Can we all just sit back and enjoy this right now? I think we deserve it in this town. I know it’s sooooooo early in the season, but after watching Eric Wedge-managed teams stumble out of the gate year after year, winning seven straight over the first week and a half of the season is such a welcome sight. Its Acta Ball, pure and simple.
This weekend, your Wahoo Warriors were riding high on a four-game win streak and hopped a plane out to the Pacific Northwest to meet up with an old friend for his team’s home opening weekend. They left town as perhaps the hottest team in baseball, while leaving egg on the face of The Grinder himself.
So how exactly did the Indians sweep the Mariners? What has continued to work? Lets take a look.
The old adage is working for the Tribe – pitching and defense. It sounds cliché to talk about, but the reality is, the Indians streak really has everything to do with quality pitching. Other than Mitch Talbot’s Wednesday five-and-fly against Boston, the starters have gone a minimum of six innings each time out.
Carlos Carrasco went six in Friday night’s 12-3 win, allowing just one earned run. Justin Masterson was brilliant during his six and a third innings Saturday night, giving up just one run on four hits while striking out nine. Josh Tomlin finished the weekend off by going six and two-thirds and holding Seattle to three hits.
As manager Manny Acta said yesterday, it all starts with the starters. “It gives us a chance to keep the guys rested in the bullpen so we can match up with them.”
And that bullpen has been almost perfect.
Acta had said that he would use a combination of guys in the eighth inning until the role was settled or someone “runs away with the job.” Well we are nine games in the back-end looks defined. Tony Sipp has made five appearances, all in the eighth inning, nursing a three-run lead or less. All five times he has done his job. In five innings, he has allowed ZERO runs on just two hits, striking out four and walking none.
You can’t ask for much more than that from your set-up man.
Rafael Perez has been almost as good in his role as his bridge to Sipp. He has also made five appearances without allowing an earned run. Then you have Chris “Pure Rage” Perez closing things down in the ninth. He is four for four in save opportunities thus far and in his five games, like Sipp and Perez, he hasn’t allowed a run.
Great pitching usually goes hand in hand with solid defense. That has definitely been the case with the Tribe thus far. The signing of Orlando Cabrera to play second base has been a great stabilizer to the middle of the diamond, as as the health of Asdrubal Cabrera. He has looked Gold Glove caliber thus far. The third base hole that was such a defensive problem last season has vanished with the stellar play of Jack Hannahan. Even Matt LaPorta looks much better at First Base.
When you have sinker ball pitchers like Fausto Carmona and Masterson leading your rotation, good defense is a must. The Tribe infield defense looks as good as it has since since the days of Robbie Alomar and Omar Vizquel.
Is “Pronk” back? I’ve said many times in the past that I will no longer refer to Travis Hafner by his nickname because “that guy doesn’t work here anymore.” But is it time to for me to recant my statement?
Hafner is off to a torrid start at the plate, hitting .370 with an OPS of 1.063. Translation – we are seeing shades of the old “Pronk.” The highlight of Friday night’s 10-run fourth inning was clearly Hafner titanic blast off of the windows in the third deck of Safeco Field. If the Tribe’s DH can stay healthy and keep this stroke going, look out. The Indians order will have a completely different dynamic.
“It’s tough to say if I’m stronger this year,” said Hafner. “I was able to spend a lot of time working on my swing. I definitely feel better than I did last year. I just have to keep it going.”
Speaking of that 10-run fourth inning, I hope you all were awake to see it Tribe fans, because man was it fun. Seven of the first eight Indians reached base via the hit. The only one who didn’t (LaPorta) hit a sac fly scoring a run. Three Indians (Carlos Santana, Hafner, O. Cabrera) had two hits each in the inning. Hafner’s blast capped the 10-run outburst and was listed at 422 feet. Anyone who saw it knows that was a bad reading. That thing was at least 500 feet.
“It seemed like everybody got up with one or two runners on and it seemed like we had a good stretch there were we’d get a hit, score a run and then there’d be one or two guys still on,” Hafner said. “We did a really good job of going down the line and having good at-bats.”
You have to love the Indians attitude thus far. They are playing with confidence and don’t look like a scared young bunch of kids. They are the third youngest team in the majors (KC and Pittsburgh), yet they are playing mature baseball to start the season. A lot of credit must go to Acta and his staff for instilling the winning mindset to this club.
Acta set the tone in Spring Training when he told the media and his team that he expects to win this year. Choo even boldly came out and proclaimed the Tribe should make a playoff run. The thing is, this team seems to believe it. After yesterday’s game, Tomlin, who set a club record by starting his career with 14 straight starts of at least five innings, said “”I don’t feel like we can be beat right now.”
It is important, however, that we (me in particular) temper the excitement. The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But you can’t help but love this team thus far.
Team President Mark Shapiro is loving this as well. He tweeted last night “I’m enjoying each day of this club’s play. Long season but over the yrs, I have learned to let myself appreciate these stretches. Go Tribe!”
Enjoy it Tribe fans, and come out to the park next weekend and get behind your Wahoo Warriors! In the meantime, the Tribe will finish off this West Coast trip with a tree-game set in Anaheim against the Angels. Mitch Talbot will take the ball tonight for the Tribe. Tyler Chatwood goes for the Angels.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)