April 17, 2014

Tribe Weekend Wrapup: The Offense is Alive

At this time Thursday, Indians fans all over Cleveland were very concerned about the state of the offense. It was clear that the Tribe front office was feeling the same way as they went out and signed 38-year old Johnny Damon. We were all thinking doom and gloom. Yet here we are on Monday morning, feeling completely different and much better about our Wahoos.

Baseball is an amazing game. A team that couldn’t catch a break or come up with the big hit to save their lives over the first five games, suddenly caught fire and turned into a run-scoring juggernaut. The three-game sweep in Kansas City started with a seven-run first inning on Friday and ended with the Tribe hitting back to back eighth inning homers Sunday. Maybe all they needed was the threat of the Damon signing to wake up. Whatever it did, it worked. The Indians are back to .500 at 4-4 and the vibes in Wahooland are positive.

So what worked this weekend in Kansas City? What didn’t? Lets take a look back as we do each Monday morning.

It’s Alive….ALIVE!!!!! How does a team that can’t get out of their own way the first week of the season, change into the ’95 Tribe for a weekend? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this Tribe lineup. It has taken a little time for things to click and maybe, just maybe, we have seen the start of an improvement or at least an awakening from the offense.

Here are the numbers:

  • The Indians scored 32 runs in three games. They scored 20 in the first five.
  • They came into the weekend with a team batting average of .176. Then they went  out and hit .333 (40-120) during the three game sweep.
  • The home run parade continued. They hit six homers to bring their season total to 15, best in Major League Baseball. This coming from a team who really has no true power threat in the lineup other than Travis Hafner.
  • Casey Kotchman hit two homers this weekend. No, that is not a misprint.

And speaking of Pronk…. How about that moon shot he hit yesterday? The 456-foot bomb that cleared the bleachers in right and into restaurant was his second of the year. The other was a Mezzanine level shot Wednesday at Progressive Field. We’ve heard all spring that this is the most healthy Hafner has been in years and his game restrictions have been fully lifted. It has shown thus far. He’s gone 7-24 (.292/.393/.976) with two homers and five RBIs in six games. If Travis can stay healthy – which is a big if – and continues on this path, the Indians will be in for a gigantic advantage. It has been a good four years since the Indians have been able to count on regular production from Pronk. But two weeks in, he looks terrific.

A healthy Choo is a good Choo. Last year, we never were able to see that budding star that Choo had become. Injuries and the DUI arrest robbed him of the entire 2011 season. The success of this season hinges of Choo’s return to his 2009/2010 form. Like the rest of the team, he started slowly, but caught fire this weekend. He had four hits and six big RBIs during the three-game sweep, including the game-winning two-out RBI double in Saturday night’s 11-9 extra inning W. This came in the same game where he was hit once again by a pitch from Royals lefty Jonathan Sanchez, the same pitcher who broke Choo’s thumb last summer with a pitch in San Francisco. He took umbrage with the lefty, telling him to “throw the ball over the plate” as he walked down the line slowly (more on that in a little). Choo would get his revenge in the 10th, putting the death knell in the Royals comeback.

Choo’s impact on this offense cannot be overstated. He is the linch-pin in the middle of that lineup. It was great to see him come alive in Kansas City. The Sanchez pitch may have lit a fire under him.

You wanna talk about fire, lets talk about Jack Hannahan. Or maybe from now on we should refer to him as “Jack Freaking Hannahan.” As you have all heard and seen by now, after Choo was hit by that Sanchez pitch, it was Hannahan who was leading the charge and getting in the face of the Royals starter. Then after Indians starter Jeanmar Gomez hit Mike Moustakas with the first pitch to start the bottom of the third and was immediately tossed, Hannahan became a house of fire, going right after Moustakas and needing to be forcefully held back by several Royals, including manager Ned Yost.

We all love Jackie’s glove and were pleasantly surprised by what we have seen with his bat (.280 with six RBIs in seven games), but his leadership level just jumped up a few notches from what we saw Saturday night. How can you not want to go to war with a guy like that, who clearly has the back of his teammates? If you haven’t seen the video, go on MLB.com and check it out. Hannahan was leading the charge for his players in the scrum with the Royals.

Another guy you have to be impressed with is Jeanmar Gomez. Yes, the team was given a warning by the umpires after the Choo/Sanchez incident, but he decided that he had to stand up for his teammates. So he came out in that third inning and plunked Moustakas. While Manny Acta said it wasn’t the “smartest thing” for Gomez to do, since it really could tax his bullpen, there is no doubt the kid from Venezuela won a lot of respect in the clubhouse.

Said Hannahan: “This is the way baseball has been played for a long time. You hit our studs. We hit your studs. That’s the way it’s always been played and that’s the way it should be played.” Gomez looked great in the first two innings of his first start of the season, but gave way to Josh Tomlin, who had been skipped because of Tuesday’s rainout, the Ubaldo Jimenez suspension, and the re-arrangement of the rotation.

