Thursday, June 29, 2006

Flying Tomahawks

An absolute disastrous 9th inning by Indian defenders allowed the Redbirds to avoid the sweep. As promotional seat cushions rained on the field, one could sense that the breaking point had been reached for the Tribe. Eric Wedge’s post-game press conference proved it.

This is about as emotional as we’ve ever seen Eric Wedge:
"It was a total defensive collapse. It was an embarrassing end to what could have potentially been a big game for us. That's a play he's got to make. We gave [the game] back a [heck] of a lot easier than we took it from them. You've got to want the ball to come to you. You want it to come to you every pitch. If you don't, you shouldn't be out there."

With that ugliness out of the way, it’s time for some tomahawks:

  • As Cy Slapnicka noted in the comments section, the maturation of Grady Sizemore, the hitter, is coming along nicely. At this point, he’s on pace for 30 HR’s and 26 SB. Did someone say 30-30 Club? The last (and only) Tribe player to join the club is Joe Carter, who achieved the feat in 1987.
  • I see probably 3-5 commercials for Sonic (the fast-food restaurant) a week. As amusing as I find them, I’m baffled as to where there’s a Sonic. They’re nowhere in Northeast Ohio, so what kind of use of advertising dollars is that? I’ve posed the question to friends all over the country and everyone has the same response, “Yeah, I’ve seen the commercials; but I’ve never seen a Sonic.”
  • I’ve been thinking about this renaming of Jacobs Field (naming rights are up after this season), and this is what I’ve got. How about Continental Airlines (Hopkins is a hub) buys the rights and call the ballpark, The Reservation? Get it, reservations for plane tickets, playing up the Indian angle? It might not be politically correct, but it’s time for the Indians to both embrace and flaunt the fact that they’re the Indians or just remove all other remnants of the Chief.
  • Speaking of the team being named the Indians, did you know that when the Cleveland baseball team joined what is now the American League in 1901, they were called the Blues or Bluebirds until 1903? At that point the team was renamed the Naps to honor Nap Lajoie, their best player and manager. After Lajoie retired, the Cleveland baseball writers were asked to come up with a new name for the team. It was decided that they would be called the Indians, because one of the earlier incarnations of the team had a player that was a Native American and the team was referred to by opposing teams as the Indians, possibly derogatorily. When the name change was announced in the paper, the first mention of the Native American, Louis Sockalexis, didn’t appear until page 8 of the paper. The first time an Indian appears as a logo isn’t until 1928. I’m not trying to discount the significance of Sockalexis in the whole process, but it seems to me that the name selection was a pretty arbitrary process and the team could just have easily been renamed the Blues, Bluebirds, Spiders, or Bronchos (all names that they had gone by).
    What would I like to have those sportswriters call the club? How about the Barons? The old logo for the Hockey team (played in the AHL) is one of those logos and names that would be cool today, in a nostalgic sort of way. The way that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants are timeless sports nicknames, the Indians never really caught on. Maybe it was the team’s ineptitude or maybe because Cleveland never had the market share. Indians just never had the panache for me.
  • The actress from those Mercury commercials is on the new SPIKE show “Blade” with (get this) a rapper from Onyx playing Blade. Yes, the same Onyx that came out with “Slam” about 10 years ago. Where’s he been in the interim? But back to the girl, rarely has a commercial spokeswoman gotten noticed (think the Noxzema girl before she became Dylan McKay’s girlfriend on 90210 or the Doritos girl before she married A.C. Slater in real life), but I think this girl might be entering that stratosphere. Nothing too fancy about her, just nice.

Off to the shores of the Ohio River to catch the Tribe on Saturday night and hang with some buddies in Cincinnati. I’ll be representing the Tribe, but it won’t be pretty. People in Cincinnati think that Cleveland is their big rival, oblivious to the fact that the Reds/Bengals aren’t even on our radar screen.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On the War Path

So, with two great pitching performances (along with Byrd’s beauty on Saturday), we’re getting a look at how this Indian team was supposed to look. Solid starting pitching, enough offense, and a steady bullpen have allowed them to win 3 of their last 4. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the AL Central leaders simply refuse to lose.

Consider that the Twins have won 16 of their last 17 games and have gained a total of ½ game on the Tigers. That’s absurd. The clip at which those teams are winning is going to have more to do with the direction that the Tribe takes before the trading deadline than the Indians’ record on July 15th.

The Tigers, White Sox, and Twins were 39-6 against the NL! It’s a little harder to overtake 3 teams (as the Indians have to do this year…and won’t) than it is to chase 1 team down (as they did last year). By the way, that was a concession of the Central – not the season.

With the way those teams have kept their streaks going, it will be interesting to see who the Tribe sends back to Buffalo when Jason Michaels, then Casey Blake come off the DL. Do they send Gutierrez and Inglett back down? Do they look to move Hollandsworth, allow Gutierrez to play regularly, and move Michaels to the 4th outfielder role? Do they consider optioning Ramon Vazquez, allowing Inglett to fill the role of the utility player? This is the next big decision that will show the direction that the Front Office REALLY wants to take.
Do they keep Hollandsworth and Vazquez around to send a message that they haven’t given up on 2006 (though that’s not the message I would draw from it), or do they get a longer look at Gutierrez and Inglett to see how they fit into the future?

Sorry to the mathematically deficient, but I’m going to get a little technical.
For those unaware of how OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage, and a better indication of how often a batter gets on base and when he gets on base, how many total bases he accumulates) is valued, here’s a comparison of OPS and Batting Average numbers, since most people know that having a .330 average is very good, but few know that a .950 OPS is just as impressive.

