Saturday, April 29, 2006

The People's Closer

Burt Graeff’s moniker for Wicky in Saturday morning’s paper was perfect, The People’s Closer. I love it.

Does Wickman get the job done, or does Wickman get the job done? It’s not pretty, it’s not relaxing…but it’s effective. Friday night’s game was the epitome of a Sticky Wicky save. Give up 2 straight doubles, then get the last 3 outs, stranding the tying run on 3rd. Do you think that he does this on purpose?

Jason Davis looked great again on Saturday, meaning that when Fernando Cabrera comes back to the Tribe (probably today) he’ll be pitching the 6th inning. Meanwhile, Jason Dangerously will occupy the 7th inning role, possibly helping out Billy Dot in the 8th as Wedge’s confidence in JD grows.

This offense is reaching juggernaut status (if that’s possible 23 games into the season), with the lineup looking strong throughout. Hafner is walking at an alarming rate, and Victor and Benuardo (which has replaced Broussarez, which the DiaBride thought was too confusing) are making teams pay for it.

Why is it every time an announcer says, “Aaron Boone may be hurt” (it happened last night as Boonie fell to the ground after charging a grounder), I get excited? While Andy Marte hasn’t put up the power numbers in Buffalo, his overall numbers (.318 BA, .413 OBP) show that he’s taking a patient approach to the plate, something the Indians’ brass stressed with him this Spring. While Boone has been somewhat solid, and certainly unspectacular, I can’t wait for the Andy Marte Era to start. Once that starts, Boone could move to the Utility spot (if he can handle SS) to keep his veteran presence in the clubhouse and get the disappointing Vazquez off of the squad.

Speaking of Vazquez, Terry Pluto has an interesting take on Brandon Phillips, who has come out of the gate scorching in Cincinnati. While B-Phil certainly has the talent to be a solid Major Leaguer, he had simply fallen out of favor with the Indians and them with him. After Phillips wasn’t called up last September, you had to know that Phillips wasn’t ever going to be with the Tribe long-term. While Phillips has played well in Cincy, to the tune of a .356 average, 3 HR, and 20 RBI, you have to wonder what will happen once he starts getting a steady diet of curveballs in the NL. Even in 2003, Phillips proved that he could hit a big-league fastball, but struggled with the breaking stuff, particularly down and away (think Pedro Cerrano’s first stint in the cage). Phillips’ ability to adjust to pitchers once they make that realization will determine if Phillips will continue to thrive or come crashing back to Earth, the way he did in 2003.

What a great start to a great weekend for Cleveland sports as the Tribe takes Game 1, LeBron puts the Cavs on their back for a victory in Game 3, and the majority of people I know anchoring themselves to the couch for the NFL Draft (the most serious anchoring involves my buddy Dozer, who sees nothing wrong with watching the Draft for 10 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday, and is considering skipping a baptism on Sunday to watch Rounds 4 and 5 to do so).

With the Grady bobblehead night tonight (which serial poster Cy Slapnicka said he thought would look like an N’Sync concert), check out the amazingly exhaustive Grady’s Ladies Sisterhood website, which I’ve put up as a link. When you get some time, check it out as it’s very well done and gives you a peek into the emerging subculture that is the Grady Sizemore Fan Club. Did you ever notice that Grady looks like Vincent Chase from Entourage?

Grady photo courtesy of the Sisterhood. Yes, those are the type of pictures in the Photo Gallery.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tomahawk Time

With the Tribe-Red Sox series wrapping up in the Tribe’s favor (with the bride and I braving the cold for the first 2 games of the series), the Tomahawks are flying with highlights, lowlights, and wing sauce on a baseball.

  • The Red Sox fans are getting close to Yankees fans in obnoxiousness and quantity at games at the Jake. There’s no way there’s that many transplanted New Englanders on the North Coast. As my brother and I sat in the Batter’s Eye Bar on Tuesday, it was shocking how many people walked by in Sawx gear. Not shocking…sickening.
  • Is Cliff Lee the stopper of the pitching staff? He looked great on Wednesday, attacking the Red Sox lineup that go to Westbrook on Tuesday. His starts have been pretty consistent, particularly compared to Paul Byrd’s 3, 4, and 5 inning outings.
  • Speaking of Byrd and Westbrook, who will separate C.C. and Lee as the righty between the lefties when C.C. is ready to go next week in Oakland? Honestly, Jason Johnson has been the most consistent starter this season outside of C.P. Lee.
  • Consider Matt Miller’s spot in the bullpen filled by Jason Davis, who pitched 2 strong innings on Wednesday. Maybe Jason Dangerously has finally harnessed that electric stuff with a controlled wind-up and a consistent delivery. If so, when Cabrera comes back, it allows JD to pitch in the 6th and 7th inning role with Cabrera until Betancourt comes back. When Rocky comes back, the bullpen should sort itself out.
  • The one thing that BETTER sort itself out soon is the release of Gas Can Graves. When he came into the game on Tuesday (after the Mota-Manny debacle), we seriously discussed leaving the game because the emergence of Graves from the ‘pen is the equivalent of Wedgie throwing the towel into the ring from the corner. Every time I see that mullett come out of the CF bullpen, it's like watching Apollo go down in Rocky IV. You know it's over.
  • The aforementioned Mota-Manny debacle, to me, falls squarely in the lap of Scotty Sauerbeck. His one-pitch HR to Ortiz forced Wedge to go to Mota earlier than expected and forced Mota to go fully through the order over 2 innings. For a pitcher who hadn’t gone in a while and is unaccustomed to going 2 innings, it’s just asking too much.
  • Last note on the bullpen, when did Jeremy Guthrie start throwing 96 MPH? Has he suddenly morphed into a dominant reliever? If he’s figured out how to pitch out of the bullpen this quickly and can be successful, it will only help to settle the determination of bullpen roles
  • One more note on the bullpen, though not the Indians’. Sitting next to the Red Sox bullpen, I saw Julian Tavarez stretching and keeping warm, which brought on a spirited conversation about his old bw-3 commercial (“You remember that, man? That was like 10 years ago.”), learned that he lives in Broadview Heights year-round (“You know where 82 is? I live right off of 82.), then listened to the guy in front of me talk to Tavarez in Spanish (likely making fun of me). Also got to see Schilling and Varitek warm up and Jonathon Papelbon and his new haircut. Best line of the night, “How’s you cut your hair rook? Veg-O-Matic?”
  • The Revenge of the Killer B’s continued tonight, with Ben Broussard going 4 for 5 with 8 RBI and Casey Blake still hitting over .350. How much longer will Casey stay in the 9-hole if he keeps hitting like this?
  • I know that the offense CERTAINLY isn’t the problem, but Jason Michaels doesn’t look well-suited to bat second. Whether it’s the adjustment to the AL or whether Michaels is better suited to be a platoon player remains to be seen. But, at this point, Michaels (who went 0-3 with 3 K’s) looks overmatched.
  • With the 15-3 victory tonight, the Indians keep on track of winning 2 out of every 3 at home. Maybe this will bring the swagger back to this team that's been missing since the second Orioles' game.
  • Finally, here’s a great piece on Travis Hafner by Ken Rosenthal, which touches on the on-deck circle routine. The fact that he doesn’t answer to Travis, only Pronk, is reminiscent of the Elaine character on the “Jerry” pilot not responding to her real name in make-up. Classically, Jerry deadpans, “Try Elaine”, to which she responds.

