Sunday, September 30, 2007

NY newspapers preview the playoffs

“We basically lucked out when we played them,” Torre said. “At our place, they really weren’t swinging the bats very well, and at their place, they didn’t have Hafner."

That quote from Yankee manager Joe Torre about the Yankes 6-0 record against the Tribe this year can be found in every New York-area newspaper this morning.

The above version was in the New York Times.

A slightly longer version appeared in The Daily News.

We basically lucked out when we played them at our place," Joe Torre said. "And they weren't really swinging the bats very well at their place and they were without (slugging DH Travis) Hafner. We happened to have Alex on our side in the last game at our place. They play a very aggressive game."

The Daily News of course, not heeding the words of the manager, talked about the Yankees "huge advanatage" going into the series.

On paper, it'd be easy to believe the Yankees have a huge advantage, considering they outscored Cleveland 49-17, averaging 8.16 runs in the six games. They batted .348 against Cleveland and slugged 14 homers. A-Rod had six homers, Jason Giambi four. The only regular who didn't hit .300 against Cleveland is Melky Cabrera, who batted .280. The pitching staff had a 2.67 ERA.

The Yankees swept the Indians at the Stadium in April despite starting the trio of Chase Wright, Kei Igawa and Darrell Rasner. In the final game of that series, the Indians led 6-2 with their closer, Joe Borowski, on the mound but lost, 8-6. Rodriguez smashed a walk-off three-run homer.

The Yankees haven't faced lefty C.C. Sabathia, one of the Indians' two Cy Young candidates. They beat Fausto Carmona once, but Carmona also threw six strong innings against them in April.

To its credit, Newsday - the Long Island daily paper - advises its readers to look beyond the stats when evaluating the series against the Tribe. This is probably the fairest evaluation of the Tribe to be found in the New York media this morning. In particular, it mentions the quality of the Tribe pitching staff, and - with good reason - finds closer Joe Borowski to be the only chink in the pitching armor.

The Record - which covers the mostly ritzy Jersey suburbs northwest of the city - reports the Yankees, and in particular Derek Jeter, are giving the Indians their due respect.

"You can throw every number out -- all that stuff. You still have to play the games."

But the paper itself didn't seem to be listening.

Despite their wild-card status, and the potential of one fewer home game, the Yankees will be viewed as the favorite -- and Jeter will still plead that the Yanks' past performance against Cleveland doesn't make a difference.

The Star-Ledger - which is based in Newark and covers NJ suburbs and the old, gritty cities south and west of NYC - ran pretty much the same article, only with a few more quotes from a larger group of Yankees saying pretty much the same thing.

Finally, The New York Times' Murray Chass - who has been a baseball writer at the Old Gray Lady for eons - gives the Tribe credit for clawing their way to the top the hard way this season.

One bit of news from the Yankee camp. Hideki Matsui was sent back to New York yesterday to have fluid drained from his knee.

The Yankees say the knee has been bothering the leftfilder since July, but they are also saying he likely will be limited to DH duty.

That means Johnny Damon - who has battled nagging injuries himself for most of the season - will have to start in left and the slump-ridden Melky Cabrera is the only option in center.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Costly loss in Kay-Cee

Tonight's loss in Kansas City cost the Tribe quite bit.

It cost them guarateed home-field advantage throughout the post season and it cost them the eight-game ALDS format they were hoping for.

Even if the Red Sox lose tomorrow and the Tribe wins, the Sox - on tie-breakers - would be the top seed for the American League playoffs.

As a reward, the Sox get home-field advantage if they face the Indians in the ALCS.

Just as importantly, The Boston Globe reports, the Red Sox have chosen the eight-day format for their ALDS series against the Angels.

The Tribe will have to play five games over seven days, meaning they will not get to pitch CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in four of the five games on regular rest. They still could use the duo twice, but CC would have to pitch game four on three days rest.

CC would go on Thursday (Oct. 4) and Fausto on Friday (Oct. 5). There's no game on Saturday and either Jake Westbrook or Paul Byrd would pitch Sunday (Oct. 7) at Yankee Stadium (ugh!).

If Cleveland is up 2-1 after three, they could choose to start whichever guy (Byrd or Westbrook) did not pitch in game three and save CC (on an extra day's rest) for a game five back at the Jake if needed. Or they could push CC up a day and give each of their aces a shot at winning one of the final two games. In that scenario Carmona would be going on normal rest in game five.

