August 26, 2014

Tribe Weekend Recap: Its all about the pitching

Michael Bourn

September is just about here. Time is running short for our Wahoos, but they refuse to give into the fight. (Eric Wedge would be so proud.) With their schedule in Soft Mode, the Tribe had to take advantage of what was in front of them. They started their nine-game stretch with three of the AL’s worst teams by taking two of three from the Minnesota Twins. Up next was a trip home to square off with the Houston Astros. Missing their best pitcher Dallas Keuchel was a bonus. The Indians offense, however, was still missing some key cogs and under performing. Things got worse when starting catcher (and one of the few bats that has actually been steady) Yan Gomes was placed on the seven-day concussion list after getting hit in the side of the head with a foul tip Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis.

Anything less than a series win is a major disappointment at this point, especially when a team like the Astros comes into your home ballpark. Things got off to a horrific start. What went down Friday night in the eighth and ninth innings with the score tied 1-1 was a classic case of 2014 Cleveland Indians baseball. [Read more...]

Lookin’ for glove in all the wrong places

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Whoops! There it was.

For the second consecutive series, the Cleveland Indians failed to close out the final game of a could-have-been sweep. There are bound to be games where things simply don’t click—bats go cold, an erstwhile rock solid bullpen implodes, Ryan Raburn spikes a ball into left-center field. Things happen. But during a time in the season where that number in the Games Behind column seems to be stuck at 4.5, with each game signaling one less chance at closing the gap, late-season games tend to have a larger mental impact than the ones which were completed in the late-spring or early-summer months. But what would today’s picture look like had those previous, ostensibly less important games gone differently?

And by different, it’s easy to look at the starting rotation—where would the Indians be if Justin Masterson maintained his 2013 form?—but the Tribe presently boasts the eighth highest fWAR amongst all pitching staffs. It’s also easy to look at the bats, the ones which tend to morph into blocks of ice at the most inopportune times (typically when Corey Kluber is on the mound). In addition, the lost production from key contributors during the 2013 campaign is glaring—we’re talking a 10-win swing that’s been burdened by the rest of the 40-man roster. But the Indians have scored the seventh most runs in all of baseball, more than the Orioles, the Royals, the Mariners, the Yankees–teams they all trail in the hunt for a post season berth. Cleveland has scored just 61 fewer runs (less than half a run per game) than the league-leading Oakland Athletics.

So what gives? Why are the Indians, with pitching and hitting stats among upper tier, running in place around that .500 mark? Why do they continue to find themselves four or five games out of October Baseball? [Read more...]

Twins 4, Indians 1: Bats go silent as sweep chance goes by the board

Corey KluberThis is what is so frustrating about our Indians. Here they are, winners of seven of nine, going for a sweep of the Minnesota Twins with their ace Corey Kluber on the mound and the offense can’t even muster a single scoring chance outside of a solo blast from Zach Walters. Despite the 4-1 loss at Target Field, the Tribe still won another series and that is what is important right now.

You had hoped for better, but for some reason of late, when the offense sees Kluber on the mound, the bats turn into noodles. Over his past three starts while Corey was still in the game, the Wahoo offense has scored four runs. We are so used to Kluber being all but perfect that you feel as though two runs should get it done. Thursday afternoon he was off, which is still better than most other options. Kluber hasn’t walked more more than two batters since June 15 in Boston and hadn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since July 11th. Wednesday afternoon he walked four and gave up three earned runs. He was due for something of a clunker, but really it was just two hits that did him in.  [Read more...]

Now and Later: Sorting out the Indians’ options at the plate

Zach Walters

Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Ryan Raburn, and Jason Giambi—four players who were all significant contributors on a 92-win playoff team last year that featured just twelve hitters1. This season, all four have spent time on the disabled list, and three of them have missed significant action2. So just how are the Cleveland Indians still standing and in the AL Wild Card race? Much like the core of their team, it’s in large part to unlikely contributors.