Here's what I have to say to those Red Sox folks at the Jake the past 2 nights: “You like apples? We just won 2 of 3 from your boys. How do you like ‘dem apples?”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Time to Take a Breath

Before we panic that the Tribe has now lost two straight series to the Orioles and the Royals, let’s take a look at the big picture. It’s a marathon, gentlemen, not a sprint.

There’s a formula that I’ve come up with to get through the ups and downs of the regular season. If the Indians go about .500 on the road, they’ll end up with a 41-40 away from the Jake. If they win 2 out of every 3 games at home for the season, they’re final home record would be 54-27. If the team can accomplish that, they end up 95-67. I’ll take that. Right now, the Tribe is 4-2 at home (so far, so good) and 6-7 on the road (almost there). Keeping that in mind after games like the Orioles’ blowouts and the Royals’ loss lends some perspective that should let everyone keep their shoelaces.

Would you like to do better against the O’s and the Royals? Sure, but it’s a long season and that has to be remembered to keep an even head.

With that being said, it seems like the Indians team that took 2 of 3 from the White Sox and swept the Twins is a completely different team that has, at times, looked unmotivated and uncaring more recently against the Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, and Royals. Maybe this is a matter of a team getting too hyped up to “start out the season on the right foot”, and then having a bit of a hangover after an exciting start and some early success.

There’s no question that the Indians, talented as they are, should have feasted on the teams that most figured would be some of the doormats of the AL. Something has gone wrong against these teams, whether it be the starters not going deep enough into ballgames, the bullpen exploding, or the offense getting shut down by the likes of Joe Mays and Jeremy Affeldt. Are they playing down to their competition, or lacking focus (which some have suggested), or are the injuries taking their toll on an early season? The past two years, the Indians have taken a while to find their groove, so let’s hope that this is what we’re seeing.

We’re going to find out if the Indians just need to “get up” for these games in the next few series against the upcoming series with the Red Sox, White Sox, and A’s (with some Ranger action thrown in).

Schilling faces Westbrook on Tuesday, so hopefully the Tribe can get their heads right on their off day and be ready to face a hot Red Sox team (and a dominant-thus-far Schilling) at the Jake.

On a quasi-Lazy Sunday note (though not Indians’ related), the Sports Guy has a fantastic piece, connecting the NBA Playoffs and Pearl Jam. After reading the exceptionally written piece, I listened to “Ten” and “Vs.” and could still sing every word of every song despite not listening to either in probably 8 years. That’s the sign of a fantastic album.

Finally, the Indians are running a ½ price sale for lower reserved seats with a Giant Eagle card (though the guy at the team shop didn’t really need one), which means that you can sit in lower reserved for $11 for the Red Sox series, which features some nice pitching match-ups (but no Coco).

When do I start getting commission for hyping up going down to the Jake?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mess With the Bull, You'll Get the Horns

The Extreme Makeover of the Indians’ bullpen has begun, with Matt Miller and Rafael Betancourt hitting the DL, Rafael Perez being sent back to AA Akron, and “Smoke ‘Em” Brian Slocum and Jeremy Guthrie joining the parent club.

Miller’s elbow injury looks like it’s going to end his season, as surgery and a 4-6 month recovery time is the outlook. Betancourt will be out for 3-4 weeks, as he recovers from a back strain, and don’t forget that Fernando Cabrera is still on the shelf in Buffalo.

So, let’s review – 15 games into the season, ¼ of the Indians’ Opening Day Pitching Staff is on the DL, all replaced by youngsters from AAA. Carmona, Davis, Slocum, and Guthrie will all get extended looks and opportunities to prove their worth to the Front Office.

Right now, the bullpen looks like this:

Brian Slocum and Jeremy Guthrie, the 2 latest additions, have thrived in AAA while the other major bullpen prospect, Andrew Brown, has struggled with his control. Slocum is a converted starter who has done well since his transition to the pen, which has allowed him to be aggressive and focus on 2-3 pitches, as opposed to the 4-5 pitches he was using when starting. Guthrie, who pitched out of the rotation in Buffalo, figures to be the long man in Cleveland who may find a permanent home in the bullpen if he recaptures the effectiveness that made him a #1 pick of the Tribe. His success this Spring and in Buffalo could translate to an extended stay in Cleveland, in what may be his permanent home, the bullpen.

This shuffle will likely play itself out in the next 3 weeks as Miller will likely go onto the 60-day DL, allowing the Tribe to add another pitcher to the 40-man roster (Ben Howard, Steve Karsay, Felix Heredia, Rob Bell, Jeremy Sowers, or Tony Sipp could all be options). Betancourt and Cabrera will return after some rehab time in Buffalo, and MAYBE Danny Graves will get a one-way ticket onto the Indians’ Dominican Summer League team (which would only strengthen the pitching staff).

During those 3 weeks, the youngsters will have pitched enough innings to sort themselves out in the quest for a solidified bullpen.

After a much-needed win (despite a Sticky 9th inning) against the Royals, the Tribe will try to touch up Joe Mays to take the series tonight.

More importantly, the Cavaliers make their return to the playoffs, after 8 years away, with this afternoon’s game against the Wiz. The best thing that I read about the game is that LeBron James isn’t talking to the PD because beat writer Branson Wright picked the Wiz to win the series.

I don’t know why, but I love that. Maybe because I can picture the scene in the locker room:
Wright: “LeBron, what are your thoughts going into the series?”
LBJ: “More importantly, what are yours Branson; since apparently we’re going to lose?”

It goes right up there with the Paul Silas beauties, “Am I speaking Chinese?” “See you next Tuesday. Sound it out.” and the classic “I don’t talk to you” when addressing Roger Brown.

Go Cavs.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Call to Arms

After the Tribe took game 1 by the count of 15-1, the Orioles turned their bats loose on the Indians’ pitching staff to take the series. The 9-4 loss in the finale was marred by a 6-run 6th inning that turned the tide of the game.

Up to that point Fausto Carmona was pitching very effectively and efficiently; but he got into some trouble and it snowballed. It was curious that Wedgie left Carmona in as long as he did (or that he left Westbrook in so long the previous game), but maybe he was trying to protect the reeling bullpen (and try to get Westbrook through 5 innings to set him up for the win on Wednesday, which is no excuse). Regardless of the Wedge’s strategy, the pitching staff was unable for the second night to hold a lead through the middle innings and have some bullpen casualties on top of the ugliness.

Matt Miller went on the 15-day DL with an elbow strain, an injury very similar to the one that put him out for the year last year. All of the indications point to this being another serious injury that could eventually land Miller on the 60-day DL if surgery is needed.

On top of that, Rocky Betancourt went out with an “upper back strain” mere batters later. The Tribe is waiting for results from the MRI in Baltimore, but it sounds like Rocky may be headed to the DL himself, albeit for a likely shorter trip than Miller.

