April 17, 2014

Tribe Weekend Recap: Asdrubal Baerga, a tired rotation, and a Sunday game-changing comeback

Michael BournThe past seven days were well on their way to being the worst week of Tribe baseball since the days of 2009 The Bullpen From Hell Part 2. The Tigers stomped all over them for four nights and all but ended any shot the Wahoos had at overtaking them for AL Central division supremacy. There is still a Wild Card spot to contend with and plenty of baseball left to be played. The flailing Los Angeles Angels arrived in town, losers of four straight and 10 of 13. Seemed like the perfect elixir for the Indians to find themselves and get back on the winning track, right?

As we have seen all season from this group, you just don’t know which way they will turn. The post game players only meeting called by Jason Giambi after the four-game sweep was supposed to refocus them. Instead, Friday and Saturday spawned sloppy play and two bad losses sent the team spiraling to six straight losses. With the Browns preseason opener on Thursday night deemed a success, People were jumping off the Tribe bandwagon faster than you could say “Bernie Kosar is the Lord.” Nice guy manager Terry Francona was forced to go to the card he doesn’t like to play; the angry skipper.

“Basically, I was telling them how we want to play the game,” he said. “It’s not always going to be perfect, but we have to fight through frustration. That’s the kind of team we need to be. We can’t just show up. We’ve got to bring the lunch pail and find a way to be the better team.”

Center fielder Michael Bourn had a different take:  “Sometimes he’s got to let us know what time it is. He told us what was on his mind. I’ll leave it at that.”

Five and a half innings into the Sunday afternoon tilt, the Angels were making easy work a seemingly dead Indians team with a 5-0 lead. And it is not as if it was Jered Weaver shutting them out on one hit, it was journeyman Jerome Williams. With two outs and nobody on, a four-run rally started which may be the moment that changed the course of the stretch run, the same way the Chris Perez blown save a week ago changed the course of the division race.

The Tribe finished the comeback for a 6-5 win, sending everyone into Sunday night feeling just a tad better. An 0-7 week would have been completely devastating and the way this team continued to fight yesterday was huge. It doesn’t erase the sting of the ill-timed six-game losing streak, but it soften the blow a tad. Team Streak will once again have to find a way to turn things around.

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

Asdrubal and the missed window

I’ve feel like I have seen this somewhere before. An All-Star middle infielder who goes from hitting machine with a solid glove to an average ballplayer with diminished range and an effort level that leaves something to be desired. Back in 1995, Carlos Baerga was arguably the most popular of all of the Indians. But he began to eat and party his way out of being that smiling, happy ballplayer everyone loved so much. Then-Tribe GM John Hart could see the handwriting on the wall and got out before the rest of the league could figure it out for themselves. He sent a heart-broken Baerga to the Mets for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino a year later.

I’ve now watched essentially two second halves and a 75 percent of a third season where Asdrubal Cabrera has fallen apart, gotten heavy, and completely wore down. Save for one hot month, the first-half All-Star version of Asdrubal has failed to show in 2013. The cleanup spot experiment just is not working. His .204/.266/.296 July turned into a .167/.184/.361 August. And it is not just the overall numbers, it is the failures in clutch spots that have been killing the Indians. For the season, Asdrubal is hitting .206/.231/.278 with runners in scoring position and a putrid .163/.200/.186 with two-out and runners in scoring position.

To make matters worse, Cabrera has looked like a lazy statue with the glove. Over the weekend he made yet another brutal error on an easy double play ball Saturday night which completely changed the complexion of the game. The Tribe trailed 3-2 in the eighth. With a man on and nobody out, Mark Trumbo hit a tailor-made double play ball towards Cabrera and he just booted it. It was a simple lack of concentration. The error opened the flood gates to four-run inning for Los Angeles (which was aided by another Tribe error).

