Getting to the Playoffs

Tonight, CC Sabathia starts Game 1 of the ALCS for the Yanks. Cliff Lee goes for the Rangers on Monday in Game 3.  It’s driving me crazy knowing that the Tribe’s rotation should have included these two guys, plus Jake Westbrook.  Maybe I’m still dwelling on what could’ve been and what should not have happened, but I can’t help it as I’m being constantly reminded by ESPN how amazingly great Sabathia and Lee are. 

What’s even more astonishing is that the only two good trades that Shapiro has pulled off these past two years were the Casey Blake trade and the Mark DeRosa trade.  I’ll accept giving away two “grind it out” type of players (to use a great and never over-utillized quote from Eric Wedge) for a good, young closer in Chris Perez and a stellar, switch-hitting power bat in Carlos Santana. 

Here’s the thing: the Rangers bring in Nolan Ryan as their GM, and he takes on the pilosophy that in order to go deep into the playoffs you need solid pitching.  So, what does he do?  He grabs Cliff Lee to bolster his starting rotation.  

The more I watch the playoffs, the more I feel like I’ve been tricked by the Indians in to thinking that Cleveland’s strategy for becoming a contender is to use dominant starting pitching.  In reality, the Indians management has no desire to do so.  They’re a bunch of liars if they say otherwise.  It’s disgusting knowing that the Tribe has no intentions of retaining these types of players.

In the long-run, it probably doesn’t matter.  I’ll still watch the playoffs, while drinking a few Great Lakes Dortmunders per game.  And, I’ll still be a bitter Cleveland sports fan.

 

Regards,

Bill

   

 

 

Promotions?!

Pat on the back.

Okay, so I guess I knew this was going to happen, considering they tentatively announced their promotions around spring training, or sometime near then.  Either way you want to look at it, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro are getting promoted for putting their baseball team in a position to finish with a crappy record of 69 – 93 and placing 4th in the AL Central.  Long story short, these promotions aren’t going to change anything.  This team will not compete next year, which will result in me growing more apathetic in this entire organization.  And, according to how I approached this season, I will continue to care less about Major League Baseball overall.  I’m disappointed in how I feel, but I’ve got better things I could do with my time during the summer.

-Bill

At the End of Every Hard-Earned Day, People Find Some Reason to Believe

Alright, so, contrary to popular belief, we’re not dead- just busy. And, let’s face facts, this baseball season hasn’t really given us a whole lot to talk about. The Tribe fell out of contention early, and, as a result, did away its expendable veterans- namely, Jake Westbrook, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood. Still, even after enduring a few rough patches, the Indians have seemed to patch things together, and have found some fire towards the end of the season, going 15-12 to date in September. More notably, in the (admittedly unlikely) event of a sweep of the White Sox this weekend, the Tribe could post a .500 post-All Star Break record (37-37), and post 71 wins for the year. While this is not exactly news-worthy, it is a step forward for a team that, for a time, looked like they could very well finish the year with 100 losses.

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Additionally, compare those numbers to last year’s team, which finished the season with 97 losses, won only 30 post- ASB games, and finished the year with a 7-21 record in September, and lost all 4 of its games in October. Sure, that was a team plagued by injuries, inexperience, and the loss of All-Stars such as Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, but the numbers are still undeniable. While the 2009 team seemed to pack it in and die during the tail-end of the season, this team has continued to fight and improve- a great sign for the future.

Overall, I have been impressed with what we’ve seen from the Tribe’s young talent in these last few months. Young pitchers such as Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, and Carlos Carrasco have really stepped up and delivered in the last half of the season. Also, after an abysmal start, Michael Brantley has greatly improved since his August callup, hitting .291 in August, and .286 in September- both promising numbers for the Tribe’s potential leadoff hitter of the future. The continued success of young players such as Brantley, Matt LaPorta, and Carlos Santana (who should be fully healthy for 2011) is vital for this club to compete in the near future. I feel that with what we’ve seen from them, in addition to production from veterans such as Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner (who has hit .331 since the ASB, by the way), the Indians have a good foundation for future success.

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Obviously, the team does have its holes to fill- second and third bases are pretty open, as I don’t feel that guys like Jayson Nix, Luis Valbuena, and Jason Donald are legitimate major league options as starters. While there are prominent prospects down on the Farm (e.g., Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis), they are still at least a year away, so the Indians need some kind of stop gap option, especially for the hot corner. Brandon Inge would be a great free agent option, especially given his flexibility, but I feel that he may be out of the Indians’ price range.  Perhaps Mr. Antonetti can convince Omar Vizquel to retire on the sunny shores of Lake Erie?

