July 23, 2014

Indians Weekend Wrapup: The Anger Edition

This has not been a great week in for our boys. The weekend made things worse. For the first time this season, your first place Cleveland Indians lost three games in a row and a road series. The Boston Red Sox, who came into the weekend a legitimate dumpster fire, owned the Tribe and came through with big hits when they needed to. The Indians on the other hand couldn’t be clutch if their lives depended on it and left town wondering what happened.

Yes, they still sit atop the soft AL Central at 18-16, a game in front of the Detroit Tigers, but a whole host of issues seemed to have popped up all of a sudden. Readers of my work know that I am usually looking through Wahoo Red, White, and Blue colored glasses (unless I am discussing Ubaldo or the Grady Sizemore signing), but there are warts that can no longer be ignored.

The 40-game mark is usually when front offices and managers have a real feel for what they have. We are 34 games in and the places this team needs to improve seem to be in the same spots we all knew going in – left field, first base, and facing left-handed pitching. All were worries in March and are still problems in mid-May.

So as we do every Monday morning, let us take a look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.

Ubaldo Jimenez is what he is, but should we now be worried about Justin Masterson? After his last start, some Tribe fans thought maybe Ubaldo had turned the corner. If you looked into that Sunday start against Texas where he didn’t give up a run in seven innings, you would still see five walks and erratic control. That start was the anomaly.

Friday night, Jimenez reverted back to being the real Ubaldo, the guy who has spotty command and can’t blow his one time un-hittable fastball by anybody. He lasted just four and a third innings giving up seven earned runs on nine hits, walking five more hitter while striking out four. Just another in a long line of disappointing performances from a guy the Tribe completely over-estimated.

“I don’t know which pitcher you guys are waiting for,” said Manny Acta when asked about Jimenez’s inconsistency after Friday’s loss. “We just want him to be more consistent in the strike zone. I don’t think any of us are sitting here expecting 97 to 100 mph.”

Unfortunately for Acta and his trusty boss, GM Chris Antonetti, that is how Ubaldo was sold to the fan base; a top of the rotation power-armed strike out machine. That guy certainly doesn’t work here currently. But at this point, I think we have all come to grips with the fact that Jimenez is a fourth or fifth starter. What we didn’t expect was the collapse of ace Justin Masterson, who continues to have issues of his own.

Masterson had come into his own last year and was being counted on as the rock of the rotation. Instead, he’s been almost as erratic as Ubaldo. In Sunday’s latest loss, J Mast again ran into first inning problems and put his team behind, this time with four runs. Since his dominant opening day performance against Toronto, the big right-hander has gone more than six and a third just once. Walks  have been killing him, but yesterday the Red Sox just battered him around to the tune of six runs on seven hits. His ERA has ballooned to 5.40.

“It’s not fun,” Masterson said. “You never want to start out like that. You want to try to minimize that to just two. Keep it at two, and then you feel a little bit better. Four and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness. Come on.’ You never want to put your boys in that type of hole.”

I know Masterson will be fine, but it would be nice to see him come around sooner rather than later. I’m not holding my breath with Ubaldo.

Meanwhile in other rotation news, Josh Tomlin was put on the DL with a sore wrist and was replaced by Zach McAllister. The Zach Attack didn’t pitch badly, giving up four runs in seven innings, striking out eight without a walk. Tomlin is expected to miss just one more start and be ready for the Tigers series in two weeks.

Of bigger concern is the offense yet again. Baseball works in funny ways. Ten days ago, Michael Brantley couldn’t buy a hit and Travis Hafner was locked in at the plate. There was excitement about Johnny Damon joining the fray, nobody could get Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kipnis out, and Casey Kotchman looked like maybe he was coming out of his skid.

Now here we are sitting with our heads in our collective hands wondering where the offense will come from.

Lets start with Damon. He gets the benefit of the doubt because of his track record and the fact that he didn’t participate in Spring Training, but so far, he’s been a dog at the plate and a liability in the field. After another 0-fer performance yesterday, Damon’s numbers have sunk to .159/.196/.423 with just two RBIs, both coming on a triple on May 4th against Texas. In 46 plate appearances, he has just two walks. If Johnny is not getting on base, than he becomes worthless to this team. His warts with his glove are well documented and have come as advertised, but the Indians can live with them if he is producing. Thus far, he isn’t. Grady Sizemore’s return is going to occur at some point and if Damon hasn’t come around, don’t be shocked if the Indians cut the cord.