OPS over .800 is considered good, maybe about between a .275 and a .300 batting average.
A .900 OPS is very good, and comparable to a hitter hitting between .300 and .350.
Over 1.000 is phenomenal and would be as impressive as a hitter hitting over .350.
On the flipside, under .800 is not very well thought of, somewhere between .225 and .275.
Less than .700 is terrible; it’s like being under the Mendoza line.
To bring it to the Indians, here are the regulars’ OPS:
Hafner - 1.071
Sizemore - .920
Benuardo - .915
Blake - .906
Martinez - .825
Belliard - .732
Michaels - .731
Peralta - .713
Boone - .669
No real surprises here: we know that Pronk (what a legend) and Grady have carried this team, that Benuardo and Blake have been pleasant surprises, that Peralta has struggled, and Boone is painful to watch.
But that OPS for Boone is horrific. I don’t want to hear that Andy Marte “isn’t quite ready” or that Boone brings “great intangibles and leadership in the clubhouse”. Having a hitter like Boone in your lineup everyday is like having an albatross around your neck. It’s a curse.

If the Indians continue to trot Boone out to 3B every day, it’s not going to help anything. It won’t help the Indians of today or the Indians of tomorrow. Right now, a high A minor leaguer and a couple of bags of balls looks pretty good.
It’s time for Marte…now. If the Front Office is going to sell us on the fact that they traded Coco for a MLB-ready hitter, they can’t say that Boone is blocking him. Wedge said last week that Marte won’t come up because they don’t have anywhere to play him. Um, Eric…I think that position to the left of SS might work.

On the pitching, maybe Sheldon Ocker was on to something in his scathing article on Sunday about Jason Johnson and his effect on the Tribe. Rarely does a writer (at least in Cleveland) call out a player this significantly, so it’s no surprise that Ocker waited until Johnson was gone to do so. You have to wonder how much of the article had its origins in “off-the-record” conversations with Indian players. Since Johnson’s release, the Tribe starters have thrived and have seemed looser on the mound. Could Johnson have been that much dead weight on the whole team? If so, shame on Wedge and Shapiro for not identifying it and addressing it – particularly with Guthrie and Sowers pitching well, not to mention Carmona.

Speaking of Carmona, how seamlessly has he moved into that 7th inning role? Betancourt and he have done the yeoman’s work of this bullpen, which is on its way to righting itself. Interesting that talent (Carmona and Perez) has proven to be more effective than “veteran guile” (Graves and Sauerbeck). We haven’t even seen Mujica for an extended period because of the solid starting pitching, and he was ridiculously effective in Akron and Buffalo this year. If anything does happen with Wickman by July 31st, I wonder who the Indians would move to that closer role. Logic would say Betancourt, but I wonder if Carmona would get a look as well.

As has been discussed in the Comments section, the Sports Guy is in on the YouTube craze and lists his top videos. The ones you can’t miss are Boom Goes the Dynamite (which I saw on Letterman last year and can’t bring myself to take off of TiVo), Eddie Murphy’s “Whatzupwitu”, Van Damme’s dancing scene that was cut from “Kickboxer”, and Journey’s “Separate Ways”.
The DiaBride can’t figure out how I can sit on the couch and search YouTube for different things.
But it’s entirely addictive.

Finally, let’s all send some thoughts and prayers to Peter Gammons, who seems like one of us in his love of baseball. The major difference is that MLB GM’s have him on speed dial. I have yet to come home to Shapiro on my answering machine.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Until Friday night, the thought was that the replacements that have been coming up from the minors (Perez for Sauerbeck, Carmona/Mujica for Graves/Mota’s reduced role, Sowers for Johnson) were based on talent and the ability of those players to help for this year. However with Shoppach catching, Martinez seeing some games at 1B, and Broussard moving to the periphery of the locker room is a definite shift in thinking/philosophy for 2006.

It’s true that Broussard has not been a very solid defender, but he’s certainly not alone in that respect in the Indians’ infield. Belliard and Peralta have looked like they’re sleepwalking at times, and Boone has zero range at 3B (without even addressing offensive production).

So, it’s not surprising that one of those underperformers was singled out for a change. What is surprising is that Wedge has picked out Broussard to be the “example” for this team that anyone is replaceable. It’s surprising because the 1B platoon was one of the areas of the team that was OUTPERFORMING expectations coming into the season. Perhaps the move was made because the most feasible alternative was available at 1B/C (as opposed to 2B), but the wheels seem to be in motion for Benny B. to strap his 6-string on his back and head out of town.

Some would say, “why wouldn’t Boone be the example with Andy Marte heating up in Buffalo?” The only answer that I can come up with is that Marte’s reputation is built on his offense, not his defense; so Marte wouldn’t necessarily be a defensive upgrade from Boone. Conversely, Shoppach is considered a definite upgrade defensively from Victor at C.

Don’t get me wrong - I don’t have a problem with the move to see what the Indians have in Shoppach, to see if he’s a long-term alternative at C. Broussard wasn’t going to be patrolling 1B for the 2007 Tribe; it’s just a surprising turn of events.

Now that the page has been turned (has it?), it shouldn’t be too much longer for Boone/Belliard to be moved and for Marte to come up from Buffalo (unless the Indians Front Office is THAT concerned about his arbitration clock).

Think about this – the last Minor League Report that appeared in this space on June 12th (less than 2 weeks ago) contained 5 names (Shoppach, Inglett, Gutierrez, Sowers, and Mujica) that are now on the big league roster, or 20% of the Tribe.

With the Tribe now 17 games out of 1st and the Twins now pulling away from them for 3rd place, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Disappointed? Sure. Frustrated? Absolutely.

