Monday, October 29, 2007

Contract Conversation

A lot of talk has started with the future of the Crooked Cap with the Tribe as his contract expires after the 2008 season and since it seems to be the thing on most people’s minds this off-season (outside of which surgery Peralta will go through this off-season to improve his range to the hole), allow me to attempt to debunk the myth that C.C. Sabathia signing with the Indians is nothing more than a “pipe dream” or the far-off wish of a “myopic homer”.

It’s not rational to use the argument that C.C. wants to stay with the Indians simply because they are a team seemingly on the rise, that the Indians are the only team that he’s ever known, and that he’s comfortable with the rest of the players of the team. Take out the ubiquitous part of this analysis and the comments that Sabathia has made about Cleveland being “his home” and “growing up with this team” that play like “brothers”, removing the emotional aspect of it because baseball is what it is – a business.

Shapiro is on record as saying that C.C. will be an Indian at the end of 2008, so the “trade” route is out (not to mention misguided as teams simply don’t part with front-line prospects anymore for one year of a player) and to trade a player of C.C.’s caliber on a contending team is nothing short of lunacy.

But, to say that C.C. is simply “unsignable” is to ignore the basic way that the Indians are built in that they’re designed to be filled with youngsters from the Minors, working on League Minimum salaries, allowing the Indians to pay their “core” players accordingly. As long as that “pipeline” stays open, the Indians can pay fair market value (as they did with Westbrook and Hafner) to those that they want to keep because so few dollars are spoken for elsewhere on the roster. With so much of the payroll numbers concrete (Sizemore, Peralta, Victor); it’s not as inconceivable as many seem to think for the Indians to re-sign Sabathia.

At the risk of being presumptuous and just looking into my “crystal ball” of how the Tribe roster will look in 18 months, look at the projected payroll (I'm rounding the Major League minimum to an easy-to-compute $400K) for a guess at the 2009 roster, without C.C. on the team:
2009 Indians’ Payroll
Carmona - $400,000 (assuming an extension isn’t signed)
Westbrook - $10,000,000
Lee - $6,000,000
Miller - $400,000
Laffey/Lofgren/Sowers $400,000

Martinez - $5,900,000
Garko - $400,000
Cabrera - $400,000
Peralta - $3,650,000
Marte/Goedert/Hodges - $400,000
Sizemore - $4,767,000
Gutierrez - $400,000
Dellucci - $3,500,000
Hafner - $11,500,000
Backup C - $400,000
Backup MI - $400,000
Francisco/Barton/Brown - $400,000

Mastny - $400,000
Perez - $400,000
Lewis - $400,000
Betancourt - $2,000,000 (approximate – he’s arbitration eligible after 2007)
Reliever - $400,000
Reliever - $400,000
Reliever - $400,000
Reliever - $400,000
Total Committed Payroll $54,607,000
(Sorry it's so hard to read, I can't figure out spacing on this thing to save my life).

With the anticipated flow of players from the Minors, $7,200,000 could essentially fill 18 roster spots. Of course, it would be extremely unlikely to have THAT many young players making significant contributions; but looking at that list, there are players (Carmona, Garko, Cabrera, Perez, Lewis, etc.) that established themselves this year that figure to be major contributors at low salaries for the foreseeable future.

Projecting how youngsters will perform in the Majors while they sit in Akron or Kinston is something I’m not interested in doing, but be assured that the Indians have talent on the farm and the idea that harvesting it to fill a good portion of the roster with the crop is a basic tenet of “The Plan”.

The only players not included from the current roster (besides C.C.) that aren’t included on the list above are Blake, Shoppach, and Barfield as they are all either eligible for arbitration or will hit Free Agency in the near future, and those three situations promise to play themselves out with not a lot of money being involved if any of those three returned under some new contract. Of course, the list above assumes that Lee ($6M) and Dellucci ($3.5M) are on the roster and haven’t been dealt for replacements with comparable (or lesser) salaries.

Looking at the firm salaries again, you’ll see that not much money is really committed out that far, considering the pipeline of League Minimum players that figure to fill out the majority of the roster. The players (like Carmona, Garko, etc.) working under League Minimum deals could be given long-term deals to buy out their arbitration years, but arbitration (much less Free Agency) is a long way off for most of them and not something the Indians need to address in the very near future.

Back to the dollars and sense of the matter though, as obviously that payroll number above (in the $50M to $60M range) could be increased if the Indians sign a veteran reliever (likely) or do something with the backup MI or OF to fortify the depth and quality of the team; but it’s unlikely any of those additions would significantly break the bank enough to preclude approaching C.C. with a substantial offer.

Looking at the players working under long term contracts through 2010, (namely Westbrook, Sizemore, Peralta, Victor, and Hafner), the total amount owed to those five players, in what would be the first two years of C.C.’s new deal (2009 and 2010), are as follows:
2009
$35.817M

2010
$39.117M


Taking into consideration that the number constitutes nearly 50% of the everyday lineup and 20% of the team’s rotation, isn’t there some room in there to increase the rotation percentage to 40% while not completely breaking open the piggy bank?

If (just throwing a number out there) C.C. gets paid $18M annually, that committed payroll becomes $53.817M to have 6 “core” players locked up in 2009 and $57.117M in 2010. Assuming that the payroll gets up around $75M to $85M by that point, the Indians still have some flexibility ($20M to $30M) to flesh out the roster with youngsters or the low-risk veterans that often break camp with the Tribe.

If the Indians figure sit at a payroll in the upper $70M or lower $80M range (due to increased attendance and revenue resulting from on-the-field success), the Tribe’s certainly in a position to offer C.C. what would be fair market value based on those numbers and still fall in that final payroll range.

Committing a large percentage of the overall salary to one player may be outside of the Indians’ “comfort zone”, but the flexibility is there, for the Tribe to make a significant offer to C.C. because of the known costs and salaries of so many of the “core” players in the coming years.

Now, to those who simply point to “market conditions” and are quick to throw the names “Zito” and “Meche” out there to fan the flames of the “market-gone-mad”, realize that C.C. is not a Free Agent yet. It’s true that he could rightfully command a pretty penny on the open market…but he’s not on the open market.

His agent can’t sit there this off-season and compare offers or play suitors against each other (everyone remember how the Manny thing played out), so the Indians (right now) aren’t in a bidding war. They’re simply negotiating with one of their players, being the only team capable of putting extra dollars in his bank account tomorrow, regardless of what comes to pass in 2008. As much as people would like to think about negotiations a full year from now, with C.C. on the open market, that’s not what we’re dealing with right now. C.C. has one more year under contract and will have to determine if a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and whether the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Enough with ambiguous phrasing and clich├ęs and back to cold reality and proper comparisons as three pitchers in similar situations to Sabathia – Jake Westbrook, Carlos Zambrano, and Mark Buehrle – all signed extensions with their current clubs PRIOR to hitting Free Agency (not on the open market) and certainly didn’t sign contracts that caused the league to scratch their collective head.

Knowing what we’re dealing with here, the question then becomes how the contracts signed by those three (and more specifically the two outside of Westbrook, since we know that that’s comparing apples to oranges) pertain to the negotiations that the Indians and Sabathia will enter this off-season?

First, consider how Zambrano, Buehrle, and Sabathia compare in terms of career stats:
Zambrano (26) – 82-55, 3.41 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 1.90 K/BB ratio
Buehrle (28) – 107-75, 4.64 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.53 K/BB ratio
Sabathia (27) – 100-63, 3.83 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.46 K/BB ratio
Can we say that we’re comparing apples to apples here?

Now consider the deals that Big Z and Hurly Buerhle signed in the past 4 months:
Zambrano (signed 8-17-07)
5 years, $91.5M with 6th year vesting option and full no trade clause
2008 - $15M
2009 - $17.75M
2010 - $17.875M
2011 - $17.875M
2012 - $18M
2013 - $19.25M (vesting option)

Buehrle (signed 7-8-07)
4 years, $56M with no trade “protection” (not full no trade clause)
2008 - $14M
2009 - $14M
2010 - $14M
2011 - $14M

If you want your market defined for comparable pitchers at comparable points in their careers in comparable situations, there it is. Both Zambrano and Buehrle saw the craziness of the 2007 off-season for what it was (a momentary lapse in judgement by a few reckless GM’s) and re-upped with their current employers for, what most would call, fair market value. The 6th year vested option for Zambrano is troublesome, but he only vests if he is productive at the end of his contract (top 2 in Cy Young vote in 2011 or top 4 in Cy Young in 2012) and is deemed to be “healthy” – which would give the Cubs a quick out if they wanted one.

To me, giving C.C. something along the lines of a 4-year, $72M contract is certainly within the budget constraints (and eminently reasonable) and a 5th vested year similar to Zambrano’s 6th wouldn’t hurt the attractiveness of the offer to the Hefty Lefty. Past that 4th guaranteed year though, it becomes a question of how prudent it is to give a starting pitcher a contract longer than 5 years, not how much money is in the Dolans’ pocketbook.

And that’s the common misconception – C.C. may leave because of contract demands, but it won’t be because of annual salary, it will be the guaranteed years associated with that contract. The wisdom (or lack thereof) of giving pitchers contracts longer than 5 years has been well-documented (Chan Ho Park, Mike Hampton, Barry Zito, etc.) and the Indians are brutally aware of this.

