Every single time you think you have this Indians team pegged, they go out and perform to a level that you just don’t expect. Its not as if I didn’t think the Tribe could get swept by the lowly Minnesota Twins, I just didn’t see it in the manner it occurred.
First let me start with a little back story. Each summer, my friend Jeremy, my brother Matt, and I embark on a weekend “Tribe Trip.” We take a look at the schedule in February or March, pick a ballpark we haven’t seen the Indians play in, and spend the weekend in that city, watching our boys and exploring what that city has to offer. This summer, we picked this weekend in Minneapolis.
After Thursday night’s dramatic comeback win against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, the Indians were riding high. We thought it couldn’t be a better weekend to be going to see our team. But as we have seen way too many times this season, after the highest highs, come the lowest lows.
The lowest of all the lows was what I forced myself into watching in person; a complete and utter behind whupping from one of the worst teams in baseball, the Twins. There was legitimately nothing positive that happened this weekend other than the weather. It was beautiful all weekend inside of Target Field, a gorgeous place to see a game. Too bad I couldn’t enjoy any of it.
Quick Side Note – We sat right behind Jenny Hannahan, Jack’s wife, and her parents on Friday night. They couldn’t have been nicer people. Jenny is as sweet as they come.
From the first inning of Friday night’s 11-0 beatdown to the last of the 5-1 bore-fest loss yesterday, the Indians were listless, uncompetitive, and any other negative adjective you could think of. Its almost as if they put everything they had into the seventh inning Thursday night, flew to Minneapolis and left the mojo behind them.
“It’s very disappointing, the way we played in this series,” Manager Manny Acta said. “You can’t take anything away from them, either. They went out there and scored 28 runs in three days against us and we couldn’t match any of that stuff.”
I truly don’t know what to say at this point. The Indians two game below .500 since starting the season 2-4. The warts on this team are growing bigger as the season is getting shorter. The trading deadline is only a day away and the Indians are now five and a half games out of first place, five games back of the Wild Card. When you compare what they are putting on the field every day to the teams they are chasing, it is not a pretty sight. 40% of the rotation (Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe) is on the verge of being replaced. Perhaps this weekend was the best thing to happen to the franchise.
Reality has set in. The Indians are not a contender right now. The best move for them is to look at what they can get for certain veteran players, sell them, and get themselves set up for a run in 2013. A complete retool is not a smart move, considering GM Chris Antonetti signaled he was “all in” a year ago when he traded his top two pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez.
It couldn’t have been a worse weekend for the Tribe’s young GM. Literally everything negative he watched, he seemed to have a hand in.
Take Sunday’s games. In dire need of a win, Ubaldo took to the mound in attempts to stop the bleeding. Instead, he gave up five runs in six and a third innings pitched including one in which he balked a runner to third and brought him in on a wild pitch. It was Ubaldo’s 10th loss on the season and his ERA sits at 5.08. After three more runners stole bases on him, Jimenez is now the league leader in steals allowed (22), along with wild pitches (11), and walks (72) – hat tip to my man Jordan Bastian of Indians.com for those stats.
Yeah, that’s the guy Antonetti threw all of his chips behind.
Another one of Antonetti’s biggest mistakes came back to bite him all weekend, making Tribe fans ill. Josh Willingham, the guy who should be playing left field for the Indians right now, spent yet another series tormenting the team that stood its ground and refused to give him a three year contract that he has shown he clearly deserves. Willingham hit homers Friday and Saturday night, driving in six runs and flexing his muscles as a perfect fit in the cleanup spot between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
I’ve written this too many at this point, but passing on Willingham is the single biggest blunder of this offseason and cannot be undersold. It was the non-move that set back an entire season, perhaps two. The 33-year old is flourishing in Minnesota, hitting .271/.383/.959 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs. The Tribe’s leader in homers is Shin-Soo Choo. He has 12. The Indians currently employ a left field platoon of Shelley Duncan and Johnny Damon and will once again be looking for a left fielder this offseason who hits right-handed for power.