Damon may eventually break out of this slump but Kotchman has become a lost cause to me. I’ve seen all I need to see with him. Sunday he came up three times with runners in scoring position and went 0-3. Twice all he needed was a fly ball to drive in a run and he  couldn’t even do that. That moved him to 2-22 with RISP on the season. I have officially declared myself ready to move on from him. Yes, I love his glove, but he is another left-handed bat that is offering absolutely nothing to the offense. The time to Free Matt LaPorta (.336/.413/.1.058/9 HR/21 RBIs) may be upon us.

And no, I cannot believe I am saying that. Meanwhile, I still stick by my assertion that the Tribe needs to move Lonnie Chisenhall across the diamond to first base and stick with Jack Hannahan at third for the next couple of years.

While Brantley had a huge series (nine hits and four RBIs) and has hit the ball hard for the past couple of weeks (his average has jumped .31 points in the last week), Hafner’s game has fallen off the table. His clutch numbers are extremely weak. He’s hitting just .133 (4-30) with runners in scoring position with just two extra-base hits (both doubles). With runners in scoring position and two out, Hafner is 2-15.

These numbers just cannot happen for a guy hitting in the middle of the order.

The biggest problem that hasn’t gone away and won’t anytime soon is the Tribe’s inability to hit left-handed pitching. Have you noticed that every single time a team goes to the bullpen against the Indians, the first guy they call for is a lefty? It doesn’t matter if its the most seasoned veteran or a rookie they’ve never seen before, Manny Acta’s boys have issues with southpaws.

In Saturday’s 4-1 loss, it was the “obscure lefty” factor in full effect when they faced Felix Doubrant. The Indians could only muster three hits and one run in six innings on an RBI infield single by Kipnis. Lefty Andrew Miller pitched in the first three games of this series and didn’t allow a run in three and a third. Fellow lefties Rich Hill (three appearances) and Franklin Morales (two appearances) also went all series without allowing an Indian to score.

This isn’t just a Red Sox problem. The White Sox threw one lefty reliever after another in splitting a series earlier in the week. Remember last Monday’s afternoon tilt where the Indians got Chicago’s Phil Humber for eight runs, but then managed just one hit over the final six innings against rookie Jose Quintana making his Major League debut? Guess which arm he throws with?

The Indians have too many left handed bats in their lineup and at this point there is nothing they can do about it. They have to live with what they have. (Unless they entertain a trade for a right-handed bat like Boston’s Kevin Youkilis, who may soon be available).

“We all know that the track records indicate that the majority of our hitters, except for Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, are better against right-handed pitching,” said Acta. “That’s the chance we’re taking. We’re going to see more righties than lefties. We’re not going to face a lefty every time out that dominates us. We’ve seen that this year. But there are going to be times when those lefties are going to go out there and neutralize our guys.”

Against lefties, the Indians are 27th out of 30 teams in baseball with a .216 batting average. The stat that tells it all – the Tribe leads the majors in at-bats against left-handed pitching with 459. That won’t change all year either.

It is not all doom and gloom though, the Indians designated reliever Dan Wheeler for assignment after yesterday’s last straw outing. Rejoice! He shouldn’t have made the team out of Spring Training after looking average at best. He got the job on track record. Even on the day he found out he would be an Indian, Wheeler gave up two homers and five runs in one inning. Yesterday was just another shoddy outing for the veteran righty who clearly doesn’t have it anymore. The Tribe brass had seen enough after Wheeler was rocked for six runs in his final inning of work.

What they will do with Wheeler’s spot in the pen is still unknown, but the leading candidates include Hector Ambriz (3.26 ERA), Frank Herrmann (3.71 ERA), Chris Ray (2.20 ERA), and Jeremy Accardo (2.76 ERA).

Up next for the Tribe is a two-game road set with the Minnesota Twins. Jeanmar Gomez (2-2, 4.66 ERA), coming off his worst start of the season, takes the ball for Acta. He will be opposed by old friend Carl Pavano (2-3, 5.02 ERA). If there was ever a place for the Indians offense to get back on track, its in Minneapolis against the last place Twins.

 (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

  • Boomhauertjs

    The Tribe’s inability to add a RH bat this offseason was inexcusable. It will continue to rear its ugly head all season.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Wow, bad weekend for me.  Indians lose all 3 games.  Caps lose.  LeBron wins, and does so in the 4th quarter.  Come on Gomez… I need a win tonight!

  • BenRM

    162-34=128. There is still 80% of the season to play.The Tribe is still 2 games over .500. And they are in first place in the AL Central.

    They looked bad (really bad at times) this weekend, but lets keep things in perspective, okay Cleveland sports media?