So, what do the Indians do? The bullpen is 1-2 with a 5.76 and 1 blown save in the short season. They need to cut this off at the pass before the ‘pen goes 2004 on us and puts this team, whose offense is rolling, in a hole.

Rafael Perez was a surprise call-up for the O’s finale, until you see that it was his turn to pitch in the rotation in Akron, could pitch multiple innings if needed, and the likely candidates (Brown, Slocum, and Guthrie) had all just pitched. Regardless, Perez did well in his MLB debut, striking out 2 in 1 inning and looked good doing it. Perez doesn’t figure to enter the long-term situation for a while (maybe 2007), but it’s nice to see him do well, which should build his confidence and give him something to build off of.

Perez will likely get sent back to Akron tonight, as a Buffalo arm will make the trip to KC to meet up with the team. The obvious names are Andrew Brown and Brian Slocum, and if Betancourt goes on the DL as well, both could be with the parent club by the weekend, with Jeremy Guthrie as the wild card.

After seeing the way that the 2004 bullpen sabotaged the early season, you have to think that Shapiro’s working on Plan J right now to get this ship righted. As we all know, the bullpen is the most fluid component of any team as one pitcher who was untouchable one year could be an unmitigated disaster the next.

The bullpen by this weekend could be missing Cabrera, Betancourt, and Miller (while Gas Can Graves inexplicably holds on), and could be replaced by Davis, Brown, and Slocum (or Guthrie). The young arms impressed in Spring Training and should get their chance to show that they belong.

This is why the Indians’ organizational depth is so important in this, the year they should contend. If most teams lose 1 starter and 3 relievers in the first 3 weeks, they go into panic mode. But credit the Front Office for building up the depth in the organization for a rainy day. Thank goodness, because the clouds are gathering.

The Indians start a 3 game series in KC tomorrow, facing starting pitchers with ERA’s of 5.40, 11.68, and 8.10. The rest of the AL is getting fat on the Royals. It’s time to join in the feast.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Payback...And How

An ugly night that began with Westbrook just not having his sinker working as he simply wasn’t able to make the offensive output hold up.
Some random thoughts while sitting on the couch:

Is anyone else pleased to see Matt Miller come in (immediate HR notwithstanding) rather than Danny Graves? Miller always seems to give up a hard hit, then settle down; which should dictate that he would start an inning, rather than trying to bail an inning out. But, any way that you look at it, at least Graves didn’t come in to throw some BP. After typing that, Miller leaves the mound holding his always-tender right elbow. How quickly can Andrew Brown get to Baltimore?

Now Rocky Betancourt leaves the mound with an injury. Let’s hope that Andrew Brown and Brian Slocum get along, because they’ll be in the car for a while together.

If I know that Aaron Boone is going to be pitched away, particularly with 2 strikes, can someone on the Indians’ coaching staff let Boone know?

Grady seems to get to EVERY ball in the outfield. I don’t know if it is the “line” that he takes to the ball, or his speed, or his instincts – but he is always right there. I think that the falling backward catch of Monday night was my favorite so far this year, though the one on Opening Day when he hit the wall wasn’t too shabby.

Speaking of Grady, just when I thought that SuperSizemore was not hitting a lot of extra base hits, and seemed only to be hitting hard grounders, he goes off and hits an opposite field shot and a few doubles.

Danny Graves may not be able to get out of a high-school game without giving up a hard hit.

At least Major League was on HBO when things got ugly. We could've used Eddie Harris' Vaseline Ball tonight.

Here’s some good news:
How are these for some numbers through 14 games?
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Hafner - .373 – 7 –12 – 1.343
Blake - .447 – 2 – 14 – 1.217
Martinez - .418 – 2 – 12 – 1.095
Broussarez - .345 – 3 – 12 - .914
If you didn’t figure it out, the 1B platoon will heretofore be known as Broussarez.

Not to be outdone, here are some numbers for the players of interest in Buffalo:
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Gutierrez - .380 – 2 – 6 – 1.046
Merloni - .364 – 1 – 4 - .993
Garko - .375 – 1 – 15 - .959
Inglett - .278 – 0 – 2 - .727
Marte - .250 – 0 – 1 - .690
The reason I put Merloni and Inglett in there is that they represent the first option if Ramon Vazquez continues to strike out at an alarming rate. Neither player is on the 40-man, though, so the Tribe would have to make a roster move to call either up. Look at Garko's RBI numbers...very solid.

How about the pitchers in Buffalo, you ask? Ask and you shall receive:
Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Sowers – 2/0 – 0.47 – 1.14 – 11/5
Guthrie – 1/0 – 0.00 – 1.00 – 7/4
Brown – 2/0 – 1.08 – 1.44 – 6/9
Slocum – 0/0 – 1.23 – 0.55 – 10/1
As if these numbers aren’t obvious enough, the staff at Buffalo is thriving. Look at those numbers for Sowers and Guthrie, and the K/BB ratio for Slocum. Throw in Fernando Cabrera on a rehab start (he struck out 3 in 2 innings, mere days after going on the DL), and you wonder how Buffalo is going to lose over the next two weeks. With the injuries to Miller and Betancourt, expect to see Brown and Slocum, or maybe even Ben Howard (though that’s less likely because Howard’s not on the 40-man).

A little further down the line, here’s how some of the youngsters from Canal Park are faring:
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Jonathon Van Every (OF) - .395 – 3 – 7 – 1.279
Ryan Mulhern - .315 – 3 – 12 - .882
Brad Snyder - .269 – 2 – 7 - .826

Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Adam Miller – 2/0 – 2.04 – 0.85 – 15/3
Tony Sipp – 1/0 – 1.64 – 1.09 – 17/3
Nick Pesco – 0/0 – 1.64 – 0.91 – 7/3
Edward Mujica – 4 saves – 0.00 – 1.14 – 4/5
Does everyone understand how deep this organization is yet?

Don’t be surprised if the series finale (Carmona vs. Bedard) is a low scoring one, but not for the reason you think (both teams already shot all of their bullets). Thursday’s game is precisely the type of game that baseball writers have targeted as a game that will be affected by the new testing for amphetamines. The day game after a night game, on a weekday no less, is the kind of game that players (allegedly) used to get amped up for by popping some “greenies”. Worn down after a few night games, the players will have to rely on coffee, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew to get ready for the game.

Baltimoran, please make a sign that reads “FauSTO, FauSTO” in a blatant attempt to get on STO during tomorrow’s day game, while lauding the young right-hander. I’ll have the TiVo going.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Meet the Tribe, Greet the Tribe

The opener against the Orioles was one of those truly fun games to watch as the Indians pounded the O’s pitching and Jason Johnson cruised. The result was never really in doubt as the Tribe piled on. Since we’re in a good mood, let’s go off the board.

With an assist to the brilliance of Deadspin, it seems that tonight’s Orioles’ starter Bruce Chen is shown on the JumboTron during Orioles games telling bad jokes.