If they are down 2-1 heading into game four in New York, I don't think there's any doubt they would move CC up a day and still have Carmona pitch on regular rest in game five on Weds (Oct. 10).

By the way, the Yankees have announced that Chien-Ming Wang will open against the Indians next Thursday.

So, the pitching matchups for the first three games are: CC Vs. Wang; Fausto Vs. Andy Pettitte and Westbrook or Byrd Vs. Roger Clemens, or Mike Mussina if Clemens is not healthy enough to pitch. The pitchers in games four and five will depend on where the series stands after three games.

There is one other major negative about the half-baked, TV-inflicted plan to start the playoffs four days after the season ends. The pitching staffs will come into the series over-rested and, possibly, rusty.

CC will be facing the Yanks on an extra day's rest, which is disruptive. Fausto Carmona - unless they give him a five-and-fly on short rest tomorrow - will be pitching with eight days rest in game two. That's a disaster for a sinkerballer because they often have trouble when they are too fresh. The same would apply to Westbrook, who would be pitching on seven days rest if he is tabbed to start game three. Byrd would be going on eight days rest if he pitches game three and nine days rest if the Tribe decides to use him in game four.

Wang last pitched for the Yankees on Wednesday, so - unless he gets some work in on short rest tomorrow - he would be facing the Tribe with a full week of rest. Andy Pettitte pitched (poorly) tonight, so he would come into game two on just one extra day of rest.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Update from behind enemy lines

Yankee fans may already have the Bombers in the World Series but those closer to the team are displaying a bit more of a realistic outlook, at least for public consumption.

That includes the team's GM Brian Cashman- as quoted in today's New York Post:

"The four teams that are in really are the Fantastic Four in the American League. Our work is cut out for us and no doubt we know that."

Since a Yankees-Indians series is a lock I thought I'd take today to update the playoff plans from the enemy camp.

Andy Pettitte and Chien Ming Wang will pitch games one and two, the only mystery is who will pitch when.

In a bit of a surprise, Yankee manager Joe Torre has already said Roger Clemens will pitch game three if his balky hamstring -- and pretty much every other 40-something body part of his -- is ready to go.

Clemens will pitch a simulated game on Monday and a final decision will be made after that. If he does pitch, he will be going on nearly a month's rest, as he hasn't pitched since Sept. 16.

If Clemens can't pitch, Mike Musina will take the hill in game three. Musina's ERA is at 4.96 for the year, but in September -- after a 10-day mental break when he was taken out of the rotation -- he is 3-0 with a 1.43 ERA in four starts.

Torre has said he will use Wang and Pettitte twice if the series is the longer-format series which would begin Wednesday.

That leaves rookie Phil Hughes in the pen for the series, unless the Indians-Yanks series is the shorter format AND Clemens can't go. I doubt however, if the Yanks are down 2-1 in the shorter-format, that Torre would turn to Hughes (3-0 2.73 in September) in game four and would go back to his game-one starter on short rest.

Torre has also said he will start Doug Mientkiewicz at first base in the series, which would leave Jason Giambi's bat at Torre's disposal to come off the bench in a big spot.

The Yankees - or at least the local media and Yankee fans - are putting a huge amount of pressure on 22 year-old rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain, who didn't join the club until after the All-Star break.

Chamberlain will be Mariano Rivera's set-up man in the playoffs.

Since joining the Yanks, Chamberlain - who can get it up to around 98 regularly - has allowed one earned run and 12 hits and has struck 34 batters in 23 2/3 innings.

While Chamberlain has been lights out since arriving, he has also been babied - on orders from the front office.

The so-called "Joba rules" have prevented the rookie from pitching on consecutive days - until last night. In addition, every time he pitched two innings in an outing, he was iced for two days under orders from upper management.

Chamberlain's first experience with back-to-back outings went pretty well, but it remains to be seen how he'll do with the wrappers off.

Chamberlain will need some help, and that may not be so easy for the Yankees to find. Hard-throwing Kyle Farnsworth can be lights-out once in a while, but more often somebody's putting his lights out. His ERA has been around 5.00 for most of the season.

Luis Vizcaino got off to an awful start for the Yankees but has been reliable most of the season, though not in September. He's seen limited duty this month. He's got a sore shoulder and has been pitching like it.

