Two outs away

Day 2 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey

Comerica Park in the first inning of what would turn into an incredible game

This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1.

“Oh, Justin Verlander is pitching.”

I had been looking up the starting pitchers for the evening’s game, remembering that I hadn’t seen a Justin Verlander highlight on SportsCenter in a few days, and was pleasantly surprised to see that we’d get to see him.

“Who’s that?” my sister asked. Here’s how I described him:

He’s a really good starting pitcher for the Tigers. He throws 100 MPH all game long, so you’ll either see him pitch amazingly tonight or this will be the night his arm finally falls off.

One of those two things happened, and since Verlander is pitching against the Indians tomorrow (the 24th), you can assume it’s not the latter. And besides that, I got to see another really cool baseball stadium. My review of Comerica Park, after the break.

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.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

The dog days of August

I remember around the All-Star break, I posted a midseason review. At that point, the Indians had thrown in the towel on 2008 and traded CC Sabathia to Milwaukee, where he has yet to lose and has already hit two home runs. This came on the heels (actually, the trade was in the midst of) a ten-game losing streak that effectively ended the Indians’ hopes at making a postseason run.

And yet, as I write today, the Indians have won their tenth game in a row.

Stranger things have happened, right?

A few encouraging things I’ve seen in the midst of this streak (apart from the fact that the Indians are now a fun team to watch again):

  • Kelly Shoppach is giving the Indians a very real reason to think about making him more than a backup catcher. He homered again last night (a monster shot, too), and is hitting .263 with 17 home runs this season. After his miserable start, .263 is a drastic improvement. Realistically, Shoppach may never be the caliber hitter Martinez is, but I think you could pencil him in to hit about .280, maybe hit 25 home runs and drive in 80-90 runs in a year where he plays every day. Those kind of numbers are good enough to start on most teams, and depending on how Martinez comes back from this injury, may merit searching for a solution that gets Martinez and Shoppach in the lineup every day.
  • Who doesn’t like watching Jhonny Peralta hit? Ever since getting thrown into that cleanup spot (sort of by default, because no one else besides Grady had any experience whatsoever), he’s been an RBI machine. He’s got 73 RBI this year – an outside shot at getting 100 with 30 games left. But it’s how he’s getting those RBI lately that is more impressive. Yesterday, he swung at a first pitch from Justin Verlander in the first and simply served it into left field. He broke his bat, and he didn’t hit it especially hard, but he got the RBI with two out. It’s really been a remarkable turnaround for Peralta: before he started batting cleanup in June, I think he had something like 11 home runs and 20 RBI. Today, he has 21 homers and 73 RBI.
  • Franklin Gutierrez is finally starting to hit. And he’s hitting in the clutch too, driving in go-ahead and winning runs in three of the Indians wins over the streak. I don’t want the Indians to give up on this guy. We all see what he can do defensively, and if he can ever figure out the offense he’ll be a premier outfielder.
  • Shin-Soo Choo is showing no ill-effects after his surgery. He’s making strong throws from the outfield and yesterday he hit an absolute bomb to the second deck in right. He’s another guy I’d hate to see them give up on – what about platooning him with Francisco and Gutierrez next year? All three guys can play both corners. Francisco is showing he can hit everyone, and the other two are, shall we say, “improving” at hitting same-handed pitchers. Why not keep a loose platoon for part of the year and then if two of those players start to stand out move to a strict starting lineup?
  • Asdrubal Cabrera looks like the Asdrubal Cabrera who gave the Indians a spark in 2007. He still plays phenomenal defense, and now he’s starting to hit too. He’s more patient at the plate, he lays down a good bunt if needed, and last night he stole a base. I think it goes without saying that the Indians shouldn’t give up on this guy; he might be the shortstop of the future.
  • Ben Francisco is putting up Rookie of the Year-like numbers. After last night, Francisco is hitting .284 with 14 HR and 50 RBI in “limited” playing time (he now has the fourth most AB of any Indian on the roster, behind Sizemore, Peralta, and Garko). If he can continue his pace, he might edge out Longoria (of Tampa Bay) for Rookie of the Year simply because Longoria has been hurt.
  • Ever since getting benched, Garko is back to his 2006 form. Part of what was so frustrating with Garko most of this year is that he has shown he can be a great hitter with two strikes, he has shown that he can get RBIs even without hitting the ball well…he just wasn’t doing that. It seems like now he’s choking up on the bat with two strikes like he used to, and he’s playing smarter: just trying to make solid contact and get base hits without worrying about hammering the ball all over the ballpark.
  • I like what I’m seeing out of Anthony Reyes and Zach Jackson. Both have pitched pretty well, particularly Reyes, who is now 2-1 with the Indians. I’m anxious to see what both can become the rest of the year – are these guys we want in the rotation next year?
  • “And now into close for the Indians…Jensen Lewis?” He’s 7 for 7 in save situations this year, and finally overtook Joe Borowski as the Indians saves leader. I don’t think he’s our closer of the future, but he’s doing a better job than I thought he would.

