July 24, 2014

Tribe weekend recap: Kipnis…back? King Kluber, The Carrasco effect, and rotation rotation

Jason Kipnis

If your Cleveland Indians were going to get back in the thick of the AL Central and Wild Card races, coming out of the blocks strongly is of the utmost importance. An 11-game, three-city road trip against three divisional foes was on the schedule. Things got started in Detroit with four games in three days. I wouldn’t say this was a make-or-break weekend for the Tribe, but how they played would go a long way into deciding whether the front office would be buyers/holders, or sellers with the trade deadline looking at the end of the month.

Getting swept by the first-place Tigers would be a killer, but a series win could put the Tribe back on the map. We all know their faults, but we also know that when they do put it all together, they are tough to beat. Friday and Saturday, the Tribe looked like a team that has to be taken seriously. The Wahoo Express steamrolled through Detroit, taking three of four to move to within five and a half of the Tigers and two of the second Wild Card spot. They looked primed for a strong second half push.

The train is coming, people. This weekend in Detroit was a great start. So what did we see?

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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...]

The Indians at the break: The Good

Tribe celebration47-47. .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.

Many expected the front office to build on the playoff experience and add some more veteran talent via the free agent market, but with big raises due to likes of Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Asdrubal Cabrera, the financial wiggle room just wasn’t there. Instead, they tinkered, adding outfielder David Murphy to platoon in right field with Ryan Raburn. Twice deposed closer John Axford was brought on with hopes of a resurrection at the back end of the pen. Big years were expected from that core group of young position players moving towards their prime years. Starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir walked into free agency and found greener pastures in Baltimore and Oakland respectively. The Indians counted on youngsters Danny Salazar and either Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin would replace them.

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. [Read more...]

Indians 3, White Sox 2: Yanimal and Bauer send Tribe into break on a high

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer is a beast. I know the stats might not say so, but my man is one heck of a pitcher. We may look back at the trade of Shin-Soo Choo for Bauer and reliever Bryan Shaw (among others) in the same vain as Bartolo Colon trade. I know that is crazy talk, but at age 23, you can see Bauer getting better and better each start while Shaw is a rock as the set up man in the pen.

One had a great day on Sunday, the other, not so much. But the two more Indians who came over in a trade together, Catcher Yan Gomes and super utility man Mike Aviles, played a major hand in the Tribe’s 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. [Read more...]

Yankees 5, Indians 4: Homers and blown chances cost Tribe a W

Jacoby Ellsbury

When you jump out ahead with three first inning runs in your home park, you are supposed to win. When your bullpen delivers seven straight scoreless innings, you are supposed to win. When you load the bases on three straight one out walks in the 10th inning, you are supposed to win. Well, that’s why you play out the full game….

The Indians had several opportunities to put away the New York Yankees Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, but could never seal the deal. The Bronx Bombers could do nothing once Josh Tomlin was lifted after seven innings, but then again neither could the Tribe. Something was going to eventually have to give. It did, but unfortunately it was the Wahoos that blinked first. [Read more...]

Indians 5, Dodgers 4: Tribe doesn’t “fear the beard,” takes series in L.A.

photo4

No matter how much I watch this Indians team, I will never be able to figure them out.

I was in the building Monday night when the Wahoos were one-hit by Dan Haren. That was a night after Seattle’s Felix Hernandez one-hit gem. The offense went from ice cold to smokin’ hot last night as they exploded for 10 runs while beating up LA’s Josh Beckett. This outburst came after a 3-66 team skid! So Wednesday afternoon in the rubber match with the Dodgers, you had to think that had probably had blown their wad the night before. We’ve seen this too many times this season. The offense shakes out of their doldrums for a 10 or 12 spot, and then revert back to normal. It sure looked like we were headed in that direction against LA lefty Hyun-Jin Riu.

The only two runs the bats could muster came in the fourth when Ryan Raburn blasted his second homer of the season, this of the two-run variety. He exited the game after seven innings, scattering seven hits while striking out eight. Ryu didn’t walk a single Indian. The Dodgers nursed a 3-2 lead as Ryu had outdueled Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. The former UCLA star fought his way through five and two thirds, and only had one bad inning; the fifth. [Read more...]

The weekend that wasn’t: Tigers sweep the Tribe

photo4

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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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...]

Red Sox 5, Indians 2: Papi & Lester stymie Wahoos for third straight loss

MIchael Brantley

This wasn’t another one that got away, but the Indians once again shot themselves in the foot defensively which directly affected the 5-2 loss in Boston on Thursday night. During their 9-1 hot streak, the gloves weren’t a hot topic of conversation, despite the fact that they led the league in errors and unearned runs. But during this three-game losing skid, they have committed four errors and botched several other key plays that could have changed the games.

