Tribe Weekend Review: Scalding Hot

How many of you had the Indians at 7-2 after nine games?

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)

  • Boomhauertjs

    Did not miss the typical Wedge ball that was on display by the Mariners – bad defense, weird lineups (Adam Kennedy batting 3rd?), and station-to-station baseball.

  • Jacob

    @Boom I don’t miss Wedge whatsoever, but Kennedy batting third was more a indication of how horrid the M’s offense is than how bad Wedge is as a manager. Besides Ichiro, the rest of that lineup is putrid.

  • 5KMD

    baseball is a marathon but getting off to a good start is so important.

    The boys are 5 games over .500 right now. play 50/50 ball the rest of the way and thats 87 wins, right. I think that would win the central. But’s lets do even better than that and not make it close at the end.

  • bobby

    I think Pronk is a huge key. If he continues I can see them keeping the play up. Way too early to be talking playoffs.. almost as bad as ESPN freaking about the Sawx… but I enjoy being able to watch a quality team on the field.

  • Harv 21

    3 quickies:

    – no, we’re not a playoff contender and catching all the breaks but almost every year the tribe will win 6 or 7 in a row, and something like 12 out of 15. So for once it’s in April rather than late August/September. Please just leave me alone and let me enjoy these warm fuzzies for a few minutes.

    – Milton Bradley is the most potent mixture of baseball talent and mental instability I have seen since Tony Horton. Dude should have chosen football or rugby or something, but not baseball. Even Belle knew how to focus between the lines. Pretty sure Milton is stone cold crazy.

    – Understand Seattle is talent-challenged but man, Wedge has got to learn that quaaludes have no business being on the April pre-game snack table. Those are for the playoffs, Grinder, only the playoffs.

  • Mark

    “It’s early, its early, its early.” I’m reading this everywhere and understand it, but to hell with it. I’m all in on this team. Why not us? I’m not talking World Series but division title? Playoffs? Why the hell not. Isn’t this the point of being a fan and especially a Cleveland fan? We have an ability to believe even when we shouldn’t. Well, that’s what I’m doing here.

    This is a fun team playing smart baseball with good pitching. I think we are going to be in this race all season long. Go Tribe!

  • Tylor

    You can see the confidence and swagger starting to brew in this young club. My favorite part of the game was their reactions after the victory at the pitchers mound going through the high five line, all of these guys are having fun and enjoy playing with/for eachother. Keep it up!

  • GhostToMost

    Only team in Cleveland worth getting excited about right now. Go Tribe!

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Count me in the camp of fans that refuses to get hung up on how early it is in the season. This team is playing great ball, and I am going to enjoy it as long as I can.

    I agree with Mark…why not the Indians? It’s not like anyone in the AL Central is going to get so hot that they win 110 games or anything.

    With this type of start, 5KMD is exactly right. They only need to win 4 out of every 7 games the rest of the way to run away with this division.

    The magic number sits at 153!!! Go Tribe!!

  • 5KMD

    Gotta do well against the central this year. The unbalanced schedule makes it almost impossible to win the division otherwise.

  • stin4u

    I’m anxious to see how this team performs against a non-stinker in LAA. Still cautiously optimistic over here.

  • 216in614

    I haven’t felt this good since the browns beat the saints/patriots. For now lets just enjoy watching this team bring in the spring in style and not worry about how early it is or if they are contenders.

  • Harv 21

    @ C-bus: “They only need to win 4 out of every 7 games the rest of the way to run away with this division.”

    The most perfect Cleveland fan statement ever. Not being snide. You’ve cracked open our skulls and spewed our sad longing onto the cold steel table. Should be an italicized quote under the name of this blog, all year round.

    You. Are. Cleveland. Fan. Now, please sponge that thought up, slide it back into my cranium and re-suture. And I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Well put Harv…I’ll take that as a compliment.

    Isn’t that all of sports fandom really? Rationalizing the Irrational. The fact of the matter is that, in the long run, my life will remain relatively unchanged whether or not the team is any good, but for some reason, it just feels better to imagine scenarios in which they succeed.

    Actually, I think my “4 out of every 7″ statements is probably the most unhealthy part of my earlier remarks. That sounds like the incoherent ramblings of a gambling addict.

  • http://www.heyhokie.com Vengeful Pat

    I agree that the Indians need to beat other teams in the central division to challenge for a playoff spot. That’ll be the true test for this team. I love what I’ve seen so far, and I’m allowing myself to get excited. Certain guys look like they’ve “figured it out” so far… particularly Brantley, Masterson, Tomlin, and even LaPorta is having good at-bats.

  • Lyon

    Agree with #10. The key is always the division. If we come out and win the series against those guys, we’d have to play pretty bad to not atleast contend for the title.

  • Lyon

    and by title i mean the division title.

  • NJ

    It’ll be interesting to see how this hot start translates in terms of home attendance figures.

