Murphy in RF. In addition to his defensive speed and arm strength, he brought decent power numbers with him from Oakland. The past two seasons, Moss has posted 20+ HRs and 80+ RBIs. He was also an all-star in 2014. In terms of training camp buzz, RF is the area that I will probably be paying the most attention to.

 

Infield

The infield remains almost completely unchanged as Lonnie Chisenhall (3B), Jose Ramirez (SS), Jason Kipnis (2B), Carlos Santana (1B), and Yan Gomes (C) maintain their roles from 2014.

Sure, Yan Gomes’ numbers weren’t anywhere near his 2013 campaign, but I think fans often don’t pay attention to defensive stats for catchers. Sure we could look at errors or put-outs, but those are amateur statistics. I’m much more interested in pitch framing (the art of turning balls into strikes). Yan Gomes is the best in the bigs. The best. Check out this short article from Jason Lukehart (@jasonlukehart) at letsgotribe.com. Gomes was 1st in: fWAR (4.0), bWAR (3.9), and WARP (3.1). He posted several other links to more advanced stats that further my point and I’ll let you go down those rabbit holes at your own risk.

At 1B, the move of Carlos Santana from catcher was the best move of any AL manager in the last few seasons. Carlos Santana can still play catcher, sure, but is there a need for him to do so? Considering Roberto Perez’ decent year behind the dish on Gomes’ off days, Santana should be (and will be) in two places in 2015: 1B and DH. He will switch on and off with Nick Swisher (hopefully less than 40% of the time…). Interestingly enough, Brandon Moss will get some time at 1B too, but I suspect that will be if (and only if) Tito wants to play the pitching matchup game between RF, 1B and DH. What I love about Carlos Santana is that, regardless of if he’s in a slump, you can always count on him to walk consistently. Last year, he has 113 walks. One-hundred and thirteen. The first thing that people notice is that Santana’s BA dropped off nearly 30 points between ’13 and ’14. What they fail to mention in addition to that fact is that Santana’s OBP stayed nearly the same. This tells us something important:

  1. Carlos Santana is getting on base at a similar rate even though he isn’t hitting at the same clip from previous seasons.

With hitters like Brandon Moss now being inserted into the lineup, I am pretty certain that we’re going to see Santana get on base and score rather than being stranded as he has been in the past few seasons.

Jason Kipnis was the archetypal tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2014. Defensively, I feel that he had a pretty decent year with a fielding % of .989 and only 6 errors in 534 defensive chances. His range is the one aspect of his game that I love more than anything else. Additionally, he has above-average arm strength ranging away from 1B which isn’t something every second basemen can hang their hats on. Saying Kip had a down year defensively would be an understatement. Actually, it’s probably the understatement of the year. Kipnis’ BA fell by 40 points, his SLG % fell by more than 100 points, and his RBIs were cut in half from his ’13 campaign total of 84. While Kipnis did struggle with the injury bug early in the season, he just couldn’t get out of the funk long enough to get something going. I don’t think he will struggle nearly as much as he did in ’14, but time will tell as we move into ’15.

Jose Ramirez is the newest addition to the starting infield for the Indians and I think we can all agree: he’s a welcome upgrade over Asdrubal Cabrera. That sounds like it’s coming from a bad place regarding Asdrubal, but it’s really not. I like Asdrubal and I thought that he had a few great years in Cleveland, but he just couldn’t keep it up. He reminded me of a puppy getting used to its power as it grows (i.e.: he never refined his defensive play like the Derek Jeters of the world). His bat was always there (albeit his SO numbers were a little higher than I’d like for SS). Ramirez is going to bring the youth and defensive refinement (*developing defensive refinement) that the left side of the infield so desperately needed in 2014. With only 56 games at SS in ’14, I think we need a full 162 of Jose before we can begin to discuss the merits of elevating Lindor to the majors or continuing his slow and steady development in the minors. As for right now, his defensive efficiency is decent with room for improvement and I think he has an opportunity to really grow into the 1,2, or 3 hole role on Tito’s lineup card.

