April 19, 2014

Tribe Weekend Recap: A series win, a shoddy pen, and Kipnis on fire

Jason KipnisThey are still hanging in there.

Your Cleveland Indians, aka Team Streak, are at it again. They started off the season 8-13, then went on an 18-4 tear. They were the toast of baseball before dropping like a stone, losing 16 of 20. But the schedule softened up and the Wahoos ran off six wins in eight games before heading into a weekend series with the Minnesota Twins. The back end of the Tribe’s rotation was due up, but the team was on the uptick. With the Detroit Tigers still not able to run away with the AL Central (thanks to a shoddy back end of their bullpen) and a trip to Boston in their weekend plans, this seemed like a good time to make up a little ground.

I’ve said many times that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Tigers are four games up on the second place Tribe. There were times not that long ago that people had thought the Indians were dead and buried, but this is not the 2012 crew. It is a much deeper team, but one that is prone to these hot and cold streaks. You just have to be patient with them and ride them out – the good and the bad.

The Wahoos took the series from the Twins, which is all that you can ask for. Despite the wins, there were things that were both exciting and concerning. So as we do every Monday morning, let us jump right in and talk about the weekend that was in Wahooland.

The bullpen issues won’t go away and the possible odd man out of the rotation makes a statement

Yes, they won two of three, but the bullpen certainly didn’t assist in these matters. Lets start at the back. As you know, Vinnie Pestano has assumed the closer’s role with Chris Perez on the disabled list. Pestano took the ninth inning fresh off of a DL stint of his own thanks to elbow problems. Vinnie has yet to regain his masterful touch and it has become a major concern, though the Indians brass won’t admit it.

Since his activation, Pestano has made 14 appearances and allowed nine earned runs on 15 hits and seven walks. He has 13 K’s, but the rest of those numbers are not pretty. His last two saves have not exactly built a lot of confidence. Saturday night he was handed a three run lead and ended up with the tying run on base with two outs before recovering to strike out Josh Willingham to end the game.

“The season hasn’t been anything but challenging for me so far,” said Pestano. “I’ve taken my lumps and my bruises. It’s been the most difficult that I can recall in quite some time.”

They aren’t saying it, but I still think Vinnie is not right physically.

Meanwhile, Perez is working out the kinks on a rehab assignment. The hope was that he would be activated over the weekend, but that was before he was destroyed in a AA appearance for five runs and three homers in an inning of work. Pitching coach Mickey Calloway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash detected a mechanical issue that Perez is currently trying to work out.

“He (Perez) understands when he comes in, pitches the ninth inning, game’s on the line, he’s got to be in top form or pretty [darn] close to it,” Manager Terry Francona said. “And so, we’re going to make sure we get him there.”

If CP bounces back physically from his simulated game Sunday, he could be activated at some point this week.

The lefty problem is still there. Rich Hill and Nick Hagadone both made two appearances this weekend and didn’t wow anyone, though Hill came through with two big eighth inning strikeouts in Saturday night’s win. I still am of the belief that GM Chris Antonetti and Francona are biding their time, hoping that Hagadone can come around. They always have that trump card to play should they chose; moving lefty Scott Kazmir to the bullpen when Zach McAllister is activated.

Kazmir did everything he could and more to keep himself in that rotation with best start since later May, stifling the Twins Friday night on one run and five hits in seven innings. Most importantly, Kazmir had seven strikeouts and no walks.

“I’m happy for him,” 1B/3B Mark Reynolds said. “Being out of baseball, being in independent ball and finding his way back, it’s just a great story. I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s been able to throw strikes all year. He may get hit around a little bit, but just keeps pounding the zone.”

Carlos Carrasco, Sunday’s starter who was tagged for the loss, and Kazmir will essentially be pitching for their spot until McAllister’s return. They are both up and down, but Carrasco’s power stuff can be tantalizing if he can just aggressively stay in the zone. Two days after Kazmir’s gem matched his from earlier in the week, Carlos couldn’t get out of the fifth inning, giving up three runs on six hits, walking four in four and two-thirds.

