Good news, bad news

The Indians offense got rolling this weekend in Kansas City. Credit: AP/Charlie Riedel

Since it’s been almost two months since I last blogged, I thought I’d take a few minutes on this Jackie Robinson Day to talk about the Indians after eight games.

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.

Haters gonna hate

Despite Carlos Santana's struggles, the Indians have surprised many this season. Next season, star Triple-A prospect Jimi Hendrix should be ready for the Majors. You can't stop this team.

It’s kind of a dirty little secret, but I haven’t written much on this blog this summer. Normally by this point, I’m not struggling for material because the baseball season is in full swing and I can write about the Indians. But this summer, while the Indians are giving me plenty of writing material, until now, I’ve avoided writing about them… because I don’t want to jinx it. Rest assured that I had posts planned, and I was ready to roll, except the Indians had to get off to a good start, and when you’re winning in baseball, even if you’re a fan, you don’t change anything. Anything. Seriously, I wore the same hat to work for about thirty days in a row.

But lately, the Indians have been slumping a bit so I’ve convinced myself that whatever I write here won’t affect the Indians (as I type this, they’re up 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth. If I cut this post off suddenly, you know why). And with the slump, some fans who jumped on the bandwagon just weeks ago when the Indians were rolling are ready to write the team off, even though it’s June 22nd and the team is in first place. After the break, I’ll go over what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and what needs to happen for the Indians improbable run to continue.

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.

Six years gone

Eric Wedge

2009 wasn’t supposed to go like this for the Cleveland Indians. After getting off to a terrible start in 2008, the Indians rallied to finish the year 81-81, with the help of some promising young talent from Buffalo. The 2009 Indians brought back Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, added free agents Mark DeRosa, Kerry Wood and Joe Smith, and were poised to compete in the weak AL Central division.

It didn’t work out that way. Whether it was injuries, ineffectiveness, or just plain bad luck, the 2009 Indians had their worst season in almost 20 years. When you assess a season like this, where do you begin? My review of the 2009 Indians is after the jump.

Clear head, new life ahead

I write this evening from sunny (well, it was earlier today) Columbia, South Carolina, where I’ve recently moved. Since a long, unified rant eludes me (although I’m sure I could think of something if I tried long enough) I’ll write some tidbits.

  • After winning again today, the Indians took a series from the White Sox…and are still stuck in last place. However, since it is the AL Central, they’re only 7 games out of the division lead, and still have a decent shot at making a run.

    Fausto Carmona was demoted to single-A, which I felt was a little harsh, but hey, if the guy’s only got one option left, why not? Not only could the guy not throw strikes anymore, but does anyone else remember him throwing like 96-97 in 2007, as opposed to topping out at about 94 this year? We wonder why he’s overthrowing; maybe it’s because he’s used to getting more velocity. I predict he’ll be back up in September, hopefully as a member of the rotation, but at the very least as a bullpen guy for the rest of the season.

    Travis Hafner is back from the DL, and he has a couple of hits in eight at-bats, both of them for extra bases. If the Indians are going to make a prolonged run, they’ll need Hafner healthy and driving in runs to give a some veteran leadership in a lineup that now features Trevor Crowe, Luis Valbuena, Ben Francisco and Josh Barfield. The Indians have to be hoping Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera come back from their respective DL trips quickly.

    Finally, we tend to forget about Jake Westbrook but he’ll be back soon as well, and should provide some much-needed consistency to the rotation. Westbrook was signed to a three-year deal in 2007 meaning he probably won’t be tremendous trade bait, but one person who may be on the move if the Indians don’t start a run is Carl Pavano, who has defied odds and pitched well since May 1.