It will come down to years and how many C.C. wants guaranteed (taking a 4-year deal puts him back on the market at age 32), not how many zeroes are associated with his annual salary or how the large-market teams are the only ones capable of signing a player like Sabathia. The money is in the budget due to the foresight of locking up “core” players to reasonable contracts and investing in the farm system to keep the pipeline to the Majors stocked with young, affordable talents.

Unfortunately, if C.C. demands a guaranteed 5th or (gasp) 6th year and the Dolans rightly balk; it will be painted as a money issue and not one relating to the length of starting pitchers’ contracts. If, however, Sabathia follows the path trampled down by Zambrano and Buehrle, the Indians are well-poised, both in terms of what they can offer Sabathia in terms of a contract and the stability of a team around him, to make a fair and legitimate run at their burgeoning aCCe.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lazy Sunday - One Week Later

While an event continues in Denver that I refuse to acknowledge, The DiaBride said (tongue-firmly-in-cheek), “I thought when we beat the Yankees, the season was over and that other series was just like an exhibition showcase”, let’s take a trip around a Lazy Sunday:

Terry Pluto touches on the OF decisions to be made after having already done so on Friday, throwing the idea that The Frisco Kid and The Tank should platoon in RF and a new alternative in LF being found as the Dellichaels anomaly doesn’t do much for him.

OF is going to certainly bear watching this off-season as the Indians may try to make a move from their depth at Starting Pitching (assuming Paul Byrd isn’t suspended for 50 games and his option is exercised) to upgrade a corner OF position.

Pluto also addresses the alarmingly low OBP of Josh Barfield and how it could affect his future with the team. For the Indians (who have often stated that OBP is a HUGE factor for them in determining their lineup), the fact that Jessie’s Boy had 14 walks in 420 at-bats this year and only 44 in 280 career games has to have the alarms sounding on the corner of Carneigie and Ontario. Pluto’s idea (and many others’ idea) that Barfield should play 2B with Cabrera as the SS has been debunked by Shapiro, who has firmly stated that Peralta will be the team’s SS next year. Even Hoynes thinks so.
Interestingly, the Padres waived Marcus Giles yesterday, leaving a void at 2B for San Diego…just pointing that out.

Pat McManamon touches on the C.C. money, ignoring some basic facts (as most people are tending to do) which I’ll bring up in a post this week making the case for C.C. being attainable, both in terms of willingness and dollars.

Andy Call has a very nice summation of the off-season with a “Shapiro To-Do List”, with my only exception being that Call thinks the Tribe needs another closer to step in for JoeBo (if necessary). Another veteran arm wouldn’t hurt at all, but does he not rise when “Betancourt is In Session”?

Call also quotes Shapiro that “Casey Blake will be back here next year playing 3B”. Does that mean full-time or as a Super-Utility player? If it’s full-time, will Andy Marte don an outfielder’s glove or be part of a package to land a young corner OF?

In addition to Neal Huntington heading to Pittsburgh, Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo may find himselt where the Three Rivers meet in 2008.

The Tribe Front Office could take another hit as Chris Antonetti has visited St. Louis, and I don’t think it’s just to go to the top of the Arch or just to take the Budweiser tour (which is quite good). Obviously, one byproduct of success in Cleveland (or anywhere else, really) is that other teams are going to want to raid the pantry of a successful or admired Front Office and, while the loss of Huntington doesn’t seem to be a huge loss as he had been essentially demoted out of Shapiro’s inner circle, I would expect Antonetti to wait for the opportunity that he (and probably Shapiro) deems to be perfect in terms of ownership involvement, autonomy, and access to purse strings. Whether or not St. Louis is that type place (Tony LaRussa’s shadow is pretty large there right now) remains to be seen, but Antonetti will be a GM in another city soon.

Coming this week – “The Case for C.C” and the beginning of the promised month-by-month review as well as a disgustingly thorough analysis of the 1986 Indians team that I am managing in the Strat-O-Matic replay, with the sidebar link to explain it.

154 days until March 31, 2008 when the Tribe welcomes the Pale Hose to the Jake (or whatever it will be called).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

State of the Tribe

With Mark Shapiro speaking in front of the Cleveland media earlier in the week, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a quick summary and translation on what the Tribe GM had to say (and what he inferred).

The audio is available here, but here’s what Shapiro had to say – steering away from all of the “next step” and “success vs. failure” talk that resulted from some poor questions and some spinning from Shapiro about how the Indians couldn’t get to the playoffs without C.C. or Fausto, how Fausto is mentally strong, rehashing the ALCS, etc. – as he did hit on a number of interesting topics about the team (and specifically the roster) going forward, when you read between the lines.
The lines in quotes are verbatim, the rest are my impressions from his words:

Byrd
The HGH matter is being handled by MLB and could affect the Indians picking up his 2008 option. It’s something that the team will watch as it develops and, while they were surprised by it, he gave no indication that the results of the investigation will be the end-all, be-all when it comes to 2008.

Hafner
Pronk put too much pressure on himself, “carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders” as he strode to the plate each time at the end of the season and Shapiro expects him to rebound from a season that “wasn’t disastrous, but not up to his standards”. Shapiro intimated that Hafner has difficulty separating between at-bats because of how “well he always wants to do to help his team” and it is something that he hopes to improve for 2008.

2nd Base
While not going so far as to say that 2B belonged to AstroCab for 2008, he said he had trouble seeing Asdrubal not playing a prominent role next year. The role of many players will be determined by organizational meetings in the next few weeks, including where Barfield and Cabrera end up.

Adding Pieces/Payroll
The club won’t contain many surprises next year as most of the pieces are in place and the depth in the organization will have the club asking if holes can be filled internally or if they’ll have to go out of the organization to do so. There are no restrictions on payroll that would “prevent the Indians from bringing their team back”; while a firm number certainly does not exist. Because most of the team is under contract for next year, the Tribe is in a unique situation where most of the payroll is already spoken for. Due to a weak FA market, they can attempt to find value (in the bullpen, in particular) instead of having to target one specific position or area.

C.C.’s contract
It will be dealt with “sooner rather than later” and “won’t go to Spring Training with it being an open issue” without promises of regular updates to keep everyone informed. When asked if C.C. would be traded if the two sides are “miles apart”, Shapiro said that the team is the most important thing and “C.C. will be a Cleveland Indian, no matter what the scenario next Spring”.

Borowski and the Bullpen
JoeBo’s option will be picked up as no good reason exists for the Indians not to pick it up. The pieces for a core of pitchers in the bullpen are closer than they’ve been in a long time for the Tribe. Shapiro indicated that the young arms that emerged to play vital roles in the bullpen (Perez, Lewis) were “on the radar” in Winter Haven. The bullpen will continue to be a fluid group with flexibility and evolving roles by design.

Youngsters in 2008
Players identified as young players that could contribute in 2008 were the Big League Choo (who is out of options) and Atom Miller, but with the players that emerged this year (Cabrera, Laffey, Lewis, etc.), he doesn’t expect a huge amount of farmhands to explode on the scene as a lot of the current depth is filled by players making their debuts in 2007.

Veteran OF
Dellucci will play next year, if healthy, for the Tribe and is being counted on to contribute both on the field and as a leader in the clubhouse. The Trotter and Kenny, though Shapiro never came out and said it, have played their part in the development of the team and will not return.

Veteran vs. Rookie
Shapiro explained that one of the reasons that some young players didn’t make the team out of Spring Training and were passed over in favor of a veteran is that the young players are given a chance to mature and work their way into the starting role while the production of the veteran is evaluated. If the veteran works out, the desired depth is achieved in the organization. If the veteran disappoints, the young player is (hopefully) ready to step in. On the flip side, if the young player is given the first opportunity and he disappoints, few options exist and the risk of damaging the long-term success of the young player comes into play.


The most surprising comment to me was regarding Dellucci, who it seems would be the odd man out (along with Michaels) in a suddenly very-crowded outfield with Grady and Frank the Tank patrolling 2/3 of it. Between Blake (assuming he’s not the 3B), Choo (who, again, is out of options), and Francisco, plus whatever they may be able to add “externally”, counting Dellucci in as a main contributor for 2008 seems premature. Between the starting pitching depth and OF depth, Shapiro has some areas to deal from to improve the parts of the team that remain worrisome.

We’ll see how this all plays out going forward; but in the meantime, I’m going to take a look back month-by-month at the 2007 season, pulling out my favorite lines from the stories and the comments to re-live the roller coaster ride that we’ve just finished.
It will be fun to see the absolutes that prove to be completely wrong as well as how certain predictions played out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Catharsis

Many thoughts have entered and exited my head since Coco squeezed the 27th out in the deep recesses of Fenway early Monday morning, setting into motion the Cleveland “Doom and Gloom Machine” in print and on the airwaves…

…Finally, I’ll get to start watching Ken Burns’ “The War”, which currently occupies 80% of my DVR space.

…Perhaps I’ll throw myself, full force, into the Sporting News’ Strat-O-Matic game that will replay the 1986 season with me managing the 1986 Indians (I’ll keep a link on the sidebar so you can all blast my managerial style throughout the season) against other “celebrity managers” (me…a celebrity?) like Curt Schilling, Will Leitch of Deadspin, Dan Shanoff of “Daily Quickie” fame, former MLB player Doug Glanville, and Ba Ba Booey from “The Howard Stern Show”.