However we feel, mark Sunday, June 25th as the day that clearly delineates when the moves have started to find out what they have in the minors (presumably for 2007) as Jeremy Sowers made his debut, pitching to Kelly Shoppach, and Rafael Perez ending the game.

Whether these moves are talent upgrades for 2006 or whether we're just seeing what we’ve got in the stable for 2007 should be known in the next two weeks.

With the Tigers (swept the Cards), the White Sox (winners of 9 straight) and the Twins (on fire since the promotion of Liriano) - it's getting late early in the Central.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hold On Loosely

The frustration is building and the team is feeling it. C.C. told the media that he lost his focus in the 8 run inning last night (frankly, Belliard’s nonchalance in the field had a similar effect on me in Pronkville) and Wedge sounded visibly shaken and obviously angry for one of the first time during his post-game press conference in his tenure as Tribe skipper.

I’m not sure if Sabathia was taking a bullet for the team (“they’re big shoulders, I’ll take the heat”) or if C.C. really became disinterested. I tend to think the former, maybe because I continue to give the Big Fella the benefit of the doubt.

More changes could be afoot, with Belliard or Boone investing in new return address labels in the next few weeks. If Belliard is moved, Boone could shift over to 2B and Marte could be promoted from Buffalo. If Boone is traded, that cuts out the position change and Marte enters the picture that way.

Has anyone else noticed that Boone has been off for 2 straight nights? Are they showcasing Ramon Vazquez (good luck, with his $1.50 average) so they can find a taker for him when Sowers is called up on Saturday, allowing Inglett to become the Utility IF? Or are they holding out Boone to prevent injury? Or am I reading too much into the days off, chalking them up to Wedge’s approach to getting a player out of a slump (see Peralta, Jhonny)?

I don’t see Sticky going anywhere just yet (he’s the other veteran that has been rumored to be on the block with Belliard and Boone) as the bullpen is simply too unsettled to move him. Belliard and Boone aren’t nearly as vital to the offense or defense (certainly) as Wickman is to the bullpen.

Wrestling with trying to hang on to this season (I’m not ready to throw this away in late June) and still keeping the optimistic approach intact, I found some words from Eddie Vedder that pretty effectively sums up what it’s been like this season as a Tribe fan (or even as a Cleveland sports fan, in general):

I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
I'll keep taking punches until their will grows tired
I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind
I won't change direction, and I won't change my mind
I'll swallow poison, until I grow immune
I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room

I’m not ready to give up on this season, no matter how much of a beating I continue to take.

On a final note, as has been mentioned in the comments section – it’s official - in the words of George Constanza, “my boys can swim.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Even though I’m now 2 days removed from the horrendous Brewers’ series, the bile is still in my mouth. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from watching the games in some unfriendly confines of Miller Park:

The Good

  • The starting pitching in Milwaukee was terrific. Take out the questionable calls by the umps in the 1st inning of C.C.’s Friday night start, and you couldn’t ask for much more. Throw in the fact the pitchers were some of the most productive hitters of the series (this is not really a GOOD thing, but you can’t blame the pitchers for being the run-producers of the weekend), and it was a pretty good weekend for the Tribe starters. Could it be that Jason Johnson (more on his release this afternoon later) didn’t see the mound in Milwaukee?

  • Jhonny Peralta looked like the Jhonny Peralta that we all got to know in 2005, and not the shell of that player that we’ve seen so far this year. The HR against the Cubs on Monday shows that Peralta may have figured some things out. His comments that he’s not going to chase balls down and away in today’s paper could be the clincher. If only he could teach that “down and away” thing to Aaron Boone.

  • Tailgating in Milwaukee is almost a birthright and they do it right. As much as I LOVE the Jake, tailgating is an aspect of a baseball game that simply doesn’t exist in Cleveland. I don’t know if it ever did at Municipal, though I can’t remember any.

  • Cecil Cooper Bobblehead Day on Sunday was great. Not because Cecil Cooper is such an 80’s legend, or because Sundays in Milwaukee are Throwback Sundays (they wear the old Mitt and Ball unis…according to my brother-in-law to sell more merchandise, as well as honoring their players, as marginal as they may be…Jerry Augustine was signing autographs and was the other honoree of the day); no, the reason it was so great is that the Brewers made 1 out of 20 of the bobbleheads with Cooper in his away blue uniform, as opposed to the home whites. It created a bit of excitement when you picked up your bobblehead and had those idiots walking around the concourse offering little kids money for their ballpark giveaways.

That’s about it in the “Good” column.

The Bad

  • The bullpen blew up, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, with Wickman and Betancourt the primary culprits. The Indians’ starters pitched well enough to win, and the bullpen didn’t perform well; but the primary onus for the sweep lies with the…

  • …Offense, or more specifically the lineups that were being put up on the scoreboard in Milwaukee. The inflexibility of this roster and its reliance on Martinez and Hafner could not have been more glaring. When one of those players is out of the lineup, the offense is going to struggle to score runs. The #2 hitters of the weekend were Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard. Those two don’t strike fear into anyone at the bottom of the lineup, much less at the top. Sunday’s lineup, in particular was dreadful. When Laker is in the lineup, the Indians are basically throwing up a white flag. Tell me again why Kelly Shoppach can’t catch every few days and let Victor/Hafner/Benuardo fill the DH/1B spot in AL parks?

  • A by-product of seeing those bad lineups is the realization that the Indians truly lack any sort of depth to deal with injuries. Casey Blake on the DL and Jason Michaels being day-to-day shouldn’t cripple your lineup, because there should be better options available than Hollandsworth, Perez, and Gutierrez. Gutierrez, by the way, from the RF seats, looked a lot like Alex Escobar…in his stature, the way he carried himself, his cannon of an arm, and his LOOOOOOONG swing. I hope that the comparison doesn’t hold up, I’m just saying – the similarities are hard to miss.