The Yankee offense is - well - the Yankee offense, although it has shown a few chinks lately.

Leftfielder Hideki Matsui has hit .179 so far in September and has had only four homers since Aug. 1.

Centerfielder Melky Cabrera is hitting just .178 this month, with an on-base percentage of .232 and a slugging percentage of .211.

Everyone else seems to be hitting up to their capablities.

That's it from Yankeeland for now. We'll be updating the goings-on at the enemy camp up to, and right through the first round of the playoffs.

Hopefully the only thing we'll have to report on the Yankees after Round 1 will be their golf scores.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blissfull ignorance, or maybe just show biz

I've really got to get an FM-only radio in my car. Otherwise I find myself switching to the sports talk shows on the radio, and here in New York that is an exasperating experience

Take today for example. I'm listening to Mike Francessa and Chris Russo (Mike and the Mad Dog as they are known) on WFAN - the first-ever all-sports radio statio in the country.
(Francessa is the fat one, Russo the one who looks like Tony's nephew Christopher Multisanti.)

They were talking Yankees and they were talking playoffs.

I tuned in to here Russo talking about a Yankee playoff scenario against the Tribe. It went something almost exactly like this. (the comments are exceprted from a longer spiel, but are not taken out of context).

"If the Yankees get the Indians.... that's just what you want if you're a Yankee fan."

"They (the Indians) have no closer. Boworski couldn't save a big game to save his life. Carmona you can't count on. Sabathia .. eh .. he's OK. The Yankees will match him up with Pettitte."

"I just don't see the Yankees losing the American League. I will be stunned, shocked, if the Yankees don't win the A.L. I'd be surprised if they even work up a sweat in the playoffs."

I was in the car on my way to get that examination that all of us of the male persuasion get when we're about 50 or so, and at that point the thought of the doctor's looming finger seemed like a pleasant break from what I was hearing on my car radio.

Having been duly prodded, I rejoined the conversation after leaving the doctor's office.

I turned on the radio to hear Francessa giving the Angels at least a shot in a series against the Yankees. I guess in the interest of balance.

"The Angels are a tough out. They win their 94 games every year. They're a tough out."

I guess by "tough out" he means they could give the Yankees a difficult time. Batters can be "tough outs,"what the phrase means when applied to an entire team, I can only guess.

Russo, a short time later (also apparently in an effort to bring the conversation back down to earth a little bit) made this observation:

"If you want to create a scenario against the Yankees, maybe you have Sabathia shut down the left -handed side of that Yankee lineup and you see the Indians making it 1-1 after two and then somehow get it to game five and then ... Sabathia again."


These guys, by the way, are the same guys who fielded a phone call from a New York-area Tribe fan yesterday. While the caller was trying to make the case for the Tribe's pitching Francessa was talking over him like a six-year-old drowning out his mom when she's trying to make a point he's not interested in hearing.

He just kept saying "All I keep hearing from Indians fans is this "My Carmona" crap. My Carmona, My Carmona."

I guess he must have been the captain on the debating team in college.

When the Tribe fan enlightened the two hosts to the existence of Jensen Lewis, they both had fun with that as well because neither of them knows who the hell Jensen Lewis is. Russo admitted he's "never heard of Lewis. I'll have to look into him." His producer then punched up Lewis' stats. He read them off, said "pretty impressive. Back after this," then went to a commercial.

If that Tribe fan is reading this, thanks for taking the bullet.

Taking a realistic look at things, the Yankee lineup is scary but they went into a two-month slump early in the year.

Russo also has a point (though well overstated) about Borowski. I, frankly, don't feel comfortable with him in a big spot, but I'd take the rest of the Tribe's pen over New York's.

If it comes about, a Yankee-Cleveland series will be a terrific hitting team with sometimes-good pitching facing an up-and-down offense which is supported by outstanding starters and a decent pen.

I think, at the very least, we'll see the Yankees break a sweat - if not lose in four.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

W A H O O O O O O O !!!!

We've waited six years for this and the day has come at last!

The Tribe is headed back to the playoffs!!!!!!

And what a great way to get it. No watching the board to see what they Tigers were up to.

The Tribe scored early and resonably often to wrap up the Central Division all on their own in front of a sellout crowd at The Jake!

If you care at all, you saw the game - either at the Jake or on the tube.

So I'll just put up a few thoughts of my own about Clinch Sunday.

