July 23, 2014

Bauer, Swisher, and a theory on baseball aesthetics

Jon is in a bit of a writing rut, so he’s asking the WFNY gang to help him get out of it. After circulating some juicy topics around WFNY Headquarters, Craig said he was interested in talking Trevor Bauer, Nick Swisher, Travis Hafner, and what it means to like some players more than others.  So we did that. We’ve got some more of these in the hopper and we’ll try to keep the discussion going in the comments as well.

WFNY_roundtable

Craig - I obviously root for anyone wearing an Indians uniform, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Even as a young, impressionable baseball fan, I knew the dangers of standing up for Albert Belle. I cut my teeth as a co-dependent sports fan when I tried to defend Belle’s plastering of Fernando Vina.

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Second-half Storylines: What are you watching?

Nick Swisher

The Cleveland Indians started things off with a relative bang, taking three of four in Detroit. As we close in on the month of August, the Tribe stands 4.5 games behind the Tigers and will need to piece it all together heading into the fall if postseason play is to happen for the second consecutive year. There are copious amounts of storylines to look at for the second half of the season, but which ones are we watching? Take a walk with us as we plan for the next 10 weeks of baseball.

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The Indians at the break: The Bad

Justin Masterson

47-47. .500. The middle. Average. Not great, but not bad. This is what our Cleveland Indians are as we sit here at the All-Star break.

Heading into the season, Terry Francona’s group had to deal with something that was not on the docket a year before; heightened expectations. Coming off of a 92-win, Wild Card season and bringing back essentially the same core group, the Tribe now wore a bulls-eye. They were not going to sneak up on anyone. And they haven’t.

The first half has brought moments of greatness and despair, moments of disappointment and exuberance. Certain guys have broken out, while others have taken huge steps backwards. We’ve seen regression to the mean from a few Indians as well. Hall of Fame Football coach Bill Parcells famously said “you are what you record says you are,” and the Indians are 47-47. All of this has added up to what they are: An average baseball team.

On Tuesday, we looked at “The Good” things the Tribe has done. In part two of our Tribe at the All-Star break series, we will examine what hasn’t exactly gone well for the Red, White, and Blue. [Read more...]

Indians 5, Yankees 3: Bauer and the long ball do in Bombers

Nick Swisher

So let me get this straight. The Indians can get completely shut down by rookie Shane Greene one night, then beat down arguably the best pitcher in the American League this season in Masahiro Tanaka the next? Sounds about right. These, ladies and gentlemen, are your 2014 Cleveland Indians in a nutshell.

I mean seriously, how does this happen? Monday night, Greene took a no hitter into the fifth inning and left after six with a 5-2 lead en route to his first Major League win. Yet last night, All-Star Tanaka departed after the Tribe knocked him around for five runs on 10 hits in six plus innings. This is why anyone who gambles on baseball is crazy. [Read more...]

The weekend that wasn’t: Tigers sweep the Tribe

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It is such a shame. How many times do the Indians draw over 100,000 fans in a weekend? I’ll tell you how many: Zero in the past three seasons. Its the first time this has happened since August of 2011. I don’t know what it is about the Indians and big crowds at Progressive Field, but it seems as though they are allergic to winning in these situations.

I know, I know, that might be overstating it a bit, but again, it is such a shame. How many more chances do you get to capture the live attention of over 100,000 people? I wish that Indians fans weren’t this fickle, but they are what they are and it is what it is. The Tribe HAD to come up with a better performance this weekend that the egg that they laid in a place they have been great all year long.

I’ve say this almost every Opening Day and I said it last season when the Tigers came to town July 4 weekend and smoked the Indians in front of a sell out crowd: When you get this opportunity, one that doesn’t come nearly enough at Progressive Field, you must take advantage of it. Winning at least one of these games would have been good enough. Instead, the Tigers came into Cleveland with thousands of their fans and swept the Tribe in their own house.

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Listen: Tom Hamilton’s call of Nick Swisher’s Walk-off Grand Slam

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He may be channeling Mendoza from a success rate, but Indians first baseman Nick Swisher sure has a knack for heroics. The latest comes via the walk-off, extra-inning grand slam that takes down the Los Angeles Angels in extra innings, 5-3. Check out legendary Tribe play-by-play man Tom Hamilton’s call of the game-winning blast.

There are few things better than when Hammy lets the roar take over. One of the best in the biz. Huge win for the Tribe.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tribe Weekend Recap: Bullpen saviors, struggling offense, Swish’s return, and the bunt

Nick SwisherLast year, the Indians were “Team Streak.” This year, the PD’s Paul Hoynes has dubbed them “Team Clank” thanks to their tendency to commit errors at the worst times. I think they are a combination of both. We have seen the full arsenal of good and bad over the past two weeks. An on fire offensive juggernaut for a few days follows up with a group that can’t hit their way out of a wet paper bag. We’ve seen great starting pitching and then eight consecutive games without the starter going six innings. The one constant has been the steady back end of the bullpen.