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Terry Francona heading to the 2014 All-Star Game

Terry Francona

The Tribe’s outlook on the All-Star reserve front just got a little better. On Wednesday, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell appointed Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona to serve on his staff for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game which is set to be held in Minnesota in a little over one month. Francona has twice served as the American League All-Star manager, and Farrell was his pitching coach for the 2008 version which was held at Yankee Stadium.

The Indians currently trail many of their peers at their respective positions, but continue to have several players worthy of consideration for an All-Star nod, including outfielder Michael Brantley. The Tribe left fielder is among the top 15 in AL outfield voting and is among the top five in batting average (.307), on-base percentage (.377), and wOBA (.385). He is also second in the AL in outfield assists (6).

In addition to Francona, Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire and a bevy of Red Sox coaches—first base coach Arnie Beyeler, third base coach Brian Butterfield, hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, bullpen coach Dana LeVangie, bench coach Torey Lovullo, pitching coach Juan Nieves and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez–will join the duo in Minnesota.

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfel)

Unsolicited Observations: Help was there to be had for these Cleveland Indians

Jesus Aguilar

Jesus Aguilar is decidedly not Nelson Cruz

The Indians are setting the tone for a lousy summer. Just when it appears the team is getting hot, the bottom falls out. Get swept at home by Oakland? No worries, this year’s club answers by sweeping Detroit and beating Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer (no decision) in the process. Now a series sweep at the hands of the White Sox has many wondering—again—if the current campaign can be saved.

One-third of the season is in the books and the Tribe (24-30) is struggling. Offense, defense, hitting, throwing, catching. There’s problems everywhere. It’s easy to look back in the rear-view mirror, but I can’t help but wonder if there was a way this team could’ve improved during the offseason.

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White Sox 3, Indians 2: Lack of “O,” poor “D,” ruin House’s “A” performance

TJ House

I have seen this game way too many times before. The Cleveland Indians get great starting pitching from an unlikely source, can’t get anything going with the bats, make an ill-timed error, and lose a winnable game. It is getting to become a real tired act.

Poor T.J. House pitched as well as anyone could have possibly hoped for. Coming up from Columbus to replace the injured and ineffective Zach McAllister, the left-hander was borderline dominant. Heading into the seventh, House was working on a three-hit shutout. There was a lot to like from the Southpaw. He was mixing and matching his breaking stuff with his fastball. The command was impeccable. The White Sox had little answer for him.

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White Sox 6, Indians 2: Another costly error direct cause of Wahoo loss

MIchael BrantleyThe Indians may have turned a corner with their play in a home sweep of the Detroit Tigers. They followed that up with a split of the series in Baltimore, which you will take all day. Next up was the Chicago White Sox, who the Tribe has already seen several times this year. Though they have played some of their better baseball of late, one thing has not changed; their horrific defense.

No matter the day you can count one three things in life right now: Death, Taxes, and bad Tribe defense costing them at least one run. They have lost three of their last four after the 6-2 Memorial Day defeat on the South Side of Chicago. In those three losses, three errors (one in each game), directly accounted for six unearned runs. This isn’t a recent trend either, it is a season long reality. The Indians are the worst defensive team in the league. There are no two ways around it.

Monday afternoon was just another prime example. [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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Blue Jays 4, Indians 2: Happ-less against another lefty

Jesus Aguilar

Stop me if you heard this one before. A soft tossing lefty who hasn’t been great, sees the Indians and turns himself into the second coming of Sandy Koufax. Toronto’s JA Happ made his third start of the year. The last time out, he didn’t make it out of the third inning, giving up four runs on seven hits, including two homers in a 5-3 loss to the Angels. Naturally a night after destroying Jays pitching for 15 runs on 22 hits, Happ held the Indians down to one run on six hits in six innings in a 4-2 Blue Jays win. Only a homer by David Murphy staved off the lefty holding the Tribe scoreless.

Baseball is such a crazy game. The last time the Indians scored double figures was two weeks ago at home against the Chicago White Sox. The 12-run outburst was followed by five runs in three games. The soft tossing lefty Happ started yet another offensive skid. The big difference between the 2013 92-win club and this year’s version of the Tribe is the way they handle left-handed pitching. The magic of guys like Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana in their handling of southpaws has all but disappeared. It is not a good sign when your three (Raburn – who should never be hitting third) and four (Santana) hitters are hitting .181 and .158 respectively. The Indians have now been worked over by Erik Bedard and Happ in the same week. Ouch. [Read more...]

