Wahoo! What a Weekend

Here are the facts:

1. Your Cleveland Indians have the best record in baseball at 19-8.

2. They have the biggest lead of any division leader in baseball (along with Colorado), 4.5 games.

3. They have won a whopping 13 games in a row at Progressive Field.

4. They have 10 game leads on the Twins and the White Sox.

Most importantly, they are showing no signs of slowing down after a three-game sweep of division rival Detroit over the weekend. Unlike the majority of their wins early, the Indians came back in all three games to win late. The bullpen again was nails. The clutch hitting continued to appear at the right times. Dare I say it – The “Jacobs Field Magic” is back. So lets dive right in.

The finishes in all three games were something special. Friday night, Carlos Santana hit a walk-off Grand Slam in the bottom of the ninth off of the Tigers big free agent signing Joaquin Benoit. On Saturday night it was Orlando Cabrera’s 13th inning walk-off RBI single that won it for the Tribe. On Sunday, trailing by one in the bottom of the eighth, the offense provided three runs including the go-ahead single by Michael Brantley again off of Benoit. Nothing like signing a career journeyman after his one great year to a three-year, $16.5 million deal and having him implode twice in one weekend against the first place team.

Interestingly, the Tigers starting pitching in all three game stymied the Indians for the first seven innings or so. It was that fourth time through the order when the Tribe did their biggest damage. They scored seven of their nine runs Friday night in the seventh inning and beyond. On Sunday, the biggest three runs of the game came in the bottom of the eighth. That is what has to be most frustrating this morning if you are a Tiger fan. Also keep in mind, the Tribe took all three games without a single at-bat from DH Travis Hafner.

But there is no accounting for the Jacobs Field Magic.

Have Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo turned the corner? The Indians have turned the page to a new month in the calendar and while the wins are there, Santana and Choo are probably ready for a fresh start. The middle of the order bats struggled mightily through the first month, but over the last week, both have shown signs of breaking out.

Choo hit .409 (9-22) with two homers, five RBIs, and four stolen bases over the last week. He has really started to look more locked in and comfortable at the plate, which is so important to the team’s success.

Santana on the other hand, has been a tad slower to come around. He did hit three homers this week and is swinging with more confidence. Carlos still is under the Mendoza line (.191) but he is in a three-way lead for most RBIs on the team (17) with Orlando Cabrera and Asdrubal Cabrera. They say battling average is an overrated stat, but he is one that will grab you. Despite hitting under .200, Santana is hitting .304 with runners in scoring position.

The Alex White debut was a success. Heading into this big series with the Tigers, the starting pitching matchups for Friday and Saturday looked like potential mismatches. The Tigers were sending young studs Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to the hill, while the Tribe was countering with Jeanmar Gomez and White, making his Major League debut.

The Tribe stole Friday night’s game after being unable to touch Scherzer for the first six innings. On Saturday, the results were similar against Porcello, except this time, White was matching him pitch for pitch.

The Tribe’s #1 pick in 2009 got the call to replace the injured Carlos Carrasco in the rotation and as he told the media, he just wanted to come in and do his job quietly.

“My goal coming in was to really just be invisible,” said White. “This team is playing so well, I didn’t want to affect that.”

In what can be described as a successful debut, White pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs (on solo homers) on six hits. Hitting as high as 97 on the gun, White struck out four, but walked four as well. He didn’t look like an overwhelmed rookie either.

“I was more nervous at breakfast yesterday morning,” White said on Sunday.

He will get another crack this week in Anaheim against the Angels.

This bullpen continues to impress. It doesn’t seem to matter who Manny Acta goes to out of the pen these days, its working. Take Saturday’s 3-2, 13 inning marathon win. Five players (Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp) combined to pitch seven scoreless frames.

The pen worked overtime during the three wins. Closer Chris Perez pitched in all three games, notching a win and a save. Raffy Perez has still yet to allow an earned run this season. Tony Sipp, after a couple of spotty appearances last week, was huge Saturday pitching two scoreless, earning the win. Vinnie Pestano has allowed just one earned run in 12 appearances. This pen is deep from both sides with a power closer at the back.

The Sabathia trade crew comes up big. Its been said that Matt LaPorta and Brantley must become big time regular contributors to this team or the CC trade will be a colossal failure. While Brantley has looked great as an undisputed outfield starter for the first time in his young career, LaPorta has had an up and down time over the last year and a half.