Sunday afternoon I hit the end of my rope with Asdrubal. With two out and the bases full of Angels, Mike Trout hit a ground ball between short and second base. Cabrera’s jump on the ball was comical. It looked like he was moving with a refrigerator on his back and he didn’t even make a diving attempt for it. Any average defensive shortstop gets to this ball and at least knocks it down. Cabrera wasn’t close and it got through for a two-run single, giving Los Angeles a 4-0 lead. He stepped to the plate to start the bottom of the inning to a chorus of boos. Asdrubal didn’t like the called second strike from home plate umpire Vic Carapazza (which was a bad call by the way) and he stepped away in disbelief. He struck out swinging and walked away screaming at Carapazza, causing his ejection. It is clear Asdrubal is frustrated with his performance and it boiled over yesterday. Meanwhile, the ejection was the best thing that could have happened to the Tribe, as his replacement, Mike Aviles, hit a two-run homer later in the game.

The shame of it all? The Indians missed their Hart/Baerga window to trade Asdrubal while he still had high value. Heading into this offseason, the Tribe will have a $10 million shortstop on the last year of his deal with skills that have been diminishing each of the past three seasons. You think the Cardinals, who were said to be hot for Cabrera at one time, are going to want to send one of their top pitching prospects and/or first baseman Matt Adams for a poor defensive range, declining bat shortstop on a one-year deal, knowing the Indians will gladly let him walk after 2014 with Francisco Lindor set to take over a year later?

(Side note – Jeff Ellis over at IBI deserves credit for the original Asdrubal/Baerga comparisons).

All of a sudden, is there a starting pitching worry?

What a difference a week makes. Corey Kluber was looking like an easy #2 behind Justin Masterson. Scott Kazmir would slot into that third spot, after his last dominating performance in Miami, and rookie sensation Danny Salazar was being recalled to finish the season in a six-man rotation to keep necessary arms fresh.

Seven days later, Kluber is out 4-6 weeks with a finger issue, Kazmir has admitted to a “dead arm,” Zach McAllister still isn’t close to being all the way back from his finger problem, and Ubaldo Jimenez is, well, Ubaldo Jimenez. You hope he can pitch you into the sixth. At least Salazar looks like the real deal and the Indians loosened the restrictions on him.

From the opening pitch Friday night, it was clear something was up with Kazmir.  “It didn’t look like he had his best stuff to start,” Francona said. “But some little things led to some bigger things and I think he’s a little bit tired.”

The first five Angels he faced went single, single, walk, single. After striking out Chris Nelson, Kazmir gave up a three-run bomb to Josh Hamilton, who came in hitting under .165 against lefties. It was 5-0 in a blink and the way the Indians offense had been going, it was more than enough for Jered Weaver.

After the game, Kazmir admitted he just wasn’t himself.

“I thought I could gut it out, but it was tough getting good extension and being accurate with my pitches,” he said. “At the same time, I said I wanted the ball. I wanted to go out there and come up big, especially after the Detroit series. It just didn’t happen.”

In something of a rarity, especially this season, the Indians pen was nails the rest of the way. Replacing Kazmir and Matt Albers in the fifth was Carlos Carrasco. Yes, we had a Carlos Carrasco sighting people! Once again, the power-throwing right-handed provided us with the ultimate tease. His electric fastball was consistently hitting 97 and most importantly, he wasn’t afraid to come inside. Carrasco held the Angels scoreless for five innings on just one hit.

“Carlos pitched great,” Francona said. “We’ve seen him have some pretty good games. We know it’s in there.”

With Kazmir in dire need of some extra rest, Francona announced Carrasco will make his next scheduled start, Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota.

No need to discuss Ubaldo’s night in depth. He did what he usually does, bobbed and weaved his way into the seventh, allowing five hits, walking three and striking out five. Only two of the three runs he allowed were earned, but the unearned run came courtesy of his own throwing error in the fifth. It was one of four Tribe errors Saturday.

The hope was that Masterson would come out Sunday and stop the bleeding, but for a second straight outing, he was far from sharp. Cabrera’s dog effort on the two-out RBI single in the second certainly didn’t help his cause, but the Tribe’s top dog was hurt most by his lack of command. Walks kill starting pitchers, and this was no different. Masterson walked two in the first, both of which would come around to score. A two-out, second inning walk to Kole Calhoun loaded the bases for Trout. You just don’t walk Kole Calhoun with Mike Trout in the on-deck circle.