It was good to see Victor and Raffie B. as the battery for the final out. They have been two of the most consistent players on the club this year and it was nice they had the first chance to celebrate.
It was nice to see nearly everyone participate in the offense today, and to see the Tribe hit holes, walls and chalk lines instead of trying to bash everything. That bodes well for the playoffs.

It was terrific to see Jake Westbrook look like he did in August. Also very important.

It was also good to see the place packed for the last weekend of the regular season, even if many of those in the seats were bandwagoneers.

I have only two disappointments: I'm not in Cleveland right now to share the joy; DirecTV picked up the A's broadcast today instead of the Tribe's, which took a tiny bit away from the celebration at game's end. But not that much really. The A's broadcast stayed with the Tribe celebration for a fair amount of time and their announcing crew - former Tribesman Ray Fosse and Glen Kuiper (Duane's little brother) - were more than gracious.

As the camera trained itself on the celebrating Tribe, Kuiper congratulated the Indians.

"Congratulations to the Cleveland Indians and their entire organization - a very classy organization - as we certainly wish them the best of luck in the 2007 playoffs. And they've got a chance to do damage with a couple of good pitchers. They're going to enjoy tonight and it is well deserved."

(photo credits: Associated Press)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tribe Series hopes poll - verized

Proving absolutely nothing - except that people are highly influenced by what they hear and who they see on TV all the time - baseball fans polled nationwide think the Indians are among the least likely of the contenders to win the World Series this year.

In a poll taken by Rasmussen Reports - a big-time name in political polling - the Red Sox were named most often as the team most likely to win the Series, followed by the Yankees.

Here's a rundown of the numbers:

  • Red Sox 24%
  • Yankees 19%
  • Some other team 18%
  • Angels 9%
  • Mets 7%
  • Indians 6%
  • Diamondbacks 3%
  • Padres 1%

Some other team? What exactly does that mean?

I'm no professional pollster and a description of the poll's methodology wasn't provided, but how is it possible that no team from the N.L. Central is even listed among the possible World Series contenders?

I presume the poll was open-ended. In other words, no choices were given to the person answering the question. But even if that were true, I can't imagine the Cubs or Brewers didn't register a single percentage point.

The Indians get no credit as possible A.L. champs either, with 27% of those polled saying they expect the Red Sox to represent the American League in the Fall Classic, 20% picking the Yankees, 12% backing the Angels and only 7% saying the Indians will prevail in the A.L.

If anything, this poll shows me that baseball fans nationwide have been influenced by the oversaturation of coverage of "sports' greatest rivalry" (at least among those national media types born and bred on the East Coast) - the Red Sox and Yankees.

The Red Sox are fading badly. Their pitching staff is tired. And Manny is off on some personal vacation. Lord knows when the spirit will move him to come back to work.

The Yankees have been hot for a long time and their starting staff has shown signs recently of trouble ahead for whoever they play.

But the same can be said for the Indians, somewhat in reverse. Instead of relying on offense and hoping their pitching performs at the right time, the Tribe has gotten steller pitching all year, with spotty offense that will have to show up in October.

So, are the Yankees three times as likely as the Tribe to win the World Series, as this poll suggests?

I don't think so. Do you?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who will be No. 3 ?

A posting early this morning from my friend Moose got me thinking.

Who should be the Tribe's third starter in the first round of the playoffs?

Based on the playoff format, it is impossible for the Indians to play the Angels in round one. (It's too much to get into here, but if you think about it long enough you'll see that is true).

So, the Tribe will play either Boston or New York. Both teams have patient veteran hitters and both are likely to be tough on finesse, control-type pitchers.

The Tribe's two candidates for the No. 3 slot in the rotation, Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook, both rely on control and movement. Pinpointing their way to victory against either team will be tough.

The numbers from this season back that notion.

In two start against the Yankees, Westbrook went a total of 8 2/3 innings, allowing 12 earned runs. One of the starts was decent - 7 innings, 4 earned runs. Against the Red Sox, Westbrook threw 6 innings and allowed 5 earned runs in his only start.

Byrd's numbers are also not encouraging. In two starts against the possible first-round opponents (one against each), Byrd pitched 8 innings and allowed 8 earned runs. He got bombed by the Yankees on Aug. 11, but had a 6-inning, 1-run outing against the Sox back in May.

