April 21, 2014

Tribe Weekend Wrapup: ActaBall Reigns Supreme

Can you climb on board the bandwagon now? There is plenty of room to join us. Still time too! After a weekend in which your first place Cleveland Indians took two of three from the best team in baseball, the Texas Rangers (and really, they were a sac fly away from a sweep), how can you not be impressed by what you are seeing? How could you not want to come out and support this team?

They spent the weekend pitching their behinds off and showing that power stroke that had been missing but seemed to re-appear this week. Manny Acta’s club is starting to come together. I know, we saw this last summer with the 30-15 start, but doesn’t this feel much better than the Eric Wedge Aprils and Mays? I will take this all day, even with an offense that still leaves a lot to be desired.

We saw great starts, a budding star player continue to crush opposing pitching, a big time hit in a home debut, and disappointing attendance figures. All of it added up to a successful weekend at Progressive Field. Let us take a look back as we do every Monday morning at this time.

The Ubaldo Jimenez Redemption Tour began Sunday. Last Week, I pretty much called the Tribe starter an unfixable disaster. I said it was time to face the facts; that the Indians had gotten completely rooked by the Rockies and that Jimenez would never be the guy the they hoped he would be. I was not alone in my views. Everyone in this town seemed to be off the Ubaldo train. Everyone except for his manager and teammates.

Maybe they know better?

In Sunday’s home start, he fell behind the first batter he faced, Ian Kinsler, 3-0, and put two men on. An entire fan base said “here we go again.” But Ubaldo recovered from there, and pitched about as well as he ever has in an Indians uniform. I looked up in the seventh inning to see that he had a two-hit shutout going while striking out a season-high six. While Ubaldo still wasn’t showing that high velocity fastball, his off-speed stuff was really working.

“Ubaldo was terrific today,” Acta said. “He proves that you don’t have to throw 99 to get people out, but you do have to throw strikes. He threw strikes today. He had very good offspeed stuff. His curveball was the best I’ve seen so far.”

Don’t get overly excited about this, Tribe fans. The guy still walked five Rangers which is way too many. He is still a work in progress and until we see this kind of effort consistently, I’m not going to back off my assertion that Jimenez is this team’s fifth starter. But yesterday was very encouraging. We’ve said it since the start of the season, Ubaldo’s success is of the utmost importance to this team if they plan on hanging atop the division all year.

Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez and Derek Lowe kept their great starts going. Gomez was the winning pitcher in Friday’s 6-3 beat down of the Rangers. He went seven innings allowing three runs (should have been two) while scattering hits. In the win, he lowered his ERA to 2.82. He threw just 90 pitches and induced a pair of double plays. Remember, Gomez was not considered the top option to be the fifth starter out of Spring Training, but nobody pitched better than he did Goodyear. The good news for the Tribe is that he has carried this over into April and May.

Then there is Lowe, who didn’t have his best stuff, yet bobbed and weaved his way through six innings of two run ball against one of the best lineups the Indians will see all year. Sinker-ballers like Lowe are going to give up hits. Texas got Lowe for nine Saturday night, but he once again put his team in a great position to win. If you hold the Rangers to two runs, you should win the game.

Said the quote machine Lowe: “The game is easy when you can throw pretty much any pitch whenever you want. But it’s gratifying when you don’t really have that good of stuff against this tough of a lineup. To actually only give up two runs was pretty hard to do. Some of those innings I would never want to try again.”

Lowe is the perfect middle of the rotation guy. He just goes out there and does his job. You gotta love him.

While Johnny Damon is still rounding into game shape, his addition really lengthens the Tribe lineup. “The General” made his Indians home debut Friday night and it started off a little shaky. His porous play on a Mitch Moreland liner to left cost the team a run and at the plate, he had three forgettable at-bats until he came though in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out, two-run triple, which broke the game open.

Acta has moved Damon into the leadoff spot, putting Michael Brantley in the seven hole. It really adds depth to the lineup. Shin-Soo Choo has moved from third to sixth and Jack Hannahan is back in his customary place in the order, ninth.

But as we have seen over the last two weeks plus, the Jason Kipnis move into the two-hole has been a master stroke. The JK Kid has had the reputation of a gritty, hard-nosed, RBI producer from the second base position. We all loved how he put a jolt into the offense last year when he came up, and now, he is their hottest bat.