Masterson would exit after just four and a third, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks. Had the bullpen and offense not picked him up, the “he’s not an ace” whispers would be a lot louder this morning.

“Masty said he felt kind of blah,” Francona said. “There was nothing wrong with him; he just didn’t feel like the ball was coming out well.”

Meanwhile, the bullpen pitched four and two-thirds scoreless yesterday and six scoreless on Friday. Overall it was a nice weekend for this maligned group. Oh, and in case you wanted to know, closer Chris Perez looked great Sunday pitching a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

Will Sunday’s big comeback awaken the sleeping offense?

It was only one game and into the sixth inning of it, the Tribe bats had produced just one hit. “We were kind of dead out there,” Stubbs said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy. Things weren’t clicking for us.”

After back to back strikeouts by Lonnie Chisenhall and Drew Stubbs, leadoff man and offensive catalyst Michael Bourn singled. None of us who were in the park thought much of it, considering how the great Jerome Williams was making the Indians look silly. But then Nick Swisher homered and a five-run deficit was quickly three. Williams seemed a little rattled as he walked Jason Kipnis and now faced Aviles, who you remember was replacing the ejected Cabrera. The man they call Handsome Mike reached out and crushed the second pitch he saw over the high wall in left and all of a sudden we had ourselves a ballgame at 5-4. There was life inside of Progressive Field and life on the Indians bench.

The Wahoos still trailed by a run in the seventh, but Carlos Santana tied the game with the team’s third homer of the game, a solo blast off of J.C. Guiterrez. With one out, Lonnie Chisenhall worked a walk and was moved to second on Stubbs’s single. Left-handed reliever Nick Maronde was summoned from the pen to face Bourn, who knew how important finishing off the comeback was. He went the other way with his single which brought home Chisenhall and the Indians fought all the way back to take a 6-5 lead, which they would not relinquish.

Said Bourn: “Certain games are key games in a season. This could have been one of them. We’ll see in the future. We’ll go back and look at it when everything is said and done, and see where we’re at.”

After the first six days of this past week, you will take baby steps. More importantly, it was the first time in ages the Indians offense had any sort of mini-explosion. Coming into yesterday’s game, they had scored just 21 runs in their previous nine games. Five of those came in Wednesday night’s 14-inning loss to the Tigers. I still think something in the lineup has to change.

The obvious move is to take Cabrera and move him down in the order. I think Francona is being stubborn with this move, thinking Asdrubal will work his way out of his funk. However, wouldn’t this team be served better with Brantley and Santana moving up and possibly getting an additional late inning at-bat that Cabrera may be getting? Yan Gomes should also be playing at least five times a week. This team is much better served with Gomes’s defense behind the plate than Santana’s, not to mention the fact that he has been a hitting machine in August (9-20/.450/.542/.650) after a stellear July (.313/.371/.500). Santana can either DH or play first.

Hopefully Sunday’s game jarred something loose. Without Kluber and a slowed down Kazmir, the offense is going to have to do more than average 2.3 runs per game or else this bad week could turn even worse.

A quick word about Mark Reynolds

It was no secret that the guy was struggling. Francona said all the right things about how he would snap out of his funk, but in the end, the team got tired of waiting and he was finally cut loose by the Tribe on Thursday. I saw a lot of hand-wringing over this, including from our own prodigy Jacob Rosen who makes his valid points about the Indians whiffing on two of their flyer free agent signings (the other being Brett Myers).

I will be the first to admit I was on board with the Reynolds signing, which came before both Swisher and Bourn. I saw a guy capable of hitting 30 homers coming off of a smokin’ hot last month of the season and hoping to take that into the next campaign. I also saw a Tribe lineup completely devoid of right-handed power scuffle through 2012. At one-year and $6 million I saw very little risk. Mega Mark’s hot April got the Indians going and at the time, he was a valuable piece to the lineup. Then his game completely fell off the table.

Jacob’s main point was that the Indians cannot afford to swing and miss on their free agent signings and that their margin for error on these deals is slim. I agree with that, however, it was still a one-year deal. Without Reynolds starting off the way he did, maybe the Indians aren’t even close to contention for a Wild Card spot right now. It is not as if it was a $12 million failure either. The money is off the books in 2014, so that doesn’t hurt you either. Sometimes you take shots and they turn out like Reynolds, other times you turn $1 million into Scott Kazmir. It is just too bad that Mark couldn’t turn things around at the plate because even a semi-hot version of him could really help this offense right now.

