Some Tribe Notes on the Biggest Stretch of the Season

The funeral pyre is lit, and I’m hearing the elegies out in full-force for a season gone by the wayside.  I don’t buy it.  This next 15 days will be fun.  The rest of the season will be fun.  Here are some of the storylines I’ll be following.

The remaining games in August are (1) eminently winnable and (2) largely against the AL Central.  I know this last road trip was rough.  But we were playing some great teams, and we still managed to play pretty well, if you ask me.  The starters looked good, and the offense capable.  More on the bullpen in a minute.

But for the rest of the month we have the following murderer’s row: DET, MIN, CWS, DET, SEA, KC, OAK.  That’s a decent stretch of winnable games, and with our next 12 games all coming against division foes, we have plenty of time to make up some ground before heading into the September stretch run.

Even more than that, guess how many non-division teams we play for the rest of the season with a winning record.  Go on, guess.

Try one: the Texas Rangers in the middle of September.

Is Carlos Carrasco Really Hurt? I’ll go on record saying that I think he is not.  This reeks of classic roster manipulation, at its finest.  There are two reasons to put Carrasco on the DL even if he’s not really hurt: innings limits for young pitchers and David Huff’s incipient resurgence.  Placing Carrasco on the DL allows the Indians to slot David Huff into the back of the rotation (who has pitched well in his few starts this year), while simultaneously limiting the innings-load on Carrasco’s arm. I wrote last week about the Indians’ hesitance to use Carrasco’s last option to send him down so late in the season.  This DL move solves all the problems.  I could be wrong, but the Indians’ Front Office has been savvy (deceitful?) enough about these sorts of things in the past to convince me that they’re lining their ducks up for the playoff push.  I’m betting Carrasco comes back to the bullpen in September.

Shin-Soo Choo is Superman, and other Outfield Thoughts. I was at the Lake County Captains game on Sunday night, where Choo took batting practice in anticipation of his rehab start.  Apparently his 10-12 week rehab won’t be necessary, as we’re only six weeks removed from his broken thumb and he’s already chomping at the bit to return.  Read Anthony Castrovince’s piece if you haven’t.  Now tell me you don’t love Shin-Soo Choo.  Go ahead, try.

I would guess that upon Choo’s return, Fukudome moves to center and Brantley stays in left, but those two could be flip-flopped.  I love Brantley’s defense in left, but find it particularly lacking in center, if you care about my opinion on these sorts of things.

I also think that there is a possibility that we’ve seen Grady Sizemore play his last game as a Cleveland Indian.  This makes me all sort of sad to even write, and I’m not suggesting it’s a fait accompli by any stretch.  Just that it’s possible.  And the possibility is enough to make me sad.

About that Crummy Bullpen. There is no more painful loss in baseball than a late-inning, blown lead.  That goes without saying.  The fact that we had four such losses on our last road-trip is therefore, particularly painful.  Especially since we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s Dogs to believe that all late-inning leads are safe; our bullpen has been that good this season.

But they haven’t really.  Our bullpen has been plenty lucky, but that’s not to be confused with absolute dominance.  Check out these ranks, out of 14 AL teams:

Indians AL Rank
ERA 3.52 6th
FIP 3.73 5th
K/9 7.27 6th
BB/9 3.16 3rd
HR/9 0.85 7th
WHIP 1.26 2nd
K/BB 2.30 4th

Better in WHIP than any other stat?  That would suggest to me that they’re letting up fewer base hits than the average bear.  And sure enough, their BABiP (batting average on balls in play) is well below league average, at .277, suggesting some degree of good luck on batted balls.

This isn’t to say that they’re bound to continue to struggle as they did last week—far from it.  This is a talented bunch.  But being surprised when Joe Smith (xFIP 3.55) and Chris Perez (5.75 K/9!) hit a few speedbumps?*  Well, I guess we all sorta knew that we had some holes back there, right?  RIGHT?  Let’s move on, if we can.

*For the record, Vinnie Pestano is by far our best bullpen arm, and not using him on Sunday night was….well….it was a shame to let Joe Smith do what he did.  Enough said.

The point is, the bullpen isn’t the best in the League, but they’re not bound to continue struggling as they have.  Unless, of course, you believe that psychology is playing a major role here—that they’re so emotionally broken that they can’t get themselves out of their rut.