Well, that got me to thinking about the Indians and how they need an advertising campaign that mixes some humor in to allow Cleveland to see these guys and their personalities. So, without further ado, I present my suggestions for the 2006 Indians’ ad campaign. Think the tone of the SportsCenter commercials with some local flavor:

Grady’s First Day
The scene opens with clubhouse manager Tony Amato showing Grady Sizemore around the clubhouse with a caption on the screen reading “July 20, 2004; Grady Sizemore is promoted to the Indians”. Amato takes him around the clubhouse, showing him the trainers’ room, the video room, and where the equipment is, etc. The tour concludes with the following exchange:
Amato: And, here in the corner cubicle is where your locker is.
Grady looks around with a deer-in-the-headlights look as Travis Hafner struts over to the pair.
Hafner (looking menacingly at Amato and channeling Patrick Swayze):
Nobody puts Grady in the corner.
Amato backs down from the Hafner stare. Hafner grabs Sizemore by the shoulder.
C’mon rook, you can have the locker next to me.
Fade to black.

What Really Happens in the Bullpen
A camera moves into the bullpen, with the caption “3rd Inning, Home Game”on the bottom. The camera slowly moves past the pitchers sitting in chairs watching the game to Bob Wickman, who is standing over a grill full of brats. Wickman tends to the grill as Luis Isaac enters the frame.
Wickman: Is Betancourt getting the ‘kraut ready?
Isaac: Yeah, he’s on his way.
Wickman: OK, fellas. Grab a bun. Brats On!
The pitchers, buns in hand, start to line up as Wickman starts doling out the sausage.
Fade to Black

The Truth About Slider
Slider and the girls that accompany him run off of the field to wild cheers as Slider ducks into a small room and sits down on a folding chair.
He sighs, and struggles to remove his oversized head. When the head is removed, it reveals a disheveled Bob Feller.
He grabs a handkerchief and wipes his brow, then has a drink of water.
One of Slider’s assistants swings open the door, saying, “There you are Mr. Feller. It’s time to go, we’re getting the Hot Dog Launcher loaded.”
Feller sighs deeply, puts the mascot head back on and slowly walks out the door.
Fade to Black.

Life Between At-Bats
Travis Hafner is shown making his way through the dugout, collecting high-fives after hitting a home run. Hafner works his way down the stairs to the clubhouse, still giddy from the excitement. He goes to his locker and hits play on a CD player, which starts the old Hulk Hogan introduction theme “Real American”. Hafner is shown, dressing up like the Hulkster of old, complete with the blond wig and mustache, do-rag, and yellow “Hulkamania” shirt.
As Hafner is doing the old “hand against the ear” routine, a finger presses STOP on the CD player behind Hafner. Hafner wheels around to find Cliff Lee standing there.
Hafner: Hey, Cliff. What’s up? Did they take you out?
Lee: Yeah, I’m going to go hit the showers. You might want to get back in uniform, Sizemore’s leading off next inning.
Hafner: OK, cool. Talk to you later.
Hafner starts to take off the do-rag and wig.
Fade to black.

Speaking of wigs, does anyone else think that Lou Brock is wearing a wig in that Briggs & Stratton commercial that's been running during games?

If you’ve got 9 minutes to kill, here’s one of the greatest things this RBI Baseball Freak has ever seen.

One final programming note: If you get the NFL Network, they're showing the 1989 Cleveland Browns Yearbook on Thursday morning from 5:30AM-6:00AM. If you haven't joined the TiVO revolution, consider this as another invitation.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Return to Byrdland

The Tribe split with the Tigers today as they tallied 10 runs in an easy 10-2 victory. We certainly could’ve used some of those runs on Sunday as Mike Maroth and the Tigers’ bullpen shut down the offense for a 1-0 victory, wasting a great pitching performance by C.P. (Clifton Phifer) Lee.

Today, the Indians' attack was paced by Casey Blake (!), Eduardo Perez (!!), Aaron Boone (!!!), while Paul Byrd pitched like the Paul Byrd that we were all expecting when he signed this off-season, as he went 7 solid innings and allowed Guillermo Mota and Bob Wickman a chance to get some work in.

A great sign is Byrd throwing 88 pitches over those 7 innings, 64 of those for strikes. What that means is that Byrd was “throwing to contact”, inducing 14 fly outs. What is even more positive is that he walked only 1, after walking 6 in his first 9 2/3 innings.

If Byrd can put together some quality starts in a row, the Indians could get some nice momentum going in Baltimore to close out the week.

The Indians’ struggles against Maroth on Sunday afternoon could be another example of a possibly disturbing trend – the Indians’ continued struggles against soft-tossing lefties. Whether it’s Kenny Rogers or Mike Maroth, or that immortal Tribe nemesis, Jamie Moyer, this team struggles to find its groove against a lefty who nibbles while throwing in the high 80’s. Maybe they should call Paul Assenmacher to throw some BP on the days that they’re facing these guys.

After 13 games, the Indians’ 1B production is a .327 average with 3 HR and 10 RBI. Not too bad for the platoon of Perez and Broussard thus far. As long as they can keep up that consistency, the Indians will stick with it.

Also, after mentioning Boone’s sudden drop-off at the plate on Saturday, Boonie went 4 for 8 with 3 RBI in the past two games to raise his average 45 points to .276. So much for the demise of Aaron Boone. But regardless of a few good games, Boone needs to find the consistency of a veteran bat to avoid the Broussardesque streaks.

Some quick Lazy Sunday notes, one day late due to Easter:
Paul Hoynes mentions Brandon McCarthy as a possible White Sox closer and how Jonathon Papelbon has thrived in the Red Sox closer role, something to watch with the success of Fausto Carmona and the lack of an opening in the rotation for him. Also of note is the fact that Ozzie Guillen is still upset that Pronk got more MVP votes than Konerko. Get over it, Ozzie – you won the World Series, leave it alone. Finally, the immortal Brook Jacoby is the interim hitting coach for the struggling Texas Rangers. Maybe he’s teaching them how to pop-up with 2 guys on and one out.

Terry Pluto weighs in on the Fausto Carmona phenomenon. Not really a phenomenon to anyone but me. His performance on Saturday, though, was one of the more exciting things of the past few years. That is, to see a highly touted Indians’ prospect perform well in his debut.

We’re all expecting inning-by-inning recaps from the Baltimoran, who will be at Camden for each of the Indians-Orioles games the next 3 days.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


The debut of Fausto Carmona went about as well as you could’ve hoped as he went 6 strong innings, giving up only one run (which could be erased if Peralta’s lazy throw to 1st is ruled an error after further review) to the Tigers, who at this point in the season have baseball’s best offense. Carmona didn’t look overwhelmed at all on the mound, and seemed to be in complete control. He mixed his sinking fastball and slider nicely to get some strikeouts and some very timely groundouts that allowed him to get out of a few tight spots. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Tribe put a 2 spot on the board in the 1st inning for the rookie, allowing him to relax from the first pitch and pitch free and easy. But, he continued to throw strikes throughout the game and didn’t get hit too hard the second time through the Tiger lineup, a common problem with young pitchers.