Now, about that seven million given to Myers……

Up Next

The Indians hit the road for a nine-game trip that starts in Minnesota tonight. The Twins will send rookie left-hander Andrew Albers to the mound for his second career start. The first time around he went eight and a third scoreless against the Chicago White Sox, allowing just four hits. The Tribe will counter with Danny Salazar, who is making his third career start.

 (photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • boomhauertjs

    Shapenetti are no John Hart.

    Unfortunately, with a lefty on the mound tonight, Aviles will be at 3rd and Asdrubal will be back in the lineup.

  • Natedawg86

    1. If a pitcher makes an error eventually resulting in an unearned run, it should probably be an earned run.
    2. Your number 1 pitcher should not have any “blah” games, esp in the midst of a losing streak which is significantly reducing your chances at postseason ball

  • Kevin B

    I agree with the general idea of your thoughts on Cabrera, and I agree that we missed a really great opportunity to move him this offseason, but I think that comparing him to Baerga does a major disservice to a guy who was one of the finest hitters in all of baseball for half a decade. Cabby’s had one full season where he hit above .276, he’s hit 20+ HR once (and only 10+ HR twice!), and had one season of more than 68 RBI. He does turn in some magnificent plays defensively, but his range is severely limited. He’s definitely one of the most overrated players in baseball.

    I believe he can right his ship and be 2011 Cabrera again, but I’m not willing to gamble that he will any longer. When you have a guy like Aviles, who is at least serviceable and at most a gamer who appears to be hungry to prove himself at the major league level, and a stable of stud middle infielders who are not far from being ready to play with the big boys, I think you part ways with him and pick up a prospect or two.

    Bottom line: we are better when Mike Aviles is our shortstop. Play him.

  • Bill

    Two thoughts on the pitching staff.

    I know watching Ubaldo is like pulling teeth, but a 4.11 ERA from your 4th/5th starter, is acceptable, in my opinion. Is he the bona fide ace we thought he was going to be? No, but he is what he is at this point, and as a 4th/5th starter he can be effective.

    Also the development of Bauer worries me, his velocity is way down since college, where he was 94-97 consistently, now his fastball is in the 90′s. Couple that wit a lack of command and he may not be the top prospect he was when he was drafted. ESPN’s Keith Law recently had an article about Bauer and his sub par year and mentioned similar ideas.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dconeil Hamsterdam

    What’s the Tribe’s record over the past five years against rookie left-handers? 0-23?

  • nj0

    I’m glad people are finally starting to realize that ACab is a sloppy defender with terrible range.

  • nj0

    Ubaldo suffers from Danny Ferry syndrome. The hype surrounding him and the steep price in trade overshadows any contribution.

  • Bill

    White and Pomeranz are both flops so far, Ublado is at least serviceable. The Tribe “won” that deal, even though both sides had much higher expectations.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Man the Indians barely got a mention in three days I guess between another August plummet and the start of Browns season this is what happens to the red feathered step child.

  • nj0

    Baerga (21-27): .298/.338/.444, 4001 PAs,193 2B, 105 HRs, 571 RBIS
    ACab (21-27): .274/.336/.414, 3285 PAs, 180 2B, 68 HRs, 370 RBIs

    Pretty similar I think especially if you factor that ACab has had 800 less PAs. Baerga still did hit for more power.

    What’s even scarier is when you look at Peralta’s stats through 27:
    .266/.331/.425, 3456 PAs, 178 2B, 96 HRs, 413 RBIs

    Very much the same types of player at shortstop.

  • nj0

    I’m not disagreeing. My point is that most fans still don’t see it that way. That White and Pomz haven’t done anything gets overlooked.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Most people knew of his deficiencies it was just that his hitting helped make up for it. This year not only isn’t he hitting but his defense is about as awful as I can remember.