Look, the playoffs are probably still out of the question for the Indians at this point (win 10 more, then we’ll talk). But .500 is definitely reachable. There’s still a chance for Grady to hit 40 home runs this season and drive in 100. Cliff Lee never loses. So even though this team probably won’t be playing in October, keep watching – things are getting interesting.

And just like you, I’m wondering why…

I know, I know, I’m slacking in my non-baseball-related posts of late. The good news for you is that hopefully that means I’ll have quite a bit more to say than usual! (According to my calculations…)

  • …alright, so maybe there’s still some baseball stuff. But come on, we’re only a week into the season and there are some huge things happening already!
    • My favorite story thus far has been the Kansas City Royals, who are 6-2 and in the lead in the AL Central. This is a team that is perennially picked to finish last, and until a few years ago, with good reason. Lately though, the Royals are becoming less and less pathetic, and it’s my belief that if they were in the National League, they’d be a playoff team.

      And heck, they might be a playoff team this year. The 2008 Royals remind me very much of the 2004 Indians: young, inexperienced but quality pitching, a career DH who does nothing but hit (Indians: Travis Hafner, Royals: Billy Butler), and a budding franchise player who might blossom into one of the game’s all-time greats (Indians: Grady Sizemore, Royals: Alex Gordon).

    • I picked up Brian Bannister for my fantasy team a couple days ago; that kid looks like he’ll be good.

    • Another interesting story in the central is the surprisingly bad start by the Detroit Tigers. They started the year with the second highest payroll in the major leagues, and they won their first game yesterday.

      I’ve said all winter that good pitching will always beat good hitting; and if you don’t have good pitching, you better be outslugging your opponents all the time. The problem is, if your offense goes into a funk (like the Indians did last summer, like the White Sox did last year, like the Yankees did last year), and your pitching is bad (unlike the Indians, like the White Sox and Yankees of ’07), you’re not going to win many games. Not only that, but the Tigers opened the season against the aforementioned Kansas City and Chicago, both of whom are off to hot starts.

      I fully expect the Tigers to win a lot of games this year, but I don’t think they’ll get out of the first round of the playoffs.

    • Actually, a lot of teams predicted to do bad are off to great starts, including the Baltimore Orioles (who I expect to regress pretty soon) and the St. Louis Cardinals. I read a book last summer about Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals, and I refuse to believe he’ll have a bad team. They may not win the division or make the playoffs (although anything is possible in the NL Central), but they’ll win some games.
    • The Red Sox and Yankees revive their rivalry tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Count me interested. It’s always fun to watch these teams play because their fans are so obnoxious and when two teams of obnoxious fans get together, hilarity ensues. Plus, they’re two great teams with two great offenses and watching them play will feel a lot like postseason baseball. Unfortunately it appears ESPN will be covering the Cavaliers and the Bulls tomorrow night.
    • The Indians have signed Fausto Carmona to a 7 year contract for up to $43 million, with $15 million and 4 years guaranteed. Fantastic move by the Indians, especially with C.C.’s free agency looming near. Carmona was dynamite last year and I have no reason to think he’ll be any worse this year. You might not find a cheaper Cy Young candidate in baseball.
  • And in non-baseball related news, The Office is back tonight! I have some theories about the rest of the season, which I might post tomorrow after they’re all proven wrong tonight. It’s really weird actually being excited to watch tonight, because I kind of got used to it not being on.
  • Has anyone visited MikeHuckabee.com recently?
  • I would write a quote of the day, but I can’t do this one justice by just writing it, so enjoy:

Hope everyone’s enjoying the weather, and enjoy The Office tonight!

There’s still time to change the road you’re on

It’s a sunny April morning in Cleveland, Ohio. Normally, in April, its either snowing and 30 degrees or sunny and 65 degrees, but today, we’ve struck a compromise, and its sunny and 35 degrees outside. It’s okay for me, I get to watch baseball tonight without having to play it.