Given the first base job everyday, LaPorta has decent job, especially over the last two weeks. If someone had told you that LaPorta and Choo would have the same number of home runs and RBIs ater the first 27 games, wouldn’t you have taken that in a heartbeat? I know I would have.

Both have four homers and 15 RBIs. He drove in the first two runs yesterday with a two-out, RBI double in the second that tied the game.

Brantley, who was moved down to the seven spot with the return of Grady Sizemore, has done nothing but hit since the beginning of the season. His solo homer in the sixth tied the game on Saturday night, and his RBI single in the eighth yesterday was the go-ahead run. Brantley has been terrific no matter where he plays in the outfield and no matter where he hits in the order.

Up next for the Tribe is a second trip to the west coast (the schedule makers in MLB do the strangest things). They start Tuesday in Oakland for three games before heading back to Anaheim for a second time over the weekend.

(photo via Chuck Crow/PD – perhaps my new favorite picture. Look at how happy they all are.)

  • yerfdog

    this start is unreal…. the tribe is consistently awesome

  • TribeFan

    We need to get over the hump with Minnesota and Chicago still. Brantley has been FANTASTIC! Perhaps the best hitter on our team.

    One other thing (stating the obvious) – Choo and Sizemore have got to work on making contact. You can’t strike out on three pitches with a guy on third and less than two out

  • 5KMD

    Wish that the Twins could have taken at least 1 from KC over the weekend.

  • JNeids

    Great pic, great article, great team. I love Shelley Duncan in that picture, seems to have jumped a second early, but that is Duncan for ya. He looks like Matthew Lillard on ‘roids, and just as “smart.” But I do love me some Duncan – I think we would have won Saturday’s game 3 innings earlier if Acta had brought him in for Kearns. And on Sunday, when he was coming home and didn’t know whether to slide or slam the catcher, he ended up just biting it.

    Roll Tribe!

  • Lyon

    Speaking of Hafner, any word on his injury? How long is he likely to be out. This is strange, but I actually want the guy to play. Shows how far he’s come in the last couple years.

  • PNR

    What a great weekend of baseball. When the cascading news of Talbot, Carrasco, and Hafner hit me, I was thinking, “oh god.” Teams as lean and thin as the Tribe can’t afford injuries to three starters.

    But this team just keeps on winning.

  • Ron from Akron

    WARNING! Do not get involed with this team! This is a fantastic start and my son is already got sky high hopes. I have been a Cleveland sports fan since 1955 and I know one thing…..this will end badly.

    Sorry for the downer…I’ll go watch the Bin Laden news. That’ll perk me up.

  • Lyon

    thanks Ron. I will heed your warning and not watch sports anymore b/c teams have lost before.

  • yerfdog

    lol Lyon

  • REEPJP

    @Ron….so we probably shouldn’t get out of bed each day either right? Everyone dies at some point, so it must not be worth our while to live out our lives while we’re still ticking….

  • Mike E

    I dont’ think Ron from Akron should be allowed to post on here, as realistic as his post may be, not a good read on a monday morning after the Tribe get their 5th sweep (one more than they had all last year!).

  • forrealmccoy

    @ron… I see you’re from Akron so why don’t you make like #6 and take your non talents to Miami

  • bobby

    Im impressed. I have been watching the past few games and its been great. You always haev the feeling that they can win this. Its not like in the past when if they got down you didnt expect them to make the play. Even in 07 they werent getting this clutch hitting. The pitching has been stellar, the defense has been near the top of the league, and players are at their best because if they arent theres someone right behind them that will step up. Terrific. (just hoping this injury bug slows)

  • brwnsgrl

    Why do we always have to have a Debbie Downer comment? I am thrilled with our first month of baseball – haven’t enjoyed watching this much since the middle of 2007. I especially enjoyed watching Duncan running full speed down the third baseline yesterday to score the winning run. Thought the guy was gonna have a heart attack.

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    I’m loving it and trying not to think about the long haul. Just having fun being excited about Indians baseball in May for the first time in… I can’t even remember. It was especially nice to sweep a high-priced rival.

