These are interesting times for our Wahoos. While most of you were on LeBron and Dan Gilbert Plane Watch or worrying about Johnny Manziel’s July 4th in Las Vegas, your local nine was taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Big crowds came out Friday and Saturday as the Tribe split the first two. They recovered nicely to take Sunday’s rubber match 4-1.
The team is kind of in limbo right now. Where are they? Who are they? Is this a contender or a team that should start selling off veteran pieces? 2013 proved you shouldn’t count a Terry Francona managed team out, but the defensive issues and the sluggish bats make you think this isn’t “the year.”
Nevertheless, there is a lot of baseball to be played and the Indians just won a big series against a team they are chasing in Kansas City. There was plenty more going on not just on the field, but off of it as well this weekend. So as we do every Monday morning, let us dive into the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Dr. Smooth – All Star. That has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?
“You never know when it’s going to happen again,” said newly minted All Star Michael Brantley. “To have this happen now for me, words can’t describe how happy I am inside and how blessed I am. I just want to make sure that I enjoy waking up early in the morning until I go back to sleep, and just keeping my eyes open to all the great experiences.”
You could see this coming since the start of 2013. Brantley has gradually progressed each year. This season, he has essentially been the only Indian position player who has been solid from day one through today. There has been no drop of in his play. Brantley has been a model of consistency in a sea of inconsistency.
“It’s well-deserved,” Francona said. “I think it means a lot that the players voted for him. I think that shows the respect he has and is growing throughout our league. That was one of the more pleasurable conversations I’ve had in a long time.”
Think about it. Michael was the player to be named later in the CC Sabathia trade six years ago. Had Sabathia not taken the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs, Brantley would not have been a member of the Tribe. Matt LaPorta was supposed to be the middle of the order power right-handed bat that would stabilize the lineup for the future. Even though he turned out to be a complete and historic bust, the trade was a winner for both teams.
The Brewers knew they had little to no shot to bring Sabathia back in his walk season, but they went all in for a playoff berth. Without CC, they don’t get it. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, including a NL high seven complete games after being traded over from the Indians.
Brantley has risen to become one of the Tribe’s core players, a wizard with the bat and with the glove in left. He plays every single day, hits wherever he needs to in the lineup, and just flat out produces. Everything about his game has improved since becoming a regular in 2011. 2014 the rest of the league has finally taken notice. After another weekend where he had seven hits, Dr. Smooth sits at .321/.385/.511 with 13 homers, 57 RBIs, and 10 steals. Brantley also leads the AL in outfield assists. He has truly become a complete player.
“He’s developing also into a leader on the team now,” said Tribe GM Chris Antonetti, “because he’s comfortable in his place on the team and he knows how much everybody in the clubhouse, the coaches’ room, the front office, organization, how much everyone respects the way he goes about his business. It’s been great to see the way he’s performed this year. It’s not luck. It’s a byproduct of all the work he’s put in to get to this point. He’s that guy who’s constantly trying to improve. It’s been fun to see.”
In Saturday night’s 7-3 win, center fielder Michael Bourn came around third to score an insurance run in the ninth inning. He pulled up a little as he stepped towards home and didn’t come back out for the bottom of the inning. It was hoped that it was nothing serious for the Tribe’s leadoff hitter, but 12 hours later the brass took no chances.
Bourn was placed on the 15-DL with a strained left hamstring. Yes, it is the same hamstring that caused Bourn to miss time earlier this season an was surgically repaired this past winter. This particular strain however did not occur in the same spot. Michael has had an up and down season, but losing him clearly does not help this already inconsistent baseball team. 2014 has seemed a little snake-bitten from the beginning.
Without Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera will most likely alternate in the top spot of the order. Cabbie took the leadoff spot against left-handed starters in April when Bourn was DL’d. Brantley will shift over from left to center. That move hurt an already porous Tribe defense. Dr. Smooth excels in left, where he leads the league in outfield assists and has played gold glove caliber. As a center fielder, he is average. This also means that at-bats will open back up for someone. Mike Aviles started in left on Sunday and Ryan Raburn could see his playing time get a boost.
To take Bourn’s roster spot, the Indians promoted 25-year old outfielder Tyler Holt from Columbus. The former Florida State Seminole started the season in AA with the Akron RubberDucks and hit .298/.416/.347 with 11 steals in 124 ABs. He was then promoted to the Clippers where kept up the same pace; .302/.433/.410 with 10 steals in 139 ABs. Holt is a fourth outfielder type with decent speed and a plus glove. The good news? He hits right-handed. It seems like the Indians have a lot of those kind of guys in their system doesn’t it?
With the All-Star break just a week away, if Bourn heals quickly, he essentially just misses a week of games.
I thought by now the TJ House/Zach McAllister situation would have sorted itself out, but it hasn’t. McAllister continues to dominate AAA, which he is clearly has passed. He should be ready to be back in the big league rotation by now, but it is clear that Francona has taken a liking to that crafty left-hander he has in his back pocket.
House was not expected to be a contributor in Cleveland this season. There were several guys in front of him – Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin for example. However, the circumstances have changed greatly. Carrasco has been moved to the pen. Danny Salazar, expected to be the team’s third starter, fell off the table and is back in Columbus trying to craft a third pitch. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere near ready to come back. Bauer and Tomlin have replaced the aforementioned duo.