  • In a rare feat of good news, Wal-Mart is doing the right thing. Although it’s probably not for the right reasons (I can see it now, on the front page of CNN.com: “Wal-Mart is evil”) it’s still nice to see that this story is resolved without any further conflict. One notices, however, that the whole situation could have been avoided if this guy (or his lawyer, not that it’s his job or anything) read the fine print.
  • Front page of ESPN.com/MLB:

    Inside, details about the past 5 seasons for David Ortiz and how he started. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy any article about how the Sox are overrated. But honestly, the fact that an 0-11 start merits a full front-page as well as a two-page writeup for David Ortiz is solid proof that ESPN is biased. No, maybe its not the analysts, maybe its not the anchors. But the people who decide the content are.
  • I’m not sure how Apple’s stock continues to rise, thanks to reports like this one that the 1/3 of iPhone users have a second phone. I see three reasons for this:
    1. AT&T is an absolutely terrible network. I like to think of cell phone providers like grocery stores here in Cleveland: Sprint is like Whole Foods, because it’s far too expensive but quality in the end; Verizon is like Giant Eagle, because it’s quality and good value in the same package; and AT&T is like Dave’s, because you never really know what you’re going to get.
    2. Corporate users have to be able to check their mail via Exchange, which Apple somehow forgot about when they released the iPhone.
    3. I’m going for a workout, and I want a phone with me. Do I really want to take my $500 phone with me when I’m running (particularly if it won’t be replaced by my office)? No, I want to take a little flipphone that’s more durable and not as big a deal if it cracks or gets dirty.
  • How I Met Your Mother was on Monday night, and it was pretty funny. However, these days it seems like the chemistry between the group is gone for some reason. Maybe that’s realistic, but part of what made the show so fun was the chemistry between everyone early on.
  • Fausto Carmona is on the mound tonight for the Indians, and here’s hoping our pitching is about fifteen times better than it was on Monday. Just think: games like the one on Monday are what our friends in Detroit get to watch all year long…
  • Quote of the Day:
    Slap me thrice and hand me to me mama! It’s Jack!

    Gibbs, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Hope everyone’s having a good week. I probably won’t post anything tomorrow because I’m working, but I’ll talk to you on Friday! Until then, go Tribe and boo Red Sox!

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!

Early bedtime

Going to bed early tonight, probably because I’m on four hours of sleep and unlike my parents (cough) and my sister (cough, cough) I never got a nap today. But perhaps a quick post of the weekend’s events would do us all well.

  • March Madness is down to the Sweet 16… and I still don’t care. I don’t know what it is this year, but I have had no urge to watch any of the games, in fact, I’ve become readdicted to Seinfeld instead.
  • Curtis Granderson, the center fielder for the Detroit Tigers, won’t be starting on Opening Day. It’s too bad, and I hope he returns soon – he’s a great baseball player and a real class act, not to mention a huge part of the rivalry between the Indians and the Tigers.
  • Watched Beauty and the Beast with my parents, sister and little cousins on Saturday evening, and let me say this: if there’s one thing Steve Jobs has done right, it’s Pixar. The movie was good, but I think I’d pick pretty much any Pixar movie over any standard Disney movie. Mulan was pretty good, and Aladdin was also good…and come to think of it, I really liked Tarzan too. But compared to my obsession with Ratatouille and The Incredibles, no contest.
  • A couple events of note in the political world. First, every candidate’s passport has been illegally investigated. Personally, I wasn’t aware a passport was such a private document. The fact it was viewed without authorization is apalling (and seriously, how do we protect these things if they’re so secret), but I’ve never really put much stock in my passport holding crucial information. Maybe that’s because I’ve only left the country once.

    Second, Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama. Now here’s a guy who needs a lesson on timing. If he really wanted to make a difference in the campaign, he should have endorsed Obama when there were actually voters trying to make up their minds. The next primary of note is Pennsylvania, and my guess is that 90% of the people in Pennsylvania don’t know or don’t care who Bill Richardson is. I remember watching him in the debates, and of all the democratic candidates, he looked the least confortable on that stage and struck me as the least likely to become President (well, besides Kucinich).