  • I guess the lineup eventually falls to Wedge (although if he doesn’t have the players, he doesn’t have the players), so it would be just another of Wedge’s HORRIBLE decisions in the series. Allowing C.C. to pitch, then taking him out wasn’t as much of an indication of the lack of depth as it was Wedge’s inability to make solid in-game decisions. Or how about pulling Westbrook on Saturday, after throwing 103 pitches through 8, and not being hit hard at all to “get Wickman the save”? Wedge has often been characterized as a button-pusher and not much more; but if you’re not pushing the right buttons, maybe you need someone else on the bench with you to play devil’s advocate and make some suggestions (the way that Buddy Bell used to).

And finally…

The Ugly

  • Well, the walk-offs certainly weren’t a pretty sight. I think I would have preferred blowouts, if the Brewers were going to sweep. That way, the fans lose interest, feel sorry for you a little bit, and leave early. The way that the games played out…let’s just say, wearing Tribe gear at Miller Park wasn’t the most popular thing to be seen in around the concourse.

  • I have no problem with getting an earful from opposing fans, as long as they’re knowledgeable and witty. But, we (or rather I) encountered too many of the “Your team sucks” arguments and “Cleveland has been bad for the last 50 years” arguments. When it was brought up that the Tribe was doing no worse than the Brewers (during Friday night’s game) and that looking up to the White Sox and Tigers in the division is the same as looking up at the Cardinals and Reds or that the Indians dominated the 90’s and had 93 wins last year, the equalizer of them all was usually brought out: “Well, we beat your beloved Indians today”. Not much of a comeback for that, except for “It’s only one game”, unless, of course it’s Sunday and your team just got swept.

  • Oh, and a 6 hour delay in the Milwaukee airport yesterday didn’t help yesterday. Nothing like buying a book in an airport shop, finishing it, and having to buy another one BEFORE YOU BOARD THE PLANE.

Back to the present tense, Jason Johnson was FINALLY designated for assignment and has likely pitched his last inning for the Tribe, in any capacity. Hopefully, Shapiro can find a taker (Cincinnati, looking for a sinkerballer in the bandbox that is Great American, perhaps) to fray some of the cost of his salary. Jeremy Guthrie will take the bus back to Buffalo, after a lousy outing in Monday’s game out of the bullpen. That appearance could have convinced the Indians to keep Guthrie in the starting rotation to stay, rather than put him on the Danys Baez plan.

Johnson, now will likely…hell, who cares? Let’s hope that’s the last time his name is mentioned on this site.

Guthrie will now fill the 6th starter role and Fausto Carmona will stay in the bullpen, which means that the Jeremy Sowers watch will soon be over. He’s scheduled to start for the Bisons tonight and will join the Indians on Saturday night to prepare for his ML debut on Sunday against the Reds.

Coming up to replace Johnson and Guthrie are Edward Mujica, a big Venezuelan who has yet to give up a run in 38+ minor league innings this year (remember that big kid who was called up from AA, then thrived in the White Sox bullpen last year), to see if he can fill a role in the still unsettled pen and Joe Inglett, a player who projects as a super-utility player. Inglett plays most positions and is a high-energy guy who won’t hit for much power, but will give good at-bats and allow the Indians some much needed flexibility.

Right now, Inglett provides insurance for a still hobbled Jason Michaels. A trip to the DL is possible for Michaels, and he may be the roster spot that opens for Sowers on Sunday. Or Inglett could go back down, though I’d rather see Vazquez make the trip up I-90, as he’s already shown what he can do for the Tribe this year. Which is…not much.

Another school of thought says that the Indians are shopping Ronnie Belliard and are bringing Inglett up here to ingratiate himself to the Majors; so if Belliard is traded, Inglett has some at-bats under his belt. If this does happen (and I’m not too opposed to it as Belliard is a FA at season’s end, and always seems to be inconsistent), don’t expect it immediately. The Mets would be the most likely suitors for Belliard and Shapiro and Mets’ GM Omar Minaya do have a history (Colon trade). The other possibility if Belliard is moved would be that Boone could be moved to 2B and the scorching Andy Marte (he’s raised his OPS by 80 points in the last 7 games) would replace him at the hot corner, probably for good.

I haven’t figured out where I am for this “give up the season or fight for it” debate, as I still think there’s a lot of baseball to play. True, it’s getting late early in the Central, but this team has most of the same components as last year’s 93 win team.

So, the talent’s there…but something’s missing.

Before I throw up the white flag, I’d like to figure out what’s missing and try to remedy the problem, rather than just throwing away the 2006 season.

Monday, June 19, 2006

U-G-L-Y and Still Looking for an Alibi

2 Tribe losses (Friday and Sunday) and 36 holes of golf later, it's time to return to the North Coast - tail firmly planted between my legs.

Having never watched a Tribe game at an opponents' park, I don't know if anyone ever could have felt more embarrassed watching their home team go softly into the night.

The Brewers' sweep of the Tribe has re-energized the Brewers' season and their fans (both Saturday and Sunday were sell-outs), while the Indians half-hearted attempts at scoring runners, their DREADFUL lineups, and the bullpen implosions (note the plural) left me lighter in the wallet (after GIVING odds that Wickman would close out the 9th on Saturday to my father-in-law, I went double or nothing for Sunday) and looking for a break.

So, I'll be on a plane back to Cleveland soon - and getting rid of our tickets to tonight's game. Not because I can't go, because I don't know if I can take anymore after this weekend.