“They squared up a lot of balls and made him work really hard,” Francona said. “To his credit, he limited the damage. He pitched. We left him in in the fifth because we thought he deserved a chance to get out of that inning.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. This morning, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Carrasco was seen in the Columbus clubhouse after their game last night. No official announcement has been made and for all we know, Carlos was back in Columbus getting clothes for the road trip. Why the Indians would be sending him back to AAA with a doubleheader coming Friday seems odd, especially with what Francona said this weekend about McAllister’s progress:

“This is not something to mess around with. He has to be symptom-free when he starts to throw without the tape on his finger,” he said. This came in the same piece that the PD’s Paul Hoynes claimed McAllister “still isn’t close to being activated.”

If you were worried about Brett Myers and how he would play into this mix once he is activated off the DL, Francona put the questions to bed after Sunday’s 5-3 loss.

“He [Myers] is going to prepare in a bullpen role,” Francona said. “I think we all felt with the down time he’s had, his best way to contribute is probably to go to the bullpen. To try to get him ramped up to 100 pitches, if there’s any hiccup at all in that process, we’d probably lose him for the rest of the year.”

The question is how Myers fits into the pen. He has closing experience and set-up experience, though nobody, me included, thinks he is the answer. I’d much rather see Cody Allen get a shot if Chris Perez can’t get it together upon his return.

Jason Kipnis is smokin’ hot.

Want to look for an All-Star on this team? Go no further than second base where Kipnis has been a hitting machine in June. I remember in April when people were freaking out that the Tribe’s second baseman was in a real regression. Calls for him to be dropped down in the order were made. But through it all, Francona stuck with the program, knowing his stud would turn things around. And he certainly has.

His .200/.269/.555/1 HR/4 RBI April is now a distant memory and Kipnis is flat out raking. “That’s what happens,”  Francona said. “We talked about that in April. We said, ‘Hey, just let him play, and he’ll get to his level.’”

With Asdrubal Cabrera out, Kipnis has moved back into the three hole and hasn’t stopped hitting. Over the weekend, he had seven hits in 14 at-bats, including three doubles and a triple, while driving in six runs. In the month of June, Kipnis is hitting .379/.463/.545 with 14 RBIs in 20 games.

“He’s definitely a catalyst,” Pestano said of Kipnis. “When guys like Kip get hot, they can carry a team. And he’s definitely been a guy we’ve looked toward for that, for that big hit and that big at-bat.”

His resurgence has come at the right time. The Indians have won eight of 11 and Kipnis has hit safely in 10 of those 11 games, five of the multi-hit variety. Of all of the numbers, perhaps the most impressive comes against lefties, where the left-handed Kipnis is hitting .292.

Swish is back, but will he find his bat?

Last week at this time we discussed Nick Swisher’s sore shoulder. He sat out a week and made his triumphant return to the lineup Sunday afternoon. In the field, he made a couple of slick plays, but with the bat he looked rusty. Swish took an 0-5 day, extending his miserable June swoon to a 6-48 (.125).

Swisher is a pro’s pro, and a bro’s bro for that matter. He has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons. I expect a strong second half out of him, assuming he is healthy. Luckily for Swisher, his struggles have not been magnified as the team is winning again and his honeymoon period is still in full swing. Kipnis has picked things up in the middle of the order, Michael Bourn (.301 in June), Carlos Santana (.288/.390/.455) and strong starting pitching have masked the issues of Swisher and Reynolds (.168). But only one guy is here on a four-year deal to be the face of the franchise.

Attendance….my least favorite discussion topic

I vowed that I wouldn’t talk about it, but I have to. The Tribe is playing good baseball and hanging around in the AL Central. Tito Francona is the skipper. Ownership ponied up and delivered with Swisher, Bourn, Reynolds, etc. The team is better in almost every facet of the game than they were during the Manny Acta era. Yet people still aren’t coming out to watch this team.

The “kids are in school” and “bad weather” excuses are gone. So where exactly are the fans?

Friday night had Dollar Dogs, fireworks, and 77 degree weather, yet the Indians only drew 26,442 people. Saturday night was a warm evening, but it was Hall of Fame night with fan favorite Carlos Baerga and GM John Hart getting inducted. All that showed up were 21,417. Sunday afternoon was a scorcher, but still, the Indians were going for a sweep. The attendance? 17,143.

