Don’t call it a comeback

Nobody expected the Cleveland Indians to do much in 2011. Before the beginning of the season, I think most Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the offense, assuming the offense stayed healthy, Travis Hafner produced more, Grady Sizemore came back at 100% from his microfracture, and a hitting fairy paid a visit to Matt LaPorta (or really, any right-handed batter in the Indians organization). I think Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the bullpen, assuming everyone stayed healthy, Chris Perez continued his strong showing as Indians closer, and a couple of veterans like Joe Smith were able to guide the young Indians ‘pen. But I think Indians fans were decidedly lukewarm about the Indians starting pitching, even if everyone stayed healthy, Fausto Carmona kept his mind, and Justin Masterson grew some hair.

In short, there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong. As Indians fans, we’re accustomed to everything that can go wrong going wrong, so no one predicted the Indians riding a 9-game winning streak and a 14-game home winning streak to a 30-15 start. No one predicted them hanging on to first place for much of the summer, and then staying competitive until early September. The Indians fell short of the postseason this year, but there’s no doubt there was tremendous improvement. My year-end grades for the Indians, plus playoff predictions, after the break.

A bold prediction

Manny Acta hasn’t had a lot to smile about this season. The Indians, after winning their final two games this weekend against Toronto, are on pace for 68 wins, meaning they’re on pace to finish the season 68-94. In the year the Indians won the Central Division (a mere three seasons ago), they had 96 wins. Sounds grim, right? Maybe, maybe not. I’m about to make a prediction. It’s a prediction so bold, so out there, so crazy that you’ll have to click the jump link to see what it is.

We’re building for a better tomorrow…today!

It’s often said that you can tell how good a baseball team will be by the quarter mark of the season, or after 40 games have been played. The Cleveland Indians are now 43 games into the season, and I already declared the season over on May 18th, when they were 15-21; as of the time of this writing (Tuesday night), they’re 16-27 (although, on a happier note, they’re winning tonight). (Note: as of Thursday night, they’re 17-28.)

It’s not like the Indians were off to a promising start and the recent six game losing streak killed their hope. But the fact is, the Indians being 15-21 was, all things considered, pretty good, and maybe better than we expected. But after losing their rising star shortstop and established center fielder, the Indians lack experience both on the field and in management.

Sounds like a great time for a quarter season report card, right? Read on, after the jump.

Leaving behind that empty feeling inside

Man, it’s good to have baseball back.

We’re three games into the season and I’m already addicted again. I originally planned on going to bed around ten tonight, but ten turned into “after the seventh”. In the seventh inning, the White Sox took the lead on a two-run homer by Carlos Quentin, and I was disgusted that the Indians bullpen gave up a lead (a sign, I was sure, of things to come). This added to my disgust at the home plate umpiring throughout the rest of the game (one particular call cost the Indians a White Sox run), and I prepared to go to bed.

As I got in bed, I grabbed my iPod and started surfing around the web, catching up on the important news and not-so-important news of the day. And like an addict, I checked ESPN, and I was sure that the Indians were still losing.

The game was tied at 3-3.

I retrieved my laptop from my backpack and resumed watching the game and watched ’til the end, when Asdrubal Cabrera drove in Luis Valbuena on a go-ahead single, Grady Sizemore added an RBI double, and Chris Perez recorded his second consecutive save in routine fashion. And now, here I am, blogging about it, knowing that I’ll pay for it in the morning.

I just watched my team take two of three from the Chicago White Sox. It wasn’t the World Series; it wasn’t the Yankees; it wasn’t even a division rival that’s considered a front-runner. It was the first series of the year, an insignificant three-game stretch in a 162 game season. And yet, I’m excited.

It wasn’t that the Indians won two games; it was how they won those two games. They scrapped. They clawed. They played flawless and sometimes spectacular defense. And they recovered fully from the goose egg on Opening Day.

Asdrubal Cabrera is making me wonder why he hasn’t always batted leadoff. Grady Sizemore’s displacement to the number two spot is already paying off (5 RBI in three games). Michael Brantley doesn’t look intimidated, Matt LaPorta looks worlds ahead of where he was last year, Lou Marson is holding his own behind the plate. Jhonny Peralta looks more comfortable at third and has made some nice plays, and had the clutch game-tying hit tonight. Travis Hafner has a couple hits and has put some good swings on the ball. And I’m not worried about Shin Soo Choo’s slow start.

Justin Masterson’s outing tonight was, at times, dominant, and could have been better if not for the aforementioned umpiring. Fausto Carmona’s performance last night was just downright gutty. Even the bullpen looks decent, with Chris Perez anchoring the back end.

This might be the only series the Indians win all year. But I’m reminded that the last time the Indians were above .500, it was 2008 and C.C. Sabathia was still an Indian. So rather than focusing on how this start in no way proves anything, I’m going to focus on the fact that this start is certainly better than last year, and is certainly better than a lot of people expected. This team is going to surprise people.

This weekend the Indians go into Detroit, where the competition will be far stronger, and will give us a better idea of where the Indians are.

You never know. Maybe. Welcome back, baseball.

Back to normal in Arizona


Now that Japan has beat South Korea in the final game of the World Baseball Classic, the rest of Major League Baseball can go back to preparing for the upcoming season. It seems like we’ve been in Spring Training forever, and we still have almost two weeks left (well, thirteen days). Nonetheless, it’s been a while since talking about our favorite baseball team, so here we go.

  • The pitching rotation, while inconsistent, seems to be taking shape. Cliff Lee, after a couple rocky outings, pitched a solid five innings the other day, and he seems like he’s getting into form in time for his first Opening Day start ever (which, incidentally, will be the Indians’ first Opening Day since 2001 that C.C. Sabathia didn’t start). Fausto Carmona had an injury scare, but it seems like he’ll be alright and he has had a good spring so far. Anthony Reyes, who figures to be the #3 starter, pitched well on Saturday and has had a strong spring.