At least I got to witness the Tribe's equivalent of Little Big Horn first hand.

Normally I would say that there's nowhere to go but up, but I'm going to need see SOMETHING before I think that this team has the ability to go up.

More on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the weekend forthcoming. I have to pack my suitcase. I'll see if my pride can come back with me or if I left it on the shores of Lake Michigan this weekend.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The Tribe struggled their way through Game 1 in the Yankees series, and I've got to pull my thoughts together. It's time to go off the board:

  • Fox Sports’ Dayn Perry examines what has gone wrong with the Tribe. Perry picked the Tigers to win the Central at the beginning of the season (which I see as unlikely with Maroth on the DL for an extended stint and Verlander certain to be shut down at some point to limit his innings). But his perspective is definitely worth a look.

  • Here’s a nugget from Terry Pluto’s excellent new book, “Dealing”:
    The Indians final offer to Jim Thome for 6 years at $62 million guaranteed money was dwarfed by the Phillies’ final offer of 6 years for $87 million. The word “guaranteed” is important because Thome COULD have earned $74 million over 6 years in the final Tribe offer, but only $62 million was guaranteed. The Tribe tried to get creative in some incentives to keep Thome in Cleveland. Here’s what was offered:
  • A no-trade clause
  • A luxury suite at every game for his family, friends, or anyone else
  • A Jim Thome video from which he’d be paid the profits
  • Two amateur baseball fields built each year in his name
  • A section of Jacobs Field named the Jim Thome Home Run Porch; every time he hit a home run to that section, a donation to charity would be made in his name
  • A statue of Thome outside Jacobs Field, like the one of Bob Feller
  • A personal services contract worth $250,000 annually for 10 years after he retired
  • A $500,000 bonus if he was voted to the Hall of Fame
  • A street near Jacobs Field named after him
  • So, there’s the question: What’s more important in life, the financial security of your family (and probably 4 generations from now), or the legacy that you leave? That extra $25 million would be awfully hard to leave on the table, but Pluto delves very deeply into why that was NOT the main reason that Thome didn’t re-sign with the Indians. It certainly didn’t hurt, but, Thome's decision went a lot further than dollars and cents.

  • A trip to the Team Shop revealed that the merchandise is very Grady and Pronk heavy. And why wouldn’t it be? Along with C.C., those 2 are the only players who have consistently played will this year.

  • While visiting a local Mr. Hero (who among us can avoid the siren song of the Romanburger from time to time), I noticed that their new spokesman is “Nicole”, who is the girl that walks around Jacobs Field interviewing people (Improved View of the Game, Guess the Attendance, etc.) during games.
    The great thing is that they had a cardboard cutout of “Nicole” in the store (if you’re not familiar…she’s a twenty something blond girl that COULD weigh in at 100 lbs.) holding a Romanburger in one hand and a Philly Cheesesteak in the other. She’s not exactly how I picture the average Mr. Hero customer looking.
    It also is a bit of a questionable career move for “Nicole” (who’s signature includes a heart to dot the “i”) at this stage of her life. Not exactly a step up from…anywhere, really.
    Finally, as if this whole ad campaign isn’t laughable enough, the tagline is “Mr. Hero…You Just Gotta Follow Your Heart”. Have you seen a Romanburger lately? Follow your heart where…to the cardiologist?
  • Don't believe it? Check out their website, just make sure your speakers are working.
  • For real comedy, click on the “Meet Nicole” tab that details how she remembers her first Mr. Hero experience and asks, “Do you remember your first time?”
    It’s a little too full of double entendres for me.

  • How perfect is a baseball game for enjoying some adult beverages? Give me one in the 1st, the 4th, and the 7th and I’m content. Few sporting events have that same flow and tempo when it comes to doing some 12 oz. curls. Bob, the Beer Guy in Pronkville (nee the RF Mezzanine), tells me that he tries to time his appearances for those innings. If you’re ever in Pronkville, visit Bob for some frosty bevs and some intelligent Tribe talk.

I’m off to Milwaukee for the weekend to catch some Tribe games in Miller Park, where I’ll see what it’s like to be a road fan at a Brewer game. My experience as a Browns fan in Lambeau (in December 2004) couldn’t have been more fantastic.

I’ll try to check in from the road, if my father-in-law allows me off the golf course all weekend.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Doing Some Gardening on the Farm

With so much frustration and consternation about the parent club, let’s take another look at what’s happening in the minors:

Buffalo Bisons (32-34)
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Kelly Shoppach - .300 – 3 – 7 - .955
Franklin Gutierrez - .291 – 4 – 22 - .802
Ryan Garko - .260 – 7 – 39 - .799
Joe Inglett - .311 – 1 – 13 – .764
Ben Francisco - .259 – 7 – 28 - .752
Andy Marte - .260 – 5 – 18 - .718
Kelly Shoppach has shown that he can hit in Buffalo (though he thrived in Pawtucket last year, so that’s no surprise), so hopefully the Indians will get some confidence in Shoppach to give some Victor some time away from the shinguards. I wouldn’t be surprised if, next year, Broussard and Victor would split time at 1B with Shoppach playing C when Victor grabs the first baseman’s mitt.

Marte has shown signs of coming around, and won’t turn 23 until October. Again, I would expect Marte to see the topside of the organization at some point this year. Just probably not until late July or August or so.

Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Jeremy Sowers – 7/1 – 1.37 – 1.15 – 48/26
Jeremy Guthrie – 3/1 – 2.78 – 1.21 – 38/17
Andrew Brown – 2/3 – 2.52 – 1.54 – 35/26
Brian Slocum – 0/0 – 2.61 – 1.02 – 24/9
Tom Mastny – 1/0 – 2.70 – 1.26 – 23/7
Danny Graves – 0/0 – 3.07 – 1.02 – 7/1
Edward Mujica – 3/0 – 0.00 – 0.98 – 14/3
Jeremy Guthrie replaced Jason Davis today, and Davis’ career with the Indians is in flux once again. Do you keep him in the bullpen? Do you put him in the rotation to get him regular work? Do you shop him? Does he have the mental toughness to be a big-league pitcher? I expect Davis to get behind a lot of these pitchers in terms of being a possible replacement, particularly after the Sunday night disaster (after which Davis didn’t show a lot of emotion).

To answer the question of whether there are legitimate alternatives in Buffalo for arms, there’s 6 pitchers with ERA’s under 3.07. Granted Dunn Tire Park is not Jacobs Field, but isn’t it worth giving Mujica or Brown a shot over Mota?

Impressed by Mujica’s numbers in Buffalo? Consider that Mujica has now run his scoreless streak to 34 1/3 innings, with 31 K’s to 12 BB’s on the season between Akron and Buffalo.

It pains me to say this (trust me it does), but don’t be surprised if Danny Graves makes his way back to Cleveland if the Tribe is still searching for answers in the bullpen and Graves can get his act together in Buffalo. I don’t think he’d be the first option (Mujica, Brown, and even Slocum would be better alternatives), but he does have some experience.

Akron Aeros (40-22)
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Kevin Kouzmanoff - .423 – 9 – 38 – 1.149
Ryan Goleski - .311 – 2 – 8 – .881
Ryan Mulhern - .270 – 7 – 32 - .884
Brad Snyder - .251 – 8 – 33 - .747
Eider Torres - .271 – 0 – 20 - .647
That’s right, the Aeros are 62 games into the season and Kouzmanoff is hitting .423! Seeing as that he’s blocked at 3B by Marte, and there is a dearth of 2B prospects in the organization, don’t be surprised if Kouzmanoff makes the switch to the middle of the infield. Despite the huge numbers, Kouzmanoff isn’t that great of a prospect as a soon-to-be 25 year old player who’s never played above the AA Level.

I threw Torres in there because he’s a slick-fielding SS, and with Peralta struggling (offensively and defensively) and Vazquez, his alleged defensive replacement, booting 3 balls in his first game, he’s a name to keep an eye on. He can’t hit for ANY kind of power, but he’s a good glove with some speed (23 SB’s), something the Tribe could use off of the bench.

Snyder’s struggles continue, and his stock has to be dropping in the organization as other players will soon pass him by, unless he can cut down on the strikeouts (1 strikeout for every 3.71 plate appearance…OUCH).

Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Adam Miller – 6/4 – 4.00 – 1.17 – 67/18
Tony Sipp – 2/0 – 2.45 – 1.09 – 33/7
Sean Smith – 7/0 – 1.80 –0.97 – 37/18
Nick Pesco – 3/2 – 4.03 – 1.24 – 33/14
Bear Bay – 4/3 – 3.30 – 1.24 – 58/21
Aaron Laffey – 1/0 – 2.50 – 1.17 – 7/6
The young arms are starting to hit Akron (Miller – 21, Sipp – 22, Smith – 22, Pesco – 22, Bay – 22, Laffey – just turned 21) and they're thriving. Don’t be surprised if some of these pitchers, notably Miller and Sipp, make the move to Buffalo to keep their development going. Right now the Buffalo rotation includes journeyman Rob Bell, a reeling Jake Dittler, and Jason Stanford (who’s sitting on a 5.10 ERA), so it’s not like the Bisons’ starters are chock full of prospects.

I think this is what Shapiro dubbed “the next wave of arms”. Let’s just get some of that “first wave” up to Cleveland, so we can keep the whitecaps rolling.

Kinston Indians (43-20)
Player – BA – HR – RBI – OPS
Wyatt Toregas (C) - .336 – 4 – 23 - .931
Trevor Crowe (OF) - .329 – 4 – 23 - .919
Brian Barton (OF) - .304 – 9 – 37 - .917
Matt Whitney (3B) - .236 – 7 – 22 – .803
Stephen Head (1B) - .209 – 6 – 35 - .636
The big name here is Trevor Crowe, last year’s #1 pick. Some have projected him as the 2B of the future, though he’s never played the position. The Indians kept him in the outfield to keep his focus on offensive production and to keep his development on track. Torregas’ numbers are a bit of a surprise that could earn him a trip to Akron, while Whitney and Head (two top picks of the past few years) are scuffling a bit. Barton is a 24 year old player in A ball who’s more likely to end up an aeronautical engineer (that was his college major) than a Major League player.

Pitcher – Won/Loss – ERA – WHIP – K/BB
Chuck Lofgren – 9/3 – 1.79 – 1.10 – 58/22
Joe Ness – 5/2 – 2.69 – 1.28 – 55/27
Scott Lewis – 1/1 – 0.85 –0.77 – 67/7
Jensen Lewis – 6/3 – 4.06 – 1.29 – 43/18
This team just lost Sean Smith and Aaron Laffey to Akron, and still look at the arms that remain. Those arms are the main reason that the K-Tribe just clinched the 1st half title. Lofgren is the most highly-thought-of prospect here (plus, he turned 20 in January), but look at those numbers for Scott Lewis, a 23 year old from Ohio State. He has 67 strikeouts to 7 walks in 53 innings.

These arms complete the “wave” of pitchers in the lower levels of the minors. The law of averages dictates that, among these studs in Akron and Kinston, there will be injuries and players who reach their ceiling before they make it to Cleveland. But just remember this depth in pitching when you consider this long-term plan for continued contention.

