The night is darkest just before the dawn

I’ve held off on making this post for a few days because I’ve kind of been bouncing back and forth, and honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever settled on anything conclusive. But nonetheless, here are some random thoughts, five days removed from “The Decision,” after the jump.

When someday never comes

Cliff LeeNormally, when I write about the Indians, I try to keep a pretty neutral voice. After all, I’m an Indians fan, but more than that I’m a baseball fan. Even if the Indians are losing I still love and enjoy the game.

But this one hurts.

As I read, listened to and watched coverage of the Cliff Lee trade to the Phillies, I was reminded of what the Indians were doing two years ago at this time. Do you remember?

  • After a disastorous start against the Red Sox, Cliff Lee stormed off the field, sarcastically tipping his hat to the crowd as he left. The Indians ended up losing 14-9 (I happened to be at that game), and he was sent to Buffalo the next day, and came back only for September call-ups.
  • On July 27, the Indians traded Single-A catcher Max Ramirez to the Rangers for former Indian Kenny Lofton. That night, he returned to a standing ovation and sparked the Indians to a 10-4 win.
  • CC Sabathia lost his 6th game on July 29, 2007, en route to a 19-7 Cy Young Season. His ERA was 3.58.

The Indians, of course, went on to the ALCS that year and were within one game of the World Series. Two years, two Cy Young winners traded, and one (soon to be two) Octobers on the golf course (i.e. not in the playoffs), the Indians are in rebuilding mode. What happened?

  • The bullpen implosion. In 2007, the bullpen was a strong point for the Indians. Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt did great getting the ball to Borowski in the ninth, who would either completely blow up or completely dominate, most of the time the latter. In 2009, Betancourt is on the Rockies (after a decent, but injury-plagued first half), Perez is in Columbus (oh yeah, we switched AAA teams since 2007) and Borowski is out of baseball. It’s been downhill since then.
  • Injuries. Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t missed a game in two years in 2007, has been on the disabled list once and now has a recurring elbow problem. Travis Hafner had a miserable 2008 and is now only starting to get his form back. Victor Martinez (who may be next to depart) disappointed in 2008 as well due to injuries. Jake Westbrook hasn’t pitched in the majors since June of 2008. The Indians’ stars have just had some bad luck injuries.
  • Inconsistent offense. When you roll out a different lineup for almost every game in a season, it’s usually a telltale sign that a team isn’t getting on any kind of a roll. That’s been the Indians’ case the last two years. Early last season, the pitching was phenomenal but the Indians just couldn’t score runs. They seem to go through those stretches where no one in the lineup is hitting.
  • Pressure. The Indians collapse when the pressure is on. Only when there are few expectations for the season (i.e. when they’re 15 games under .500) do they seem to play well. (Trot Nixon did a great job in 2007 of keeping the young guys loose and not putting too much pressure on themselves.)

Now what? Unfortunately, the analysis is that the Indians got a pretty good package of prospects, but they won’t be ready for a couple years. Let’s face it: right now, the only Indians starters that are starters on most other teams are Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-soo Choo, and maybe Jhonny Peralta. Everyone else (and now that Lee is gone, this includes pitchers) are probably out of their element in the majors.

Even worse news: in the article I linked above, the word out of the Indians front office is that this was a move in order to make some room in the payroll this off-season; ownership won’t be chipping in more funds to sign players. Hey, with the Indians last in the league in attendance, can you blame them? The Indians aren’t winning enough games to fill the seats, so the Indians can’t afford to pay for players to win games, and the cycle perpetuates. I’m hoping Shapiro is right, and that in 2011, the Indians will be competitive again, but if the economy doesn’t improve, I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that.

Did anyone notice the year Franklin Gutierrez is having? The Indians traded him to Seattle in the offseason for Joe Smith (who, every time I turn around, is blowing another game. Seriously, what were we thinking bolstering our bullpen with someone from the Mets, the master of bullpen collapses?), because they thought Francisco had more upside. As it turned out, Francisco is gone too, but Gutierrez is having a nice year with Seattle, hitting nearly .300. Francisco was hitting .250. It’s the Brandon Phillips syndrome: what is it with playing in Cleveland?

Well, Indians fans, all you can do is wish Lee, Francisco, Ryan Garko, Rafael Betancourt and Mark DeRosa the best and hope that at some point soon, we’ll be trade deadline buyers, not sellers.