Based on these small samplings, which are next to useless, it would seem Westbrook might be a better bet against New York and Byrd against the Red Sox.

Using the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately approach, the picture is equally fuzzy.

Westbrook has pitched four times in September. He's 0-2 with a 4.56 ERA. He has one quality start this month, against the Angels on Sept. 7. In that game he went 7 2/3 innings, allowing 2 earned runs. In his other three starts, Westbrook threw over 100 pitches in each, but only made it through the fifth inning in two of those games and only pitched 6 innings in the other. A clear sign he's been struggling with his control.

Byrd has also started four times in September. He's 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA, which is clearly better than Westbrook. But, one of those games was a complete-game shutout against the White Sox on Sept. 1. Quite a while ago. If you eliminate that start, Byrd has pitched 18 1/3 innings this month, and allowed 12 earned runs.

So who's comfy with either guy. Not me. Either could dazzle or fizzle.

I just keep thinking of how dominant Westbrook was in August (4-1, 1.90).

But then again, consistency's nice and, except for a bad June (1-2, 6.91), Byrd has been very steady.

Who should start game three?

Anybody know if we can borrow Romeo's infamous coin?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Farewell to the Jake?

It was a beautiful early afternoon.

The sun was shining.

The sky clear and blue.

The Tribe was in the process of a third-straight come-from-behind win to bury the Tigers' flickering Central Division hopes.

C.C. was mowing them down one last time in the regular season in front of the home folks.
Several Tribe hitters were taking their turn contributing to an offense that, once again, was just good enough to put up a "W."
All was right with the world.

And then, with one toned-down, oh-by-the-way announcment - put out in the form a press release and played down considerably by the TV announcing crew - the festivities at the Jake seemed just slightly less festive.

The Indians front office today announced it has retained an advisor to help the team search for someone to purchase the naming rights to Jacobs Field. Or, as the team put it, "a naming rights partner."

The Jake, as most of you know, was named by Richard Jacobs - the owner if the team when the stadium opened in 1994. Jacobs purchased the naming rights for 13 years. Jacobs' name remained on the park this year, as the Tribe, apparently, was unable to come up with somebody to cough-up big cash to put their brand on the park marquee.

With the team's success this year, the front office is stepping up its efforts to find a buyer for the naming rights by appointing sports media firm IMG to assist in the search.

So, without knowing it, you may have already made your last visit to "The Jake"

Next year you might be going to KeyBank Park. Or Cleveland Cliffs Stadium. Or Frankie Yankovic Memorial Field for all I know, if the folks managing the deceased self-proclaimed Polka King's estate determine that's a smart way to spend his money.

Most of the older park's - Forbes Field, Crosley Field, Comiskey Park - were named after a team owner or someone important to the team's history. Some of those names still exist today. Shea Stadium and Kauffman Stadium come to mind.

Some of those names could also be considered "corporate." Wrigley Field was named after the family of chewing-gum fame and the former Busch Stadium is St. Louis was named after Anheuser-Busch brewing magnate August Bush.

Other parks were named for the teams who played there - Tiger Stadium for example.

Others were named for the neighborhood in which they are located.

Fenway and Camden Yards come to mind

Of course, like the star player who stayed with your team his whole career, the classic ballpark names are a thing of the past.

Today, every team has to grab every last dime in order to remain competitive against teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, who - because they play in huge media markets - rake in the money at a much brisker clip than their counterparts.

So today we have AT&T Park, Cellular Field and Minute-Maid-Orange-Juice-With-Less-Pulp Stadium, which took the place of Enron Field after the collapse of that corrupt prize of American capitalism.

We knew the day was coming when the Jake would no longer be the Jake. Did the front office have to choose such a jubilant afternoon to remind us?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Flying high now!!

The Tribe used four big flies to pound Justin Verlander and the Tigers tonight, winning 7-4 and cutting their magic number to clinch the Central Division to 5.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of those homers. But I did have a great time with my daughter at Yankee Stadium tonight, even if it was filled with Yankee fans. You can't beat live baseball, even if its Yankee baseball.

Never before have I, and my Tribe windbreaker, been so welcomed at the Stadium. The jacket that usually elicits at least a half-dozen unprovoked "Cleveland sucks" comments from stupid, drunk 20-somethings got me at least as many "thanks for beating Detroit for us tonight"s this time around.