….Maybe I’ll get back on track with my quest to re-read the “Great American Novel List” that I still have from High School, when I wasn’t fully appreciative of what I was reading.

…Or do I watch the video of the serial commenter Baltimoran getting Rally Pied over and over again by fellow serial commenter Cy Slapnicka to remember the good times?

…I’ll certainly find out what a normal night’s sleep feels like without waking up in cold sweats about what happened to The Scarecrow’s slider (OK, that’s a stretch, but I worried about it).

Plenty of questions and scenarios abound for the Tribe off-season to keep me busy here, but it’s far too early for all of that or to even think about a season recap.

First things first, as it’s time for some catharsis for the last 5 days of our lives:
Coming to grips with the events of the past few days, I’ve run the gamut of emotions – pride in a tremendously successful season, fear in a young team tightening up at the wrong time, paranoia that Senator Mitchell and Dana DeMuth were working in concert to sabotage the season, irrational hatred of particular players of either team, and even optimism that the best is yet to come.

No matter how hard I try, though, it seems that frustration and disappointment are causing this empty feeling that has replaced the cauldron of stomach acid that I’ve grown so accustomed to. Frustrated and disappointed because the World Series was there, in the Indians’ laps. It was theirs for the taking, as the manner in which they lost that ultimately hurts the most - up 3-1, with C.C. on the mound in Game 5 at the Jake, with the city ready to explode.

Frustration…
Disappointment…
The two are intertwined despite the Indians taking us through a fantastic year and on a phenomenal playoff run, abbreviated by the team tightening up and lacking the “killer instinct” that a team has to develop to put their foot on the throat of an opponent.

But how far can frustration and disappointment go when the Tribe went toe-to-toe into Game 7 in the ALCS with the Red Sox, who are a supremely talented team with strong pitching, few glaring holes, and a consistently dangerous offense?

It hurts for sure, but would a sweep be the preferred method of exit?
Would the skeptics then just have the argument that the Tribe “didn’t belong there” as opposed to “they choked” or have the media (in their undying efforts to categorize everything in a nice little package) put some sort of generic moniker on losing the ALCS?

Would you have preferred the Indians got caught by the Tigers to “collapse” before the playoffs started?
Perhaps a “choke job” in Yankee Stadium would have felt better.

The Indians didn’t do that and wouldn’t allow the “I told you so crowd” to surface as they kept grinding forward, with more bandwagon fans jumping on at every juncture and the diehards growing more in-step with the young group of players congealing before our very eyes.

Obviously, some people still sat there and said, “they’ll blow it” or “they’ll find a way to lose it”, trying not to get too emotionally invested in the team for fear of having their hopes dashed and actually putting themselves out there for public ridicule in the chance that the unfortunate happened. The “fans” acted as if they were from Missouri and that the mediocrity and heartbreak that defines Cleveland sports were all suddenly Grady Sizemore’s fault or Fausto Carmona’s fault.

Simply by being in an Indians uniform, this team was unfairly lumped in with generations of disappointment and broken dreams. And, at the end of the day, is that really fair? Are the Indians, because they got close and weren’t able to make that one final push to nudge the Red Sox off the ledge, losers despite a 96-win season and being a win away from the franchise’s 6th World Series appearance?
Absolutely not.

But those feelings of frustration and disappointment won’t go away, perhaps fueled by the knowledge that nothing in baseball is ever guaranteed, regardless of talent, promise, or stability. When the moment presents itself, it must be seized. And therein lies the ultimate frustration and disappointment with this team – not that the season was a failure or that the team is full of “choke artists” and losers – it is that the Indians had put the Yankees away and were close to doing so to the Red Sox. It seemed that the Colorado Rockies were the only thing standing in the way of the first World Series trophy since 1948.

Anybody who says to you that the season was a failure or that this (the final 3 games of the series) was expected either wasn’t paying attention to the season or has trouble simply “living in the moment”, preferring instead to live their lives in a perpetual state of dread and unhappiness, simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I won’t let that thinking sabotage what has been a magical season for the Indians for me, taking my son to his first Indians’ game as I saw the 2nd renaissance of baseball in Cleveland in my lifetime from my perch in the mezzanine, and for many other like-minded Indians’ fans.

To me, the events of the past 5 days don’t make me lose my appetite for the ring or denounce my love for the Indians, it only makes me hungrier and hardens my hopes that the Indians are on the right path.

Regardless of what inane moniker the fatalistic Cleveland media finally choose to put on this ALCS, the Indians’ season was an unquestioned success, with brighter days ahead…no matter how hard that is to see today.

The End

162 regular season games.
11 playoff games.
Approximately 550 hours of baseball.

All changed by 5 minutes in time.

In the top of the 7th, down one run, with Kenny Lofton on second base with one out, Franklin Gutierrez rifled a ball down the third base line bouncing away from the Red Sox, which would certainly tie the game and keep the momentum firmly in the Indians’ dugout as Westbrook had settled in and the Tribe was chipping away at the Red Sox lead.

But, as we all know, Joel Skinner threw up the “Stop” sign, halting Lofton at third base and setting Casey Blake up for an at-bat with men at first and third. First pitch swinging, Blake grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and the Indians’ threat in the 7th was neutralized.


With the winds of change in the air of a gorgeous New England evening, Rafael Betancourt – the workhorse of the bullpen, the “Untouchable” in the 2007 postseason – entered the game to keep the game close. Facing the 12-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury, Senor Slo-Mo induced a grounder to Blake, who booted it, allowing the “tweenie” to lead off the inning standing on second. After Julio Lugo sacrificed Ellsbury to third, Dustin Pedroia (all 130 pounds of him) stepped to the plate and, with one swing, ended the Indians’ season.



And with that, the game was over, the series was over, the season was over.
All in 5 minutes.

Plenty of time (that’s all we have now) to discuss the fantastic ride that the 2007 Cleveland Indians took us on and what lies ahead for this young, talented team of players.

But, tonight, with the Red Sox raising the ALCS trophy, only two words are appropriate - it’s over.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One Win...Nothing Else Matters

It all comes down to one game to determine if the Indians play tomorrow or if the season has come to a sudden, and disappointing, end. Everything that has happened in the past 24 hours, in the past week, in the past month, all season long doesn’t matter at all tonight.

A win.
That’s all that’s needed.
Nothing else matters.

It doesn’t matter that the two Tribe “aces” fell flat on their faces…

The Paul Byrd-HGH controversy doesn’t matter tonight…

It doesn’t matter anymore that the Indians went into Thursday’s Game 5 up 3-1…

The fluid strike zone of Dana DeMuth of Game 6 is no longer a concern…

It doesn’t matter that the Travis Hafner has a .461 OPS in the ALCS with 10 K in 23 AB…

The “Boston Massacre” of Saturday night is only one more loss in the series…

It doesn’t matter that J.D. Drew erased a season of contempt from Sawx fans with one swing…

The amount of zeroes on Dice-K’s paychecks don’t matter one bit…

Tonight pits two pitchers against two lineups to determine the Champion of the AL – nothing more.

The Indians are in a one-game-playoff to fight for the continuation of their season and will have to bully their way past the Red Sox in Fenway to do so. The pitching match-up is identical to that of Game 3, which the Indians were able to win – albeit in Jacobs Field with the momentum of Game 2 on their side.

The Red Sox will throw Matsuzaka, a pitcher who limped to the finish line in the regular season, with his struggles continuing through his first two postseason starts for Boston. If the Indians can work Dice-K’s pitch count up, resulting in walks, baserunners, and opportunities to manufacture runs, they could set a tone early in the game and allow Jake some breathing room to work his sinker. It will be obvious fairly early how aggressive the Indians’ hitters are against Matsuzaka as the number of pitches in the 1st and 2nd innings will determine if the young Tribe is overly aggressive and tight or if the patient approach that has served them so well throughout the year has returned after disappearing against Beckett and Schilling in Games 5 and 6.

Behind Dice-K, though, is Boston’s full complement of relievers (thanks to Schilling’s stay at the top of the mountain last night), including the possibility of Josh Beckett perhaps playing the Pedro Martinez 1999 ALDS role (which I was unfortunate enough to witness first-hand).

The Tribe will counter with Westbrook and his penchant for baserunners, groundball double plays, and working out of jams. If Westbrook is getting the low strike and the Boston grounders are finding Tribe gloves, Jake could cruise into the 5th inning with little damage. However, if Jake gets squeezed on the low strike and is forced to work up in the zone, or if the Red Sox cobble together enough seeing-eye singles to have the opportunity to score that knockout punch, it could be a quick night for Jake.

The Indians’ bullpen, saved by Aaron Laffey, has everyone but Laffey and Perez (where have you gone, Mr. Scarecrow) and it will be interesting to see how Wedge works the bullpen. It’s conceivable that Jenny Lewis and Senor Slo-Mo could go two innings each, if necessary and the possibility is out there that the Byrdman (with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver racing to throw him under the bus) or even C.C. (do we really want that…and is it crazy that I just wrote that) being an option at some point in the game.

What has happened in the past remains squarely there – in the past.
The winner moves onto the World Series.
One game.
One win.
Nothing else matters.

See you on the other side.

A Rotten Lazy Sunday Gets Worse

On a Lazy Sunday where the focus should be tonight’s Game 7 (which I’ll hit later today), a dark cloud has formed in the Indians’ locker room, particularly over the head of Paul Byrd amidst a report in the San Francisco Chronicle that Byrd bought 1,000 vials of HGH worth nearly $25,000 between August 2002 and January 2005.