  • Opening Day is 8 days away! To get ready for the big day, the Indians have redesigned Indians.com which looks pretty nice. The weather forecast for Opening Day looks…well, it looks like Opening Day in Cleveland:

    Well, it could be worse:
  • On to the quote of the day:
    Cops. I don’t even care about cops. I wanna’ see more garbage men. It’s much more important. All I wanna see are garbage trucks, garbage cans and garbage men. You’re never gonna’ stop crime, we should at least be clean.

    George Costanza, Seinfeld

Should be an interesting week. And by the way, for those of you reading this at Case, if you’re sick, don’t come near me. In fact, quit reading this blog, I don’t want to catch anything.

Blogging from virtual reality

Today I’m blogging from the Virtual Worlds gaming lab from the fourth floor of Olin. Has anyone else noticed that a lot of college campuses seems to have at least one building named Olin?

  • The Indians are 1-0-1 against the Tigers, with a tie on Saturday and a win Sunday. Some good signs:
    • Ben Francisco seems to be opening some more eyes this spring, with a home run on Saturday. The opinion here is that he should be on the Indians’ Opening Day roster, but we’ll see how that goes.
    • 1B prospect Michael Aubrey seems to be hitting everything in sight – might be an option down the road.
  • Conflict is starting to brew once again in Somalia. A lot of people have said, and I totally agree, that by the time Barack, Hillary or John is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in January of 2009, there will be another armed conflict that’s more important or more at the forefront than Iraq.
  • It’s about 55 degrees in Cleveland today, and the sun is shining. It’s supposed to get cold again tomorrow, but for today we can pretend it’s springtime, right?
  • The big day is tomorrow in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont. If Huckabee isn’t defeated once and for all tomorrow, John McCain has a lot more work to do than he thought. Actually, here’s a telling statistic as to why Huckabee might not quite be done yet:


    McCain doesn’t even have 50% of the Republican vote! That’s a huge problem for him at this point in the election season. As stated before, McCain doesn’t have my vote. I am a conservative, but I don’t think being a conservative means you have to automatically believe conservativism is necessarily best for the country in every given situation. Remember, our founding fathers were a bunch of left wing nuts. More on that at some point.

  • As for the Democratic side, Hillary’s done if she doesn’t win both Texas and Ohio tomorrow. Even if she doesn’t withdraw from the race immediately (which I think she will if she loses both of those states), she’s done.
  • It pains me to say this, but Hillary Clinton does actually win one thing: the funnier sketch on SNL this weekend:

    Here’s Rudy Giuliani:

    …keep your day job, Rudy.

  • This is the first time in…well, ever…that I’m looking forward to football season in March. This mostly relates to the Browns picking up ex-Patriot WR Donte’ Stallworth, as well as acquiring some much-needed help on the defensive line. I was lukewarm on the Derek Anderson signing – I think the guy can play, but I don’t think he’s a championship level quarterback and I certainly don’t think he’s worth $8 million a year for 3 years. If it were me, I’d let him hopefully boost his trade value this year while starting, and then start shopping for a trade and put Brady Quinn in.
  • I decided a while ago that this summer it was my plan to visit Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in New York City before they close this year. I decided yesterday that I’m expanding that goal a bit: my goal now is to visit at least seven baseball parks this summer:
    1. Progressive Field (home of the Cleveland Indians)
    2. Yankee Stadium (home of the New York Yankees)
    3. Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets)
    4. Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs – yeah, I’ve already been there but I liked it. Sue me.)
    5. Busch Stadium (home of the St. Louis Cardinals)
    6. PNC Park (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)
    7. Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers)

    Obviously the idea is to not spend a whole lot of money, so these trips would be on weekends, by car with maybe one overnight at a campground or somewhere equally inexpensive.

  • Baseball Tonight was on for the first time this season yesterday – good stuff. Looks like not a lot has changed: Steve Phillips is an idiot, John Kruk tells it like it is, and Peter Gammons is the man, but unfortunately secretly roots for the Red Sox. Something kind of interesting too – if you search “kurkgems” in Google, one of my blog entries from last fall is the first result.
  • I’m starting to see some weird viewing trends for this blog thanks to Google Analytics. There are people visiting this blog from Mountain View, CA (hello, friends at Google!), Brooklyn, NY (hello, Rudy Giuliani!) and Washington, D.C. (hello, and my apologies, Senator Clinton!) Of all of the locations that have viewed this blog, Cleveland is obviously the first (me) but in second place? Rochester, NY. Weird…

No coffee this morning, but as said earlier, its almost 60 degrees outside and I just don’t need it today. Have a good day everyone!