Friendly as anything, these New Yorkers.

I don't suppose it dawned on any of them that the Tribe probably didn't have the Yankees well-being foremost in their minds the past two nights when they were beating the Tigers. I don't suppose it dawned on these Yankee fans that - perhaps - the Indians were busy beating the Tigers to help themselves.

So much so does the world revolve around the Bronx Bombers.

Being late in the evening, it took me five or six such greetings before I came up with the right response. One friendly Yankee fan told me just how glad he was Cleveland won tonight. I suggested he probably won't be so glad when they win again two weeks from tonight. He seemed puzzled. I'm not quite sure he caught my drift.

Wearing the jacket usually results in a few genuinely friendly conversations as well. A young guy sitting next to me, I discovered, grew up in the town next to the one where I live now, and his brother is bringing up a little tribe of Indians fans in Cleveland Heights. Small world.

Saw Fernando Cabrera pitch 1/3 of an inning - which took about a half hour. He pitched to five batters, gave up a double, two walks, a single and a wild pitch - while getting ARod to sky one between the mound and home plate. After he left, Rob Bell cleared the bases for him and Cabrera was charged with four runs in 1/3 of an inning. It was hard to watch. You have to feel for the guy. He keeps reaching to find something he knows he once had, but he just can't seem to find it.

Just one other thought. What on earth is Terry Francona doing pitching Eric Gagne when it matters? As our commander in chief once said, "fool me once - uh - shame on me - uh shame on you -uh - ..we won't get fooled again." Except Francona seems to somehow get fooled over and over again. The Sox may be looking at the wild card if they don't watch out.

Back with more after I watch a TIVOed version of the series finale tomorrow.

Until I figure out a way to get paid for blogging, I've got to get up nice and early and head to the office, so for now gotta go.

PHOTO Credit: The Associated Press

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lucky Seven!!

Actually there was nothing lucky about it.

The Tribe toughed it out for a big walk-off win against the Tigers tonight, earning their way back to 5 1/2 in front of Detroit in the Central Division race.

Their magic number is down to seven with Casey Blake's 11th inning homer - his second game-ender in the last four games.

I had to be somewhere this evening so I missed most of the game. Got home just as Travis Hafner was grounding out to move two runners into scoring position in the eighth, and just two at-bats before Jhonny Peralta tied the game up with his second homer of the nght.

The bullpen was great from that point forward and the offense - in this case Casey Blake - eventually did what it had to do in one of the biggest spots of the year.

I could mention that from the description on WKNR, as it crackled on my car radio during my long ride home this evening, it sounded like the Tribe booted some balls, put up some iffy at-bats and got less-then-steller pitching from Paul Byrd in the first six innings or so. But, I didn't have to sit through that part and I got home just in time to see all the good stuff.

As some of you may remember from the first post on this blog back in July, I'm raising a brood of Yankee fans here in my suburban New York home. Three to be exact. As one of my duties as a good dad I bought a seven-game package of Yankee games for my kids to go to. The last game of the package is tomorrow night. My two sons won't be around to drive my daughter, so it's my turn to put in an appearance. That means the only info I'll have on the Tribe game will come from periodic scoreboard updates at Yankee Stadium. (KNR's signal doesn't come in in the Bronx. I've tried several times before).

I guess it was a little easier on the stomach tonight just seeing the best part of the game. Tomorrow will be torture wondering what's happening back home at the Jake while I do my fatherly duty at Yankee Stadium

I'll be wearing my Indians windbreaker. Pray for me!!

No help from their friends, or the Twins either

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Or so the saying goes.

The Indians will get a chance to do just that beginning tonight at Jacobs Field as they begin a three-game series against the Tigers, who come into town 4 ½ games behind the Tribe and 5 back in the loss column.

The Twins proved to be of no help this past weekend, losing three to the Tigers by a total of five runs while leaving runners all over the bases. They left ‘em loaded in the eighth and the ninth against the Tigers on Sunday, for example, while losing 6-4.

So the Tigers arrive for the series of the year having won five straight, 10 of 12 and 11 of 15.

The Indians, meanwhile, have split their last four games, but have won 10 of their last 15 and have pretty much been keeping pace with the Tigers during their current torrid stretch.

Cleveland has won 9 of the 15 games the teams have played against each other this season. The teams split a two-game series in Detroit in mid-August, the last time they faced each other.