  • Paul

    While I am as high on the tribe as most others here, I feel I need to come to the defense of Ron. We all have been hurt by our sports teams in Cleveland. It sounds like his past wounds have not scabbed over yet. I can understand why he is not ready to jump on board yet. We all forget/forgive/heal at different speeds. Just don’t wait too long Ron and miss the fun.

  • Mike E

    Should not defend Ron, being a Clevo fan, you see your teams lose more often than not. So when a team is doing good, enjoy it.

  • GhostToMost

    Love how this team is playing, but a couple things still concern me.

    Santana is hitting homers and driving in runs, but the batting average is still awful. I hate to bag on the guy because he had some huge hits this weekend, but how long can we get by with our cleanup hitter batting .191?

    Love Chris Perez like everyone else, but I think I would love him more if he was a setup guy and not the closer. Pure Rage hasnt exactly been lights out lately. Couple of deep fly balls against Perez this weekend that just missed leaving the park. That said, I dont know if there is anyone else in the organization capable of closing, so he may have to do.

    On a more positive note, it was great to see LaPorta come up with some timely hits this weekend.

  • stevo

    It seems to me that the teams that have won recently have bought in and started believing in themselves early on. Why should we not do the same? I am tired of always having to curb my enthusiasm and excitement. I truly believe that this attitude is infectious, affects our teams, and perpeutates their failure. It’s time for a change. I’m not saying they are going to the World Series, but DAMMIT let’s enjoy the ride! GO TRIBE!

  • Painesville

    Shelley.
    Duncan.

    That is all.

  • 5KMD

    “Santana is hitting homers and driving in runs, but the batting average is still awful. I hate to bag on the guy because he had some huge hits this weekend, but how long can we get by with our cleanup hitter batting .191?”

    Ghost, batting average is the most overrated offensive statistic out there. Kind of like wins for pitchers. Santana is still walking and getting on base and is doing well with RISP.

  • Boqueesha

    #18 if he keeps hitting over .300 with RISP and keeps up all the walks I don’t care how long his avg sits at .191

  • mgbode

    it is May 2nd and the Tribe has the best record in MLB.

    just needed to be said. enjoy (I am) :)

  • Pingback: The Indians Help Me Ignore the NBA Playoffs | WaitingForNextYear()

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    I think the trick is: we don’t have to set our expectations so super high right now (it is, after all, May 2) so as not to enjoy this team RIGHT NOW because of fear of what might happen in August. Baseball is such a long season…

    In other words, I know I wasn’t expecting 19 wins on May 1. I still am not ready to print playoff tickets. That said, how can you not watch each game as a still-life snapshot and just enjoy the way this team plays? The stark contrast between the Tribe’s chemistry this weekend and the other 24 guys on Detroit’s roster wishing they could tell Miguel Cabrera to cram it was illuminating.

    Summary: enjoy the moment. Don’t worry about assigning long-term success/failure results to a team that’s 27 games into a 162-game season. Just enjoy watching them play right now. We haven’t seen anything quite like it in a long time here.

  • GhostToMost

    @21 & 22

    If Matt LaPorta was hitting .191 and batting cleanup, somehow I dont think anyone would make the “batting average is overrated” argument. And by the way, LaPorta has a higher OBP and OPS than Santana. In fact, Santana’s OPS is the same as Orlando Cabrera at .706

    Just saying.

    Its good that Carlos is walking and driving in runs, but the average has got to come up.

    Santana is on pace to drive in 100 runs, but these things have a way of evening themselves out over 162 games. He aint gonna drive in 100 runs if he keeps hitting below .200. I wouldnt even be b*tching if he was batting 7th or 8th, I’s say “hey our #7 hitter has 17 RBI’s, thats great”. But, again I dont want to harp on him too much because he’s doing good things for us, .191 isnt going to cut it in the cleanup spot.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    In some shred of fairness to Santana, his *did* miss the entire second half of last season with a knee injury. I’ll give him more than a month to get his timing back.

  • GhostToMost

    @27

    Thats all fine and dandy, but teams typically don’t *win* division titles with a cleanup hitter who puts up a line of .191/.324/.706

    In some shred of fairness to the team, we need better production out of the 4 spot.

    I aint saying bench him, or send him to AAA, or trade him for a bag of peanuts. Im just saying hes gotta do better if he wants to hit 4th. Thats all.