Some excerpts from the story:
Byrd made 13 purchases from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center between August 2002 and January 2005, according to the records. During those years, he pitched for the Kansas City Royals, the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels.

Paying with a credit card, Byrd spent $24,850 to buy more than 1,000 vials of growth hormone, an injectable prescription drug with muscle-building properties, and hundreds of syringes.

The records reviewed by The Chronicle included Byrd's purchase and shipping orders, payment data and other information, including his birth date and Social Security number. The records were provided by a confidential news source, who said the orders were consistent with an athlete's personal use of growth hormone.
__________

Many of the shipments reflected in the records were sent to Byrd's home in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta. But in March 2004, while he was pitching for Atlanta, a $1,050 order of syringes and somatropin, the generic name for synthetic growth hormone, was sent to Byrd in care of the Braves' spring training facility at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., the records show.

On July 22, 2004, according to the records, $2,000 worth of somatropin and syringes was shipped to Byrd at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, where the Braves were playing a series against the Mets. The Braves were scheduled to stay at the Grand Hyatt during that trip, according to media information distributed by Major League Baseball.

Baseball formally banned the use of growth hormone on Jan. 13, 2005. One week earlier, Byrd made his final purchase of growth hormone from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, spending $2,000 for six boxes of somatropin, company records show.
__________

Two of Byrd's prescriptions for growth hormones were not written by a physician, according to a law enforcement source. Instead, the prescriptions were written by a Florida dentist, said the source, who asked not to be quoted by name because he was not authorized to comment. The dentist's license was suspended in 2003 for fraud and incompetence, state records show.


As if the Indians have enough to think about, here’s another distraction that won’t exactly go unnoticed by the Boston media and the Fenway Faithful, particularly if Byrd is called upon at some point in Game 7. And, if he is, will the bad taste in my mouth come back as the “Crisco” that I joked about Paul Byrd using for the past year just got a new, more concrete, much more damning identification – HGH.

ADDENDUM
As pointed out by sbricker in the comments section, Paul Byrd has not only admitted to FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal that he took HGH, but says that it was under a doctor's prescription:

Byrd says he never hid his use of HGH because it was prescribed to him under a doctor's care. He paid for the substance with his own credit card. At one point, he had it sent in his name to the Braves' spring-training facility in Kissimmee, Fla.
__________

In an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com, Byrd did not dispute a San Francisco Chronicle report stating that he received nearly $25,000 worth of HGH and syringes from a Florida anti-aging clinic that was targeted by law enforcement for illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

Byrd said that three different doctors diagnosed him as suffering from adult growth-hormone deficiency. In spring training, he said, he was diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland at the base of his brain, a condition that may have contributed to his deficiency, doctors told him.

"I have not taken any hormone apart from a doctor's care and supervision," Byrd said. "The Indians, my coaches and MLB have known that I have had a pituitary gland issue for some time and have assisted me in getting blood tests in different states. I am currently working with an endocrinologist and will have another MRI on my head after the season to make sure that the tumor hasn't grown."


More than meets the eye to this story, but there's something else going on before this whole thing gets sorted out.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ouch

C.C. Sabathia (ALCS) – 10.45 ERA, 2.32 WHIP, 10 1/3 IP, 12 ER, 17 H, 7 BB, 9 K

Fausto Carmona (ALCS) – 16.50 ERA, 3.17 WHIP, 6 IP, 11 ER, 10 H, 9 BB, 7 K

Any questions as to why we’re playing Game 7 in this series?

Changing of the Guard

For better or worse, we populate a world eager to discard that which is deemed to be out-of-date or has been replaced by something considered bigger, better, stronger, or faster. Whether it be the latest technological gadget or a product “guaranteed” to make your life easier, Americans are constantly on the lookout for the next great thing.

I, to the surprise of some, am not one of those people as I view cell phones as a sort of necessary evil (sometimes I simply don’t want to be reached) and recently “upgraded” my 5-year old cell phone (which the Verizon guy called an “antique”) for a new phone. Frustrated that he did not have the “step above tin cans and a string” (which is what I requested), I walked out with the bottom-of-the-line free phone that they begrudgingly give to you after making you aware (about 30 times) that better options exist.
My new phone sends and receives calls, which is all I care about. It may take pictures too, something that I refuse to investigate.

But I digress.
Fully aware of my feelings on finding newer, fresher, and better products, throw them all out the window for tonight – when the Wily Veteran faces off with the Upstart Youngster in a battle of everything that has been versus everything that will be.

Curt Schilling enters tonight’s Game 6 with a playoff resume unlike any other among current pitchers (although Beckett’s getting close), which has been well-documented, and has among those playoff starts something to do with a bloody sock in some Game 6 a few years ago. Despite his Game 2 performance, he remains a battle-tested veteran who relies now more on guile and experience than he does the mid-90’s fastball that he possessed a few years ago.

Here’s the problem with Schilling (remember, I’m embracing the psyche of the American consumer) – he’s old…his best days have passed him by. He’s 40 and the Indians’ hitters knocked him around hard enough in Game 2 to the point that he couldn’t even get through 5 innings. He’s gone on record as saying that he’s afraid to lose Game 6 for fear of letting down the Red Sox organization, Red Sox Nation, and the men that he shares a locker room with.
Old and scared?

Surely, there must be something younger, better, and stronger out there to root for and to throw our collective weight behind.
Ah, yes, The Faustastic One.

Throwing a sinking fastball that Torii Hunter dry heaves at, that Tony Gwynn (or the man who ate Tony Gwynn) marvels at, whose repertoire of pitches compares to Kevin Brown in his Florida/San Diego heyday, Carmona is a walking “Next Big Thing”. At the prodigious age of 23, Fausto went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and more than twice as many K as BB. He is the rare power pitcher who has harnessed his stuff to be a “pitcher” and not just a “thrower” who gets by on talent and speed.

Carmona has, this year alone, evolved with each start to complement his nasty sinking fastball with a changeup and a slider that keep hitters off-balance and driving pitches into the ground for harmless groundouts (430 groundball outs vs. 137 K vs. 131 flyball outs in 2007) sawing off bats and making good hitters look foolish and frustrated on a nightly basis.

Cool under pressure and unaffected by swarms of insects, Carmona possesses everything that anyone could want in a pitcher going into a potential Clinch Game to celebrate in the visitors’ locker room in Fenway.

About 8:21 tonight, we’ll find out if the torch will be passed from “what once was” to “what promises to be” as these pitchers will attempt to either prolong their stay at the top of the mountain or find the summit on a New England evening. Will it be a simple tale of “out with old, in with the new” tonight as Schilling could leave his crown of big-game ace on the mound for the young Dominican to assume?

At the risk of being presumptuous, I’ll let you know when I’m taking pictures of the TV with my cell phone to commemorate the ALCS trophy being handed to Mr. Dolan and Mr. Shapiro.

What did I say? Tribe in 6?
Sounds better than ever.
Go Tribe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

One Moment In Time

In the midst of all of the ex-girlfriends singing the National Anthem, the bench-clearing brawls, and the inability of the Indians’ hitters to figure out Josh Beckett, Game 5 boiled down to one decision.

In the bottom of the 6th, as C.C. miraculously pulled his way through another inning while minimizing damage, the talk in the Mezzanine turned to how the Atomic Wedgie would set up the final three innings. With the top of the order coming up, could Jensen Lewis work an inning with LH Ortiz three hitters away, or would Raffy Perez work better in anticipation of Ortiz’s AB?

As I returned from the Mens’ Room (trust me, I never miss a pitch), the DiaBride was the first to point out that the pitcher standing on the mound with the ball to start the 7th looked like C.C. That must be a mistake, right? He had thrown over 100 pitches and had labored throughout, lucking into keeping the Indians in the game against the real Ace in the game, Beckett.

But there he stood (kind of hard to mistake C.C. for anyone else on the team), ready to face Dustin Pedroia and the top of the Red Sox lineup, pitch count and results be damned, in a 2-1 game that the Indians were (amazingly) still squarely in.

Of course, we all know how this ended, with Pedroia hitting a double and Youkilis hitting a triple before Sabathia was (finally and mercifully) pulled for Betancourt. And, despite Senor Slo-Mo’s best efforts, the damage was done and the game was lost.

Not to go all Tom Hamiliton, but “Ballgame”.

The most disturbing thing outside of Wedge’s decision to stick with C.C. is not even that he decided to use “ride with the horses that got him to the party” strategy that has served him so well throughout the postseason, but the way he handled the bullpen after the floodgates had opened. Down 2-1, or even 4-1, one would think that Wedge would play to win; instead his sequential order in the bullpen (which had worked exceedingly well) was out the window and the Indians were simply trying to stop the bleeding.

Whether or not the Indians would have been able to put more runs on the board against Beckett (who was simply dealing…as an “Ace” does) and Papelbon is secondary. The game was lost when Wedge allowed C.C. to stride to the mound in the 7th to face the top of the Boston lineup.

With that mistake staring the Tribe in the face, they head to Boston to try to close out the ALCS in enemy territory.
Let’s hope that Fausto is able to make the adjustments that C.C. simply wasn’t.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rocky IV Fight

NO PAIN! NO PAIN!