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So, with all that said, I am fairly optimistic about the Tribe’s chances for next year. While I don’t think they will be contenders, they could fall somewhere around the .500 mark. I’ve got a feeling they will remind us of the 2004 team- a group starting to come together, perhaps competing for a while, but ultimately falling short of being in the playoff picture. Still, given where we could be, I will take the forward progress, and look towards further success in the future.

Finally, in an unrelated note, I’m pretty intrigued by the NL West/ Wild Card competition. I have loved watching the Padres defy expectations all year, so to see them lose a playoff spot now would be crushing. However, I think Atlanta is absolutely rolling right now, so I don’t see them losing any ground. This series between the Padres and the Giants over the weekend will be a blast to watch, but I have to say that I think the Giants will ultimately pull out the West, with the Braves taking the Wild Card. Book it.

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-Steve

Hating on Boston (And Predictions!)

So I was watching SportsCenter this morning, and it looks like Yankees- Red Sox Mania is already in full swing. The series is currently tied at one game apiece, and one certain large Dominican DH isn’t quite up to snuff. Now, I understand that the New York- Boston rivalry is big business, and there are a ton of fans who actually care about it. However, outside of the East Coast, I would love to hear about anything else going on during Opening Week around the league on ESPN. Just once, I would love to see more than a 30 second snippet about a great Opener between Tampa Bay and Baltimore or Milwaukee and Colorado. Is this too much to ask, National Media?

I understand that 0-7 is a poor start for Big Papi. But if he goes 3 for 3 tonight, he’s a .300 hitter. Let’s take it down a notch, Red Sox Nation. There is baseball life outside of Boston, and David Ortiz is going to be just fine. Just shut up and play the game.

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Anyways, so the season is underway, and, due to being busy and out of
town, I wasn’t able to get my preseason predictions up before the
season started, so here’s a quick rundown of the teams that I think
will win each division in the MLB:

  • AL East- New York Yankees (Too good from top to bottom to possibly lose this division.)
  • AL Central- Chicago White Sox (They’ve got a great pitching staff and should produce enough runs to win a weak division.)
  • AL West- Seattle Mariners (The King Felix- Cliff Lee combo should be enough to dethrone the weakened Angels.)
  • NL East- Philadelphia Phillies (Doc Halladay and the best offensive lineup in baseball? Don’t be surprised if they win their third straight NL crown.)
  • NL Central- St. Louis Cardinals (The Cubs, Reds, and Brewers should raise a few eyebrows, but Pujols and Co. will pull it out.)
  • NL West- Colorado Rockies (I’ve always had a soft spot for
    the Rockies, and they are a more complete team now than in previous
    playoff years. This should be a great year in Denver.)

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I don’t really want to get into Wild Cards yet, but expect teams like
the Red Sox and Dodgers to be front runners for said playoff spots.

And, in case you’re wondering (and I’m sure you are), the Indians will
finish 78-84, either third or fourth in the AL Central. They’ve got a
solid offense, but I just don’t have enough faith in the pitching
staff. Maybe next year, Tribe Fans.

In the meantime, let’s try to enjoy the 2010 season, which, surprisingly, will include teams not located in New York and Boston. You just have to know where to look.

-Steve

How Joe Mauer is Killing Baseball

Minnesota fans, rejoice! If you haven’t heard (and I’m sure you have), the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an eight year, $184 million contract extension this week. This will place the reigning AL MVP with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, both members of the big spending Yankees, as one of baseball’s highest paid players. It is being heralded as a feel-good story of a mid-market team retaining its hometown hero, as the Twins finally decided to fish out their checkbook and pay the Minnesota native what he deserves.

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However, to the every other small or mid-market team, this is a serious blow. Yes, this keeps a superstar out of a market like New York or Boston. Yes, this establishes Minnesota as a team willing to satisfy its star players. Yes, this shows that some players are willing to show some loyalty to the clubs that brought them up and made them stars. Still, let’s not forget that Minnesota exists in a bubble (much like Cleveland in the mid 1990s) that allows them to spend more money due to the opening of a new stadium, the continued success of a young ballclub (due to thriftiness and excellent drafting), and a fanbase excited to come out and see the Twins in droves.

Elsewhere in the league, markets such as Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland have had to see their star players leave for greener pastures and bigger paychecks, generally with bigger market teams like New York, Boston, or LA. Or, even worse yet, these mid-sized market teams have been forced to trade their talent (see: Sabathia, CC or Lee, Cliff) because they cannot afford to hold onto them. This is not necessarily because the owners are cheap, or the GMs don’t understand what they are giving away. It is because the uncapped payroll structure of baseball allows teams that have money to spend more than others, and, without a salary cap, buy up what seems like as many star players as they see fit.