McAllister’s struggles and subsequent back injury put House into play. Francona had every opportunity to turn back to Z Mac this week, but decided to give House another shot. In fact, when asked about House’s staying power in the Cleveland rotation, Francona said that they guys who are here will pitch. When a follow up question to get more in-depth about when McAllister could return, Tito got as defensive as he ever gets, saying “I already answered your question. Why would you ask the same thing again?”
Then House went out and beat the Kansas City Royals, giving the Indians six and two-thirds of three-run ball as his team rolled to a 7-3 win. It was his first career win and his team showered him with beer in a postgame clubhouse celebration.
“I’ll take one of those every time I pitch if it means the team wins,” said House.
The real question now is which way will Francona go. Is House going to stick around longer or will McAllister, who gave up two runs in four innings on Sunday, make his return?
“T.J. has pitched for us a while now,” said manager Terry Francona. “He’s pitched well enough to have a win before now. But anytime it’s your first official win, I’m sure it’s very special.”
I still think the best move for this team right now is to DL Justin Masterson to let him get his head together and hopefully regain some of his lost velocity and bring back McAllister. Then you can figure it out from there. But judging by Francona’s comments after Masterson’s last bad start, that doesn’t seem likely.
“I think he actually feels OK,” said Francona. “I think he some command (issues) that he’ll have to fight through. I think physically he feels pretty good. He threw a lot of pitches, some were of his doing, some weren’t. I think he’s open to working with Mickey (Callaway) a lot. We’ll fight through it together.”
Something always seems to pop up in these situations, let us see how thing play out.
Corey Kluber is an ace. Pure and simple. Watching his starts is such a pleasure when you compare it to the angst the majority of his rotation-mates. The Royals were smelling blood, knowing that they could take another series in Cleveland and kick the team chasing them down a peg or two. Kluber was having none of it.
Pitching into the ninth, Corey pounded the zone and the Royals, save for Indian-killer Mike Moustakas, had zero answers. All they could muster was one run on four hits. That came on Moose’s 10th homer of the season. Five of them have come against the Indians. Eric Hosmer’s double in the ninth cost Kluber a chance to finish off the game, but he departed with 10 punchouts and just one walk. The crowd lustily booed as Terry Francona came out of the dugout with just two outs remaining.
“I would have booed me too,” said the Tribe skipper.
I shutter to think what the Indians rotation would look like if not for the steady hand of Kluber. In his last four starts, he has pitched 29.1 innings and has posted a sick 1.09 ERA while averaging a K per inning. The Tribe had big plans for contending in 2014 and it centered around a banner year from Masterson as he pitches for a new contract in his walk year, a breakout season from Danny Salazar, and the maturation of Kluber. They’ve gone one for three, a huge reason the Tribe hangs around the .500 mark.
Kluber did not get elected to the All-Star game, but he is involved in the 34th player vote. The fans get one more say to send someone from each league to the Midsummer Classic in Minneapolis. Kluber is part of a loaded class of snubbed pitchers which includes Los Angeles starter Garrett Richards, Chicago ace Chris Sale, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, and Detroit’s Rick Porcello. #VoteKluber people, Help send our ace to Minnesota!.
Then there is the Tribe’s playoff chances and situation. They have won four of five after taking the series with Kansas City and are 43-44. This puts them six and a half games back of Detroit in the AL Central and four and a half games back of the second Wild Card spot. Are they in it? Technically yes they are. But those of us who watch this team on a nightly basis know this is not a playoff team.
The Indians front office must know this as well. This weekend, two teams began selling off parts with three plus weeks to spare. There is no reason to wait for the July 31st trade deadline when you know your fate. The more I watch this team, the more I know they should be playing for 2015, not 2014. That means they should be evaluating what they can get for two of there veteran pieces – Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.
The New York Yankees are coming to town this week for a four-game set with the Tribe. The other three starters not named Masahiro Tanaka that are set to go? Shane Greene, David Phelps, and the newly acquired Brandon McCarthy 3-10, 5.10 ERA), who has been awful in Arizona. 85 year old Brian Roberts plays second for the Bombers. At third currently is a combination of Kelly Johnson and something called Zelous Wheeler. You tell me that a Masterson/Cabrera deal wouldn’t be PERFECT for the Yankees.
Asdrubal could instantly be an upgrade at either second (a position he played with the Indians in ’07 and ’08) or at third. Masterson could immediately slot in behind Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda with potentially Sabathia out for the year.
But even if the Yankees wouldn’t bite, both could be attractive trade candidates. Yes, I know Masterson has been awful this season, but you know that it is in there for him to be very good. All it takes is one team to think they can cure him. He also wouldn’t be costly, considering he is in his walk year. The way he has been pitching this season, if the Indians did decide to hang onto him and give him the $14 million qualifying offer, I bet he would take it. Trading him may be the better option depending on what you could get.
As for Cabrera, there is zero chance he gets the qualifying offer and the Indians have his replacement lined up for next year in uber prospect Francisco Lindor. I don’t know how much worse the team would be today if Mike Aviles took over as the everyday shortstop with Jose Ramirez coming up to spell him. He will walk for nothing at season’s end anyways. I’d be gauging his market on a daily basis. A package deal with Masterson could net something decent in terms of prospects plus a contender would be getting two guys playing for new deals.
This is a big week for the Tribe if they think they can hang around. The Yankees are here for four before a three-game home set with the White Sox before the All-Star break. 5-2 or even 6-1 would be a fantastic momentum builder for the second half of the season.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)