Carmona’s mound presence and preternatural maturity make him a candidate to force himself into the conversation of staying on the pitching staff if he keeps having starts like his MLB debut. I’m certainly not suggesting that the Indians would take a veteran pitcher out of the rotation to make room for Carmona, but he certainly present the Indians with a nice problem (similar to what the Twins have with Soriano and the White Sox have with McCarthy), in that the “6th” starter is a Major League-ready youngster who is too good to wallow in AAA.

Whether he could stay on as the long man and allow Jason Davis to move further along in the pen (because Davis, to this point, looks to be well-suited for the bullpen) remains to be seen. By the way, Fernando Cabrera went on the 15-day DL with an ankle injury (though he said right after it happened that he was fine) to make room for Carmona. What that means is that Cabrera will get some rehab assignments to get his confidence back, that Jason Davis will stay on in the bullpen, and that Danny Graves has incriminating pictures of either Mark Shapiro or Eric Wedge, or both. The bottom line on Carmona’s debut is that it at least gives the Front Office some confidence that his stuff translates to the Major Leagues.

So this is what Hafner is capable of with a healthy elbow? He is absolutely crushing the ball, AND is drawing walks on top of his astounding hitting. Just a thought, but when Hafner comes to the plate at the Jake, the JumboTron should show a flock of geese making a noise that is akin to “Pronk, Pronk, Pronk…”
Great note in Saturday’s PD that Hafner has embraced his nickname as his dad went to Winter Haven wearing a shirt that said, “PRONK’S DAD”, while his girlfriend wore a shirt that said, “PRONK’S GIRL”. If you don’t like Hafner, you’re crazy.

Has anyone else noticed Aaron Boone’s average creeping closer to 2005-territory? Obviously, Terry Pluto has. After starting off the year hitting well, Boone has cooled noticeably. After Friday night’s game, he’s hitting .231 and seems to be regressing to swinging at the first pitch and hitting A LOT of pop-ups again. If he doesn’t improve, noticeably, expect Boone to move into the Utility spot (replacing the always-whiffing Ramon Vazquez) to allow Andy Marte to be promoted to Cleveland. It won’t happen soon, but I have a feeling that it WILL happen, maybe around Memorial Day.

Todd Hollandsworth’s game today, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and one fantastic catch in LF, gives me a little more confidence that he may be OK as the 4th outfielder. While he underwhelmed in Spring Training, the fact that he sat on the bench for 10 days and came out and played well today could mean that he is well-suited for that 4th outfielder spot.

This handling of the 1B “Platoon” doesn’t really fit into the definition of a platoon, in the pure sense of the concept. When Perez starts, he is pinch-hit for when a RH pitcher comes in. However, if Broussard starts, Perez does not come in when a LH pitcher comes in. The result, when Broussard faces those LH pitchers is unimpressive, if not disastrous in the sense of a 3-pitch strikeout. Maybe it’s just the Benny the Bumble B (a nod to Mordechai) bias, but Broussard still looks lost out there, particularly when Wedge lets him face a lefty.

Nice victory today to stop the losing streak, with a terrific debut from one of the Indians’ young guns. Time to go out tomorrow to take game 3, and the series, from the Motor City Kitties.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Not Going 161-1

After starting 6-1, the Tribe has dropped 3 in a row, and to the Mariners and the Tigers, to rub salt into the aching wound. It’s well known that there are peaks and valleys during the course of a Major League season and the Indians, after a phenomenal start in which they handled the White Sox and Twins handily, have found themselves on the slippery slope of a losing streak. While a 6-4 record is certainly no need to panic, there are some underlying concerns that have reared their ugly heads in the past few nights.

First and foremost, the bullpen is in disarray, as seemingly every pitcher coming out of the pen (other than Wickman) is struggling. Going into the season, who would’ve thought that Wickman would be the least of our worries? The problem is that none of the relievers are throwing strikes and challenging hitters; instead, they are nibbling and trying to make the perfect pitch. The result is a lot of walks, and subsequently, a lot of runs.

When Rocky Betancourt, who seemingly only throws strikes (he has 185 career Ks to 48 career BBs), is walking people – it’s more than just a problem. It’s an epidemic. So how do the Indians respond? By sending the one pitcher who HAS consistently thrown strikes, Jason Davis, back to AAA. It’s far from the time for me to question personnel moves, but this one is too overt not to mention.

Is it only obvious to me that Davis should stay in the pen with the promotion of Carmona, and that Danny Graves should be the one to go? Outside of the obvious fact that Davis more of a true long reliever (who can throw 3-4 innings in case of a bad start) than the Baby-Faced Assassin, Graves is giving up hits and walks at an alarming rate, and even the outs are hard-hit balls. For those who say that Graves won the last spot in the bullpen in Spring Training, you’re only half-right. He out-pitched Steve Karsay (the other veteran reliever in camp on a minor league deal), but in truth, both Jason Davis and Andrew Brown outperformed him. The existence of options for both of those youngsters (though JD is almost 26) allowed Graves to break camp with the team. One can only hope that Shapiro sees the fruitlessness of the Danny Graves Reclamation Project soon and allows Jason Davis to remain in Cleveland for an extended period of time and allow him to become acclimated to pitching out of a Major League bullpen. If Graves clears waivers and makes it to Buffalo, fine; but he should not be working his issues out in Cleveland.

Graves is just a portion of the problem though. The bullpen lacks the rhythm necessary to perform in a game. Realizing that the season is only in its second week, there is still no set pattern for how Wedge is using the relievers. Outside of Wickman pitching the 9th and Mota pitching the 8th, the relievers seem apt to pitch anywhere and at anytime. As soon as someone establishes himself as the 7th inning pitcher (hopefully Betancourt or Cabrera, who have both struggled), the bullpen should become closer to becoming settled. Until that happens, though, we’re just as likely to see Matt Miller in a situation as Danny Graves (Ugh), but that’s the story right now.

The pitcher who is most indicative of the lack of certainty that the bullpen has right now is Scott Sauerbeck. Is he a match-up lefty? Is he capable of pitching a full inning? Nobody, certainly not Wedgie, seems to know. But that uncertainty is just another indication of how the bullpen remains a work in progress.

It’s true that it took nearly half a season last year for the Indians to settle into a comfortable rotation coming out of the bullpen (it seemed like Cabrera or Betancourt, then Howry, and finally Wickman pitched the 7th, 8th, and 9th every day for about 2 months at the end of last year), but the sooner those roles are finalized, the better off this Indians’ pitching staff will be.

Hopefully, C.C. coming off of the DL at month’s end will end Danny Graves 2006 Season with the Tribe, which could be the first step to the settling of the bullpen.

Fausto Carmona's 2006 debut tomorrow. Enjoy the show.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Jake, Twinkies, and Turtle

Jake Westbrook outpitched Johan Santana to complete the Tribe’s sweep of the Twins. Westbrook has now defeated Santana and Freddy Garcia in his first two starts, and has looked good doing it. Yesterday was one of those games that Westbrook finds his rhythm early and just cruises, with very few pitches and in very short time.

The Indians won a game yesterday that they probably wouldn’t have last year (6 games in and the overconfidence is apparent), as they came up short in the 1st, but rallied to get 3 off of Santana and Silva. Then Westbrook and the bullpen made it stand up.