With the trades of Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, coupled with the significant injuries to Swisher and David Murphy, the Indians have to see what they have not only to hang in the race this summer but to set their roster up for 2015. Throughout different stretches of the season, the Tribe has had winning hits or hot weeks from the likes of Nyjer Morgan, Justin Sellers, Chris Dickerson, Zach Walters, Jose Ramirez, George Kottaras, Roberto Perez, and Tyler Holt. Only Morgan was on the Opening Day roster, and none of these guys were in anything but contingency plans for 2014, if that. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the upper levels of the organization were completely devoid of serviceable position player talent.
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Footnotes:

  1. Swisher, Bourn, Raburn and Giambi combined for a 7.6 WAR, 74 doubles, 53 homers, 199 RBI, 24 steals, and 433 games just to name a few stats []
  2. The same stats? -2.9 WAR, 38 doubles, 16 homers, 90 RBI, 8 steals, and 252 games []

Indians 5, Twins 0: Handsome in the House

TJ House

Don’t look now, but here they come. The Cleveland Indians, the consistent inconsistents, are in the midst of the soft part of their schedule. After taking two of three from the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, the next nine games on the docket featured three of the AL’s worst teams; Minnesota, Houston, and Chicago. The Twins were first up and the way things got started two nights ago early, this wasn’t going to be the beginning of something big. But since Trevor Bauer gave up five runs in the first inning Tuesday night, the Indians have shutout out the Twinkies. That’s right, 17 straight scoreless frames from your Wahoo pitching staff.

They battled back to take the first game of the series Tuesday as they chipped away at that five run deficit and eventually won 7-5. Last night they led from start to finish as T.J. House and four relievers held Minnesota scoreless on five hits in a 5-0 win. The hot and cold offense has woken up again. The arms are doing their thing. Is it de ja vu all over again for the Indians? Could another late season sizzling streak be in the offing? [Read more...]

Indians 7, Twins 5: Holt and relievers star as Wahoos complete impressive comeback

Tyler Holt

I will be honest: With the way the Indians offense has performed most of the year and with the up and down nature of the team as a whole, I thought the game was over when I turned the TV on. I took my dog for a quick walk after the Indians batted in the first. When I came back inside, the first thing I saw was Oswaldo Arcia’s three-run blast which had capped off a five-run, four-hit start for the Minnesota Twins. I thought to myself, “I could just save myself the time and start my recap now.” But that my friends, is why they play nine innings.

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Tribe Weekend Recap: Dominant starting pitching, slumbering bats, and Ubaldo being Ubaldo

Carlos Carrasco

This weekend series was once again another example of what this 2014 Cleveland Indians team is all about. The AL East leading Baltimore Orioles came to town with the biggest margin of any division top dog in baseball. Their offense is beastly, with power up and down the lineup. So naturally the story of the weekend was the Indians starting pitching. You know, the group that was Corey Kluber and a bunch of rotating pieces shuffling between Columbus and the bullpen? Well here they were, dominating one of the best offenses in the game and leading the Indians to a series win, one they needed badly to keep pace in the race for the second Wild Card.

It is still tough to see this team making another run like they did last year and it was this weekend that was example number one. There is a reason that the Wahoos haven’t won more than four games in a row this season. You can point to the up and down starting pitching all you want, but the hot and cold offense is the real reason. The much maligned rotation is on a crazy run this last week. Going back to last Saturday in New York, the Tribe starters have pitched 44 innings and has allowed just four earned runs. That’s good for a 1.02 ERA. On top of that is an 0.73 WHIP and an opponents batting average of .168. It was one thing to shut down the 4A lineup that Arizona Diamondbacks. It is quite another to do what Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar did to the Orioles. [Read more...]

Cleveland Indians Closer Doug Jones – Reliving Yesteryear

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Mariano Rivera: “Super Mariano.” Aroldis Chapman: “The Cuban Missile.” Mitch Williams: (sing it) “Wild Thing!” (“You-stole-a-Cleve-land thing!”).

Doug Jones: “Sultan of Slow”?

Yeah.. that’s not really his nickname. Although I don’t suspect he would mind terribly. The unassuming, unlikely star closer for the late 1980s Cleveland Indians never was your stereotypical brash and showy big league pitcher.