    Btw the Indians are making me look like $hamstradamus whether it’s a lineup that is still weak despite offseason improvement to pitching that over excelled and unfortunately cannot continue the pace it was on largely due to the fact that almost all of their SP cannot pitch more then six innings. Mix in injuries to McAllister and now Kluber not to mention Kazmir being tired and frankly I’m amazed that the bullpen has been able to do what it has the last ten days. In other words this team is a mess. I really believe if not for Francona we’d be seeing an even more of a sinking ship. Unfortunately for Francona he’s not in Boston anymore!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Baerga was my favorite!

  • Bill

    Misread your comment. But I agree, the hype and the high price, at least at the time, will overshadow any contribution he has unless he somehow reverts to his old form from Colorado, which isn’t gonna happen.

  • ToxicToast

    There was some talk about the Yankees being high on Asdrubal in a trade scenario in July due to their injuries and his ability to play more than one infield position. Since a trade with St. Louis is surely out of the question now, maybe we can hope Brian Cashman is under pressure to acquire an “all star” this winter and has to overpay for Asdrubal.

    I had started listening to my Frank Turner playlist on Spotify when the Tribe started their rally yesterday. So maybe I should just listen to him exclusively for the next 6-8 weeks.

  • nj0

    Yeah. My armchair predictions have been from 81 to 85 wins and I think we’re still on pace for that kind of finish. An okay team, maybe one that can sneak into the playoffs in a down division or with a hot streak.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t think it’s very realistic to be using the p word myself but you are right this team could catch fire again and put themselves back in the thick of it. I just don’t see it. It’s August I don’t know how many more serious streaks are left in this team. It was nice to see them come back yesterday and avoid being swept for the second series in a row but even that had to take a toll.

    I just don’t like the way this team looks and the way they are playing.

  • nj0

    I use the p word simply to note that any decent squad in any sport can get hot at the right time. It’s more to factor in that “stuff happens” than any respect for the quality of this team.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    “red feathered step child” is great.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Time will tell it’s just not looking good IMO. You still have the same contenders and now KC is playing out of their mind. Had the Indians been able to keep pace it would have been difficult enough but now, I just don’t see it. Of course this doesn’t mean it can’t I just try to be realistic. Which is why I tried to make a point last week about how I expect the mantra of this season to be changing soon. Point in fact I heard Matt Underwood say exactly what I had predicted. That this team wasn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot and that it had been up to now overachieving. Absolutely. But this was never said until the team started to hit the skids and play to more of a level it’s norm. The goal line was moved back if you will. I understand it but it doesn’t sit well with me which is why I was hoping at the trade deadline we’d see the Indians FO continue the work they started during the winter. Instead they did nothing and I heard one of 2012′s mantras, “They just need to play better!” My blood pressure went up when I heard/read this trust me. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way. I see decisions like DFA Reynolds calling up Salazar and have hope that the culture of the FO is changing. We’ll see this winter though because it’s pretty clear a lot more work is needed on and off the field.

  • nj0

    As I’ve said many times before, I don’t know what achievable trade deadline move was realistically available to us. I do agree though that it’d be nice to see a change in that culture. To be fair, things like trading for Ubaldo and bringing up Chiz were much more aggressive moves from past years than we probably wouldn’t have seen before. Shame both of those didn’t produce better results.

  • ToxicToast

    You’re spot on when you say the Royals are playing out of their minds. They are not going to win 17 out of 20 games from now until October. No matter how much young talent they have, they’re still going to fall back to earth too.

  • Kevin B

    Pretty similar? Hardly. Just in the statistics you cite (and I have no reason to assume your numbers aren’t accurate), Baerga had 24 more points on his BA, 716 more PAs, 13 more 2Bs, 37 more HRs, and 201 more RBIs. Go down through their seasons one at a time and compare them. Tell me which guy you’d rather have. It’s not close, really.

  • Kevin B

    Also, don’t forget that a HUGE percentage of ACab’s power numbers came in ONE year. He hit 37% of his career HRs in 2011. His RBI totals are staggeringly disappointing outside of that year as well. His annual RBI totals are 22, 47, 68, 29, 92, 68, are 44 (through August 2013).