Finally, Lonnie Chisenhall maintains his role in the hot corner in 2015. Lonnie Chisenhall got me way too excited when he was on his hot streak. And then… he just fizzled out. I’m fairly certain it was because ’14 was his first full season. Lonnie had never played in more than 100 games in his major league career before 2014. In addition to being the everyday 3B, he had more than 200 PA than in 2013. I honestly think he just got tired and a little banged up. Defensively, 3B is the position that I am concerned about more than any other in 2015. Lonnie had 18 errors in 260 chances in 2015 (.931 Fielding %). He actually saved -14 runs in 2014 and that, along with Cabby’s defensive mishaps, is the #1 reason the Indians didn’t make the playoffs in 2014. Hopefully, Jose Ramirez and Lonnie can figure it out and shore up the defense on the left side of the infield as we enter 2015.

Spring training will at least open a window into how the off season has treated some of our struggling hitters (Swisher, Bourn, and Kipnis) in addition to those who had above-average years (Brantley and Gomes). Next week, I’ll be looking in depth at the 2015 Indians rotation and bullpen.

As always, look to mtafcleveland.net for Indians-related breaking news and notes and follow me @rthompak13 for up-to-the-minute opinions on the Indians, Major League Baseball, and the intersection of sports, politics, and pop culture.

Roll Tribe!

Cleveland Indians News and Notes

Happy New Year Tribe Fans!

Unfortunately, it’s been a little quiet at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Thus, my material to write about has been a bit…lacking.

But that has changed today!

Indians hire Bere as Bullpen Coach

Earlier this morning, the Indians announced that they have hired Jason Bere as their new bullpen coach. Bere replaced Kevin Cash after he took the helm of the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this offseason. Bere pitched with the Indians in 2000 and 2003 and has been a special assistant for baseball operations evaluating and instructing pitchers in the Indian’s organization over the past nine years. The search was almost entirely completed in-house, and Manager Terry Francona had high praise for Bere, specifically concerning his ability to communicate and teach young players.

Even though Bere will be the Tribe’s bullpen coach, he will be very instrumental in guiding young pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway.

Interesting side note via foxsports.com: Jason Bere started and won the final game at Cleveland Stadium on 10/3/1993

Progressive Field named “Most Family-Friendly in MLB”

In a recent set of rankings, ABC Travel Guides for Kids Magazine listed Cleveland as the #1 destination for kids in 2015. The publication noted that Progressive Field may be the most family friendly ballpark in the MLB. In addition to available kid-friendly concessions and concession policies, the Indians have continued to make an investment in creating a family-friendly atmosphere via promotions, attractions and family ticket pricing packages.

Read more about Progressive Field’s “Most Family-Friendly” rating here.

The Indians added the Kid’s Clubhouse in 2012 as a part of the renovations to the RF portion of the ballpark. Currently under construction are additions to the CF portion of the ballpark bordering the Indian’s Hall of Fame and bullpen. These renovations will cut seating in the upper-deck in right-center field so that the aforementioned Kid’s Clubhouse can be expanded. In addition, several new concession options will be made available that showcase different Cleveland food scenes such as Tremont and Ohio City. The bullpens will also be moved and stacked such that fans sitting in center field will be able to see the players warming up a way not possible before at Progressive field.

The renovations should be completed before the beginning of the 2015 season and there are plans to erect a statue of Larry Doby, the first African-American ballplayer in the American League.

The funding for the 2014-15 renovation project, in addition to expanding the fan experience at Progressive Field, is completely privately funded and does not utilize any taxpayer money meant for infrastructure improvements such as heating, concrete, and sewers.

You can read more about the renovations here or watch a short 3-minute video here.

I’m hopeful that these new renovations, while cutting capacity by approximately 1/7th, will increase the fan experience for all who attend in the coming years. These renovations are a part of a 4-5 year master plan that will see continued off-season renovations to areas such as: The Lower Bowl and Club/Suites. In addition, sound system improvements are slated for sometime in the next 3-5 years.

Coming soon: A discussion of the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees

Have a good one Tribe Fans!

Cleveland Indians Thanksgiving

 

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

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

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

Chris Antonetti & Mark Shapiro

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

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

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

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

Terry Francona

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

1. His health

2. Mickey Callaway

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving fans. Enjoy your turkey.