Major league baseball closers are ‘supposed’ to be powerful and intimidating. They bring the heat. But Doug Jones earned every ounce of respect he has received.

Doug Jones grew up watching his father race sprint cars locally in central Indiana (yes, think Tony Stewart). When he was old enough, he raced his father’s car in a qualifying race. Talk about fast and powerful: he ran into the wall on the last lap. Jones made the decision to pursue a safe baseball career instead. [Read more...]

Lack of offense ruins feeling potential double dip sweep

Zach Walters

See, this is what .500 baseball teams do. Win four. Lose four. Win three, lose a game you shouldn’t lose. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Your Cleveland Indians spent eight hours proving they are what they are yesterday at Progressive Field against one baseball’s worst teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Tribe is like a hack golfer who can hit nice drives, second shots, chips, and putts, but can’t seem to put it all together on the same hole with any sort of consistency. Take the doubleheader for example. They finally put two great starts together coupled with solid bullpen work, yet the offense combined to score three runs in 21 innings as they split two with the NL West’s doormat.

I suppose I am being a little harsh on the team I love the most, considering the bottom of the order now looks like a Columbus Clippers game broke out. Nick Swisher, David Murphy, and Michael Bourn all currently sit on the DL. Asdrubal Cabrera has since been dealt. So we will see the likes of Tyler Holt, Jose Ramirez, Chris Dickerson, and game one hero Zach Walters regularly. It is not such a bad thing for an organization in need of a spark from its upper tier minor league levels. But wasting 11 scoreless frames in game two ruins what should have been a great day to build on. [Read more...]

Baseball isn’t dying, but is it kind of like Microsoft?

MLB Microsoft

This morning Mike and Mike talked to Fay Vincent about the future of baseball and the next MLB commissioner.1 In that interview Vincent said that “baseball is booming” and I’ve fought that thought for a while. Everything about how I feel about MLB is that it is not booming. Even coming off of a playoff appearance for the Cleveland Indians, it seems to me that the game isn’t actually thriving because my perception is that it’s not. There are constant talks about attendance issues, slow games, inequity of team payrolls and more. Despite all that, and despite comparisons of World Series TV ratings to the Super Bowl or NBA Finals games, I think it’s largely instructive to look at baseball’s successes, because there is plenty of evidence to counter my perception with facts. For example, the Dodgers sold for $2 billion. Here in Cleveland at the epicenter of MLB attendance debate, the Indians sold off STO for an estimated $230 million just last year. So, I do understand when Fay Vincent says that business is booming. So, how do I make sense of all this? I look for a comparison. Then it hit me. I think Major League Baseball is kind of like Microsoft. [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. Sometimes I watch Mike and Mike on TV when I’m riding my exercise bike. I’m getting that out of the way right now, because whenever I even mention the fact that I caught something on Mike and Mike, I’m deluged with commentary that amounts to, “I can’t believe you listen to Mike and Mike!” I’ll take it another step further. It’s true I only watch them when I’m captive to morning TV on my bike, but I like their show more times than not. []

The precipitous drop: An ode to Vinnie Pestano

Vinne Pestano

A former member of the pen was jettisoned in a move that wasn’t a shocker, but saddened many fans. Vinnie Pestano, the team’s eighth inning stud in 2011-12 was sent to Anaheim for A ball pitcher Michael Clevinger. With the glut of young arms that have passed him while sitting in AAA Columbus and 40-man roster spots so precious, Pestano was staring at a non-tender at the end of the season. Instead, the Indians attempted to get something for the former top set-up man was traded to Southern California and back to his comfort zone as Vinnie spent his college days at Cal State Fullerton.

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Tribe Weekend Recap: Consistently Inconsistent play, King Kluber and the rebirth of Carrasco

Jason Kipnis

Win four straight. Lose four straight. Get everyone thinking that, once again, you are sunk. Lose two more veterans to the disabled list. Go to New York and visit Yankee Stadium, your personal house of horrors, and take the series for the first time since 2008 while throwing 20 straight scoreless innings. Yep, just your ordinary average week with your Cleveland Indians, where inconsistency is the one constant.