As the Indians head into Game 5, with the possibility of sending the Red Sox where they sent the Yankees, one can’t help but marvel at the tenacity and heart of the Indians team as they have stared down a much-more-ballyhooed opponent with an us-against-the-world-mentality to have the possibility to overcome (what some called) long odds to come away victorious in the ALCS.

But this story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it the plot of every Rocky movie (none were made after IV, as far as I’m willing to acknowledge) and don’t the Indians just feel like Rocky, going against all odds to prove the skeptics wrong with their determination and (here comes that word) grit?

Specifically, doesn’t the way that the ALCS has played out nearly mirror the final fight in Rocky IV?
Don’t believe me?
Consider how the series and how the bout played out by watching it above.

Coming into the game (between stories on the Fall of the Yankee Empire), the talk was how the Indians would have C.C. and Fausto to go against Boston, but how the Red Sox could counter with Beckett and Schilling and how the “Holy Trinity” of Manny, Papi, and Lowell were just too much for the Indians to overcome. Similarly, Rocky was facing a force of nature, one that it was better to get out of the way of (while watching the movie in the theater, my sister thought…and will still contend…that Apollo’s head flew off) than to face.

But put up their dukes these underdogs did, in unfriendly environments with the Boys in Bristol and the FOX Corp. playing the role of the Gorbachev and the boys in the Politburo Box. Early on, it seemed that what everybody said would happen was unfolding before our very eyes. Watching Drago batter Rocky in the early rounds, remember how Friday night felt as C.C. walked batter after batter as the Fenway Faithful knocked back another Sam Adams, certain of a quick series. Watching your workhorse, your go-to guy take a beating like that was not just hard to watch, it was hard not to get disheartened.

All of Cleveland got ready for bed on Friday thinking, “Well, these guys were supposed to be good and they sure as hell are, let’s hope Fausto can stop the bleeding.” Saturday’s game started and Boston started throwing Carmona around as effortlessly and as fiercely as Drago unleashed combination after combination (with a suplex thrown in for good measure) on the Italian Stallion in the 2nd round. Just like the Rock, the Tribe was “tired and bleeding, but on their feet…if on the run”. But the Indians sat there on Saturday night – staying close, tying the game, taking the punches, getting Game 2 into extra frames, biding their time, and perhaps playing a little game of rope-a-dope.
Waiting, waiting…

Suddenly, seemingly backed into a corner, the Indians landed a punch out of nowhere, drawing unexpected blood with the surprise bloop from Trot Nixon and the Red Sox reeled back as if they were Drago checking their face to see what this wet stuff was coming out of his eyebrow. Dazed, the Red Sox gave up hit after hit to the Tribe as the folks in Boston, like Brigitte Nielson, stood and wondered what had happened. Had this impenetrable block of granite, cruising to its destiny, been exposed by this little speck…this nothing of a team?

Unfazed and perhaps with their confidence buoyed, the Indians just kept coming until Frank the Tank’s moonshot disappeared into the New England night and the Red Sox were left to sit in their corner wondering what they had gotten themselves into. This was supposed to be a coronation – the Yankees were already on the golf course, the three remaining teams in the LCS looked like tomato cans for the Red Sox to tee off on. In the Indians’ locker room, Wedge convinced his boys that “they had them hurt bad and worried because you cut ‘em, you hurt ‘em…because they aren’t machines - they’re men”.

And like that the momentum swung distinctly in the Indians’ direction as the “piece of iron” kept scrapping as the Indians came out in Game 3 and 4 matching punches with every ball that Jake flung sinking towards the dirt and every time Byrdie sent the Sawx flailing at what looked like meatballs. But the Red Sox (like Drago) didn’t have a glass jaw and stiffened their backs a little bit as they fought their way into the games throwing combinations like the back-to-back-to-back jobs in Game 4, albeit in fruitless causes. You think Manny’s admiration job in Game 4 is akin to Drago signaling to the crowd that everything was in order as Rome burned around them?

Every time the Red Sox looked to be poised to make a run, the Tribe simply pulled themselves off the ropes or off of the mat to grind through innings, relying on Jenny Lewis, Senor Slo-Mo, and JoeBo to guard the head to ward off the punches flying in their direction, as the Red Sox looked on, disbelieving, from their dugout that this team was still around – still throwing punches and still coming at them with everything they had.

Suddenly, a funny thing happened – just as the Rock chopped down the Big Russian, and as the Indians showed their mettle, the nation saw this team not as a “Little Engine That Could” but as a force to be reckoned with – a team with the heart and the guts to go toe-to-toe with the “elite”, and stare them unflinchingly in the eye. Theo Epstein sat there in his Diamond Box in Game 4 and played the Gorbachev role, watching this team with the tiny payroll and (allegedly) without the heavy lumber that the Red Sox were bringing to the stadium systematically put his team away, incredulous that this could even be happening.

As Game 5 dawns, the teams sit in their corners, imploring each other to “come on”, to throw their best punches and their best pitchers (Hey, C.C. – to be The Man, you have to beat The Man) to find out, once-and-for-all, who the true champion is. Let the broadcasters and writers do their best to spin this series into some sort of surprise – the combatants know that they’re up against a worthy opponent and want to score the knockout punch.

Tribe – it’s the 15th round.
There’s no stopping us now…this is our round.
We start and we don’t stop.
All your strength, all your power, all your love…everything you’ve got.

To win, you got to knock them out.
You gotta punch and punch until you can’t punch no more.

Do it now…NOW!

Collectively Collected

Now THAT’S the Indian Way – strong starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen, and a balanced offense in Game 5 to put the Red Sox on the ropes as the Indians team that we’ve watched all season long simply played the way they know how to and pushed Boston to the edge of the cliff.

As Byrd and Wakefield battled, neither offense could put a solid rally together and each pitcher seemed to be growing stronger as the innings passed. But, after being baffled by Wakefield for most of the game (6 K in the first 4 innings), they caught a break when Asdrubal’s liner glanced off of the knuckleballer’s glove and the Tribe smelled blood in the water. They jumped on Wakefield and didn’t release their choke hold on him or Manny Delcarmen until the Red Sox essentially tapped out, down 7-0.

And how about a hand for the Byrdman, who simply goes out in the playoffs and eats innings against two of the best offenses in baseball, giving his team a chance to win with double wind-ups, Crisco (whoops, did I say that?), pitches in the low-to-mid-80’s, veteran guile, and guts?
Is there a more underappreciated Indian?

After Byrd couldn’t rebound from the extended layoff, and despite the FOX announcers’ best attempts to add some intrigue to the rest of the night, Jensen Lewis (once he got past Manny) and Rafael Betancourt slammed the door on Boston. No, that doesn’t do justice to how they treated the Red Sox hitters…those two slammed the door, locked it, threw the deadbolt, set up the chain lock, and threw a dresser in front of the door that the Red Sox couldn’t even find the handle for.

While the Indians’ pitchers were calmly going about shutting down the potent Boston offense, the Tribe hitters did what they’ve done all series long – they ALL showed up and played a part in the success of the team. No one player or play stands out as the killshot, though Honny P’s 3-run job got the DiaBride (with a recently thrown-out-back) off her feet as that “line just kept on moving” in the spectacular 5th inning.
To fully appreciate what a complete offensive effort the Indians have put forth in the first four games of the series, consider the breadth and depth of the production thus far:
Peralta – 7 RBI
Gutierrez – 4 RBI
Cabrera – 4 RBI
Lofton – 2 RBI
Hafner – 2 RBI
Martinez – 2 RBI
Blake – 2 RBI
Nixon – 1 RBI
Sizemore – 1 RBI
Garko – 1 RBI
Not one Indians’ regular has been shut out of driving in runs in the ALCS and the balance of the attack and the relentless and patient nature of the lineup is what has driven three of the four Boston starters out of the game.

On a night when the Red Sox could have taken control and momentum right back from the Tribe, stealing one on the road with their 4th starter on the mound and Beckett going tomorrow, they played tight and swung early and often and the offerings of the Tribe arms. The Indians, on the other hand, fully aware that momentum in the series could swing with a Boston win in Game 5, never seemed to waver. The team put off a cool confidence that belied their inexperience, never letting the Red Sox see them sweat.

The Indians are calmly going about their business, playing their brand of baseball, and acting like they’re the team that have all been there before. In doing so, they’ve set themselves up about as well as anyone could have hoped, with an opportunity to clinch with their aCCe on the mound at home in Game 5.

On the day that World Series tickets arrived to the Tepee in the mail, and with Game 5 tickets under my bed, calm is settling in.
Next up…the storm of a potential World Series berth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stacking the Deck

With the Tribe now up 2-1 in the series against Boston, it appears as if the starting pitching couldn’t line up for the Erie Warriors any better. Thanks to the offense bailing out Carmona and Perez in Game 2 and Jake Westbrook willing his way through 6 2/3 in Game 3, the Indians stand only two games away from the World Series with their two best pitchers scheduled to start (at least) two of the four remaining games.

Despite the Red Sox sitting on Bob Gibson…er, Josh Beckett for the possibility of going two games, does anyone really think that the Indians are at a disadvantage on the mound?

Now, C.C. and Fausto got crushed in the first two games – no question. There’s no way to sugarcoat their outings.
But the Indians have two 19-game winners who have made adjustments all season long and have both played the role of the stopper (not allowing the Indians to go on a prolonged losing streak) throughout the year waiting their turns to inch the Red Sox closer to some October tee times. Now, with Byrd surprising everyone in Game 4 of the ALDS and Jake shutting down a Boston offense that bashed its way through the playoffs to this point last night, The Crooked Cap and Faustastic can go out and just pitch – not having to worry about carrying the weight of the team on their shoulders.