  • mgbode

    ok, gotta find some silver lining in all of this:

    Imagine it’s March and you were told that by mid-May the following would be true:

    1. Ubaldo not only had an ERA over 5, but his peripherals suggest that he’s been getting lucky for it to be that low.
    2. Masterson’s ERA was worse than Ubaldo’s.
    3. Our 2nd best SP ERA is over 4 and that it was Zach McCallister who only had 2 GS.
    4. w/ Raffy Perez injured, 3 of our 7 man bullpen were pitching legitimately terrible (Sipp, Ascensio, and Wheeler)
    5. Our offense has absolutely no answer for LHP
    6. Huge holes at LF and 1B.   LF a hole both on offense and defense most nights.
    7. Only 4 batters with a BA over .250
    8. 7 batters with a negative (or 0) WAR.  7 batters with a positive WAR.
    9.  Despite all of the above, we still are in 1st place in the AL Central.

    Would you have believed it?  Baseball is crazy sometimes.

    Note:  yes, I used the traditional stats because they make things look bleaker for the stat-savvy Indians.   all those walks help give a bunch of our guys a much better OBP than would otherwise think and people on base are chances to score runs.

  • Wheel

    Why not give Hagadone a chance to start? He started some in the minors and is pitching well.  Yes, we’d lose him from the bullpen, but if our starters performed better, we wouldn’t need as much help in the bullpen.

  • mgbode

    because he has never pitched more than 85IP in his 6yr professional career.  I doubt his arm is up for that job and it would take seasons to build it back up.

  • Natedawg86

    Well, as far as Jiminez, Alex White is 0-2 6.75 and Drew Pomeranz is 0-2 4.7 (These guys may have needed just a little more time in lower levels).  We did give 2 top prospects, but they are not doing too hot either so far.

  • Harv 21

    Maybe Damon’s problem is that he hasn’t figured out how to transition to the team’s annual “Washed-up Veteran Clubhouse Presence” that substitutes here for a good veteran player still in his prime years. If he wants to be Trot Nixon and hang out all season he needs a shtick, he’s got to start cream pieing teammates or stick hilarious bubble gum bubbles on their hats.

    Or maybe there is some gas left in his Tin Man tank, and he just needs 200 at-bats to get loose. But not sure the tribe can wait and see when your right fielder isn’t hitting either. 

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What a difference a couple of games make huh?  The real silver lining is Detroit’s pitching appears to be as bad as the Indians hitting.  I expect the Tigers to address it however if it continues that way.  I wish I could say the same about the Indians.

  • mgbode

    Alex White should have been ready to at least be the #5 starter but I think they are really doing a disservice to Pomeranz.  They rushed him up last year and are force-fitting him into the rotation this year.

    It’s not just about how the prospects are doing though, it’s also about what else we could have potentially gotten for them.

  • mgbode

    actually, the Indians have scored more runs than Detroit this year (both in 34 games).   so, their vaunted offense is failing them too.

    we also have given up more runs than they have.  so, our supposedly deeper SP is failing us.

  • kjn

    For all the talk about Jimenez’s diminishing velocity, it’s worth noting that Pomeranz has gone through the same thing, only worse.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Really?  Monday morning and the corrections are already happening.  Good morning to you to honey! 

    I’d still rather be the Tigers then the Indians…it’s just a matter of time before Detroit starts playing better.

  • http://www.clevelandsportstorture.com/ CSTDoug

    If there’s a window of contention here it will be a shame if the Tribe’s a bat short. This was a need even casual fans knew had to be addressed and this franchise is just not ambitious enough to pull out the necessary stops on FAs . Maybe getting burned a few times has cowed em, but come on, this roster is screaming for a righty stick and has since last yr. 

  • Natedawg86

    Totally agree, but my anger increases exponentially with the success of the two prospects, and the suckcess of Jiminez

  • Wheel

    So why not start now? He’s got potential, we need starting pitchers.  

  • mgbode

    I put that one in there just for you.  Think of it like a mint on the pillow :)

    (and yes, I should have put that it’s actually more disconcerting that the Tigers offense hasn’t awoken yet. they have a much higher ceiling there and if they start hitting to it, then it’s going to make things extremely difficult for us)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thanks for thinking of me we’re even now ‘cuz I was thinking of you when the Red Sox were beating down the Indians this weekend.

  • mgbode

    he also struggled mightily in his only opportunity above the A level as a starter. 

    I don’t know.  if we want him to be a starter, then we likely have to drop him back to AA and let him work his way back up the system to be a starter.  it’s really risky and he’s a valuable part of the team this year.

    with McCallister and Gomez not being terrible options.  along with hopefully Masterson and Ubaldo finding their way back to career norms (at least – I hope) we should have enough starting pitching.

    like it is shown below.  so far this season, we have outhit the Tigers and the Tigers have outpitched us.   that ‘should’ swap by the end of the year.