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The Major League Baseball Player’s Association claims that, because a greater percentage of teams have made the playoffs since the 1994 Strike than in any other major sport, there is parity in baseball. However, when was the last postseason in recent memory that did not include the Yankees and/or Red Sox? And, of course, money can’t buy championships (see: Tigers, Detroit), but it certainly doesn’t hurt. It is this kind of system that continually drives players out of cities like Cleveland. Still, this is a system that is celebrated by the MLBPA and, obviously, the “Haves” of the MLB.

This brings me back to Joe Mauer. While his extension is fantastic for the Twins and their fans, it is terrible for other mid-market teams. From here on out, there is a glaring example that players will be drawn towards big markets to get bigger contracts. For every Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Jason Bay, and Roy Halladay that either leaves or is forced to leave a mid-market team, regardless of how successful that team is, defenders of the current system can now point to Joe Mauer’s contract as proof that mid-market teams can and should pay to keep their stars. By becoming the exception rather than an example of the rule, Joe Mauer has now given the MLBPA ammo to fight reform in Major League Baseball.

Now, maybe I’m a cynic. Maybe this really is the feel-good story of the year. I mean, it seems like most of us wind up cheering for the Twins come October as the “Giant-Killers” in AL Postseason play. If they can hold on to their superstar, maybe they can actually make it past the Divisional Series for once. Maybe.

However, for now, I am still bitter about the loss of superstars from
my own team. I fear that this deal will only serve to perpetuate the
loss of quality players from midmarket teams. So, in the meantime, congratulations, Joe. Don’t screw me on this.

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-Steve

Spring Training: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Alright, so with just about two weeks or so left until Opening Day, I think its about time to review The Indians’ Spring Training thus far in 2010. We’ve had some ups and downs already, so let’s go ahead and take a look.

The Good:

  • Big Arms- So far, one of the Tribe’s biggest strengths so far this Spring has been excellent pitching. They have allowed the least runs (83) in the Cactus League so far, and currently rank 4th in all of baseball in that statistic. Additionally, many of the pitchers that the Indians are relying on for the 2010 season have not disappointed us yet. Fausto Carmona has a 0.69 ERA with a 6:2 strikeout to walk ratio in 13 innings of work, while Opening Day starter Jake Westbrook, fresh off a nearly 2 year hiatus for Tommy John surgery has a deceptively high ERA of 4.97, but has put himself into grooves of setting down 6+ batters in a row. If Westbrook can continue to improve, he may return to his old form sooner than expected. Additionally, Mitch Talbot has been phenomenal, posting a 0.79 ERA in 11.1 innings of work. This kind of production should land him a spot in the Tribe’s starting rotation.

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    In the bullpen, a few pitchers have placed themselves ahead of the herd for spots in front of (the now-injured) Kerry Wood. Rafael and Chris Perez have both been dominant, putting up identical ERAs (1.29) and strikeouts (7) in 7 innings a piece. If both of these guys can pitch to their potential, the Tribe could be looking at its best setup combination since Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt in 2007. Jamey Wright has also put himself in a good spot to make the team with an ERA just a hair over 1.00. If Tony Sipp can show his 2009 form, and Kerry Wood can recover quickly, this Tribe bullpen could be fun to watch in 2010.

  • Hot Bats- If the Indians have one strength coming into the 2010 season, it is their offense. Their lefty-heavy lineup is sure to punish right handed pitching and tally plenty of runs. So far this spring, the Indians have not disappointed, landing towards the top of Spring Training standings with 128 runs scored. Travis Hafner, despite hitting only .267, is slugging .533 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 30 ABs. Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, Michael Brantley, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all hitting over .300 in their so far limited at-bats, and role players like Andy Marte and Mark Grudzielanek have been surprisingly productive thus far this spring. Additionally, Austin Kearns, competing for a fourth outfielder spot, has had a productive spring, hitting .300 in 30 at-bats, with two home runs and 8 RBIs. If he can make the cut, he could be a valuable right-handed bat off of the bench.

The Bad:

  • Injuries- The Indians, like most clubs, have taken some hits in the injury department this Spring. Asdrubal Cabrera has seen his action slightly limited due to a minor leg injury, however, this won’t have much impact on the Tribe leadoff man come the regular season. More disturbingly, Kerry Wood has landed on the DL for the 13th(!) time in his career with a back injury. While Chris Perez may be effective as an interim closer (some have him penciled-in as the Indians’ closer of the future), it certainly won’t help the Indians to be without their closer for the first month of the season.