However, it’s up to Sabathia and Carmona to make the adjustments to nullify the patience of the Boston hitters that resulted in an ungodly cumulative 2.52 WHIP for the two in their starts. By making the necessary adjustments (not nibbling, throwing first pitch strikes, etc.), they have a better chance of limiting the effectiveness of the middle of the Red Sox lineup that plagued them in Boston. Westbrook was able to do that last night and it proved to be the difference, allowing only Varitek to plate runs in the 7th.
Consider where the Red Sox are getting the run production from in their lineup:
Pedroia – 0 RBI
Youkilis – 0 RBI
Ortiz – 0 RBI
Ramirez – 6 RBI
Lowell – 6 RBI
Kielty/Drew – 2 RBI (both by Kielty)
Varitek – 4 RBI
Crisp – 0 RBI
Lugo – 0 RBI
I’m no statistician, but I believe that’s referred to as a bell curve and (while obviously that’s the design of a lineup) keeping those hitters, mainly Ramirez and Lowell, in check is what the two horses of the Indians rotation need to do. It was thought before the series that minimizing the damage of that middle of the order was important for the Indians pitchers to be effective, but it has certainly come to fruition.

The other players have stepped up, so it’s time for C.C. and Fausto to do the same as the series goes on. To this point, the Indians have accumulated some chips bluffing their way into some pots and grinding a couple of wins out.
Up two games in the series, the Tribe is sitting on Pocket Aces, tempting the Red Sox to go “all in” with Beckett tonight, hoping that the Joker in the deck (Paul Byrd) is able to push the Red Sox closer to the brink of elimination.

First things first, though, with Game 4 starting at 8:20 and figuring to finish after midnight (at least), so the ride into sleep deprivation and buying stock in Rolaids and Pepto continues.

Monday, October 15, 2007

As the Series Turns

Heading into the Jake for Game 3, I was ready for a shootout. The way that the two offenses had battered some exceptional pitchers (Josh Beckett’s intact reputation as a postseason stud being the exception), with Westbrook’s and Dice-K’s penchant for baserunners and struggles in the ALDS, I wanted to tell the fireworks guy to pay attention.

Then a funny thing happened – a pitcher’s duel broke out.
Jake was vintage Jake, the best escape artist since Houdini. Relying on a steady diet of smoke, mirrors, and sinkers, he induced grounder after grounder (15 of his 20 outs) and got out of every jam he placed himself in until Varitek finally chased him in the 7th. The Bad Jake that we saw in the Bronx was a distant memory as Good Jake shut down the potent Boston offense that had its way with C.C. and Fausto.

On the other side, Dice-K battled his way through 101 pitches, only making mistakes to the ageless K-Love and being touched up by a mini-rally that briefly reduced the churning in the acids in my stomach. The Boston bullpen came in and did what they were unable to ultimately do on Saturday, which is to keep the Indians’ hitters at bay.

But the story was Jake and the Bullpen.
After Jake exited to a raucous ovation, Jensen Lewis came in and pulled a Jensen Lewis – he struck out Pedroia and rather simply at that. With that K, the stage was set up perfectly for Senor Slo-Mo and JoeBo to lock down the final 6 outs and send everyone home happy. While it certainly appeared that easy and nice on paper, the actual final two innings could have made me lose my appetite permanently (will I ever have a normal stomach again?) and had me glued to my seat in the Mezzanine because (as a worrisome Clevelander) my Mom, who was sitting next to me, convinced me that every time we stood up, something bad would happen. So there I sat, straining to see between the people in front of me, going Jerry Tarkanian on the rally towel that they gave out. Of course, the fears were ultimately unfounded and the game was won, bringing on the jubilation and the litany of car horns and screams that accompany October baseball at the Jake.

But the Game 3 win represented something bigger and I don’t just mean a 2-1 lead…though that doesn’t hurt. What happened may simply be an extension of what happened in the 11th inning on Saturday night as this Indians team has now stood up to the Red Sox and beat them both coming back and staying ahead for good, protecting a lead.

They’re up 2-1 with C.C. and Faustastic throwing (probably) as poorly as they can pitch in the first two games.

They’ve beat them in a marathon game and they’ve beat them in a tight pitchers’ duel where every pitch, every foul ball, every moment was fraught with anxiety.

They’ve stood up to the big kid on the playground and perhaps sent the bully home afraid and a little worried if they have enough to take out the upstart.

Those feelings that everyone was feeling on Friday night, after 12-3, have been replaced with the realization (it arrived sooner for others) that the Indians are standing toe-to-toe with the Red Sox and my even be better equipped to close this thing out.

If some in the national media are still surprised by this and insist on the “giant slayer” analogy or the “David and Goliath” references just won’t stop – fine. The Tribe can play that game…they’ve still got the bag of stones and a slingshot in their back pocket.

And...We're Back

Lest word goes out that the Witness Protection Program is one person stronger, I have returned from a White Water Rafting Trip today (the plans were made in March, so forgive my shortsightedness) and am elated about the split in Boston with C.C. and Carmona looking more than human.

To paint the picture of watching the game in WV, consider that the DirecTV in the cabin that I was banking on was unable to locate local channels, no internet connection was available (think I was freaking out?), and we had NO idea where we could find the game.

Luckily, we found a restaurant that received local channels…except that they closed at 10PM.
No problem on Friday.

Big problem on Saturday.
Of course, after having been there for two nights, we had befriended the restaurant’s owners, who agreed to stay with us until the end of the game as long as we did not mind if they turned out the lights so they didn’t get in trouble for violating their liquor license by being open.

So, here we are, after 1AM, in a dark bar in West Virginia jumping around the bar, pacing around the tables, generally going bananas until the game was sufficiently out of reach and we could leave a handsome tip to the owners to thank them to head back to the cabin.

Being as excited as all of us were, we didn’t exactly get to bed early nor limit our consumption; which didn’t exactly help at 7AM on Sunday as we pushed our rafts out into the Upper Gauley River with 5 separate Class V Rapids. For those who don’t know what that means (and I didn’t), that is as wild as a river gets and a raft full of tired guys not going at 100% makes for an interesting day.

Nevertheless, fully intact and with all limbs in place, I’m heading down tonight to Game 3 and (seeing as how no more trips to Splitsville, WV…get it…planned), we’re back in the saddle and ready for the ride.

Thanks to T-Bone for manning the wheel of the ship during my absence and for the comments that gave me a chuckle this afternoon.

The red “It’s Tribe Time Now” flag will be waving tonight, but only with my right arm…I can’t raise my left arm over my shoulder.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hot To Trot

Well lookie who ended up being the hero tonight, none other than the Boston Dirt Dog himself, Trot Nixon.
Yes, I rewound the DVR, paused and took pictures of my TV for those shots.

Not to be overlooked though are the Herculean efforts of Mr. Lewis, Betancourt and Mastny. They combined for 5.2 innings of one-hit ball to shut down the BoSox.

However, since it is now 2:27am, and since I am supposed to be tailgating in oooooh, seven hours, I’ll let the fine crew over at Vegas Watch tell the story. I grounded myself tonight after a late Friday night and what will be a long Sunday (tailgating/Browns game/Sunday night bowling league), so the VW ALCS Game Two Live-Blog had me clicking refresh all night as I watched from home base. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

We’re Playing With Mulligans, Right?

If you’re reading this, that means our fearless leader, Pat Tabler, is sans internet in West Virginia, is white water rafting, and is contemplating jumping in the river without a life vest after C.C.’s performance last night. We’ll have to hope for the best, as the website he sent me for the lodge he’s “camping” at is currently not working (although it was yesterday, and showed a picture of a comfy living room with a flat screen tv which he surely was watching the game on). Never fear, T-Bone is here for the first ever pinch-hitting role at the DiaTribe.

Well, there’s not really much to report other than what you saw tonight, and it wasn't pretty.

All started off well, as the Pronk of old put us on the board early.

However, come the third inning, bad things happened.

October C.C. showed up again, but the way Beckett was dealing tonight (6 IP, 2 ER, 7 K, 0 BB), all his post-season hype was well deserved. Oh, also, Beckett only threw 80 pitches. At least that doesn’t set him up well for pitching on three days rest (although, CC only threw 85). After tonight his career postseason record is 4-2, with a 1.87 ERA to boot.

One problem CC (and Indians pitchers for that matter) had was getting Big Papi out. Oh, and Manny too. The duo’s combined line was 4-4, 4 R, 5 BB, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI. Ouch.

Sidebar, anyone else already sick of Manny getting all “schmoopy” with his teammates after every play?Unfortunately, Manny did it with the glove, too.

Outside of the pounding CC took, the focus group I was watching the game with thought Frank the Tank makes that catch on the Kielty hit to right in the fifth 99 times out of 100, and the bleeding could/should have stopped at 5-1, rather than 8-1. It was that kind of night.

Well, if Fausto can do what he’s done, we escape with a split, right? Right?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Well...What Are You Waiting For?

With the pitching match-up out of the way, the lineup comparison was next on my to-do list, but finding My Teams are Cursed’s excellent lineup breakdown – there’s not much to add to it, and maybe another High Life tonight to calm my nerves would be a better use of my time at this point.