By the way, did anyone see who is replacing Lee in the rotation? You got it, Fausto Carmona, who was 19-8 in 2007, injured last year and sent to Single A this year. My, how times have changed.

Allergies

Spring is here! In my world, that means baseball is back, school is almost over (but not winding down) and the flowers are in bloom… which means my eyes are itching like crazy.

I’ve never had really intense allergies that require a perscription or anything like that; it’s more often than not just a minor annoyance for about two weeks while the pollen is really heavy. But seriously, why can’t I have allergies in the winter time? If things have to go bad, I might as well get it all out of the way at one time, right?

  • In computer world, particularly Linux world, the big news of this week is Ubuntu 8.04’s launch on Thursday. I’ve never really liked Ubuntu, as most of you who read this blog know, but it’s nice that it’s able to make Linux so easy for those who want to pose as computer nerds for a while or those who are too cheap to buy a copy of Windows and too lazy to pirate it. One thing Ubuntu has got going for it, however, is a lot of driver support – when I installed 7.10 on my laptop a few months ago, the wireless just worked, there was no fiddling with getting firmware, cutting it up and then wrapping the drivers with NDISWrapper.

    I’m using Fedora 8 (Werewolf…I know, Ubuntu’s codenames are much cooler) on my laptop and on my desktop. I’ll probably keep it on my desktop for a while as part of a dual boot system – Fedora does a great job at doing what it needs to do. On my laptop, however, I like it more and more every time I try it but at this point it still doesn’t quite have the polish that Windows XP has. (For example, for some reason when I move my mouse around in this textarea while editing this blog post, Firefox decides it needs to grab the icon of the Blogger favorites icon and insert the URL into the post. First of all, why would I ever want to do that? And secondly, where do I shut that off?) I like the prospect of using Linux exclusively on my laptop (primarily because instead of having to install bloatware like Dreamweaver and Acrobat Pro I can get much better software that doesn’t use as many resources), but I’m not quite there yet.

  • Today is Earth Day, meaning Google has their obligatory Earth Day logo and everyone else is all “save the Earth!”. Still not sure what the point of Earth Day is – sure, we can all respect the environment today, but tomorrow… I mean, we have to go to work, right?
  • The Indians play the Royals tonight, C.C. Sabathia vs. Gil Meche. Given these two starters’ ERA thus far, this is a pretty unfair matchup. But C.C. has to turn it around sometime, right? There may be no better time than tonight.

    In other Indians news, Jake Westbrook got put on the 15-day DL (I have no idea why, he seemed fine the other night), and Ben Francisco was recalled to the Major Leagues. If I were Eric Wedge, I’d start Francisco tonight and see what he does. The offense needs a spark, particularly in left field.

  • Quote of the Day:
    If life throws you a curveball, take it to right field.

    Rick Manning, color commentator, STO

On a final note, it’s nice to have The Office back, isn’t it? Looking forward to the rest of the season, even though its shorter than it’s supposed to be, because word is that NBC ordered 30 episodes for next fall. Until later, stay well and enjoy the weather!

The season started?

So, we’re still in the offseason…

April Fools!

Sorry, that was completely lame, I know. Let me get on to the real business, the brilliant analysis that you, my faithful readers, yearn for after a very exciting Opening Day in the Major Leagues.

Let me start by saying that our pitching (particularly the bullpen, particularly Rafael Perez) had better be better than they were today. And I’m sure they will be, but parts of today felt like 2004 and 2006 when it felt like no lead was safe.

From the second batter of the game, you could tell things weren’t quite in sync with our pitching, and the third batter of the game, Jim Thome hit his first home run of the season, a prototypical, 415-foot blast to right center. He hit another one later in the game, and I’ll say this: Thome looks good this year. Both home runs were hit off of Sabathia, a lefty, off of whom he had never got a hit (and then later in the game he hit a liner into the left-center field alley that Jason Michaels was barely able to run down). Thome looks about 5 years younger, somehow, and after watching today I’m looking for him to put up big numbers.

The Indians answered back after three consecutive singles by Martinez, Peralta and Garko, and after Cabrera hit into an RBI fielder’s choice, Franklin Gutierrez hit a curveball into the bleachers for a field goal. All of those players, particularly Gutierrez, I think will have good years and build upon what they started last year.