Kipnis is on a tear and he kept it going all weekend, capped off by Sunday’s fifth inning homer. The numbers tell the story – He is second on the Indians in batting average (.300), third in on-base percentage (.377), second in OPS (.917), first in steals (6), first in home runs (5), and first in RBIs (18). All of this in his first full season in the majors at the age of 25.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. We could be looking at our Dustin Pedroia here. The kid has it all and he is just scratching the surface. He should stay in that two-spot for years to come. It fits him perfectly.

At some point, we are going to have a changing of the guard with the Left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Tony Sipp has been Acta’s late-inning guy for the last two-plus years. In 2012, that hasn’t changed. However, Sipp has really been inconsistent, especially against righties (6-15, .400 BA). His ERA sits at 9.00 and his WHIP is 1.88. Those are not good numbers considering he is usually handling key situations. Sipp should be worried, because there is a stud waiting in the wings to take his role.

Nick Hagadone again looked spectacular Saturday night, striking out two and only allowing one hit in two scoreless innings. In his two stints in Cleveland, the hard-throwing lefty has allowed just one earned run in 7.1 innings of work (1.23 ERA) and has a near spotless WHIP of 0.33. Hagadone is the future of the Bullpen Mafia, but really should be a big time member of the present group. When Rafael Perez comes back from the DL, GM Chris Antonetti is going to have a really interesting decision to make. I can’t see how you can send Hagadone back down to Columbus.

On the attendance figures this weekend…. Where was everyone? This was a weekend series with nice weather against the two-time defending AL Champions, and the best the Indians can do is Saturday night’s 21,307, which is 47% capacity? I don’t know what to say. Tickets to Tribe games are very affordable (every game has good upped deck seats available for either $8 or $14). Its a good product, and the team is in first place. Hopefully with the weather warming up, we will see more of you out there this summer. I know you can’t go to every game, but get out to the park to support this team.

Lastly, on a personal note I took my son to the game yesterday and after the win, we ran the bases, part of the Indians Sunday afternoon “Lets Move It” campaign. At each base was a current Tribe player high-fiving the kids, and waiting at home was Acta. As my son came sprinting into home, Manny was there to greet him. I asked if he could take a picture with my son, and what you see above is the result. After the win, obviously Manny was in a good mood, but he couldn’t have been nicer. It was quite a thrill for my son.

All I could think of after walking away from this was “could you imagine Eric Wedge EVER doing something like this?” Not a chance.

Up Next for the Tribe is yet another series with the Chicago White Sox, who they just took two of three from this week on the road. It will be a four-game set, played in three days, with a day/night doubleheader set for today. The 1:05 game will feature the Sox’s Perfect Game hurler Phil Humber (1-1, 4.62 ERA) and Zach McAllister, who will be called up for the spot start. The Zach Attack is 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA in AAA. The Sox and Indians will be taking advantage of a great new rule in Major League Baseball, which allows teams playing doubleheaders to add a 26th player to the roster for that day.  The night cap at 7:05 will have the Sox Eric Stults, making his season debut and the Indians Josh Tomlin (1-2, 5.27 ERA).

  • Herr Dr.

    Germany, too, please! I will pay in crates of beer and various parts of pig.

  • mgbode

    ah, but you started by saying:  “Can’t blame fans for staying away still”

    so, yes, the fans are demanding a larger sample size, and yes, I can blame them for demanding it.  It is not all on the fans (MLB, the Dolans, the FO, and the players all have a part in this too), but I refuse to exclude the fans from the discussion.

  • mgbode

    I think both apply in this scenario.

  • Garry_Owen

    Du sprechts meine . . . sprache(?), Herr Doktor.

    You had me at “Bier” and “Schweinefleische.” 

    Ja, ja.  Sehr gut. 

    I’ll go get my Flugzeug. 

    (Ah, 3 years of H.S. German did pay off!)

  • mgbode

    if you go the ‘copter route, then just hang the ladder out as you pass by and I’ll grab hold just like in all the secret agent movies.

  • mgbode

    I suggest trying some Fireman’s 4 and some of the ’512′ label next time you are in town as well.

  • Garry_Owen

    Nah, I’m going to stick with fixed-wing and employ this method:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5GJ4cu311o

    Hang on tight, mgbode!

  • Garry_Owen

    Please send samples of same to my address to confirm quality.  2 x 24 cases each should do. 

  • http://twitter.com/oribiasi oribiasi

    Ba-zing.

  • Harv 21

    I can’t blame them b/c “them” = me, too.