The 10 game, three city road trip started out great, looked like a mess mid-stream, and then finished strong. Coming out of Texas, Kansas City, and Boston 5-5 is good enough for me. That is about as tough of a trip as you could ask for. When you consider the final eight games of the trip where the starting pitcher failed to go six innings, it looks even more impressive. [Read more...]

Indians News: Nick Swisher activated, Jason Giambi hits the DL

Nick SwisherLast night in the second of his two-game rehab stint  in Akron, first baseman Nick Swisher had two doubles and had no issues running on his sore knees. He has been deemed ready to go by the Tribe medical staff, so the Indians have officially activated him from the 15-day DL.

There has been much speculation about which way the Indians would go once Swisher returned from the disabled list. Would they DFA “The Summer of” George Kottaras and risk losing him on the waiver wire? Would they send down a reliever such as Nick Hagadone and go with a seven man pen? Or would they finally cut the cord on the 43-year old part-time DH Jason Giambi?

The good news for manager Terry Francona was that Giambi’s knee has magically flared up and he has been placed on the DL with what has been described as “left knee inflammation.” Papa G will be on the shelf for a few weeks or longer. There is no doubt Giambi is an important part of the clubhouse, but on the field, keeping Kottaras on the roster is the correct play. Carlos Santana’s days as a catcher this season should be limited to nothing unless an emergency situation comes up.

As for Swisher, he is in the lineup tonight as the DH, hitting seventh, as the Indians start a four-game series in Boston. Swish is looking to improve on his slow start, where he is hitting just .211/.312/.319 with thee homers and 19 RBIs.

Tribe Weekend Recap: Bauer & Tomlin as saviors, Carlos’ triumphant return, and a major roster decision looming

Josh TOmlin

If the last three weeks taught you anything, it is that a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. In this space a short three weeks ago, I wrote that as Yogi Berra once said “its getting late, early” and that the Indians season was spiraling downward in an out of control manner. The starting pitching wasn’t cutting it, the offense couldn’t score in a whorehouse with a fist-full of $20′s, and defensively, the Tribe resembled the Bad News Bears. They sat 10.5 games out of first place in the AL Central behind the smokin’ hot Tigers who could do no wrong.

So now, here we are 21 days later and the Indians have crept over .500 for the first time since April 9 when they were 5-4. [Read more...]

Swisher to DL, Santana out with concussion so Kottaras gets another shot

George KottarasThe Indians put Nick Swisher on the 15-day Disabled List with his hyper-extended knee. Carlos Santana was placed on the 7-day concussion list, retroactive to the 26th.

The Indians purchased the contract of George Kottaras from Columbus. Kottaras made news earlier this year with the Tribe when he homered in his first two at-bats for the Indians. He was the first player in franchise history to do so. At Columbus he is hitting just .119.

(In my book, any chance to use the picture to the right is a good opportunity. Seriously, look at the size of that dog!)

The Indians also brought up Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar is also making his second appearance with the big league club, having played sparingly earlier this month. Aguilar is among the International League leaders in OPS, slugging percentage and home runs.

Cleveland also designated pitcher Blake Wood for assignment.

[Related: No Indians among first wave of All-Star voting]

Indians 5, Tigers 4: Dr. Smooth to the rescue….again

Tribe celebration

Dr. Bleeping Smooth, if you need him, folks. Where would this Indians team be without him?  In a season of struggle, Michael Brantley has been the one shining star, literally carrying the offense. On a night where the Indians blew three different leads, it was Brantley who saved them once again with a 10-inning walkoff solo blast off of Detroit reliever Al Albuquerque to end the Tribe’s four-game losing streak.

“For us to come back and beat these guys,” Nick Swisher said, “it’s a huge step in the right direction for us. We’re still in this thing. We’re only 45 games in and we know what we can do. We have a lot of guys, myself included, who aren’t playing as well as [we'd] like to be, but I think tonight was a good starting point to turn things around a little bit.” [Read more...]

Tribe Weekend Recap: Can it get much worse?

Nick SwisherI really don’t even know what to say about this team right now. I have been searching for positives from this horrific weekend series where the Oakland Athletics did their best Harlem Globetrotters impression while the Cleveland Indians donned the uniforms of the Washington Generals. They didn’t hit. They committed more errors (7) than runs scored (6). The pitching was for the most part awful. If it is possible to hit rock bottom in the middle of May, the Tribe certainly was attempting it with this series.