Later in the inning, Victor Martinez injured his hamstring sliding into second base. He walked off of the field okay, but hamstrings are tricky, especially for catchers, and I hope that injury isn’t one that takes him out of the action for very long.

Some mild controversy arose in the eighth after the White Sox hit consecutive doubles against Rafael Betancourt (who was really the only Indians pitcher to consistently throw strikes today). After an intentional walk loaded the bases, there was a play at the plate where Peralta’s throw home was wide, forcing Kelly Shoppach to make a sweep tag of Joe Crede coming home. I saw the replay – it’s hard to tell if the tag ever landed. But more importantly, Gerry Davis (the home plate umpire) was in no position to make that call correctly. Nothing he could do about that, but from his angle it would have been easy to say the tag hit Crede. The very next play, Jim Thome hit a broken bat grounder to second (the only ball he didn’t hit hard today) which Asdrubal Cabrera threw to Peralta to start the double play. Peralta was able to get one, but got tripped up around second because White Sox baserunner Orlando Cabrera attempted a red-card slide tackle. No question that was interference. I heard in various places that the White Sox TV broadcasters were screaming about how they got hosed on that call, but after looking at the replay I don’t think you can make that argument (even Ozzie Guillen conceded after the game that it was interference).

And in the end, Casey Blake (hear that Cara? CASEY BLAKE.) hit what turned into the game-winning double high off the wall in left, driving in three. After that interference call rightly went the Indians way in the top of the eighth I kind of knew the Indians would find a way to pull it out, and Casey Blake got the job done.

In the ninth, Joe Borowski didn’t get me any ERA fantasy points, but he did get the save, and that’s really all he needs to do. The save is just that – you’re saving your team from losing.

There were other games going on throughout the majors, I’ll touch on them a bit:

  • Brewers @ Cubs: I had this game on in my commercial surfing lineup. Anyone else notice how dark Wrigley looked today? That’s the darkest I’ve ever seen a baseball stadium in the day. I think it’s because they don’t turn the lights on at Wrigley for afternoon games. Kosuke Fukudome’s three run home run tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. The Brewers won, 4-3.
  • Mets @ Marlins: Some math for you: Good Pitcher + National League = Great Pitcher. Hence, Santana was dominant today against one of the worst lineups in the major leagues. Ho-hum.
  • Royals @ Tigers: Top to bottom, there is no getting around the fact that the AL Central is the best division in baseball. This is evidenced by the fact that the Royals, the projected last-place finishers by pretty much everyone, are actually a pretty good baseball team, and managed to beat the Tigers today. Alex Gordon hit an absolute bomb in this game.

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • I used to think that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak would never be broken and was a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly. Apparently, it’s not. A really interesting article says that in pretty much every simulation of Major League Baseball for the last century, someone had a hitting streak of similar length, and one went as high as 109 games!
  • Quote of the Day, speaking of Joe DiMaggio:
    There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.

    Joe DiMaggio, CF, New York Yankees

For those of you who enjoy my political musings more than my baseball musings, I’ll be posting something from the political arena hopefully later today. Until then, go Tribe and boo Red Sox!

The 2008 Cleveland Indians: Major League II

And here it is! The long-awaited preview blog for the 2008 Cleveland Indians season. Before I begin, what a 2007 it was! Much like the original Major League, the Indians were a bunch of upstarts who rallied in the end to beat the Yankees, but, as we found out in Major League II, the Indians lost in the ALCS to the…wait for it…White Sox.

So maybe it’s not exactly like the movie.

But anyway, here we go. I’ll start with a to-do list of what I would do if I were Mark Shapiro (and thus what I believe he should do before Spring Training is over.

The To-Do List

  1. Trade Cliff Lee, David Delucci and Andy Marte for whatever I can get. Marte being traded is provisional based on his play during Spring Training, but I anticipate that it wouldn’t be good enough to merit keeping him. Marte has obvious issues playing in cold weather, which is a problem not only in the beginning of the year but in the playoffs as well, and to me does not provide an upgrade defensively or offensively at third.