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    Of course, what discussion of the DL would be complete without mentioning the oft-aching Russell Branyan. The newish-old Cleveland first baseman, signed this offseason, has yet to play in a Spring Training game with his ailing back, and may well miss the start of the season due to this injury. While Branyan may not be a slugger of Albert Pujols’ caliber, he is still a major cog in the Indians’ offense, and needs to return quickly. But, I will have more on Branyan in a bit…

  • Regression- While guys like Rafael Perez and Fausto Carmona seem to have re-discovered their mojo, some guys look to have fallen off the wagon. Justin Masterson started the spring strongly, and has compiled a 16:3 strikeout to walk ratio, but his ERA has ballooned to 6.10 in over 10 innings of work. Also in the rotation, last year’s team wins leader, David Huff, has been inconsistent this spring with a 1-1 record, and an ERA over 6. In the ‘pen, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith have also struggled, giving up a combined 8 runs in a sum of 11.1 innings pitched.

    On the offensive side of things, Luis Valbuena, who is not necessarily guaranteed a roster spot, has done little to impress this spring, hitting .214 with just 1 RBI in 28 at-bats. Valbuena won me over towards the end of last season with his improving numbers and power. However, to be a part of this team, Valbuena needs to figure out his game at the plate. He is not hanging around for his speed or defensive skills, so another season of inconsistent at-bats simply will not cut it for the young second baseman.

The Ugly:

  • Russell Branyan- I, like many Tribe fans, am still trying to figure out why the Indians picked up Russell Branyan (for the fourth time) on a 1-year, $2 million contract. Sure, he hit 30 home runs last year for Seattle, while hitting a respectable (or, for Russ Branyan, an Ichrio-like) .250 average. However, he was able to do this because he was given a chance to play everyday for the Mariners while staying healthy for most of the season.

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    With that said, he missed last month of that season with a bad back that has carried over into this season. As of right now, we are not even sure he will be available on Opening Day. In fact, only 3 times in his 12-year career has he even managed to play 100+ games in a season due to both his health and skill. Branyan is a strikeout/ home run magnet who will not hit for average. He is a good fit as a DH or bench player for a contender, but another injury-prone lefty is not what the Indians need in their lineup. Especially if it blocks the development of a young guy like Michael Brantley or Matt LaPorta.

    Of course, I will gladly eat those words if Branyan can produce on this ballclub. He is a wildcard, so I guess time will have to tell.

So, there you have it- my takes on Spring Training this year. Of course, spring games don’t mean a thing come April, but I am feeling slightly optimistic about this club. While I don’t think they will be storming the AL Central in 2010, I do think they can be a solid team, and maybe a dark horse contender if Minnesota, Detroit, or Chicago falter. But then, on Opening Day, who isn’t a contender?

-Steve

A 2010 Appetizer

Alright, I know updates have been scarce lately, but I promise we will get some stuff up before the season starts.

In the meantime, I have to ask- Is anybody honestly surprised that this guy was busted doing cocaine?

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Honestly.

-Steve

Off-Season Rant #2

Well, the Seattle Mariners moved another step closer in becoming another MLB team comprised from a multitude of former Cleveland Indians players when they signed Ryan Garko today.  I’m not too upset.  Garko wasn’t the best ballplayer when he was here in Cleveland, and he probably won’t do anything spectacular…probably…

                                                            

And, it’s not like the Mariners are only going after former Tribe players… 

 

Secondly, just to remind us Tribe fans that we’ll never have a winning team as long as that pin-head owner Paul Dolan runs the show, the Minnesota Twins are on the verge of re-signing Joe Mauer in a rumored 10-year deal…

 

Rant #1 of the Offseason

I’m just going to try do some short rants throughout this offseason.

First off, thanks to our idiot owner, we have no rotation to start off this season.  We’ll be relying heavily on a dude coming off Tommy John surgery in Westbrook and another guy who’s a complete head-case in Carmona.  The Dolan’s are begging for a disaster.  Those two, coupled with Sowers, Huff, and Laffey really give me little to get excited about. 

 

I suppose I’ll be interested in how Westbrook responds in his first few months back in the Majors.  I will have no interest watching Fausto try to figure out why no one is swinging at his sinker.  Watching Sowers pitch his first four innings of any start will be entertaining, but I’m sure once he gets in to the middle of the game everything will untangle.  I don’t really care about how Huff will do.  There wasn’t anything spectacular about him last year.  Laffey could be a toss-up, provided he stays healthy.

-Bill

Don’t Jump! (A Survival Guide for Indians Fans in 2010)

So, it would seem that my preseason prediction that the Indians would make the playoffs was a bit off.