The only eyebrow-raiser that I caught my eye with MTAC’s comparison would be the “even” call on Asdrubal and Pedroia. While AstroCab has served as the spark for the Tribe for the past few months, Pedroia has been doing it all season; however, examining the season totals proves the point that the players are not as dissimilar as one would think.
Cabrera - .283 BA / .354 OBP / .421 SLG / .775 OPS
Pedroia - .317 BA / .380 OBP / .442 SLG / .823 OPS
Though Pedroia has slightly better numbers, the main variance between the two is essentially the attention that the Red Sox 2B has received.

Outside of the MTAC analysis, obviously everyone knows about Manny and Papi as limiting their impact is a key to the Indians' success. But, if you’ve heard of baseball, you already knew that. The players outside of the two sluggers in Boston that have me worried are Mike Lowell, Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis. Lowell, hitting right after the Big 2, scares me in that the pitchers can’t make the mistake of taking a breath and underestimating the 3B, particularly with FA looking him in the face. Pedroia seems like the kind of player that shows up in the postseason (like Eckstein and Counsell before him) to become the annoying pest that never seems to make an out and is always on base. But Youkilis is the player that most strikes me as the kind of player who shines on the big stage, as calls of "Youk" from the Fenway Faithful bring bile to my mouth. Not sure why, as Youkilis seems like the kind of player I'd love on the Indians, but I see Youkilis being that A.J. Pierzynski/Paul O'Neill type of foil that will plague the Tribe throughout the series.

On the Indians side of things, I love the way the top of the lineup looks against all of the RH starters with Grady (LH), Asdrubal (SH), Hafner (LH), and Victor (SH) matching up very nicely with the RH heavy Red Sox staff. The top of the order will be tantamount for the Tribe’s success as most of the rest of the lineup (Garko, Jhonny, Casey, Frank the Tank) are all RH and will be facing some pretty nasty stuff from the right side of the rubber. Trot Nixon’s LH bat will surely get some looks…so long as he doesn’t have to patrol the field.

With all of the heady analysis out of the way and the breakdowns thoroughly complete, it’s finally time to play some games – so how about a prediction?

The Indians find themselves looking into a mirror facing the Red Sox in the ALCS as the two best teams in baseball lock horns. Both teams boast top-of-the-rotation studs, decent (if not great) depth to fill out the rotation, a solid bullpen, and a patient and balanced offense. All the way down the line, the Red Sox have an answer for the Indians…but the Indians also have an answer for the Red Sox.

The teams are evenly matched enough, that this series feels like it might come down to the way the ball bounces, an arbitrary play that turns out to be huge, or even a controversial or momentous moment that swings the tide in favor of one or the other team. When it’s all said and done, though, the playoffs are all about pitching and against any other team, the Indians quality and depth gives them a huge advantage. But the Red Sox have Beckett, Schilling, and Papelbon at their disposal – players worthy of the high praise bestowed upon them – to counter C.C., Fausto, and the Raffies.

Assuming that the projected pitching match-ups hold up, I see Beckett and C.C. splitting home and home and the Indians and Red Sox splitting the Westbrook/Dice-K and Byrd/Wakefield starts. The ace in the hole for the Indians remains Carmona, who will beat Schilling (ironically by playing the same role that Schilling did for the 2001 D-Backs) twice and be the difference in the series.

This feels like a heavyweight battle, with two evenly matched opponents squaring off against each other, exchanging punches until the first one falls…or the first one pulls themselves up off the mat first to hoist the AL Trophy.
Remind you of anything?
Yo, Cleveland…they’re gonna do it.
Indians in 6.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Arms Race

With the Yankees in the rearview mirror, the Red Sox have appeared on the horizon and are bearing down very quickly on the Tribe. Whereas the New York team was the beneficiary of a good deal of hype while holes and team weaknesses were overlooked, this Boston team is infinitely more deserving of the comparable hype bestowed upon it.

Thanks to a talented and deep starting pitching staff (something the Yankees were sorely lacking); the Red Sox rely on an approach similar to that of the Indians. They ride their horses until they can turn the ball over to the slotted arms in the bullpen. If a chink exists in the Red Sox armor, it can be found in that bridge to their excellent closer, Jonathon Papelbon, in the 9th inning. However, unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a rotation talented enough to limit the number of innings thrown by their suspect middle relievers as Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka (recent struggles considered), and Tim Wakefield (recent injury considered) are all capable of going 6 to 8 innings and limiting the potential blow-up by a middle reliever wearing Rec-Specs.

The Boston pitching staff led the AL in ERA at 3.87, Batting Average Against at .247, and OPS against at .705 this year with most of that success starting with...well, the starters:
Boston Starters 2007
ERA – 4.21 (2nd in AL, behind Cleveland)
Batting Average Against - .257 (1st in AL, tied with Toronto)
OPS Against - .725 (1st in AL)
WHIP – 1.30 (2nd in AL, behind Toronto)
K – 772 (2nd in AL, behind Tampa)
Shutouts – 13 (1st in AL)
IP- 991.2 (4th in AL, behind Cleveland, Chicago, and Toronto)

Luckily for the Tribe, the Indians’ rotation falls lock-step in with Boston in most of these important categories:
Cleveland Starters 2007
ERA – 4.19 (1st in AL)
Batting Average Against - .274 (7th in AL, behind too many to list)
OPS Against - .738 (3rd in AL, behind Boston and Toronto)
WHIP – 1.31 (3rd in AL, behind Toronto and Boston)
K – 646 (9th in AL, behind too many to list)
Shutouts – 9 (3rd in AL, behind Boston and Seattle)
IP- 1021.1 (1st in AL)

Seeing those numbers comparatively, when the strength of the Indians is obviously their rotation, certainly puts the quality of the Boston rotation and the success that they’ve found throughout 2007 into a proper perspective. The Red Sox aren’t letting over-the-hill hacks and unproven quantities toe the rubber – their rotation is talented, battle-tested, and (much like the Indians) has the ability to keep an offense at bay until the Red Sox offense can build a lead for them.

So what parts come together to form this well-oiled machine that is the Red Sox rotation and how does it compare to their scheduled counterparts for the first 4 Games?
Game 1
Sabathia
2007 stats: 19-7, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 241 IP, 209 K, 37 BB
2007 vs. Boston: 0-1, 1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 7 IP, 7 K, 0 BB
2007 September: 4-0, 2.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 38 IP, 33 K, 6 BB
2007 ALDS: 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 5 IP, 5 K, 6 BB

Beckett
2007 stats: 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 200.2 IP, 194 K, 40 BB
2007 vs. Indians: 1-1, 1.80 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 15 IP, 14 K, 1 BB
2007 September: 4-1, 3.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 34 IP, 36 K, 6 BB
2007 ALDS: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.44 WHIP, 9 IP, 8 K, 0 BB

What a beauty.
If this match-up doesn’t excite you, admit that you’re not a baseball fan.

C.C.’s line in the ALDS doesn't do justice to the job that the Crooked Cap did in battling his way through a postage stamp strike zone and keeping the Indians in the game long enough to get to Wang’s (non)sinker and the Yankee bullpen, allowing the Tribe to take the all-important Game 1 at the Jake. Against the Red Sox, C.C. will look to continue the success that he’s enjoyed against them (and really all of the AL) against a balanced Red Sox lineup that tends to be RH heavy (outside of Papi and Drew, everyone else is RH or a Switch Hitter). But the side of the plate shouldn’t matter much to Sabathia, who sees this stage as a new platform by which to solidify himself, alongside Santana, Beckett, Webb, and Peavy, in the “elite” class of pitchers in all of MLB, much less “big-game” pitchers.

Speaking of “elite” and “big-game” pitchers, they don’t get much better than Beckett. Beckett is everything that C.C. and Carmona are, with some hardware on his ring finger to show that he’s been there before and is not intimidated by the bright lights of the big stage. His Game 1 in the ALDS against the Angels only confirmed that Beckett is at the top of his game when relishing the spotlight and pressure of the postseason. Beckett was the tough-luck loser in the phenomenal 1-0 game against Fausto earlier this year (after which I said that “the teams are on a collision course with destiny to determine the AL”) and he completely shut down the Tribe on that memorable night.

The Indians’ hitters will have their hands full with Beckett on Friday night and getting to him for even a few runs may be the determining factor in who has the early advantage on Saturday morning.

Game 2
Carmona
2007 stats: 19-8, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 215 IP, 137 K, 61 BB
2007 vs. Boston: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 8 IP, 6 K, 2 BB
2007 September: 5-0, 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 35.1 IP, 27 K, 9 BB
2007 ALDS: 0-0, 1.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 9 IP, 5 K, 2 BB

Schilling
2007 stats: 9-8, 3.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 151 IP, 101 K, 23 BB
2007 vs. Indians: 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 7 IP, 10 K, 0 BB
2007 September: 1-2, 3.16 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 25.2 IP, 15 K, 2 BB
2007 ALDS: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7 IP, 4 K, 1 BB

As if Game 1 wasn’t juicy enough for you – how about matching up the (arguably) best pitcher in the league right now and the grizzled veteran who has led two teams to World Series trophies with no signs of slowing?

If THESE two pitchers don’t get you revved up for Saturday night, you may actually hate baseball.