    The other two slots are less certain, but my guess is that you’ll see Carl Pavano and Aaron Laffey rounding out the Indians rotation at the outset of the season, with Scott Lewis as the Indians’ #6 starter at AAA Columbus. Jeremy Sowers hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been good enough to merit a try in the rotation yet either.

    The good news for the Indians is that really, only one of those two starters needs to be good for the whole year: the Indians will get some reinforcements hopefully by the All-Star Break when Jake Westbrook comes back from Tommy John surgery (he threw off of a mound the other day, which is major progress, although he’s still at least two months away from being ready).

  • The Indians are convinced that Travis Hafner is on his way back, but it’s hard not to be worried as he posts a .143 average with no home runs. The Indians say he is driving the ball well in batting practice, and hope that will translate to the field soon. Realistically, I don’t know how much we can expect from Hafner this season, but I’d be happy thrilled with about 80-90 RBIs, 20 HR and a reasonable on-base percentage (think Kelly Shoppach numbers).
  • Mark DeRosa and Shin Soo Choo made it back from the World Baseball Classic without any injuries. This is the best news the Indians could hope for, as both of them were in it for a very long time. Rafael Perez was in the WBC as well, but he was part of the Dominican Republic team that was eliminated very early on.
  • The Indians’ bullpen hasn’t been all great. Kerry Wood has been excellent when he’s pitched (3 IP, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA), as has Rafael Perez (5 IP, 4 SO, 1.80 ERA) and Jensen Lewis (6 IP, 6 SO, 0.00 ERA). Beyond that, the numbers don’t look as good for Rafael Betancourt (5 IP, 7.20 ERA) and Masahide Kobayashi (5 IP, 14.4 ERA). I think Betancourt will be okay: he’s a pitcher that relies on spotting his fastball incredibly well, and he’s still tuning that. Kobayashi I’m a little bit more worried about, as he’s had a miserable spring the year after pitching a career high in innings. I think it’ll be up to guys like Tony Sipp, Greg Aquino, and Joe Smith to shoulder more of the load.
  • Josh Barfield’s not having the best spring at the plate, but he’s proven that he can be a good replacement to Sizemore in the outfield and can play other positions around the infield as well. If he can ever figure out how to hit consistently, Barfield will be an excellent and valuable player.
  • Indians’ outfielders Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta, Ben Francisco and Michael Brantley are having excellent springs at the plate. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see LaPorta sometime in July, with Dellucci being designated for assignment at some point.
  • Jhonny Peralta is killing it at the plate, with Asdrubal Cabrera having a solid spring as well. It’ll be interesting to see what happens should Josh Barfield earn more playing time.
  • Victor Martinez looks fully healthy and is swinging the bat well, with a couple of homers already this spring.

All I can say is, I’m ready for Opening Day. Hopefully opening the season in Texas this year will let the Indians get off to a hotter start offensively without any injuries (take it slow, Victor, take it slow) and the bullpen and rotation will come around. As far as the inaugural Goodyear Spring Training is going, you can’t hope for much more (except for maybe Travis Hafner starting to hit. Please).

The halfway point

So here I am, sitting down to watch the Home Run Derby on the night before the 2008 All-Star game. Just 4 months ago, on March 14, I thought I had a few things figured out. By the All-Star Break, the Indians would be in first place, the Tigers in a close second, the White Sox and Twins not in contention, and the Royals starting to surprise some people.

Well, I’ve been wrong before.

As I write this, Chicago leads Minnesota by 1.5 games, Detroit by 7.0 games, Kansas City by 12.0 games, and the Indians by a whopping 13.0 games. A week ago, in fact, the Indians management decided to throw in the towel on the 2008 season and traded CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for the new mayor of Akron, Matt LaPorta.

And yet we’ve seen some weird stuff this season: an unassisted triple play, a week where the Indians starters did not give up a run, the emergence of Cliff Lee and Aaron Laffey, and the sudden power outage in the middle of the lineup. Anyone else know that the Indians have a +6 run differential? The Royals, the team ahead of the Indians, have a -61 run differential. When those numbers disagree so much, it’s tough not to see that it’s just not the Indians year.

That said, the Indians have seen their fair share of good baseball in the first half. What follows are my suggestions for how to make the second half of the Indians season better than the first.

  1. Release, trade, or intentionally injure David Dellucci. This guy shouldn’t have been with the team from the get-go. It’s a rebuilding year now, time to let that huge large (he gets how much? He’s still overpaid.) contract go.
  2. Call up Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s too good to have in the minors much longer.
  3. After the inevitable trade of Casey Blake, make Andy Marte the starting third baseman and Jhonny Peralta his backup. I’m now an Andy Marte fan, because it seems like if he gets enough playing time, he’ll finally start to play well. And as for Peralta, if it’s not Marte, I think he’s your third baseman of the future.
  4. Trade Jamey Carroll. He’s of no use to us once we get Barfield back, but he may be of use to a contender who’s willing to part with a relief pitching prospect… and we need a closer.
  5. You guys will hate me for this one, but…what about moving Grady Sizemore to left field occasionally? Gutierrez is an absolute phenom in center field, and he has a cannon. Why not put Sizemore’s weak arm in left, Gutierrez in center, and Francisco in right? That’d be one of the fastest outfields around.
  6. If you get a good offer for Garko, trade him. We have LaPorta coming up as well as Mike Aubrey down in AAA. Garko is a decent first baseman, but he doesn’t hit for the power that LaPorta apparently can.

That’s what I got. Anyone have any other suggestions? Feel free to comment!