But if you do believe that, try taking it easy on the Twitter, huh?  That’d be nice.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    “Funeral pyre” for a season going “by the wayside?!” Seriously!?!?!?! Considering that most people I knew (including me) was expecting a 90-100 loss season, this is just ludicrous. I’ve enjoyed watching this team get better, watching this pitching build on the second half of last season, and will not let such negativism define my experience. Yeah, the Indians are struggling now, but given how young most of the everyday players are and how unexpected the pennant drive has been, I look at this season more like ’94 or ’03-’04 when the team was realizing what they can do if they improve.

    In other words, I’ll be disappointed next year if it’s warranted.

    Go Tribe!

  • REEPJP

    The rest of August’s schedule similarly resembles the schedule the middle of April through middle of May…here’s to hoping our team’s play follows suit!

  • Vengeful Pat

    Jon, your sensibility has no place within these walls. The Indians are a dive-bombing piece of hot mess and we’re all jumping off without parachutes before the engines explode.

  • mgbode

    Masterson, Ubaldo rack up wins against Detroit. And, then we have every player bunt against Verlander until he cracks.

    Bam! Down to a 1 game deficit.

  • JM

    Not gonna lie it’s been a real fun season. But when they are only 4 games out I don’t see how anyone can use the “Well they weren’t supposed to contend this year so wait til next year.” I would love to see this team in the playoffs because of how much trouble they gave the Yankees, Sox, and Rangers this season. Who wants to play a team with pitchers like Masterson and Tomlin leading the way and a suddenly resurgent offense? Go Tribe for 2011!

  • Chucky Brown

    my optimism has worn off

    there is the thought that the the 30-15 start was a bit of a mirage

    since that time they have been exactly who we thought they were supposed to be

    this team has not been all that competetive since May, and I dont plan on the Central being this down next year. We may have a hard time competing with the Royals for a mid spot in the division in 2012

    I do like Masterson and Tomlin and think Huff may emerge a s competent 3, but I dont think Jimenez will be any better then a .500 picher (at best). I still dont trust the offense moving forward.

    I just cant buy into the hopefulness

    yes I am a grizzled, soiled lifelong Cleveland sports fan

  • Ghost To Most

    You know, I havent heard anything about Grady in recent weeks. Are they expecting him to play again this year? Not sure how I would feel about Fukudome in center, Ive heard he didnt do so well playing center in Chicago.

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo

    A bit surprised by the news of Carrasco to the DL, but that just means Austin Kearns lives to fight another day!

    Wait, that’s not a good thing.

    Certainly not ready to give up on the season, but not sold on the “easy” part of the schedule either. The series vs. Toronto and Baltimore that bracketed the All-Star break was supposed to be easy, and the Tribe went 3-5. Same with the Royals a couple of weekends ago (1-2).

    Right now, with this Tribe team, nothing is easy.

  • http://exiledclevelander.wordpress.com AMC

    Jon – Acta needed to save Pestano for the 9th inning due to a potential save situation and Perez being unavailable after pitching 3 straight days. Smith was clearly the next best right handed arm available.

  • mgbode

    @Titus – you forgot about splitting a 4game set with the Twins too.

  • Garry Owen

    One axiom that I learned a few years ago that sticks with me today, particularly in the context of the Tribe’s bullpen, is that “the enemy always has a voice in how a battle goes.”

    With that in mind, I am not at all fatalistic about what happened with our bullpen last week. Those Boston and Texas lineups are no bush league lineups. It’s tough to face those hitters day after day and expect the bullpen to just be the great bullpen that they have been. The Red Sox and Rangers had a voice in how those games went, and those voices just happened to have been stronger than ours. We’ll be okay (as far as the bullpen is concerned).

  • JNeids

    We finish out the season with 17 games in 16 days thanks to 2 rainout makeups. As much as I love exciting finishes, that kind of nonstop stretch can wear out even the best teams. Would be nice to have a slight lead as we go into it. Here’s still hopin’…

    Roll Tribe!

  • Anthony

    I think we’re officially in that “middle ground” everyone was speaking of after the tribe collapsed. Not as good as the April/May tribe, but not as bad as the June/July tribe. We seem to be getting it together a little.