  • Du

    I agree completely…It really feels like that old magic is back. You just always have that feeling they are going to pull it out. Love the makeup of this team too.

    O-Cab is the man too.

    I think I saw something where he has played for like 8 different teams over the last 9 years and all but one of the teams have made the playoffs.

  • Boqueesha

    #26 I’d make the same argument for LaPorta if he was hitting .300+ with RISP and batting .191. Cleanup hitter is there to drive runs in. I don’t care how it happens but if it’s happening they’re doing their job. He leads the team in walks and is tied for the lead in RBI and dingers…how can a team worry about a cleanup hitter that does that?

    I’d love to see him with a better .avg but what he’s done so far I don’t think deserves any kind of worrying.

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    Amazing what momentum and confidence can do to a team of young “nobodys”. That embarrassing loss to the White Sox seems so… last season.
    I am, as always trying to remain level-headed and not get too excited (right Ron?) After all, ESPN likes to beat into my head that rarely do division leaders in April/May WIN the division. Translation: the rest of the world thinks this is just a really amusing fluke.

    and maybe that’s what we need ‘em think.

    Cautiously optimistic, wearing a huge bulletproof vest over my bitter heart.

  • mgbode

    @Ghost – I agree.

    Except that I don’t want to mess with the chemistry we have in our lineup right now. We have some sort of ‘magic’ and I don’t want to mess it up. It’s not rational, pure superstition, but let’s not drop him in the lineup after the weekend we just had.

  • 5KMD

    Ghost, I’d still say batting average is overrated because it is.

    The only thing more overrated is arguing over a particular lineup. It’s been proven that it doesn’t really mean all that much although you do want your best 3 hitters at 1, 2 and 4.

    Now the question to you is, do you feel Carlos is one of our best 3 hitters over the long haul. If you say “no” then I’ll buy what you are selling.

  • HRD53

    Shelley Duncan has the potential for folk lore status here in Cleveland… My dad and I kept on replaying him falling on his face for the winning run… The man has all of the grace of an elephant on roller skates, but he plays as hard as anyone i’ve ever seen. And in Cleveland, thats just the sort of guy that we love…

  • Boqueesha

    #34 hahahah my dad and I were just talking about that flop of his. It’s a shame there was no play at the plate…I’d love to see him drop a shoulder into someone…or just dive headfirst into them.

  • GhostToMost

    @33

    I dont know if he is one of our best hitters over the long haul. He could be, a lot of people ASSUME that he is, but I havent seen it yet. The potential is there, but a lot of guys clobber the ball at AAA and become very ordinary big league players. We shall see.

    You said it yourself, you want your 3 best hitters at 1,2, and 4.

    Is he one of our 3 best hitters right now? No, he isnt.

    Im not saying “he can never hit cleanup”, Im only saying that he’s gotta earn that spot. Its one thing if David Ortiz is your cleanup guy and hitting .191, thats a proven commodity and you know eventually hes going to come around. People talk about Santana like he deserves the same type of patience that you would give to a 5 time all star.

    Santana has 239 career at bats and a .234 average, give me one good reason why he SHOULD be hitting cleanup right now. Again, this is a young player trying to establish himself, not a proven commodity. But because Carlos tore the cover off the ball last June, a number of people made up their minds that he was the second coming of whoever, they will argue any point against him because they want so badly to be right. Santana is our cleanup guy, will be for the next 10 years, period end of discussion. People dont want to hear anything else.

    Nobody defended LaPorta like this, nobody. Because we got him in the Sabathia trade everyone expected him to tear the cover off the ball, and when he didnt, he was promptly thrown under the bus. Santana could go 0-fer on this next roadtrip and be hitting .150 when we return home, and people will still point to his walks and whatever else and say that we need to be patient.

    Bring the batting average up, or get dropped a few spots in the lineup. I dont see what is so offensive about that, especially with a guy who has all of 239 at bats on his resume. Let him PROVE that he cant hit like a cleaup guy before we cement his name into the 4 spot. Is that too much to ask? I dont think it is.

    The one valid argument that Ive seen for leaving him where he is from MgBode, with our record where it is I can see why you wouldnt want to tinker with the lineup too much. But over the longhaul, I can see .191 out of the cleanup spot becoming a big deal.