Sometimes it’s hard to lose sight of the organizational overview, as the Indians struggle to hit their stride.

Hopefully, the Tribe can take some W’s out of the Bronx in the next few days. Something to consider – Guthrie last pitched in Buffalo on the 9th. If Jason Johnson struggles against Big Ugly, the Indians have a spot starter on hand.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Return of Jason Dangerously

The Tribe salvaged the final game of the White Sox series, despite Jason Davis reverting to Jason Dangerously and Ramon Vazquez committing 3 errors on the night.

Last night’s game was a microcosm of what is so frustrating about this team. The offense was solid and continued to pour it on as Jake Westbrook cruised through 8. You’re sitting there thinking, “This is it. This is the turning point that the Indians can build on to get back into this race.”

Exuding confidence, the contacts come out, the teeth get brushed, and you climb into bed to watch the obligatory 9th, up by 8…and things start to fall apart.
Never have so many curses crossed my lips between 10:30 and 11:00 on a Sunday night.

Davis couldn’t (and didn’t) get anyone out. Betancourt came on in his 3rd straight game (uh-oh), after a “Guillermo Mota warming up in the bullpen” scare, and promptly had Thome hit a ball to the wall in CF. But it was an out.
Finally, Wickman came in and got the save, stopping the Sox 2 runs short of what would have been an absolutely crushing loss.

Who else took a deep breath and said, “It’s a win. It doesn’t have to be pretty, because it wasn’t. But it was a win.”

One person didn't. Here's serial poster Cy Slapnicka's (just relocated to Chicago) thoughts on one A.J. Pierzynski, who ran to 1st after NOT being hit by a pitch:

I have no idea how opposing players can resist the urge to just take a cut at AJ when they come to the plate. I was praying Vic would jack him yesterday. If I was an MLB player, ESPN would show footage of me pounding nails through my bat prior to bludgening him. I can't explain it. I find myself wondering where in Chicago he lives sometimes. If I ever poop on someone's porch, I can guarantee there will be a welcome mat at the door that says "The Pierzynski's".

But, even more frustrating than the 9th on Sunday was the fact that the Indians could have (and should have) swept the White Sox in Comiskey, but were done in by an unsettled bullpen that couldn’t put Chicago away. They go from a potential sweep on the road to hanging on by their fingernails on Sunday night to salvage NOT being swept.

The positives that can be taken out of the White Sox series are that the starters looked good, and the offense (behind Le Pronque and the Stick, who is officially out of his slump) kept the pressure on the White Sox.

But, just when you think the WHOLE team is coming around, something else falls apart.
In this case, it’s the bullpen.

The only settled portion of the bullpen, right now, consists of Wickman closing and Betancourt setting up. Beyond that, you have a struggling Cabrera, an absolute train wreck in Davis, two rookies with 28 2/3 career between them (Carmona and Perez), and Mr. Nitroglycerine himself (because he doesn’t just pour gas on the fire, he causes explosions), Billy Mota.

Help, though, is unlikely to come through trades, so expect the shuttles between Buffalo and Cleveland (and maybe Akron) to start running more frequently until the right mix of arms is found.

Apparently, Tom Hamilton intimated that changes are afoot on the roster (I didn’t hear…I was busy listening to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan argue about what the Donkey’s name in “Shrek” was – it was Donkey and has nothing to do with Travis Hafner’s nickname), and the off day before the Yankees series could provide the day to do just that.

The Yankees are reeling too, as they’ve lost 4 straight, so they’ll come out hungry.

Byrd and Wang (rhymes with Dong, as in Long Duck) go tomorrow. The Saturday afternoon confrontation didn’t affect Wickman adversely. Let’s hope the same is true for Byrd.

On a related note, for those looking for a good summer read, Terry Pluto has written a phenomenal book, “Dealing”, that takes a look at the Indians of the past 10 years, from the sale of the Indians from Dick Jacobs to the Dolans, right up to the Crisp-Marte deal.
It’s a quick read (it was the first book I’ve read in one sitting, probably since high school) and balances insight, emotion, and sensibility the way that Pluto does so adroitly.

I’ll start to sprinkle in some of the nuggets from “Dealing” to try to tantalize you (if you read this blog, you would enjoy it) to making the purchase. Here’s the Amazon link.

100 games to go. The Tribe will have to play at a .600 clip to get to 90 wins, .700 to get to 100.

Here’s a surprise, Mr. Glass-Half-Full here thinks they’ll fall somewhere between those two numbers and will make the end of September exciting again.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lazy Sunday in the Squared Circle

How’s this for a pulse in the locker room? It seems Wickman and Byrd went head to head after Saturday’s game, complete with a challenge to “take it outside”?

Couldn't they at least wait until Larry Merchant was available for his phenomenal commentary, and not covering a Tarver-Hopkins fight?

I don't even know what the stand-off between the veteran pitchers means, other than that the temperature is rising in the Tribe locker room, with the boiling point not too far away.

It could mean that there's not a definitive leader in this locker room and two players who feel that they could (or should) be leaders are at odds on how to pull the Tribe out of this funk.

Wedgie, that was your pager that just went off.

Since it's Sunday, it's time to take it around the horn:
Terry Pluto opens the mailbag and tries to answer some of the frustration that is simmering to the surface.

Shelly Ocker examines Jason Johnson and Guillermo Mota, and whether they are really necessary on this team.

My problem with the Indians on these moves (first Graves and SauerBush, now Johnson and Mota) is their reluctance to make a change until it’s painful to watch. Can’t we make these moves when it becomes blatantly obvious, like seeing that Peralta is struggling at the plate a month ago and dropping him in the lineup then, as opposed to keeping him in the 3 hole too long?