Carmona’s emergence as one of the top (probably 3 to 5) pitchers in all of baseball has likely been the most enjoyable aspect of the season for me. Fausto has baffled and frustrated hitters, growing stronger as the season wore on; culminating (thus far) with his masterpiece against the Yankees in Game 2 as he shook off the midges (that unhinged lesser pitchers) like an angry bull swats away mere annoyances, focused instead on the task at hand. Carmona faced the Red Sox once this year, in the aforementioned classic against Beckett at the Jake, dominating them as he has the entire league. If one sense of doubt is able to penetrate the confidence in Fausto it’s that his virtuoso performance against Boston came in friendly confines (as did Game 2 of the ALDS) and the last two times he visited Fenway, both games (two links in there) ended rather badly for him, giving the Fenway Faithful some ammo to try to get between the big RH’s ears.
Let’s hope that Fausto the Bull simply shakes his head and goes charging at everything he sees that is Red at full speed (and sinking), ultimately taking out the target.

Facing off against Carmona, though, will be the 40-year-old innings eater that talks a big game and usually backs it up. Schilling saved himself this season by sitting out until he felt he was completely healthy and got stronger as the season rolled on, preparing himself nicely for the postseason (unlike another older icon not worth mentioning). Schilling has compiled a postseason resume that is rivaled by few, going 9-2 in 16 games with 1.93 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP with 108 K to 23 BB over 116.1 IP. To illustrate his status as a stabilizing force for a playoff team, consider that in the 10 postseason series that he’s pitched in, his teams have won 8 of the series, having not lost since his 2002 Arizona team dropped the NLDS. Schilling is a power pitcher who will strike out hitters with an economy of pitches as he tries to continue his impressive postseason success.

Just like the look of Game 1, the Indians will try to get to Schilling for a few runs to allow Fausto to work his magic against the Red Sox lineup in what figures to be another low-scoring game.

Game 3
Westbrook
2007 stats: 6-9, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 152 IP, 93 K, 55 BB
2007 vs. Boston: 0-1, 7.50 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, 6 IP, 1 K, 4 BB
2007 September: 1-2, 4.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 37 IP, 31 K, 14 BB
2007 ALDS: 0-1, 10.80 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 5 IP, 1 K, 0 BB

Matsuzaka
2007 stats: 15-12, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 204.2 IP, 201 K, 80 BB
2007 vs. Indians: 1-1, 4.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 12.2 IP, 9 K, 3 BB
2007 September: 2-1, 7.62 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 28.1 IP, 27 K, 14 BB
2007 ALDS: 0-0, 5.79 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 4.2 IP, 3 K, 3 BB

Finally, in Game 3, the hitters for both teams my be able to stride to the plate with some confidence that they can reach base or (gasp) get a hit with the idea of crossing home plate not feeling like a pipe dream. Both starters had lousy ALDS appearances and will hope that the adjustment period for the hitters after the first four pitchers in Games 1 and 2 (“hey, I can hit THIS”) lasts long enough for them to sneak a lead to the bullpen.

Jake’s ALDS start began as one would hope a Westbrook start goes – groundballs, some hits, a few double plays, and some quick innings. But the ball got up on Westbrook and the Yankees capitalized as his sinker ended up around their belt at about 90MPH, something that doesn’t bode well for the Indians' chances. The Red Sox lineup of patient hitters battered Jake in their game against him this year (though he did last 6 innings), so there won’t be a shortage of Boston baserunners. Westbrook’s ability to minimize damage and Wedge’s ability to recognize the correct moment to replace him with some combination of Jenny and The Raffies is tantamount to the Indians maximizing Jake’s effectiveness in Game 3.

For the Red Sox, they throw a pitcher in Dice-K who will allow baserunners via the walk (80 BB, 6th in the AL), but also strikes out a good number of hitters (201 K, again 6th in the AL). Matsuzaka will miss a lot of bats in Game 3, but some of that will be tied to the fact that the lumber will still be sitting on the Tribe hitters’ shoulders before their trot to 1B. The patience that the Indians hitters displayed against the Yankees is vitally important to their success in this game as running up Dice-K’s pitch count could result in an appearance by the youngsters in the Boston bullpen (Manny Delcarmen and Jon Lester) who are making their first foray into the ALCS or an extended appearance by Boston’s whipping boy, Eric Gagne, assuming that the Indians would be able to get to Dice-K early enough.

With the way these two pitchers enter the ALCS, Game 3 looks like a game that will depend on the ability of the two teams’ middle relievers (those not named Papelbon, Okajima, Perez, Betancourt, or Borowski) to keep their teams in the game. With the starters in Games 1 and 2 figuring to go deep into their respective starts, the managers should have a full complement of arms to determine how the middle innings (5 through 7) affect the outcome.

Game 4
Byrd
2007 stats: 6-9, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 152 IP, 93 K, 55 BB
2007 vs. Boston: 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6 IP, 1 K, 0 BB
2007 September: 1-2, 4.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 37 IP, 31 K, 14 BB
2007 ALDS: 1-0, 3.60 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 5 IP, 2 K, 2 BB

Wakefield
2007 stats: 17-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 189 IP, 110 K, 64 BB
2007 vs. Indians: N/A
2007 September: 1-2, 8.76 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 24.2 IP, 12 K, 7 BB
2007 ALDS: N/A

Call this the “Black and White Game” because with both of these pitchers, you’re either getting a terrific start that nobody can figure out how it's happening (like Byrd’s Game 4 performance or if Wakefield’s knuckler is fluttering) or the bullpens get involved around the 3rd inning because Byrd’s not hitting his spots and Wakefield is either incapable of throwing strikes with his knuckler or the opposing team is teeing off on his non-knuckler offerings.

Byrd blew conventional wisdom out of the water on Monday night, blurring what you think should happen and what does happen as he fooled the Yankees (whom had crushed him in the regular season) to swing off-balance or just miss solid contact. Considering that Byrd had a successful outing against the Red Sox this year, who knows what he’ll do in the playoffs. He’ll have the love of a Jacobs Field crowd, perhaps apologetic for questioning his Game 4 start, to give him a couple of extra MPH on his fastball (to make it 85 or 86). Beyond that, frankly, who knows?

Wakefield is recovering from a back ailment that kept him off of the ALDS roster; but, unlike most pitchers who rely on torque and power for their success, it won't have a huge impact on Wakefield, who is all about the knuckleball. If his knuckleball is fooling hitters to swing and miss or if it’s dropping into the strike zone and setting up his fastball, Wakefield is tough to beat. However, if Wakefield’s back flares up or if his knuckler proves to be ineffective (it will become apparent fairly quickly), the Red Sox will have to dip into that bullpen again to save Game 4.

The X factor for this pitching match-up is how the series looks after the first three games. If the Red Sox need a victory, Beckett (who has done it before successfully) will go on 3 days rest. It will be interesting to see if the Indians are facing elimination (strike the thought from your head), how Wedge will approach the game. Would he still give the ball to Byrd and “stay the course” or would all bets be off as the “back-against-the-wall” mentality takes hold?

After the starters, Boston and Cleveland both rely on some dependable back-end relievers (leave your JoeBo comments to yourself) and Boston will hope that the rest of the bullpen (Lester, Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, LHP Javier Lopez and Gagne) can turn the ball over to Okajima and Papelbon. If you think that Indians’ fans are concerned about The Big Borowski, Red Sox fans are terrified of seeing Gagne in any game and have their reservations about Okajima’s ability to get the ball to Papelbon in the 9th with a lead. Okajima faded down the stretch and was shelved in anticipation of the playoffs. He came out in the ALDS to spin 2.1 scoreless innings in the ALDS, so his troubles may have been rectified with some rest.

When Papelbon enters the game in the 9th, he brings with him 37 saves, 84 K in 58.1 IP, a 1.85 ERA, and a 0.77 WHIP. So, yeah…he’s that power arm out of the bullpen with the killer instinct that every team dreams about coming out of the bullpen. The Indians were able to touch him up for a run in one of his two appearances against them this season, but he converted both saves. Ultimately, the key to reaching the Red Sox bullpen is to keep Papelbon tied to his seat in said bullpen by getting to the preceding arms.

The Indians’ bullpen thrived in the Yankee series and Wedge should continue to ride Jenny, the Scarecrow, Senor Slo-Mo, and (breath drawn in) JoeBo to close out the games in the ALCS. Outside of those four, any appearance by Aaron Fultz, Tom Mastny, or Aaron Laffey promises to be filled with uncertainty and means that the game is likely lost and Wedge needs someone to eat innings.

When it’s all said and done, these two teams are almost looking in a mirror with each other pitching-wise with studs at the top of the rotation, quality (but not overwhelming quality) in the #3 and #4 spots, and lockdown relievers in the bullpen.

No obvious holes exist on either team’s staff and the ones that are possible (weak middle relief for the Red Sox, concerns about Westbrook and Borowski for the Tribe) can be avoided (the Boston starters could go deep into ballgames, Borowski could continue to surprise us all) or ones that don’t figure to sabotage the entire series (Westbrook, if he struggles in Game 3, would only get 1 start).

The ALCS promises to be a pitching-heavy affair, with the little things or something arbitrary or even controversial being the difference in the games. Obviously, the offenses of each team are going to have some bearing on the outcome; but, in the playoffs – where pitching means everything – the Red Sox and Indians have met their equal on the battlefield.

Indians…what is your profession?