    But like I said, he is doing good things for the team and helping us win games. But, if he continues to hit under the Mendoza line I would like to see Manny drop him in the order. Again, thats all.

  • NJ

    Fangraphs had an interesting article last week about how disciplined Santana is at the plate. They looked at his swing % both in and out of the zone. Crack for a stat head. For non-dorks, the long short of it: the guy is exteremly patient at the plate. He draws walk and swings at good pitches. Both of which are very, very good things. He also has an unfortunate .185 BABIP which won’t last.

    Lets not forget that it’s been one month. Sampling size and all that. I understand the concern, especially since Santan doesn’t have a track record at the major league level, but all evidence, both statistical and empirical, suggest he is a really, really good hitter. Or at least he has the right approach.

    I don’t like the thought using the most recent stats to play musical chairs with the batting order. Plug, play, reevaluate in June.

  • Rick14

    The game on Saturday was amazing, it shows how good the teamwork really is because the main players (Hafner, and Seizmore) were not in play and the team still did amazing. Says we can go far with our best players out of play.

  • http://waitingfornextyear JoeShmofromCleveOhio

    Why is it that everytime something good happens there are those that try to beat you down.Ron,the Indians are winning and thats a good thing.Perhaps they let you down in the past who haven’t they let down?.Heck I have been hurt enough by their play at least 50 times but I also remember the great teams of ’95,’97 and ’07.I see how they are playing these day’s with a refuse to lose mentality and toughness.All I ask of you is give this team a chance at least 40 games as a barometer in how they will play the remainder of the season.Can I get a HELL YEAH in here?..Go Tribe in 2011!.

  • Believelander

    I felt TD sort of missed the interesting thing about Santana, and @28, you found it and missed it at the same time. Carlos Santana has a .324 obp, which is average. He is hitting below the Mendoza line, yet somehow managing to get on base with the league average.

    What this says? Pitchers still refuse to pitch to him. This is eerily similar to his stat line last year – when he went down with the knee injury, he was batting .260 with an OBP of .401. 401. Really? Wow.

    Not saying he’s better than anyone, his BA certainly needs to go up. But he’s somehow posting the same OBP as Asdrubal and Orlando Cabrera, who are considered to be hitting fairly well. He’s got plenty of RBIs right now, and frankly, when the gloves come off and people can’t choose to simply pitch around him and try to nibble him out with backdoor breaking balls and perfectly painted fastballs, with RISP, he’s batting over .300.

    Carlos will learn how to deal with pitchers giving him the wide berth and lots of respect that they’re giving him. The fact that they’re so willing to walk a guy who’s batting under .200 (18 walks to 17 hits) just shows that guys would rather put Carlos Santana on first than throw him -anything- worth swinging at. The good news is twofold:

    1> most rookies swing at the crap that guys are feeding him, Carlos is showing exceptional discipline and vision to draw a lot of walks, and

    2> Pitchers fear pitching to a kid with 71 total games played at the MLB level.

    He’s slumping. That’s for sure. But he’ll learn to hit the cruddy pitches he’s getting a steady dose of. Or he won’t, and they’ll have to make a decision with him. But personally, I think that he will. Carlos is going through a crucible that most players don’t go through until they’re several years pro. How many seasons did we enjoy watching pitchers disrespect Shin-Soo Choo only to get burned for it, before they started pitching cautiously to him? He’s just now getting the sort of full-time treatment that Santana is. Except he’s been a full time starter for 3 seasons, and in the bigs for 8. Not including this one.

    Oh, and his OBP is 2 points lower than Santana’s.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    Believelander:

    You’re stealing my post for tomorrow. Hush up.

  • barry

    laporta is finally healthy has improved his BB/K ratio over his time in the majors – did the same thing in the minors went from 1:3 to 1:2 to almost 1:1. he’s on pace to hit 28 HR’s with 100 RBI’s over 600 AB’s. hitting EIGHTH. he’s fine.

    FIVE indians starters did not play full seasons last year due to injuries or recovery: sizemore hafner ACab laporta and santana – all CORE guys. how could you not expect some sort of improvement?

    injuries and interleague play hurt the indians the most last year. let’s see how the indians do against the NL and re-evaluate then.

  • TD’s father in law

    TD-nice pitch for LaPorta- don’t forget about T Buck, love the pitching.