  • Stinkfist

    In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar

  • Anthony

    It’s gonna be so sad when Jack Hanahan and some of the guys come back down to earth. I’m not saying that we’re gonna go back to ’09 form, but come on you know Hanahan won’t hit all year like he is now. Look at his career numbers.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    I don’t expect Jack Hanahan to keep playing the way he has but who knows, once upon a time we got lucky with a 4A player named Casey Blake. Even if Hanahan’s bat cools he’s a darn good defender. Hanahan’s job is to be solid enough to give Chisenhall time to develop in Triple A. If the Chiz hits like Santana did in Triple A last year and forces himself into the picture great. Right now it’s certainly not a concern.

    We’re looking at two big roster moves though in the next few days with Grady and Smith due back. Travis Buck hasn’t done much yet and Duncan did ok against Seattle over the weekend so I have no clue as to who gets bumped once Grady comes back. Buck can play 1B so that might be to his advantage. Given Joe Smith’s salary I imagine once he’s ready he’ll bump my cousin Vinny or Frank the Tank back to Columbus.

    I hope Brantley stays in the leadoff spot once Grady gets back and to be honest, I’d like to see him stay in CF too. LF would be easier on Grady’s knee and I’ve always been curious as to how he’d hit in the 3 hole. Then you can drop Choo, Carlos and Pronk down. Would be a darn fine middle of the lineup.

  • ClemJax

    I’m taking a two part approach to the team right now…loving watching them play solid winning baseball in pretty much all parts of the game, while at the same time saying talk to me at the end of April. By then, we’ll have played through the division once (including two series against the just-as-hot starting Royals), gone up against the similarly surprising O’s, as well as giving us a better feel for the rest of the teams we’ve played (i.e., how good are the Red Sox really?). With they way they’re playing so far, there’s probably a bit of coming back to earth to expect, but it might not be as big of a correction as feared, and the schedule for the rest of the month shapes up well to point towards what we could expect.

  • 5KMD

    At least Acta is trying to win every game in the moment. Wedge always seem to think the long season would just naturally figure itself out.

  • http://www.heyhokie.com Vengeful Pat

    @21, I don’t think 1B will be a consideration, so I think Buck will get dropped if he can’t start hitting. Duncan is just as proficient at first base as Buck is. I think the biggest reason that Buck would get dropped is because Sizemore is a left-handed bat, just like Buck. Duncan and Kearns are right-handed. I’m with you on Brantley staying in the leadoff spot. Sizemore puts up respectable OBP numbers most of the time, but his slugging percentage seems like it would be more valuable further down in the batting order. And besides that, I wouldn’t want Acta to mess with a good thing. I say slide Sizemore in at the #7 spot and let him prove his way up.

  • http://www.heyhokie.com Vengeful Pat

    @21 Correction… Buck has never played 1B in the majors, so Duncan is certainly more proficient, even though he’s only played 29 games there.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    Thanks Vengeful Pat. The Tribe seemed pretty high on Buck coming out of camp but I think you’re probably right on Duncan being more secure. Acta commented that he’s told Kearns and Duncan that he wanted Buck to get some AB’s. Last I looked he was like 3 for 17 or 3 for 19. Terry Pluto noted that they think Buck is pressing. I’m sure he is knowing he has a small window of opportunity. Whether it’s Buck or Duncan, I just hope they have someone who can play 1B regularly should LaPorta have any injuries or worse, flop.

    I’m anxious to see tonight’s game. Talbot had the worst start during the winning streak and I really hope like the other starters not named Masterson and Tomlin that he can improve tonight.

  • http://www.heyhokie.com Vengeful Pat

    Yeah I’m with you on that RR… if LaPorta doesn’t pan out at 1B, then we don’t really have a good plan B at this point. And agreed, Talbot wasted a ton of pitches in his first start… need to see him improve his control in tonight’s outing.

  • christopher

    @ Pat

    i agree that Grady needs to start out in the bottom of the order; in no way do i want to see the lineup from Asdrubal all the way to Orlando touched. Even though Choo is starting off cold the middle of the lineup (asdrubal, choo, santana, pronk, orlando) is producing basehits and RBI’s…exactly what the middle of the order should do.

    throwing grady in at #1 or #2 just because he’s “grady” (which lets be honest has never REALLY panned out) makes no sense on the other players.

    last in addition to Duncan being a right handed bat in our HEAVY left handed lineup he is also a much better pinch hitter than Buck and will hang on for that reason as well.

  • guyritz

    100% agree Pat/Christopher… Sizemore should be down at the 7 while he works his way back in. No reason to mess with 1-6 right now until grady forces his way back to the top (or 2/3)

  • Ben

    Plan B if Laporta does not pan out this year: If Marson hits at least .250 he takes over and Santana moves to 1B.

    Problem solved. I look at this year as a competition between Laporta and Marson.

  • http://gravatar.com PayDaMan

    Santana to 1B and Lavisky to C. Problem Solved!

  • bobby

    OR Laporta hits a 3-run HR and theres no problem.

  • christopher

    Anyone else think its time for open threads for Indians games?

    Oh and how much longer til the steroid commission pays a visit to the wahoo locker room?

    fear.the.tribe

  • http://gravatar.com PayDaMan

    @Christopher

    Stubal better be masking the juice!