Where are you people? Why are you not coming out to see this team? There aren’t any excuses any more. The team is playing well and has a lineup full of guys you can get behind. Baseball is the most affordable of tickets. Take it from me, a guy with two young children, Tribe games are as kid friendly an activity as you will find.  Its the summer. Yet for the weekend they barely drew 65,000 TOTAL?

I am at my wits end.

Up next

The Indians are headed out on an 11-game road trip that starts tonight with the tough Baltimore Orioles. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-4, 4,66 ERA) will go for the Tribe against Baltimore lefty Zach Britton (1-1, 5.56 ERA). A spot start will be needed with a doubleheader coming on Friday in Chicago. Trevor Bauer will probably get the call. His control issues haven’t subsided in Columbus as he has walked 20 in his last five starts, spanning 27 innings, but he is still the best option.

(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Here he comes, look at that, look at that
    There he goes, look at that, look at that
    And he ain’t wearin’ no clothes

    Oh, yes, they call him the Streak

    Oh and Kevin Costner says you have to be able to drink to live in Cleveland!
    http://www.foxsportsohio.com/fox-sports-networks/story/Costner-takes-batting-practice-with-Indi?blockID=914523&feedID=3724

  • boomhauertjs

    I’m genuinely concerned about the attendance issues. If it doesn’t pick up this summer, you can’t blame the Dolans because they spent money in free agency. What will give them any motivation to spend ever again if the fans don’t come out to support the team? And will we reach a point where keeping a baseball team in Cleveland isn’t viable?

  • Harv 21

    I’m still weirdly optimistic about the bullpen, because although no one (except maybe Smith) is pitching very well yet the team is overcoming a lot of it. The failures haven’t yet made the offense press, as sometimes happens. If just two guys step up – Allen, Hagadone, someone called up – and Perez can come back pitching ok, Francona can shuffle some roles and they’ll be fine, even if Pestano heads to the DL.

  • nobody

    I guess we have to expect to be last in majors in attendance from here on, with the likes of Tampa Bay (who has a far worse stadium, from what I hear).

  • Mike P

    So, years of dismantling and mismanaging a baseball team, and in one year sign two guys and a manager, you think that solves the problem?

    I love the Indians. Granted, I have only been to two games this year, but you can’t have Shelley Duncan be your starter in the OF for a year and a half and expect people to be jumping in your good graces.

    If they are on the verge of playoffs, I fully expect that stadium to be filled by September. And, I think it will, if we do not fizzle out.

  • Mike P

    So, years of dismantling and mismanaging a baseball team, and in one year sign two guys and a manager, you think that solves the problem?

    I love the Indians. Granted, I have only been to two games this year, but you can’t have Shelley Duncan be your starter in the OF for a year and a half and expect people to be jumping in your good graces.

    If they are on the verge of playoffs, I fully expect that stadium to be filled by September. And, I think it will, if we do not fizzle out.

  • JacobWFNY

    Jason Kipnis’ stats in his last 50 games since April 29th: .316/.393/.568 with 15 doubles, 3 triples, 9 homers, 38 RBI, 32 runs scored, 25 walks, 48 strikeouts, 13 steals. That’s a spectacularly awesome third-of-a-season stretch. Among qualified players, his OPS ranks 13th during this span.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You are the Max Scherzer of Statistics!

  • mgbode

    it’s usually the late-year and year-after effect. so, August/September will start filling up and it’ll spill over into next year (assuming positive buzz in offseason). I think if we maintain just over .500 that it’ll happen.

    Indians are the bandwagon team in town. It’s just how it is.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As soon as JC Romero is ready I expect you’ll see him promoted to the majors. Hagadone can go back down. But the bullpen has been shaky of course a few key injuries as well as pitching as much as they had to during the stretch where the starters were horrible didn’t help.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    To many people got stuck on that bandwagon in the past. Fooled ‘em once…

  • mgbode

    Kipnis has been great. He seems to be a bit more streaky than alot of the other good hitters in the league, but hopefully that consistency comes with experience and he can lockdown being one of the truly great hitters in MLB.

  • mgbode

    ’93-’01 legimately fun years to cheer for the Tribe
    ’05-’08 legimitately fun years to cheer for the Tribe

    yeah, some bad things happened during both stretches and not every year was a playoff year. but, they had good teams who had every possibility of pulling it off. hopefully, we are building that again (lots of things have to happen to get back there).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    My comment was about two years ago but thank goodness for the ’90s although hearing this weekend about Randy Johnson was like a kick in the coconuts!