It’s a good feeling to start off 5-1 against the two teams that most pundits picked to finish near the top of the AL Central.

Looking at the Twins, their pitching is obviously their strength, but unless one of two things happens with their offense, this year will be a repeat of last year’s dismal offensive output.
The first thing that could happen would be the Twins’ youngsters stepping up in terms of production and leadership on offense. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau would be the main players to whom this scenario applies, as both have monster talent that hasn’t yet translated to a true “breakout” year. Both were solid last year, but are capable of much more. For some reason, both scare me to death when they stride to the plate; but usually don’t do much. That could change this season, which would be bad news for the Friends of the Feather.
The second possibility would be the Twins’ veteran acquisitions (Rondell White, Tony Batista, Ruben Sierra) recapturing their old numbers. The chances for this, to me, would be slim and none. And after watching White and Batista this weekend and knowing that Sierra is in Extended Spring Training, “slim” may be marooned somewhere in Southern Minnesota. Even Luis Castillo, who was thought to be the big acquisition in Minneapolis, didn’t do too much to stand out over the weekend.

The Twins’ offense scares nobody and they didn’t really improve much from last year, when there was palpable tension between the pitchers and position players. Think about a football locker room after a team loses 7-6 and the defense says things like “don’t ask us why we lost, ask them” and motions towards the offensive players. Nothing splits a locker room like one component of the team not holding up their end of the bargain, particularly when the Twins’ pitching staff is so good.

Just like in the off-season, the Indians are ranked #1 in the ESPN Power Rankings.
The key, though, is to be #1 at the end of the season, not the beginning.

With a nod to the CIR, Swerbs Blurbs, and T-to-the-Bizzone, the new organizational depth chart is up for 2006.

The MLB Extra Innings Package Free Preview suckered me in, and then some guy named Darrien convinced me to add 12 HBO channels for $10 a month.

Upside – Every MLB game I care to watch with “Entourage” (which could be the greatest thing on TV and has new season starting in June) and “The Sopranos” to boot.
Downside – Missing the outdoors this summer.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

View from the Mezzanine

Travis Hafner continued his torrid pace at the plate yesterday, with another HR and getting on base in his last 10 plate appearances. It’s time that Pronk got some credit for being one of the elite hitters in MLB. If The Sykesville Slugger were playing in NY or Boston, or even LA – he would be a household name by now. Until he gets the recognition that he deserves, we’ll just have to shower love on the man who graduated in the Top Ten of his High School Class (graduating class of 8) at the Jake.

Jason Johnson was very impressive in his Tribe debut, going 7 shutout innings and inducing 12 groundouts for 21 of his outs, a very good sign that he is making a nice transition to becoming an effective sinkerball pitcher. If Jason Johnson can continue to channel Randy Johnson, he could give the Indians 5 strong starters all year.

Bob Wickman got a nice ovation as he made his 2006 Jacobs Field debut, and deservedly so. While other closers have dropped like flies (Benitez –again -, Gagne, and others), Wickman has defied his critics to remain healthy and effective for the Tribe. If you haven’t joined Wickmans’ Warriors yet, it’s time to get on board.

According to Bob, my Mezzanine Beer Man, the Indians’ rotation should be fine. He tells me that as impressive as Kevin Millwood was last year, he and Elarton only combined for 20 of the 93 wins last year. As long as Byrd and Johnson can match their production (and they already have 2), the Indians should be fine. He also feels that the Central will come down to the Twins and the Tribe as he thinks that everything that could’ve gone right for the White Sox last year did. And there’s no way that they’ll have a repeat of last year. It’s always a pleasure to have a Beer Man who knows his baseball, and remembers from last year that I’ll have an MGD, while the bride (who heretofore wants to be known as The DiaBride) will have a Miller Lite. It’s been 7 months since we saw him last, but it’s still funny when he jokes with the bride (a Milwaukee native) that she should try a Bud Light, which is the equivalent of heresy in the state of Wisconsin.

The only intro song of note this year – Sizemore comes out to the Pink Floyd song with the refrain, “I need a dirty woman / I need a dirty girl”. Fantastic.

Ben Broussard looked great against Scott Baker, a RH pitcher; but was completely overmatched against Francisco Liriano, Minnesota’s talented LH. Isn’t this where Eduardo Perez is supposed to enter the lineup? Is Wedge giving Broussard a shot to become the full-time 1B again, or is he just trying to keep the cohesion of the lineup intact? Whichever it is, if Benny proves to be unable to hit LH pitching, the implementation of the platoon promises to become stricter.

If Casey Blake continues to hit, he may work himself out of the 9 hole and into the 6 hole, behind Victor. Remember that Blake was thought to be a possible #2 or even #3 hitter as the 2005 season opened, so it’s not inconceivable that Blake could hit his way up the lineup. Realizing that it is still early, it’s something to keep an eye on as a stronger hitting Blake provides more protection to Victor than Ronnie Belliard does.

Why did the Indians plan a fireworks show after a 5:05 start? Fireworks before the sun goes down don’t really have the same magic as fireworks in the dark. The fireworks started about 7:45 and, while I saw them from I-90, I can’t imagine those fireworks fans were thrilled with the show.

The White Sox have lost 2 straight to the Royals and the Tigers are currently leading the AL Central as they remain undefeated. The Tigers’ victory last night was paced by the very impressive debut of Justin Verlander. With Verlander, Brandon McCarthy, and Francisco Liriano, there are some great young arms in the AL Central. Next Sunday, we will add another name to that list with the debut of one of the Indians’ young studs, Fausto Carmona.

A Cory Snyder, circa 1987 jersey, was spotted in the Mezzanine yesterday. When questioned where he got the jersey, the owner said, “It’s an original, dude.”
Congratulations on being the coolest guy I met yesterday, fella.

Jake vs. Johan this afternoon. Enjoy the game; it should be a quick one.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On the Haf-Pipe

So, this is what the 1 to 9 approach looks like when the Tribe is going on all cylinders? I can live with a lot of games like the home opener, an 11-6 trouncing of the Twinkies.

The Indians responded in the bottom half of every inning that the Twins scored, and did so in style as Hafner went yard twice (as he debuted his new Pronk candy bar, the first Indian to do so since the Albert Belle Bar), and Casey Blake (note the C, not the K) hit a grand slam that fought its way through the raindrops and fog to end up on the Home Run Porch.

Paul Byrd had an unimpressive debut, but (like a veteran pitcher) allowed the Twins to put the ball into play once he had the lead, which contributed to the 5 runs he gave up in 6 innings. The highlights, pitching-wise, were Matt Miller and Fernando Cabrera. Miller looks to be that change-of-pace type reliever who thrives in a bullpen full of flamethrowers. His sidearm delivery and funky wiffleball pitches offer a nice contrast to the fastballs of Betancourt, Mota, and Cabrera. Speaking of Cabrera, it was nice to see the youngster shake off the bad Chicago outing to blow away the Twins in the 9th. After one bad outing, there were some media members panicking that Cabrera was out of options and couldn’t be sent to Buffalo to work out his problems. What problems? He made the last two batters look completely overmatched with two punchouts.