I find it frustrating and surprising, because with a Front Office that prides itself on relying on basic business strategies and tenets, they seem reluctant to make changes or evolve.
I’m going to buy these guys a copy of “Who Moved My Cheese” and see if we can get some decisive moves made TODAY, not in 3 weeks.
Fellas, don’t be afraid to make changes, when changes are obviously necessary.

And, just when you think that EVERYONE is on the same page on Johnson and Mota (meaning that the Front Office HAS to notice), Paul Hoynes reports that they’re not considering bringing up Sowers to replace Johnson because, “they aren’t convinced he’d be a marked improvement over Jason Johnson at this point in his career.”
That’s an acceptable statement…only with the added caveat that Guthrie will be the first alternative to Johnson, and soon.

Hoynes also writes in the game-wrap that a rookie-laden bullpen is no way to contend, which may or may not be true. The alternative, right now, though is to rely on the Danny Graves, Scott Sauerbecks, and Guillermo Motas of the world.

Apparently, Mark Shapiro is shopping for a trade, but there couldn’t be too much out there right now, could there? Could you go after a Roberto Hernandez or Damaso Marte from Pittsburgh?

Not many teams are looking to move solid bullpen arms in June, and they’re going to ask for a king’s ransom to do so. So, what do you do if you’re Shapiro?

Still want to be a big-league GM?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Pigpen

The Tribe has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the second straight game with the absolute gut-wrencher this afternoon, despite the best efforts of C.C. and Victor. Throw in the obligatory loss from the Johnson start on Thursday, and the Tribe has dropped 3 straight to go 3 games below .500 and 9 ½ behind the Tigers in the Central.

I still don’t see the need to panic due to the amount of games that still remain in the season, but the Indians’ inability to put together a complete game (pitching, offense and defense) has reached new levels. The last two games, the Indians seemed to find ways to lose, which has become an overriding theme for the season.

The White Sox won the games by staying in the games and playing solidly throughout, while the Indians continually shot themselves in the foot with lackadaisical defense and by leaving 20 (yes, 20) combined men on base in the 2 games. Oh yeah, and the fact that the bullpen couldn’t put the Sox away in either game didn’t help a thing by squandering 2 nice starts by Lee and C.C.

In other news, Scott SauerBush was DFA’d by the Tribe, being replaced by Rafael Perez. Choruses of Handel’s “Messiah” were heard throughout the North Coast. This is, hopefully, the first sign of the Front Office leaning towards talent, instead of “veteran experience”. I could care less whether the SauerBush move was related to the DUI incident or not. All it means is that he won’t be pitching for the Tribe anymore in any capacity (if he clears waivers, he will not be offered an assignment to Buffalo).

We can only hope that Mota and Johnson are next in line for a re-assignment. These players have been given a chance, and their “track record” has not held up (or in Johnson’s case it has - he's proven that he's a loser). Basically, it’s high time we got some talented arms up here.

Don’t tell me that Jason Johnson “spread out” 11 hits in his last outing, or that he “worked his way out of trouble”. He gave up 11 hits! The problem is that that type of outing is typical. I don’t care if he goes for the DP ball.

Can we get a starter up here that doesn’t need to “spread out” his hits or “work his way out of trouble”? Or someone who doesn’t AVERAGE 1 2/3 baserunners an inning?

There was an interesting article in SI about Jim Leyland and the Tigers last week in which Leyland decided early in camp that Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander were going to make the big-league team out of Spring Training because they had the best arms in camp, regardless of experience.

There’s something to be said for that philosophy and outlook – throwing your best cards on the table, instead of holding them for a later date.

Do Jeremy Guthrie, Jeremy Sowers, Edward Mujica, or Andrew Brown fit that description? In comparison to Johnson and Mota – yes.

It’s time for this team to play with a sense of urgency, put some complete games together, and find ways to win (not lose) before it does get too late.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Guess Who's Back

After recharging the batteries on the white sand beaches of Aruba, it’s time to take on the last 2/3 of the season.

Let’s see what I missed: Jason Johnson, Guillermo Mota, and Scott Sauerbeck blew 2 games for the Tribe (no surprises there), C.C. got shelled on Sunday night (BIG surprise there), and Jhonny was dropped from the 3 hole to the 6th spot in the lineup (where have I heard that before?).

My only contact with the Tribe was hyping the Sunday night game to the Red Sox hack fans that were EVERYWHERE, fueled by some TnT’s (Tanqueray aNd Tonics, to the uninformed); then heading up to the room, tail between my legs as the Halos shellacked C.C.

Also got to catch Johnny Drennan (somehow he became “Johnny” rather than “John”…perhaps because witty sportscasters could make the inevitable Johnny Damon reference?) go yard against the Rocket.

On the subject of the Rocket, does anyone find it odd that Clemens was eligible to sign with the Astros on May 1, but didn’t do so until after the 50th game of the season? Isn’t that what the suspension is for a first offense for the new MLB drug policy? 50 games? Curious.
Remember the conspiracy theorists’ idea that Michael Jordan “retired” for a season to save the NBA the ugliness of having to suspend a living legend because of an “alleged” gambling problem?
I’m not intimating anything. I’m just making observations.

Well, I get back into town and the Indians are cruising behind Paul Byrd and a balanced lineup. THIS is what the 2006 Indians are supposed to look like.

That’s it for me…missing a connecting flight in Newark and being put up at the HoJo for a solid 4 hours of sleep (without luggage) has me longing for the comforts of home.

A new day has dawned. I have swum in the clear waters off Aruba and have seen the light.

Pay no attention to the calendar marked “June”, it’s time to introduce YOUR 2006 Cleveland Indians.