Said manager Terry Francona, who has been as off of his game as his players this season: “What we’re doing, right now is not good enough. We’ve got to play better, and we’ve got to have these guys more prepared.”

The A’s swept the Indians with complete and utter ease, outscoring the Wahoos 30-6. By Sunday, Francona was left searching for answers, so he reluctantly did what he didn’t want to do — moved things around in the batting order. It didn’t work.

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Francona drops Swisher, Santana in batting order

With the Indians’ offense in a massive funk for most of the season, the time for a change is now in manager Terry Francona’s eyes. Some would argue it’s long overdue. In today’s batting order, Francona has dropped Nick Swisher from second to sixth and Carlos Santana from fourth to seventh against right-hander Jesse Chavez as the A’s go for the sweep.

In today’s game, Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn will take the spots vacated by Swisher and Santana, respectively. Swisher is battling to stay above the Mendoza line, hitting .203/.303/.323 (.625 OPS) with 3 homers and 16 RBI while leading the team in plate appearances. Santana is second in plate appearances, batting an appalling .156/.319/.293 (.611 OPS) with 5 homers and 13 RBI.

Francona has a reputation for sticking with his veteran and star players until it’s painfully obvious that a change is needed. One such example was last season, when Asdrubal Cabrera spent most of his abysmal season last year rotating between the second, third, and fourth spots in the order. Finally, in mid-August, Asdrubal was dropped to sixth in the order and remained there for the rest of the stretch run. With the Indians at 19-24, the assessment appears to have been the team couldn’t wait any longer for their cornerstones to turn it around in the top of the order.

Longterm, however, it’s a little head-scratching to see Lonnie Chisenhall, he of the .353 batting average, batting behind these two today and eighth in the order against a right-hander. Some managers pride their lineup on consistency, however, and if Chisenhall isn’t deemed worthy of consistent at-bats against left-handed pitching, you’re committing to two entirely different hearts of the order. With Cabrera and Yan Gomes taking the day off today, it will be interesting to see where those two non-lefties slot in. With Jason Kipnis close to begining his rehab and potentially returning soon, that adds another element to the equation. If this is going to be a semi-permanent arrangement, I’d propose Bourn-Aviles-Brantley-Murphy-Cabrera-Chisenhall-Swisher-Santana-Gomes with Kipnis taking Aviles’s slot once he returns. The one complicating factor, of course, is that one benefit to having Swisher and Santana that high in the order as switch hitters was splitting up the left-handers.

Related: Unsolicited Observations: Cleaning up Santana’s swoon, Jesus is here, Bourn problems, and more

The Ground in Cleveland

Jason Kipnis

Frustrating and underperforming at the plate, are the Cleveland Indians the unluckiest team in the majors thus far?

In 2013, the Cleveland Indians exceeded expectations, winning 92 games and earning their first playoff birth since 2007 thanks in large part to a pitching staff that performed far better than anticipated.

In 2014, thus far, the Cleveland Indians have disappointed some, already 5.5 games back of the Tigers with the fourth-lowest winning percentage in the American League. This has been thanks, in large part, to an under-performing lineup.

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Indians 4, Twins 2: Welcome Back, Little Cowboy

Josh TOmlinAll spring, Josh Tomlin looked like the leader in the clubhouse for the fifth spot in the rotation. Of the four men battling for the final slot – Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Aaron Harang being the others – Tomlin pitched the best. However, there was one major obstacle working against him; Tomlin had a minor league option remaining while his main competition (Carrasco), didn’t.

Nobody will ever confuse Josh’s fastball with Carrasco’s and Carlos’s “upside” has been a tease that the Indians have been trying to harness for four years. The Indians brass gave Carrasco the job despite giving up 14 runs in 15.2 spring innings. Tomlin was sent down to Columbus.

Well, what many expected happened. Carrasco couldn’t even make it out of April before being sent to the bullpen and the Indians chose Tomlin over red-hot Trevor Bauer to take his spot in the rotation. Both have been dominant in Columbus, but it was Tomlin’s last two starts where he pitched 17 scoreless innings that helped earn him the call.

Tuesday was his turn and it lined up perfectly for when the Indians needed him. He set out to make the most of his first start in the bigs since July of 2012. Now a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery, Tomlin was ready, and he looked like the guy we all came to know and love during the lean Manny Acta years. [Read more...]

Tribe bats, Axford waste McAllister’s great start

John AxfordIf the Cleveland Indians offense doesn’t figure something out soon, this season will be off the rails before it ever gets started. I know we are just 36 games in, but the team has been in a collective slump since the season began. At certain points, neither the starting pitching nor the hitting performed up to snuff. Now, the starters have come around and solid performances are being wasted left and right because the bats remain asleep.