All in all, it was a great start to the home season. I’ll be bundling up (Browns-game style) for tonight’s 5:05 start.

Off the field, Brandon Phillips was traded to the Reds for the famous PTBNL and cash. The PTBNL doesn’t have to be decided on until June 15th, so I’m wondering if the Reds will give the Indians a couple of lists off of which to choose prospects at that time based on Phillips’ plate appearances to that point. That is, if he has 200 plate appearances, the Indians pick from List A, if he has 100 to 200 PA’s, they choose from List B, and so on. Remeber that Coco Crisp was the PTBNL in the Chuck Finley deal, so you never know.

How far did Phillips’ star fall in 3 ½ years? He went from being the main component of a trade for a 20 game winner to being traded for a PTBNL to a team that has a glut of middle infielders (Felipe Lopez, Ryan Freel, Rich Aurilia, and Tony Womack). Why the Reds made this trade is beyond me. I guess that they are trying to accumulate as many middling middle infielders that they can to go with their awful starting pitching and all-or-nothing outfielders.

The best comment that I’ve heard on the trade is an e-mail I got this morning from my buddy, who’s a big Reds fan and whose father covered the Big Red Machine for a Dayton paper. His comment? Simply, “UGH”. He, like most, wonder how the trade helps the Reds and where new GM Wayne Krivsky thinks he’s going to find AB’s for Phillips. Looks like the dawn of a new era for baseball in the Queen City. No wait, it doesn’t.

This MLB Extra Innings preview is phenomenal as I got to watch Jon Garland get pounded by the Royals (!) last night to the tune of 9 runs in 5 1/3 innings as the White Sox lost to the Royals(!), and Joe Blanton and Felix Hernandez square off in the late game.

The true comedy comes, though, from watching the advertising campaigns for teams that don’t really have a lot to get excited about on their local telecasts. My favorite so far is the Baltimore commercial to introduce the game that highlights Leo Mazzone and how he’s going to bring the glory back to the Orioles’ rotation. The ensuing first inning included Daniel Cabrera walking 6 (yes, 6) batters in the first inning, en route to giving up 14 runs to the BoSox. You can’t make stuff like that up.

Incidentally, Las Vegas currently lists the Tribe as a 12-1 bet to win the World Series behind (in order) the Yankees, Cardinals, White Sox, Mets, Red Sox, and A’s; they are slightly higher than the Angels.

In lieu of the chores I should be doing prior to the game today, you can find me at Malley’s, loading up on Pronk candy bars.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Off Day Musings

We’ll spend the off day taking care of some housecleaning on items that we haven’t addressed yet. Notably, Kaz Tadano has been traded to the Oakland A’s for a minor league outfielder named Ramon Alvarado, who played well in A ball, but is still a young player (20 years old). It’s amazing that Shapiro was able to get anything more than a bag of balls for Tadano, who would have likely hit the waiver wire had the A’s not called. Tadano just got caught in a numbers game in the Tribe organization, where he wasn’t as highly thought of as other bullpen arms in AAA like Andrew Brown and Jason Davis, and had the next wave of young arms (like Edward Mujica and Tony Sipp, though Sipp is a lefty) not too far away from supplanting him. Tadano could eventually end up being a productive ML pitcher; but in Cleveland, it seemed that Tadano was a simply a couple of batters away from getting in trouble (think Danny Graves, without the track record).

Still nothing on the Brandon Phillips front, but if Shapiro acquired Oakland’s 18th rated prospect, a young OF with some upside, he may be able to get some serious talent for the potential of Phillips. The Cardinals (who sent Junior Spivey to AAA) and the Nationals still seem like two likely destinations. As has been noted in the Tribe Report, Shapiro would pull off a real coup is he could get Ryan Church (who came up in the Indians’ organization and was optioned to AAA at the end of Spring Training by Washington) back to play the 4th OF role, because Todd Hollandsworth, to me, just doesn’t look like the long-term answer at that spot. I know that he has yet to even see action this year, but Todd Hollandsworth is still Todd Hollandsworth; and the spot could use an upgrade.

C.C. is expected to be out for 3-5 weeks, so Jason Davis will stay on as the long man until Fausto Carmona is needed to start a game next weekend. It could be Davis and Carmona yo-yoing back and forth between Cleveland and Buffalo, or Danny Graves could be waived at some point (which would do wonders for my blood pressure…yes, after only 2 IP).

As T-Bone has noted in the comments section, Adelphia is running a free trial of MLB Extra Innings on Adelphia, which has this baseball junkie sitting here listening to Keith Hernandez call the Mets-Nationals game on a random Thursday night.

Not many people understand how someone can sit and watch a game that you have no vested interest in (like watching a complete Braves game on TBS), but that’s the beauty of baseball. There’s so much to watch, from the strategy of trying to get a runner over to second with no outs to seeing Pedro Martinez be Pedro and bounce a fastball off of Nick Johnson’s elbow.

Enjoy the home opener tomorrow, the closest thing that Cleveland has to a citywide holiday (and not just an ethnic holiday like St. Patrick’s Day or the Feast in Little Italy).

I’d like to see the race to the front table at the Batter’s Eye Bar tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First In-Season Edition of Tomahawks

With a 4-3 victory in extra innings, the Tribe not only takes 2 of 3 from the White Sox in Chicago, but also gets that proverbial “monkey off of their back” by winning the rubber match in a dreaded ONE RUN GAME. I only caught a little bit of the game today, partially on radio and some on TV, but the tomahawks are flying:

  • Game 3 of the White Sox series would seem to be most indicative of how the season should go between the two teams. While Sunday night was a nightmare for the Tribe and Tuesday was equally bad for the White Sox (and Freddy Garcia, in particular), today’s game was highlighted by good starting pitching, solid bullpen work, and the team that gets the timeliest hits winning the game. Both teams squandered multiple opportunities to score and win the game, but the teams (at this point) are pretty evenly matched, which should make for an interesting and entertaining season series.
  • Cliff Lee was really cruising through 5 innings, and just lost it in the 6th when he starting hitting batters and walking people. Let’s hope that it was just a case of early-season fatigue that set in and not an indication that Lee might have trouble with a team the third time through the lineup.
  • After the 1st series between the Tribe and the Sox, here’s how the starting pitching breakdown matches up:
    Tribe – 14 IP, 8 ER, 13 hits, 3 BB, 8 K
    White Sox – 14 IP, 12 ER, 19 hits, 5 BB, 6 K
    Not really sparkling numbers for either team, whose strength is supposed to be their rotations.
  • The most impressive White Sox pitcher of the series was easily Brandon McCarthy, who threw 4 innings and allowed only one baserunner while striking out 4. I don’t know what Guillen’s plan is for McCarthy, whether to keep him as the long man or groom him to be a back end of the bullpen guy (which would really be wasting his arm but would shore up a weakness for the team), but something tells me that by the end of the season Brandon McCarthy may play a big role in the race for the Central.
  • The Tribe bullpen did a great job in the game today, going 5 2/3 innings while not giving up a run. The bullpen, and particularly Guillermo Mota (though Miller, Betancourt, and Wickman were also effective) kept the Indians in the game and allowed them to take the game to extra innings, where it was eventually won.
  • Jason Michaels’ double in the 11th (after a beautifully executed bunt by Grady) brought Casey Blake around for the go-ahead score. Whether it ‘s the way he handles himself on the field or because I know that he’s under the Coco microscope, I can’t help but root for the guy.
  • Anyone notice that Michaels and Mota both played big roles in the game today? Hopefully, their confidence will be high when they get to the Jake, where they are sure to come under some intense scrutiny as the "new guys".
  • One disappointment (and I know it was just one game) was Broussard’s inability to give Wickman some breathing room at the end of the game. With the Tribe up 4-3 in the 11th and with the bases loaded, Broussard was looking at a 3-0 count from Bobby Jenks. A strike and a foul ball later, and Broussard grounded weakly to second for the third out. This was one inning after he was unable to advance the runner from first with no outs by fouling off two bunt attempts, then looking at the called third strike. I know it was only two innings, but it had that 2005 feeling that Broussard just doesn’t seem to have it.
  • Interestingly, when Wickman put a runner on in the 11th (the only little blip during a great inning when he got Konerko and Thome), Wedge got Cabrera up in the bullpen. Was it to give Cabrera some work or was Wedge getting him ready in case of some Sticky Wicky moments? Who knows, but I don’t remember seeing that happen last year.