Should we at all be concerned about Tomlin? He was a revelation the last year and a half as a guy who is a strike throwing machine, but hasn’t fooled anyone thus far, and actually hasn’t since the all-star break last season. It is possible that the book is out on Tomlin, but its still very early. But of the five Indians starters, he has clearly been the most shaky. He was dogged by the home run ball last year, and gave up two in his first start of the season on Tuesday. In his relief appearance Saturday night, he allowed the Royals to creep back into a game the Indians were in command of. He went three and two thirds, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits. It will be very interesting to see how Tomlin looks in his next scheduled start, which will be Thursday night in Seattle.

Is the Bullpen Mafia showing some chinks in the armor? It is going to be extremely hard for the Tribe’s bullpen arms to top what they accomplished last season. If you take a look back at recent Tribe history, it seems as if their bullpens are good in odd years. 2005 they were lock down with five quality arms from both sides (Arthur Rhodes, Scott Sauerbeck, Rafael Betancourt, Bob Howry, Bob Wickman). In 2007, Betancourt, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez were incredible in front of closer Joe Borowski, who saved 45 games. in 2011, the Mafia was born and was the key to the Indians surge to contention (2009 was the aberration).

Well it is 2012 and the Tribe’s pen has been a tad shaky. While Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, and Vinnie Pestano were terrific in closing out Derek Lowe’s second win Friday, the guys really struggled Saturday, blowing a 9-2 lead. The three combined to give up three runs in two and a third innings, allowing the Royals to tie the game at nine. Yuniesky Betancourt of all people took Pestano deep in the eighth with the Tribe nursing a one run lead. It was the second time in this short season that a late home run ball has bitten Pestano at the worst time.

You cannot compete for a division title with a shaky bullpen. This isn’t a new thought by any means.

On a positive note, Chris Perez looked great for his second straight appearance, getting the Royals in order to close out Saturday’s game. Jairo Ascencio, who Acta had to go to in a 9-9 ninth inning tie, got the win. When he entered that game, it had the feel of when Eric Wedge went to Tom Mastny to face David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis in Game Two of the 2007 ALCS in the bottom of the 10th. You had the sense something would go wrong, yet it never did.

Up next for the Tribe will be a trip to Seattle to visit the Grinder and his Mariners for a three-game set starting tomorrow. Justin Masterson will get things started for the Indians against veteran righty Kevin Millwood. Get ready for some late nights this week, Tribe fans. Each Seattle start is at 10:05 EST.

  • 216in614

    Guess which team leads the majors with the most HR in the fewest at bats? 

  • Boomhauertjs

    If Tomlin gets roughed by the mediocre Mariners lineup, he might be Righty Jeremy Sowers.

  • Natedawg86

    Tribe has 15 HRs not 11. 

    Need to win the games against the division this year and take the majority of games (at least series’) from Twins and KC.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    I don’t think Tomlin has been horrid. He’s the fourth starter and he’s getting you what you would probably expect from a fourth starter, he’s kept them in the games he’s pitched in. He pounds the strike zone and that will lead to, shocker, some mistake home runs. The guy isn’t a world beater but he’s a solid starter and that is really all we should expect.

  • TD

    fixed… i wrote that last night and ESPN.com hadn’t updated their stats! thx Nate

  • mgbode

    Hafner’s new nickname should be “DHL”

    He plays DH and DL and when he is in the lineup, he delivers :)

    looked up some DHL company taglines:
    “helping you navigate uncertain times”
    “you may not be the biggest out there…but DHL is here to help you compete”

  • mgbode

    ESPN wants to warn you to not use that tagline about the bullpen once we call-up CC Lee this year.

  • Natedawg86

    NP.  Only reason that I caught it is because I checked all the stats this morning sorted by team to see how CLE ranked after this weekend.  We were near the bottom of the lines going into the weekend, but not anymore.  Need to sustain around 5-6 runs a game though.  That is optimal.  They do that and we will still be in the race in Sept…

  • Natedawg86

    So, since Dunk a Dunk is playing well, Damon just going to replace Cunningham and his role (PH? 9 AB in 6 games)?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The offense is more then alive meanwhile the pitching has died led by the great group known as the Bullpen Mafia!  But at least they swept the…Royals.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I don’t think Damon would be cool with that… that wasn’t his expecation.  So I think what you’ll see is him stealing a start from Duncan here, Hafner there, Brantley yonder, and Kotchman hither.

  • Ritz

    Great series, lets hope in continues this week. Lets all remember that baseball seasons ebb and flow – there will be times, as with any offense, that the team will score, and times the team will be in a cold spell. It just happens, but hopefull more of the former rather than the latter.