It was after Friday night’s 12-run explosion that team leader Nick Swisher told the media that his team is aware that “a lot of bad things (have been) written about us in the papers.”  The team had just broken a six-game losing streak in which they scored 13 total runs. In their split of the final two games against the White Sox, the offense produced just five runs. Throw in last night’s extra inning shutout by that fabled ace Minnesota ace Kyle Gibson, and the Indians have those five runs in 28 innings. Two of the five came on a dropped popup and a sacrifice fly.

Are we allowed to criticize now Swish?

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Tribe Weekend Recap: Injuries change dynamic, a starter revival, freeing Lonnie, and three outs shy of a sweep

Justin Masterson

A weekend that should have been spectacular turned out to be just good with a bitter aftertaste. Home from a brutal west coast swing, the Tribe was back on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Following back-to-back wins to open a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox, the Indians led 3-1 heading into the ninth inning Sunday afternoon as closer John Axford came on to face the White Sox 2-3-4 hitters.

They say walks will kill you and in this instance, the old adage came to fruition. With a two-run lead, Axford should have fed the ball to the slumping Gordon Beckham. Instead, he walked him on four pitches. Hard-hitting first baseman Jose Abreu had already homered twice in the series, but the Tribe’s closer came back with a big strikeout. Unfortunately, Axford did what he just cannot do: He walked the tying run, strikeout machine Adam Dunn. This brought Dayan Viciedo to the plate, one of the hottest hitters in the American League. You know what happened next.

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One month in…Things must improve

Jason Kipnis

In what has been the first month of the season, we have watched our Cleveland Indians kick the ball around the field, hit sub-Mendoza line with runners in scoring position, fail to pitch deep into games, and lose six in a row in California. Other than that, they were great!

Baseball is a six-month trek. It’s a marathon season, not a sprint. How many times have we seen teams struggle out of the gate, only to catch fire mid-summer and get right back into the mix for a division title? I’m not saying this version of the Indians can do that, but they are certainly capable. The core of this team is, for the most part, the same group that won 92 games a season ago. But judging by the first month on the field, you probably couldn’t tell. [Read more...]

Santana bombs, but Swisher’s boot buries Tribe 6-3

The only good news about last night’s Tribe loss in Anaheim is that most of you probably missed it. Those West Coast games are tough. Thank goodness for the MLB App’s condensed game functions. I was able to watch the Indians’ fourth straight loss twice in 20 minutes. Even after the second viewing, the Tribe still dropped their fourth straight game on the trip, this time to the Angels 6-3. So, where did it all go wrong? [Read more...]

Tribe defense has been historically bad thus far

swisher_2014-04-05

Sure, the Cleveland Indians aren’t exactly tearing the cover off of the ball on a nightly basis, but they aren’t exactly catching it either. FanGraphs, who has been very kind to the Tribe thus far through 2014, penned another entry that wasn’t all too glowing. The topic du jour: Defense, or severe lack thereof.

As run stopping has grown just as important as run producing, the Cleveland Indians are struggling mightily with the latter. FanGraphs, who breaks defensive opportunities into percentiles of likelihood to be made, shows that the Tribe is not just struggling with the unlikely plays, they’re blowing their opportunities to make the routine ones as well.

If you look at the 90%-100% ones, you’ll notice that 12 teams have converted 98 percent or more of those plays. 17 more have turned at least 96.0 percent of “the easy ones” into outs. And all alone at 94.4 percent, and dead last in DRS, are the Cleveland Indians. [...]

You can already see how it’s hurting the Cleveland pitching staff. They have the second–best strikeout rate in baseball, and the third-lowest homer rate. They’re not immune to blame — they’re walking way too many — but they’re being saddled with a .331 BABIP that is not only the highest in baseball, but would be tied for the second-highest in the last century with a 96-loss 2007 Tampa Bay team that primarily had B.J. Upton and Brendan Harris as double play partners, behind only a 1930 Phillies team that lost 102 games and played in one of the most offense-friendly seasons ever.

Oof. The struggles have not been limited to just one area of the team. We already discussed Nyjer Morgan’s early issues with regard to stopping runs. David Murphy has been tagged with three runs himself despite being a part of a platoon. Nick Swisher has been tagged with three runs, large in part to his two gaffes in a win over the San Diego Padres. Jason Kipnis has dropped easy pop-ups, failing to convert on three “easy” plays. Yan Gomes has been tossing baseballs all over creation. Michael Brantley’s errorless streak has ended. I could go on…

As Mike Petriello writes, with the AL Central slated to be a dogfight once again, the Indians can’t afford to be helping out their opponents. The way their defense has played so far, they’re making it much harder on themselves than it needs to be.