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Bobby Avila, the WS Champ Tribe’s 1954 Man of the Year: Reliving Yesteryear

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As a Cleveland Indians fan coming of age in the 1970s, I wasn’t especially enamored with previous eras. Call it more of a detached curiosity.

With my Indians, the specter of relocation was a persistent threat. It drew towards them like a gathering gloom. It seemed all of their promising young players were traded away (this remains an undercurrent with fan attendance, in the post-CC, Victor, and Lee era). The key to those 1970s trades often was the cash the Tribe received in return. Such infusions of money were crucial in their ability to honor basic financial obligations.

Around 1974, the Tribe was in the middle of a historically horrible run of failure. Yet, it had only been twenty years since the Indians won their league pennant and gone to the World Series. Twenty years- shoot, that’s about equal to the elapsed time from the pre-Jacobs field era of Hank Peters and John Hart to the present day. It’s not that much time at all.

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Tribe blasted by Reds for second straight night

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The Battle of Ohio packed up and headed from Cleveland to Cincinnati last night. The Reds carried over their “big homers from non-homer hitters” act, and the Indians were silent with the bats until the eighth inning when it was far too late. When it looked like the Indians might just dip their toes into serious wild card contention, they’ve fallen back to .500 after two straight losses, and this team seems to only validating what many have been saying for months now—this is a .500 baseball club.

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Reds 9, Indians 2: Cueto is Cueto and Tomlin is Tomlin

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Baseball has a long, grueling and agitating season. Life might be especially annoying as a baseball fan of a .500 team.

When you’re a bad team, almost every game is bad. It’s like being a Cubs fan. When things are good, yes the expectations are high, but again, you’re winning. The ‘90s were so much fun. But the 2014 Cleveland Indians are the epitome of what can make baseball a frustrating sport.

Just after a four-game winning streak filled with drama and excitement, they fell back down to earth with a 9-2 loss on Tuesday to the Cincinnati Reds. It was the second game of this four-game Ohio Cup series. The two teams square off for the final two in Cincinnati starting tonight.

Johnny Cueto, one of the game’s best, silenced the Tribe’s bats and Josh Tomlin had a very disappointing kind of Josh Tomlin game. It’s an understandable loss. But at the same time, still maddeningly frustrating. [Read more...]

Indians 7, Reds 1: Commander Corey, long balls, lead Wahoos to fourth straight W

Corey KluberI am running out of superlatives to describe the Tribe’s Corey Kluber. So this is what it’s like to have a real ace? The Indians haven’t seen anything like this since Cliff Lee’s 2008 Cy Young season. But even then, I don’t think we truly appreciated what we were watching. Lee was dominating with unbelievable command, but the Indians stumbled out of the gate and never were close to being a playoff team. CC Sabathia (Michael Brantley) and Casey Blake (Carlos Santana) were was sold off in July and another rebuild was about to begin. Kluber on the other hand, is driving the bus for a team suddenly surging, just two and a half games back of Toronto for the second AL Wild Card spot. He was money once again in the Tribe’s 7-1 series opening win against the Cincinnati Reds.

Watching Kluber work never gets old. He is so in control, so composed. Nothing seems to phase him on the mound—not even a Ryan Raburn spiked throw. The high level of dominance continued Monday night against a team that had not seen him yet this season. The Reds are a banged up and struggling bunch, yet they entered last night with the same record as the Indians. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, Reds manager Bryan Price lamented the blown chances his team received, thanks to some early shoddy Indians defense.

“What was disappointing and unacceptable tonight was the fact that we didn’t have our head in the game at all,” said Price. “Especially those first five innings. We had two guys that forgot how many outs there were, we had a pitcher that didn’t cover first base on a ground ball to the right side. We had five baserunners in the first three innings. That’s just not the way we play. We haven’t played that way all year. That lack of fight and lethargy, that’s just unacceptable type of play right there.”