    I’m not a Cabrera hater, but the numbers don’t lie. Baerga ended up being disappointing as well – perhaps even more disappointing because of how much more talent he squandered.

  • markn95

    I just wonder if Cabrera is playing through an injury. I remember everyone who was in AZ for Spring Training say Cabrera was in the best shape of his career and primed for a big year. But he slumped right out of the gate and had the DL stint early in the season. Could be he’s not fully recovered. Anyway, that’s the optimistic view and one I hope other GM’s will take this coming offseason :).

    Also, if the Indians fall further out of wildcard contention these next few weeks, is there any chance a desperate St. Louis winds up trading for Cabrera, warts and all? I’m not 100 percent clear on how waiver claims work but my guess is that given the position he plays and relatively low salary, he wouldn’t clear. Just a thought.

  • Rick Manning

    Watch Cabrera get traded for a box of spare parts in the offseason, and then post an .800 OPS for somebody else. I think the rumors got to him, for most of the season hes played like a guy who wants to be traded.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I got a better chance with Candice Swanepoel then the Indians probably do making a deal with the Cardinals. St. Louis doesn’t need him they might as well keep using Kozma.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t know either that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something, anything. Six years we’ll hear they were three hours from getting Soriano or Garza or anyone. (This is in reference to the claim that the Indians were two hours from landing Randy Johnson in I believe 2007)

    The trade for Jimenez was definitely un-Indians like it’s a shame like you said it hasn’t worked out. Luckily Pomeranz and White have stunk so the deal was basically a wash.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think the Indians and their fans hope so anyways. I agree I don’t think they’ll keep the pace up but at the same time the Royals are finally playing like many had thought they could.

  • Harv 21

    Re Astrubal, agree. There’s a stone-cold baseball talent under there that gets buried by the attitude when things aren’t going exactly right. You can be a Type B, you can be a pouter, but not both. He seems to take his hitting slumps to the field and his fielding errors to the batter’s box. You have to be mentally tougher in a game where 3 successes in 10 chances can put you in the Hall of Fame.

    This idea that they should have traded him before his value decreased is my pet peeve. Unless you tell me the deal they turned down, or show me that they shut down trade feelers (reports were the opposite), we can’t say that the FO blew any sort of opportunity. Other GMs aren’t going to just mindlessly point and say “all star!!” and offer big value. They look just as hard at the full year performance and the the other Astrubal issues as we do. If Antonetti had some offer, he might have correctly decided that the better risk was an Astrubal reporting lean for spring training and having contract incentive for a big year, rather than whatever trade was out there. Just because the player is flopping doesn’t mean Antonetti had reason to expect that and he should have traded him for just anything.

  • Steve

    You can win with Aviles, but this team really needs Cabrera to get right if they want to get the WC spot back. I think you keep rolling the dice that he figures it out sooner rather than later.

    And, referencing a nj0 post, in an article about Cabrera, you knock the current FO ability to horse-trade?

  • Steve

    A lot of that difference is just the environment each played in. That line for Baerga is a 109 OPS+, and 107 for Cabrera.

  • nj0

    And Peralta’s is only 100.

  • Steve

    The hyperbolic line was two minutes, but it could have been two years, Seattle was just playing the two offers off each other. Bidding was going to come down to the last two minutes no matter what the Indians put on the table. Most auctions get crazy at the end.

    Meanwhile, Soriano has a 68 OPS+ in the Bronx.

  • Rick Manning

    But, but, but he has 3 home runs and 8 RBI’s!!!

  • Rick Manning

    Well said.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I thought it was two hours but two minutes, damn, that’s even worse. In any account Soriano was just an example. At just $6M he wouldn’t have been any worse then Stubbs. The Indians are severely lacking power even still. No power at any corner spot in either the outfield or infield.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This sounds more like Underwood but 3 HRs and 8 RBIs he’d be the team leader over that stretch for the Indians!

  • Steve

    Theres no meaningful distinction. Auctions go down to the last second of bidding. And his .230 obp certainly would be worse.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yea I get it there is never a trade deadline deal you’d make period. Luckily the Indians are your team ‘cuz I don’t forsee them ever acting differently. At least not while I’m alive anyways.

  • guest

    Make that 0-24.