  • Hypno_Toad

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tribe pick up Youk and stick him at first base. We really need a right handed bat.

  • Kildawg

    Question is how much will it cost to get Youk? Probably cheaper than Trumbo from LA, he could cost us Marson and Raffy Perez (which I would be fine with, but we’d need to add another catcher since we only have 2 on the 40-man). BTW, love the Futurama reference.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Given the way Perez has pitched this year and Marson has hit, or not hit, over his entire tenure here I’d pull the string on that deal. I love Lou for his D but finding someone to hit .220 shouldn’t be hard. Heck, we have a first baseman that can do it.

    Maybe I should start each post with “Good news everyone!”.

  • AlexMathews

    I fear the answer is Matt LaPorta.

  • Steve

     Not ambitious enough? They went hard after Willingham, Beltran, and Pena. They can’t force players to come here.

  • AlexMathews

    We understand where the Tribe stands CURRENTLY…but this team has a lot of glaring holes that aren’t going to just fix themselves. If the front of our rotation and our offense isn’t more consistent, we’ll be looking at a tailspin for the remaining 80% of the season.

  • AlexMathews

    None of that is a silver lining, because that suggests the fact that we’re in first place is an absolute fluke, and with a larger sample size of games the Indians winning percentage will eventually go down to what the stats suggest.

  • AlexMathews

    I think Youk would have been a real possibility if we hadn’t wasted 2.5 mil on Damon. As well as the trashing of Kotchman’s contract. Bad economy and all that.

    What’s far more likely is we’ll see the re-emergence of our good buddy Matt LaPorta in a month or two.

  • mgbode

    that is definitely one way of looking at it and possibly the more pragmatic way.

    the other way of looking at it is that we have many players performing below their career norms and that a larger sample size of games will have them move back towards them and we will be even better :)

  • mgbode

    like a pinata

  • mgbode

    I’m hoping for an emergence from Matt LaPorta :)

  • porckchopexpress

    Its tough for me to get to down right now.  Had the Tribe gone 1-2 versus Texas and 3-1 versus the Red Sox we would all be in the “well that figures” stage.  Unexpected wins shouldn’t lead to unreasonable expectations.   I think right now its obvious that this is a good but flawed team that is going to have gut out a lot of wins, and hope that Detroit doesn’t solve their own problems.  And really outside of Ubaldo and kinda Masterson, nobody is really playing down to lower expectations.  This crew was never going to be a juggernaut, they were going to pitch well field well and scrape out runs.  That works right up until somebody doesn’t pitch well and then its painfully obvious how bad their hitting is.

  • BenRM

    Despite the existence of said glaring holes, the first 20% of the season hasn’t been a tailspin. 

    The team’s playing a bit above its head right now, but there’s no indication that the bottom will completely fall out. More than likely, they’ll end up exactly where most people predicted they’d be at the beginning of the season; a decent club, but not a really good one. 

  • Fisher26

    Yes.  I would have believed it because it is AL Central. 
    And I have said this before:  the worst aspect of the Ubaldo trade is that we did not get any hitting, for average or power. and hitting was a much bigger hole to fill both last year and this year. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TZY67XZ3EVXIVG2ONF6TD52QKU Tom

    Alex White is also a drunk, so he’s got that going for him.
    http://www.denverpost.com/rockies/ci_20109687/rockies-pitcher-white-could-face-extreme-dui

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TZY67XZ3EVXIVG2ONF6TD52QKU Tom

     Don’t forget-Doug Fister had been out for a while. Now that he’s back DET’s pitching is going to get a whole lot better. 1 ER in 16.1 IP so far this year.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TZY67XZ3EVXIVG2ONF6TD52QKU Tom

    Speaking of fielding well one thing that really surprised me recently is how awful Cabrera’s fielding numbers are. They aren’t just bad, they are worst in the league bad. His quick hands mask short range and a noodle arm. Never noticed until a recent fangraphs article that I can’t find now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kylebrannan Kyle Brannan

    Kotchman is a hole at 1B? Hes the best first basemen we have had in the past 10 years

  • Markn95

     Well…they SAID they did.  The Indians come up “just short” with a lot of players, and have for years.  And I don’t buy that “guys don’t want to play in Cleveland” argument.  Most guys go where their agent and/or the MLBPA tell them to go, and it’s always for the most money.  The Tribe may claim they offer more cash but who wants to bet the cash is all back-loaded or similarly gimmicked?  You know, like Manny in 2000?