    As for Cliff Lee, he is part of a trio of left-handed starters (joined by Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers). The Indians’ future, in my mind, has room for two left-handed starters (barring injury), so who is traded is really a matter of personal preference, but a trade is necessary. Of the three starters, Lee is the oldest, is paid the most, but probably has the most trade value due to his experience. He is signed through 2009, and was paid $3 million last year, making him a relative bargain for a team like Tampa Bay who is looking to build for the future and has room to take some risks – and Tampa Bay is loaded with prospects.

    Finally, David Delucci. Nothing against the guy, I just feel that Ben Francisco/Shin-Soo Choo is our future left fielder and that Delucci is good trade bait. Of the three, he’s the one I don’t mind keeping as much.

  2. Make an offer to C.C. This should be obvious. I’m not saying sign him, necessarily – to me, he has a lot to prove in the postseason – but an offer should be made. I would give him the years he wants (which is rumored to be about 5) and maybe offer about $20 million a year. That’s far less than Santana got and a deal I think the Indians would be thrilled with. If we don’t sign him now though, don’t panic – we still have plenty of time.

A pretty short to-do list. But that’s a credit to Shapiro’s work so far, he’s done a heck of a job.

Opening Day Lineups

On March 31, the Indians will take the field at Progressive Field (hold your groans please) against the Chicago White Sox. I’ll assume Mark Buehrle (had to check the spelling) will start for the Sox, against C.C. for the Indians. Here’s my proposed starting lineup:

CF. Grady Sizemore
2B. Asdrubal Cabrera
DH. Travis Hafner
1B. Ryan Garko
C. Victor Martinez
SS. Jhonny Peralta
LF. Ben Francisco
RF. Franklin Gutierrez
3B. Casey Blake

On the bench: Jamey Carroll (INF), Josh Barfield (INF), David Delucci (LF), Kelly Shoppach (C).

Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, Aaron Laffey, Paul Byrd

The lineup might surprise you a bit – I’m a huge Ben Francisco fan ever since I saw him play for the Captains, and he did a great job in the beginning of the summer too – and also, Buehrle is left-handed. As for the rotation, I put Laffey ahead of Byrd in order to stagger the right-handers and left-handers (LHP, RHP, RHP, LHP, RHP).

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Predictions

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Mariners (kind of an upset pick – but Bedard/Hernandez will help)
AL Wild Card: Tigers (Yankees don’t make it!)

NL East: Mets
NL Central: Cubs (I picked the Pirates last year, look where that got me)
NL West: Padres
NL Wild Card: Phillies

AL Champions: Indians (they did it in Major League II, right?)
NL Champions: Mets

World Series: Indians (Johan Santana? Pffff….we beat this guy 5 times last year)

And just for good measure…

AL MVP: Curtis Granderson
NL MVP: Ryan Howard

AL Cy Young: Fausto Carmona
NL Cy Young: …wait for it…Johan Santana

Biggest liar (between Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds): Clemens

And there you have it…my official pre-Spring Training blog for the 2008 season. Comment if you will, and we’ll see you on Opening Day!

The Boston Bias

Now that the Indians have won two games, ESPN is trying to analyze it with the tagline, “How can the Indians be ahead against a team that looked to be invincible?”

Invincible to who? This is a team that nearly collapsed at the end of the season, letting the Yankees reduce a 14 game deficit to a 1 game deficit. The bullpen, which was outstanding in the beginning of the year, was much more vulnerable in the second half. We also saw how impotent the lineup was without Manny Ramirez.

So they go into the division series, they sweep the Angels. The Angels were a completely different team than they should have been, but even so, Ortiz and Ramirez pretty much led that offense through that series. The Angels had a terrible gameplan against Josh Beckett which made him look outstanding. Actually, the same can be said for the whole series: it seemed like the Angels tried to change who they were instead of making the Sox play their game.

The Red Sox get through to the Indians, and to their credit, made Sabathia work. I thought Sabathia was getting squeezed, but he should have been challenging Red Sox hitters more than he did anyway. Game 1 went to the Sox. Game 2 was much the same, but the Indians managed to hold off the assaults of the offense and won it, in the first game where Manny and Ortiz FINALLY looked human. And finally, in Game 3, Westbrook was able to shut them down and cool off the red-hot Ramirez.

So in the end, the Red Sox were NEVER as invulnerable as ESPN would have you believe.