  • Natedawg86

    Hmmm….I will hold my thoughts until we see how it plays out…

  • Hermie13

    Been saying this for a while. His ERA from June 1st in last year was over 5. He had 2 great months. Sowers was great for a couple months back in 2006 as well…

  • Hermie13

    +1

    I wonder if the weather in Cleveland had anything to do with the hitting. 40s or colder for all 5 games…then 70s in KC and the bats come alive.

    Probably more the fact that KCs pitching is sub par but hitting in the cold is tough,

  • mgbode

    that’s what happens when you face a team with some really good hitters but absolutely no pitching.   the team you face does have a say in how things go too :)

  • cmm13

    Is your team in desperate need of offense?  Try Kansas City Pitching!

    For over 20 years teams have trusted Kansas City Pitching as a sure fire relief for those pesky offensive woes.

    And as a special added bonus; if you rough them up for 30 or more runs we will throw in our patented Center Fielder Reliver! 

    ….in all serious though; it was great to see the ACab locked in, Choo in the clutch, Pronk and Duncan mashing the ball (even their foul balls were monsters) and Kipnis getting off his opening series downer.

    Here’s to hoping the trend continues on the West Coast!!
    @Hermie13:disqus 

  • Ezzie Goldish

    This weekend showed why you can’t judge a team on 5 games, particularly a sabermetrically built one.

    I think the Indians are leading the majors in runs per game now?

    Also re: Tomlin – too early. He had a shaky first inning in his start, and was called in suddenly a couple nights ago. That’s not much to judge on.

    The same is true of the ‘pen. Give it time. 

    I’d love to see how this team is doing in two weeks, when we have a bit more to judge on.

  • REEPJP

    “This coming from a team who really has no true power threat in the lineup other than Travis Hafner.”
    I would argue that Carlos, Choo (of old) and AsCab are considered by other teams as power threats…Carlos especially.

    Also, with all of the closers going down this year and a few teams willing to spend/competing for now (Madsen, Wilson, Bailey to name a few)….what are the chances we get one of them to bite on Perez for an above average OF prospect and slide Vinny P. into the closer role?  Probably not going to pull someone like Brandon Belt, but who knows.

  • Harv 21

    Obviously. KC pitching is bad maybe but it was an antidote for what blowing an easy save in the opener can do to hitters’ heads. Nothing can make a team press like blowing an easy save in a big game. 

    Also, this is why the Hafner PED rumors tick me off. When he’s felt good the last few years he drives the ball deep. When his shoulder hurts it looks like he compensates by starting his swing early, loses bat speed and can’t lay off pitches out of the zone. Right now the bat again looks like a toothpick in his hands. We’ll see how long it lasts.

  • Ritz

    Love the picture of Duncan and Hannahan getting into it, good type of guys to have on the team.

    I gotta say, I really like Shelly Duncan. Dude hits the ball as hard as anyone and has tremendous raw power. Plus he is a little crazy which always helps.

  • Hermie13

    Santana has the best power on this team. Agree, saying we have no power threat outside of Hafner is pretty inacurrate. Not sure i’d call AC or Choo real.power threats but both can go deep at any time. Raw power just inst there like with Santana.

  • kjn

    Leading the AL in walks. Love it. There isn’t a truly easy out on this team.

  • kjn

     Duncan needs to grow the beard out. He looks much scarier with it.

  • cmm13

    Lou Marson disagrees with this comment.

  • kjn

    Fair enough, but he’s a backup and a defensive one at that. I’m talking the general starting nine.

  • cmm13

    It’s cool my man…I’m just hitting below the belt on an easy one, my apologies.

    Although I won’t count my Brantley or Duncan chickens until they’ve hatched.

    Fear.The.Tribe.

  • kjn

    Yeah, Brantley’s the one I worry about the most. Duncan, even if (when) he comes back down to earth, has been an above league average hitter. But of course, he didn’t have a beard back then.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    This is the thing that I liked even when the Tribe was losing games to start the season… Santana and Choo, among others, were really drawing a lot of walks (and HBPs for Choo).  That’s usually going to translate into a bunch of runs assuming that someone further down the lineup can hit them in.  I’m glad to see several guys “step up to the plate” on that one (don’t you love using a baseball reference to describe baseball?  That’s so meta.  Or is it existential?  Okay I admit that I don’t know what those words mean.)

  • kjn

    Meta works.

    I know it’s small sample size and all that, but I’ve been really impressed with Duncan’s approach at that plate thus far in the season – 8 walks in 33 PAs. (His highest walk total in a season is 26 in 259 PAs.)  While I don’t expect that rate to continue at that pace, it may signal a very real change in the way he’s approaching things. In turn, more walks usually means better pitches to hit thus his increased production when he has made contact.

    Or maybe it’s just a statistical abnormality. Though considering that our entire lineup seems to see as many pitches as possible, I contend that this is something Acta and Co. has instilled in the lineup.

  • Kildawg

    Duncan is really underrated, especially defensively. He isn’t a liability out there, making routine plays and an occasional highlight reel catch; just an average LF defensively and a power bat to boot.