Alright, so maybe I was a lot off. It’s still hard to believe that a team that was favored to be in contention (and featured guys like Cliff Lee, Mark DeRosa, and Victor Martinez), could finish the season with a staggering 97 losses. I keep expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out and tell the entire city of Cleveland that we’ve been Punk’d.

At any rate, the fallout of the season that saw us trade not only major players like Mark DeRosa and Rafael Betancourt, but also franchise guys like Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, has left a bad taste in all of our mouths (and also speaks volumes towards the need for a salary cap). The trade of Martinez was even enough to make Bill and I fall off with this blog (sorry, cyberspace). But, now its time to begin the healing…

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Yes, drink it in, Tribe fans. I know it tastes bitter, but its good for us to acknowledge the awful truth. Our team leader is gone, and isn’t coming back anytime soon. Now that we can admit our losses, we can turn toward the future, and the next chapter of Indians baseball.

So, here I have compiled a list of 5 reasons to watch the Indians in 2010:

  1. Manny Acta: Following the (long overdue) firing of Eric Wedge at the end of the 2009 season, the Indians found themselves looking to hire a new skipper to take the helm of the club. Personally, I was in favor of bringing in a guy with experience, such as Bobby Valentine, to lead the club. And, while the Indians did hire a manager with Big League experience, during his two and a half years in Washington, Manny Acta compiled a 158-252 record.

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    Naturally, the term “chagrined and bewildered” accurately described my feelings toward the announcement. However, after hearing Acta speak, I have to admit I am impressed with the guy. He has a solid knowledge of the club, is bilingual, and, most importantly, genuinely feels that this club can win in 2010. Naturally, being well-spoken and likable does not make a man a great manager- only winning can do that. However, I have a good feeling about Acta, and, at the very least, he should be fun to watch during his time here in the City by the Lake.

  2. Healthy Players: A big part of why this club has performed so far under expectations in the past two years is the fact that they simply have not been playing healthy. We haven’t seen former All-Star Jake Westbrook since May, 2008. Hopefully that will change, and a healthy Westbrook can be a much-needed anchor to a fairly dismal rotation coming into the 2010 season. Additionally, the oft-injured Travis Hafner, who showed signs of recovery throughout the 2009 season can bounce back to be a solid run producer in what could be an above-average lineup of solid lefty hitters.

    Finally, of course, there is Grady Sizemore. This team cannot be successful without him in the lineup or dominating center field defensively. The two-time Gold Glover looks primed to come back this season at full strength, which can mean only good things for the Tribe.

  3. Rookies!: Say what you will about the moves that Mark Shapiro has made in the last year (and trust me, I know you will), but he has brought in at least some exceptional young talent. This season, we got a decent look at the fruits of the Sabathia deal with solid output from rookie outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley. LaPorta showed that he could be be a valuable asset, showing some power and patience at the plate. Additionally, Brantley burst onto the scene as a September call-up, hitting .313 in his first 28 Major League games- showing why he could be the heir-apparent for the leadoff spot in the lineup. Both of these young players seem to show signs of being productive Major Leaguers in the near future, and should be exciting to watch.

    Also, we could see other Tribe prospects take the field this year, including, but not limited to Hector Rondon, Carlos Santana, and Jordan Brown. The Indians certainly have a strong farm system, which will have a huge impact on their future success. And, seeing how our last few seasons have gone, this could be your chance to see the Yankees and Red Sox stars of the future while they’re young and cheap!

  4. Comedy Central: Upon getting the managerial job, Manny Acta commented that, among the reasons why the Indians could be successful this season, they were in what he called an “even” (read: “weak”) division. The Division Champion Twins won only 87 games in 2009 (including an epic extra game 163 with Detroit). While certainly teams like the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox won’t go down without a fight, the AL Central lacks juggernauts like the Yankees and Red Sox, who continually hold teams like Tampa and Toronto out of playoff contention. The Indians have a solid lineup and a potentially solid bullpen. If they can straighten out their rotation, they could be a sleeper team in the 2010 season. Seriously.
  5. Sandy Freaking Alomar: Yes, in a move almost certainly aimed to put a few more fans in the stands this year, the Indians have brought one of the greatest catchers in team history back to coach first base. It’s great to see Sandy moving up in the coaching world, and we can all admit that it will be exciting to see Mr. Alomar don an Indians uniform again. Heck, I’d even say we could put him in to catch, if we didn’t already have a great catcher like Vic… Oh. Nevermind.

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Anyway, those are just a few reasons to stay tuned to what could be a painful season of Indians baseball. Yes, we’ve been through hard times, but rest assured, good things are coming. Eventually.

-Steve

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