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    I know plenty of folks who wanted to check out a game over the weekend, but were turned off on the idea when the cheapest seat they could get was $26. Has the team really been making the cheaper sections of the ballpark unavailable for sale?

  • Harv 21

    My feeling is that the tribe’s fan dynamic has changed in the last 20 years. Now the locals aren’t poised to support the team at the first sign of optimism. Standards have been raised, in team performance but also in what is considered good attendance. At Muni in 1992, 22,000 was considered a nice crowd. After 300+ consecutive sell-outs, it’s cause for Tom Hamilton’s barely restrained on-air seething.

  • Mike P

    It seems so. I tried to get bleacher seats to the Nats game on Fireworks Saturday, and they were “sold out”. Although, there were plenty of seats open when I sat down. I sat behind home plate up at the top, shaded against the rain, so, it worked out.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Scott just inked, penned, typed an educational story on this:

    http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2013/06/times-they-are-a-changing-tribe-ticket-prices-become-a-hot-topic/

    Much like the great “what if?” the Indians dropped the ball when it came to informing potential customers of significant changes. Perhaps this is the “missing link” as to why their attendance isn’t as great as others expected.

  • mgbode

    it’s in comparison with the rest of MLB. attendance has been rising nationwide for baseball. when ours doesn’t go up accordingly, it is bad for the team.

  • Garry_Owen

    I’m going to keep saying this until it catches on; indeed, I will be at the Jake on 6 July with a sign (look for it):
    Kipnis Everdeen: The Man on Fire

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Attendance is on the rise league wide? I could have sworn just a few weeks ago I heard on MLB Network that it was down or significantly low league wide. I could be mistaken or it has improved.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    LoL nice but what no $hamrock shout-out? First mgbode spurned me now you? If I didn’t like you guys I’d start to take this personally. ;-)

  • Garry_Owen

    Shout out? For what, now?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    For being simply shamwonderful!

  • Steve

    Of all the problem the Indians have had, I don’t get why Shelley Duncan seems to be so frequently be the face of the fan disgust.

    In 3 seasons here, he only played about 80 games a year, and gave the team a 106 OPS+, nowhere near anything special, but there have been countless worse players over the last couple years.

  • Mike P

    In 81 games last year, he batted 203. I cannot tell if your being sarcastic or not? He’s one of the worst Cleveland Indians of the past 15 years.

  • mgbode

    compare the 80s to the 90s to the 00s. It is continually going up across the league. It might dip in any particular year, but it has risen overall. I suspect the recent leveling off is due to more people staying at home with their HD and MLB.TV packages, so it’ll be up to the teams to figure out ways/reasons to keep fans coming out.

  • mgbode

    ok. you made me go and find the current numbers for this season. attendance is taking a bigger dip than I thought this season. in fact, the Indians have less people in the park this year compared to last year through 39 games?

    alot of “year-after” effect on some of the teams like the Nationals who are disappointing this year, but had a very nice year in 2012 and built some good buzz in the offseason.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/current_attendance.shtml

  • mgbode

    and, really interesting on the 10yr comparisons. the best way to do it would be a graph or at least an accumulation of the years, but I’m taking the easy way out. I’m comparing specific years:

    1980: 43mil, 1.65mil/team (Indians – 1mil – 23/26)
    1990: 54.8mil, 2.1mil/team (Indians – 1.2mil – 25/26)
    2000: 71.4mil, 2.38mil/team (Indians – 3.5mil – 1/30)
    2010: 73mil, 2.44mil/team (Indians – 1.4mil – 30/30)

    So, while I have seen articles depicting MLB has had a rising attendance and it is true, it is not nearly as indicative in the per team numbers. There was a jump from the 80s to the 90s, but then it has been a very slow creep. It looks so much better because they added 4 teams (Fl, TB, Az, Col). It looks like only Colorado has been helping the overall team average outside of the Randy Johnson years in Zona.

    The Indians, well, our attendance numbers are right at 17K/game overall and that is what we are at this season. So, outside of those special years, nothing has really changed for us.