    After decades of devotion to horrible tribe baseball (with a one decade respite) in the form of my interest, money and time, I just look at this from a different perspective. It’s entertainment, the fans are the customers and it’s up to the entertainer to win and maintain their support. Maybe the poor franchisee can’t get ahead with the customers because the system he bought into is rigged against franchises in this territory, maybe the franchisee discovers that to compete he has to throw some personal wealth into the biz that he doesn’t have. Maybe the franchisee didn’t count on a weakened economy or got snookered by the last owner. But I don’t blame the customer for that. 

  • mgbode

    I shall attach vomit bag directly to my mouth for the trip.

  • mgbode

    as you can see in the related thread here between Garry and myself, my main concern is keeping the Indians competitive and in Cleveland.  As such, I selfishly do want to see better attendance. 

    Also, I do see sport teams as a bit more than entertainment from the standpoint of a movie or television show would be.  There comes with it a continuity that allows for a bit of pride and community to be built from it no matter how silly the concept truly is.

    once a sport team is deemed as nothing more than a business entity with no loyalty to the community (from the team) or to the team (from the community) is when franchises have every right to move to areas where they may develop such relationships.

  • NoVA Buckeye

    Camden Yards and Nationals Stadium are great places, too. Camden has that old stadium feel and it’s still very nice while Nationals Stadium is relatively new, but suffers the same attendance issues as the Tribe

  • NoVA Buckeye

    i’ve been to tribe games at camden before (even though they lost all those times) and had a good time. one interesting idea would be opening the market, like playing the reds at huntington park in columbus

  • mgbode

    not for long.  the Nats have been the sleeping giant in the NL (along with Houston) and it looks like this year they have been awoken. 

  • Steve

     I meant pathetic, but like mgbode said, both apply. I turn on sports radio and they’re discussing the empty seats, and people call in and gave the lamest excuses ever about why they don’t go.

    Just say it people, you’ve been brainwashed from birth that this is a football town, and you have to go support the Browns regardless of what they do, and screw the Indians until they have their best run in franchise history.

  • porckchopexpress

    I agree unless the free room coincides with SXSW in which case I would manufacture a Mission Impossible style cmm13 mask so that I could go in his stead.  Because it is defintely on the list of “four things I should have done before I got married and had kids but I didn’t realize how hard sneaking off to music festivals would be with children because they dominate your life and cause you to write run on sentences”.

  • porckchopexpress

    “Man, you guys are making me feel bad – like I’m supposed to get in my car and commute 12 hours every day to attend Tribe games. I swear, I would if I could! I try to watch every game through the MLB Extra Innings. Honest! I’ll get my pilot’s license and fly out there every night if it would help . . . ”

    “I know the things I said to you, were untender and untrue, I’d like to see those things undo…”

    You know they are playing the Nautica this Saturday? 
    There is almost nothing I hate about my life/job but having to work weekends and not geting to blow off anything on a moments notice for a concert is one of them.

  • mgbode

    ACL = good.  3 days of bands in easily walkable Zilker park (3 stages) and early-morning highbrow stuff downtown if you are into that.

    SXSW = a tad over-rated.  you have to travel all over town and they put the acts you really want to see conflicting with each other on opposite ends of town.   watered down now that they made it include movies and “technology” items as well.  might just be because it over-runs the city with people and the level of bands that show up aren’t much more than show up over the course of a couple months in this town anyway.

  • mgbode

    one benefit of SXSW is that it’s in 75degree March while ACL is in 90+degree September.

  • porckchopexpress

    I don’t know if this counts for out of town fandom but I went to a Rockies game once while visiting Denver just because Omar was playing for the Giants.  We got walk ups on a Friday night about 10-15 rows behind the visitors dugout. 
    True story and reason #1038 I’ll always be a fan.  We walked down right at the end of pregame because Omar is signing at the edge of the field right before walking in, my wife yells “Omar Cleveland still loves you!”  He looks up and says “You from Cleveland? Tell Cleveland I still love them!”, Except it was a tad more broken then that. I felt like a 13 year old girl that got to smell Leif Garret’s hair (or whoever the devil kids listen to these days)
    I remember it because it was Omar’s first year away from the Tribe and Hunter Thompson had just killed himself so I made this pilgrimage trip to Woody Creek and got the bonus of getting to see Omar.  Great week, and totally rambling at this point.

  • Garry_Owen

    Some things demand blowing off work.  You know what you need to do Saturday night. 

    My wife and I have been to 4 of their shows.  If they’re anywhere within 150 miles of us, we try to drop what we’re doing and get our priorities straight.  They’re in Pittsburgh on the 20th.  I’m thinking we’ll have to make the trip.