  • I caught a late showing of Up last night. While I don’t think it was the best Pixar movie I’ve ever seen, it was a Pixar movie in every sense and totally worth seeing. Up was Pixar’s first foray into 3D films. I didn’t see it on a particularly large screen and I sat near the back, so it was tough for me to really be immersed in the illusion anyway, but the reason Up works is not because of the 3D glasses (which are designed eerily similar to the main character’s glasses); the movie is good because of the story. No studio seems to get this as much as Pixar; that’s why they’ve never made a bad movie, that’s why 4-year olds like the movies as much as 22-year olds and as much as 56-year olds. The animation is wonderful and in every sense a treat to see, but it plays second fiddle to the tremendous story that could be told with standard 2D, non-CGI animation and still be excellent. (Also worth noting is the score, which, like most of Michael Giacchano’s work, including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Star Trek, fits the movie perfectly and is also excellent as a standalone score.)
  • Rush’s classic rock song Fly By Night (the title of this post is borrowed from lyrics from that song) came on the radio on the way home from my first day of work on Monday. Any time a song you enjoy comes on the radio, it’s a good day. But when it’s Fly By Night, it’s a whole new level. Just sayin’.

Still getting settled in Columbia, but hopefully I’ll have some pictures of my apartment with everything completely moved in by the next time I post. Until then, hope the weather’s well in Ohio (or wherever you’re reading this from) and hope things are well with you too.

It’s the end of the world and we know it


As you might have heard, the Indians are 0-3. While I’m not happy about it, as many of you are, I had some observations about the opening series that weren’t all bad.

  • Don’t panic. The Indians have lost three in a row before, and they’ll lose three in a row again. The only difference is that here, we’re starting the season with three losses.
  • The Indians pitching is inconsistent at best, but anything happens in Texas. That’s a home-run friendly park, with an outstanding offense, with Indians pitchers that may not quite have found their form.
  • Travis Hafner looks orders of magnitude better than last year. He doesn’t quite have the results yet in terms of hits (only three in three games), but he hasn’t struck out very much (once, if I’m not mistaken), and he is having some decent at-bats. He’s coming along.
  • No errors so far. The Indians haven’t made any errors in the first few games, which to me is a good sign.
  • I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far from Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo, and Trevor Crowe more confident than a timid little rookie at the plate.

I’m headed to the home opener here in about twenty minutes, so I’ll try to bring in a win. Until next time, go Tribe!

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 swagger is back

There haven’t been many times this year where I’ve said, “this feels like the 2007 Indians.”

The 2007 Cleveland Indians were a team that never gave up. Especially near the end of the season, the game was never over until the last strike was recorded or the last out was made. I remember a couple games specifically where, with two outs in the ninth, Asdrubal Cabrera doubled (once off Joe Nathan, coincidentally, and once off of Joakim Soria) and the next batter, Travis Hafner, homered to tie the game and singled to tie the game, respectively.

And that was just scratching the surface. There was the legendary David Dellucci single up the middle off Todd Jones on June 1, 2007, giving the Indians a dramatic win against the Tigers. There was Jhonny Peralta, defiantly slamming a home run to right field off of the “toughest” reliever in the game, Joel Zumaya, in a crucial September game against the Tigers (actually, one year ago today: September 17, 2007). Who could forget Ben Francisco’s walk-off in his first major league start? What about Kelly Shoppach’s sprint-off? Or Casey Blake’s two walk-offs in the span of a week?

The 2007 Indians found a way to win. Games that looked over were always just one clutch hit away from being back in contention. This year, although the Indians won on Opening Day in similar fashion, the 2008 Indians seemed to find ways to lose.

Until July and August, this seemed to be the trend. In August, the Indians won ten in a row and built up some major confidence. And tonight, two of the Indians’ MVPs gave the Indians their swagger back:


I’d be lying if I said I was extremely confident about next season, but what’s happening now parallels what happened at the end of 2006: the Indians, rid of their aging veterans, made a late charge and posted a respectable second-half record.

And oh by the way, if the rest of the night wasn’t enough like 2007…

If that doesn’t start your Wednesday off with a smile, I’m not sure what will.