While we are on the subject of left field, at this point, it is time to release Damon, bring up either Russ Canzler or Tim Fedroff and see what either of them can do. There is zero reason to keep Damon around.
OK, so this weekend wasn’t all about the mistakes Antonetti and his crew has made. Its not as if “ace” Justin Masterson showed up in the biggest start of his season. I think we all had an inkling that Friday night the offense would have trouble with lefty Scott Diamond (I certainly didn’t expect a three-hit shutout out from him, but it was easy to see that game as a loss), but the Masterson/Samuel Deduno matchup certainly had to favor the Indians. Except Masterson decided to implode at the worst possible time.
While we all love to throw Ubaldo under the bus for his lack of performance, its time for Masterson to face a little music himself. He cruised through the first 11 Twins, then he walked Mauer and gave up a two-run homer to Willingham. From that point on, the Twins treated him like a piñata. They got him for two more in the fifth and three more in the sixth before getting the hook from Acta. On the evening, he allowed 10 runs (eight earned) on seven hits. His ERA is at 4.47. Not exactly the stuff that is supposed to lead a staff for a contending team.
But as bad as Masterson was, Josh Tomlin was worse in Friday’s loss. His first inning problems continued as he gave up a two-out three-run blast to Willingham. Tomlin, pitching essentially for his spot in the rotation, was responsible for eight runs on 10 hits in four innings. After the game, Acta didn’t mince words about the Texan’s dicey status for the near future.
“I’m not going to sit here and say he’s (Tomlin) not going to be starting in five days,” Acta said. “But obviously he’s been having a recurring problem and we’re going to have to look at options.”
Tomlin has options left. With the off-day today, they can choose to skip in in the rotation before making a decision, but it is safe to say that he will soon be replaced. If it happens before August 11th when Roberto Hernandez is eligible to come off of his suspension, then expect to see Corey Kluber (11-7, 3.59 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 128 K’s in 125.1 IP) get the call from Columbus.
“We do have 60 games to go, but you’re not going to be able to put any type of winning streak together unless you get some consistency, especially out of our starting pitching. . . . We’re scuffling with that,” said Acta.
Then there’s the offense. They only put 10 runners in scoring position this weekend. 10. They managed just one hit. For the first 16 innings of the series, they were held to one run on five hits against Diamond and the 29-year old journeyman rookie Deduno. Then on Sunday for good measure against emergency starter Brian Duensing, the offense could only muster a single run on six hits.
“We were not even a challenge to the Twins in this series,” Acta said. He happened to be right. I know, I was there.
So now, you would think the Indians would be sellers. As of late last night, rumors swirled involving Shin-Soo Choo as a possible target for the Pirates, Reds, and Rangers. According to Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal:
Hearing Price for #Indians‘ Choo is a major leaguer – a good one – with less than three years service time. Choo free agent after 2013.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2012
However this morning, ESPN’s Buster Olney had this to say about the Indians biggest trade chip.
Indians think it’s unlikely they’ll move Shin-Soo Choo. They’d need the perfect offer to make it happen.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 30, 2012
Closer Chris Perez would look great at the back end of the pen for several contenders, including the San Francisco Giants. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports floated this interesting tidbit about a name we haven’t heard about the Indians possibly moving:
Indians could deal Masterson, but he wasn’t good Saturday, with Rangers, Red Sox watching. cbsprt.co/Ow0s1F
— DKnobler (@DKnobler) July 29, 2012
You never know what is going to happen between now at the deadline Tuesday afternoon at 4 PM EST. The Indians don’t play again until Tuesday night and by then, we could see a significant change. On Friday morning, we woke up thinking the Tribe would possibly be buyers and hang around. Here we are Monday morning, thinking that was a long time ago.
If only I could get a refund for my plane ticket…..
photo via Paul Battaglia/AP