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The Statue that is and maybe shouldn’t be

Jim Thome Statue

You have your opinions on the subject, I have mine. Legendary Tribe first/third baseman Jim Thome was honored with a statue bearing his signature “point the bat” move inside Heritage Park at Progressive Field on Saturday. Jimmy was joined by his wife, two children, and a host of ex-teammates that shared in this special ceremony. Ever the class act and never one to want the spotlight to himself, Thome admitted feeling very uncomfortable with the statue itself.

“I think that was a reflection not on the individual but more on the group,” Thome said. “The front office, the coaches, the manager, the players and the people that come through the door. … I want people to walk by (the statue) in 50 years and say, ‘Those Cleveland Indians teams in the mid-90s were really, really good.’” [Read more...]

Tribe Weekend Recap: Brooms, Good Guys, and Great Pitching

David Murphy

Do I say the same thing every three weeks or so? Just when you think you are out, this team sucks you right back in. Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians are not the sexiest group, nor are they the most talented. Their starting pitching is essentially Corey Kluber, hoping for the best with two youngsters, then trying to limp past five innings with whomever is currently slotted fourth and fifth. The offense is extremely streaky and lacks power. The defense is the worst in the American League. They just traded their Opening Day starter and their starting shortstop of the past five years, a two-time All-Star. Sounds like a last place doom and gloom scenario doesn’t it?

I for one have been very critical of Francona’s in-game managing. He is far too in love with the bunt, his lineup decisions at times are head-scratching at times, and he overuses his main bullpen arms. All of this goes on without anyone uttering a negative word about him. Why you ask? Well the fact of the matter is that Tito is an absolute freaking wizard inside of that clubhouse. These 25 guys plus would run through a wall for Francona if he asked them to. He preaches playing the game with class and dignity and gives his players the leeway they need. At the end of his time in Boston, the veteran clubhouse began to tune him out and take advantage of his players-first mentality. It was time for him to move on. After a year off, he came to Cleveland as the perfect elixir to the combustible situation with the fan base and its distrust of the front office. [Read more...]

Mariners 6, Indians 5: Comeback thwarted by Shaw’s hanger

Bryan ShawWhen you score five runs, you should win the game. The Indians were on their way to doing so last night, but one of their more reliable and consistent pitchers made two quick mistakes and a comeback victory was snatched away as the Seattle Mariners took the rubber match of the three-game series, 6-5, on the same day the Indians traded their starting shortstop and failed to bring back any starting pitching help.

I stress this last point because after Corey Kluber, the Indians rotation is a mixed bag. Take last night’s starter Zach McAllister for example. The big right-hander has bounced back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland and hasn’t established himself as a guy manager Terry Francona can count on. With Justin Masterson now gone, McAllister, amongst others, will have the chance to get a longer look to see if they fit into the future plans. Unfortunately for Zach, he continues to look like a 4A pitcher.

Heading into last night, McAllister’s spot was already dicey. Then he went out and did himself zero favors. Zach relies heavily and almost exclusively on his fastball. Everyone knows it. And it is not as if he is throwing 97-98 mph—he is more in the 91-92 range. These days he isn’t fooling anyone as even an offensively-starved team like the Mariners can tee off him.

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Adios Cabbie, it was fun … until it wasn’t

11396056-standardBack in 2006, the Indians had the bright idea of a first base platoon of Ben Broussard and the 36-year old right-handed free agent signee Eduardo Perez. All credit to the great Anthony Castrovince, now of MLB.com and formerly at Indians.com, who came up with perhaps the greatest nickname in baseball platoon history: Benuardo.

The Benuardo experience left us all hollow. Perez lasted three months before being sent to Seattle, a team desperate for right-handed pop, for a light-hitting minor league shortstop with great hands. His name was Asdrubal Cabrera. At the time, nobody knew who Asdrubal was and nobody had any idea if he could play or not.

Then came the 2007 season. The Indians caught fire and raced out to a division lead for the first time in six years. They had a major hole at second base with the slumping Josh Barfield just not doing the job. Then GM Mark Shapiro reached down to AAA and called up Cabrera, a natural shortstop and the heir to the position once Jhonny Peralta moved over or moved on. [Read more...]