Blue Jays 5, Indians 4: Masterson’s hole too deep for offense to dig out

Carlos Santana

Justin Masterson is a nice guy. By all accounts he is a great teammate and rarely in a bad mood. But you know what I want to see from him? More nastiness. More intensity. More domination. But here is the thing: I expect too much out of Masterson. Justin is what he is—a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter. At his best, he is a No. 2. And therein lies the problem. I want him to be something that he isn’t.

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Tribe Weekend Recap: Axford axed, Tito’s affinity for the bunt, and Cabbie’s revenge

Nyjer MorganIt was just another ho-hum weekend series in Tampa. Your Cleveland Indians may have finally turned the corner after taking two straight series from division foes in Chicago and Minnesota. Two poor outings from the closer turned a potential 7-0 homestand into 5-2. Still the Indians looked to have possibly righted the ship.

The starting pitching has been outstanding and the bullpen, save for one mustached closer, continued to do stellar work. Yes, the offense continued to leave a lot to be desired, exploding for a game here and there, but for the most part keeping the Indians in close games with their lack of hitting with runners in scoring position. But this weekend in Tampa we saw a better approach in two of the three games. Friday night’s 6-3 and Sunday’s 6-5 wins showed the Indians are capable of the big inning.

Manager Terry Francona is continuing to tinker with his lineup that is missing All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis. The right combination has been hard to find, but the same guys have been delivering for the most part; Michael Brantley, Mike Aviles, and Lonnie Chisenhall. But lately, others are starting to join the party, namely Asdrubal Cabrera and Yan Gomes. Nyjer Morgan has even continued to show his value with a three-hit Sunday which included a big home run while making his first start of the season next to Michael Bourn in left field. [Read more...]

Indians remove John Axford from closer role

John AxfordJohn Axford has been removed from his role as the Indians closer, manager Terry Francona announced before the team’s game on Saturday.

In place of this year’s $4.5 million free agent signing, the Indians will use a closer-by-committee approach. Francona said that relievers Scott Atchison, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw or Marc Rzepczynski could close on any given night.

Axford, who turned 31 in April, was 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA in 14.2 innings pitched. He was 9-for-11 in save opportunities. He had 15 strikeouts against 13 walks and had allowed three home runs.

In 2012 and early 2013, he struggled mightily with the Milwaukee Brewers. He also was removed from his closer role there and later was traded to St. Louis. His new team showed him how he was tipping pitches, thus perhaps leading to his 1.74 ERA in 13 appearances with the Cardinals.

There was obviously hope that Axford’s renewed success would carry over into 2014 in the American League. He will not be a free agent until after the 2016 season, so Cleveland retains his control for a long while still to come.

Francona said that the hope is for Axford to return to the role as soon as possible. He will work in lower-leverage situations for a whole to hopefully get him back on track.

From an analytical perspective, yes, it’s true that a closer-by-committee approach could be fairly sufficient. But certainly, with this change, one can only hope that Axford returns back to his pre-2012 form if the Indians are going to meet their full potential for the remaining 120-plus games this season.

Other John Axford headlines from the past several months:

John Axford – A Calculated Risk
Indians closer John Axford perfect … on Oscars predictions
John Axford used to play a game that included ABC gum
John Axford finally recieves his Rolaids Relief Award … from 2011

Indians 9, Twins 4: Asdrubal explodes as Tribe takes third straight

Asdrubal Cabrera

See, this is why Terry Francona is the manager and I just sit here and write about the Indians.

For weeks I have watched Asdrubal Cabrera flounder at the plate, looking seemingly worse and worse each day. Then the next day, his name is right there in the lineup card. Riding in the middle of a 4-21 slump while playing sloppy defense, I begged and pleaded for Asdrubal to get a day off. And there he was again, right in the six hole on Thursday afternoon.  [Read more...]

Francona gives opinions of Kluber, Carlos Santana and Trevor Bauer on MLB Network Radio

Terry Francona

I didn’t hear Terry Francona talking to MLB Network Radio, but thanks to the modern world of Twitter, we know everything he said anyway. And for Tribe fans, he was giving some nuggets.

First up, on Trevor Bauer…

On Carlos Santana’s early season struggles…

And some encouraging words about Corey Kluber…

It’s nice to have Francona even as his team struggles early on this season. He continues to bring a level of calmness to the team, at least from this outsider perspective. His lack of panic is refreshing. Well, at least for now. His presence was calming and refreshing in Boston once upon a time too.

I don’t say that as some sort of pot shot at Francona, but merely as a generic statement of fact. I’m still firmly on board with the Tribe’s second-year manager.