Home Opener on Friday. Maybe after that, all of these day games can end and I can actually watch a whole game.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hands off the Panic Button

The 2006 season got off to a disappointing start to the season last night with a 10-4 loss to the ChiSox, along with an injury to C.C., and a bomb by Thome. A few observations:

  • I don’t want to hear about C.C.’s training regimen and how he’s out of shape. Last night, I thought he actually looked slimmer than I remember (maybe it was because he wasn’t wearing his usual parachute pants), and seemed to be motoring through the first two innings. Who knows why he’s prone to abdominal strains? Just don’t say that he needs to lose 50 lbs. because it’s never happening. C.C. is, and always will be, a big guy. That’s just the way he’s put together. I suppose that Bartolo Colon needed to lose weight last year, en route a Cy Young.
  • C.C.’s injury is eerily similar to the injury that sidelined at the beginning of last season, which caused him to miss about 6 weeks. He still rebounded to make 31 starts and carve out a nice season, but even so let’s hope that this is a lesser injury.
  • If the Tribe does put C.C. on the DL, expect Jason Davis to be called up to be the long man. The Indians have enough off days in April that they can go with a 4-man rotation, but they don’t have an arm in the pen that can consistently throw 3+ innings until Davis is around.
  • If Davis does get the call, expect him to stick around instead of Danny Graves, who didn’t do much to impress, either in the Spring or last night.
  • Being a workingman, I was unable to make it through the rain delay, and in no way saw the final innings of the game, as it ran past 2AM. Which begs the question, with an off day today – why didn’t the White Sox postpone the game and pick it up in the 4th today? According to reports, even when the game restarted, it was a veritable monsoon. So, why insist on finishing the game last night. Is it really, as WTAM reported, because the Comiskey workers were not scheduled to work today and the White Sox were forced to finish the game last night? If that’s the case, that’s ridiculous.
  • Another brilliant marketing move by MLB to have “Opening Night” start at 8:15 Eastern time and end after 2AM. Nothing quite like appealing to the next generation of fans, whom I’m sure saw every last pitch.

Still 161 games to go. It’s a long way to go. Everybody just relax.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

2006 BP Projections

Recently, I purchased a book that hardcore baseball fans and sabermatricians view as the Bible called “Baseball Prospectus”, who also operates a website. It does, among MANY other things, project (with mathematical theories and historical comparables) what an individual player will do in an upcoming season. While I’m still digesting the AMAZING amount of information that’s contained in the 550+ pages, I thought I would pass along what their projections of the principal Indians are for 2006.

Position Players – BA / OPS / HR / RBI
Martinez - .277 / .808 / 17 / 79
Broussard - .261 / .791 / 18 / 65
Perez - .270 / .846 / 8 / 26
Belliard - .267 / .722 / 10 / 58
Peralta .274 / .807 / 19 / 73
Boone - .261 / .719 / 14 / 57
Michaels -.283 / .819 / 10 / 46
Sizemore .286 / .816 / 19 / 82
Blake - .254 / .754 / 17 / 66
Hafner - .286 / .942 / 33 / 103
The numbers of note here would have to be Peralta’s numbers taking a bit of a downturn from last year, which would be surprising, and the lack of RBI. Hafner is the only regular with more than 100-projected RBI, with Sizemore next at 82. The numbers for Blake and Broussard are decent, but Belliard and Boone’s projected OPS are abysmal.
Of note, Broussard’s numbers are based on 505 plate appearances, which he may not reach and Jason Michaels’ numbers were projected before the trade, so his numbers are reflective of a platoon players’ plate appearances (380).
As I said, I’m still digesting the vast amount of data in the book, but these are the projected numbers for the 2006 position players.

Starters – W / L / K / WHIP / ERA
Sabathia – 13 / 10 / 154 / 1.29 / 3.85
Westbrook – 13 / 10 / 109 / 1.33 / 3.97
Lee – 11 / 9 / 127 / 1.33 / 4.26
Byrd – 10 / 10 / 92 / 1.27 / 4.34
Johnson – 11 / 11 / 95 / 1.39 / 4.51

It seems that the win totals are low in the projections (and not just for the Indians), but the WHIP’s and ERA’s look pretty good for these pitchers. C.C.’s projected ERA would be his lowest since his rookie season as he continues his development as an ace. Westbrook also would tend to be more in the middle of his 2004 breakout year and his 2005 season (4.49 ERA) which means that his production is probably somewhere between those two. They are projecting a bit of a downturn for Lee (though how he won 18 games last year while Millwood won 9 will remain a mystery) and for Byrd and Johnson to post years close to their career averages.
For comparison’s sake, here are the 2005 Tribe starters no longer with the Indians:
Millwood – 11 / 10 / 133 / 1.34 / 4.38
Elarton – 8 / 10 / 75 / 1.53 / 5.08
Compared to Byrd and Johnson (and taking into account the money and years involved in Millwood and Elarton’s contracts), the Tribe’s rotation should perform comparably to 2005.

Relievers – Saves / WHIP / ERA
Wickman – 20 / 1.41 / 3.88
Mota – 3 / 1.42 / 4.54
Cabrera – 3 / 1.33 / 3.93
Betancourt – 4 / 1.22 / 3.56
Sauerbeck – 1 / 1.48 / 4.30
From what I can gather, the projections are more geared toward ratios and comparisons than the “traditional” baseball statistics, particularly for pitchers. As I try to wrap my head around all of these crazy percentages, I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of it. But for now, it seems that the numbers don’t project good things for ANY relievers (Indians or otherwise), maybe lending credence to the idea that putting together a bullpen is really a crapshoot.

Hopefully, you found this interesting. While I, admittedly, don’t understand of the weighted averages that are contained in the book, it is fun to look at what people who do this for a living (or a VERY involved hobby) have come up with for the Indians’ players in 2006.

Opening Night – Tomorrow.