When this series concludes, the Tribe will have three more at home against Oakland and then play seven on the road against Seattle and Kansas City to end the season. The Tigers will go home after they leave the Jake Wednesday for three against Kansas City and three more against the Twins. They’ll end the season on the road against the White Sox.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride because it looks like this race may last well into the last week of the season.
The Detroit Free Press has a series of articles on its Web site about the series today.
In one, the paper gives Asdrubal Cabrera the lion's share of the credit for the Indians' ability to put some space between themselves and the Tigers.
The paper also poses an interesting question. Who would you rather have in centerfield, Grady Sizemore or Curtis Granderson?
According to the paper, the stats tilt slightly in Granderson's favor, while the scouts give a slight nod to Grady.
The paper also asked one of the league's other elite centerfielders - Tori Hunter - who he thinks is better. Read the article to find out who he chooses, but let's just say we don't like the Twins much anyway.
In addition, two other baseball men chime in, in a story the Free Press lifted from the Boston Globe.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The beat goes on

It took late-inning heroics from three Tribesman, but the Indians keep rolling on toward the Central Division title.

Tell the truth. When Brian Bannister was tossing a two-hitter through six and the Royals blew through the fifth inning like a heartland tornado, how many of you were wondering what it was going to feel like to wake up in the morning with only a 4 1/2-game lead and three games aganst the Tigers right around the corner?

But, before you could brood too long, Franklin Gutierrez lit the comeback flame with a two-run homer in the seventh, Victor tied it in the eighth and then - of course - Casey Blake hit the walkoff homer for the win in the bottom of the ninth.

And how would you like to be a Tiger fan this morning?

For one brief period last night - probably around 9:15 or so - the Tigers had a lead on the Twins, the Tribe was down 4-1 and the Yankees were losing big to the Red Sox. It was looking like the Tigers would pick up a game in both the division and the wild card races.

But, before the Tigers could get out of the visitors clubhouse at the Twinkie Dome, the Tribe had worked its Jacobs Field magic, and the suddenly tenuous Red Sox bullpen was crumbling at Fenway and the Sox had blown a five-run lead.

And so, despite winning 8 of 11, The Tigers have gained no ground against the Tribe or the Yankees - as both have matched the Tigers win-for-win over that period.

The Tribe continues to run out the clock on Detroit and if they can hold their own in the head-to-head series this week, it should be like running the four-corner stall with no shot clock.
One other side note. Be glad you are not living on the East Coast these days. The Yankee-Red Sox series, it seems, is getting more coverage than D-Day, the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Apollo moon landing.
The Sox began this series with a 5 1/2-game lead. They pretty much have to win one of three to put their stamp on the Eastern Division. Yet the New York media and Yankee fans (God love 'em - somebody has to) are approaching this as if the teams were tied coming in. They seem convinced that a Yankee sweep will insure a division title. My talk-show friend Michael Kay went so far yesterday as to bill the series a likely preview of the ALCS.
It didn't get any better today on the sports pages after last night's improbable win, as you can see here and here and here.
The hyperbole was just as evident in the Boston papers, singing the praises of the Yankees.
It's as if there are no teams west of the Hudson River. Here are just a few examples from one column in the The Boston Globe - written by Nick Cafardo.
This is why the New York Yankees are potentially the most dangerous team in the playoffs. That six-spot they put up in the eighth inning against two of the best relievers in baseball - Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon - is proof enough that the Yankees can hit good pitching.

What are the chances they'll come up against a pitching staff similar to the Tigers of last season and get shut down again?
Can you say CC Sabathia? How about Fausto Carmona?
It wasn't as if they whacked around Javier Lopez or Devern Hansack. They destroyed arguably the best lefty setup guy in baseball.
Can you say Rafeal Perez?
That "best lefty' referred to is Hideki Okajima. His numbers are not as good as Raffie Left's and are downright awful since the All-Star break. In the past 30 days they are off-the-charts bad.
We can sit and argue over who's better, Perez or Okajima. Or whether the Indians' starting staff can match that of the Tigers last year (I say it's better).
But the point here is my fellow East Coasters seem to think it doesn't matter unless it happens east of the Appalachians, if they've even heard of the Appalachians. (Aren't the Green Mountains in the New England the highest in the U.S.?)
I've been dealing with it for 24 years. It never gets any better.
I have to admit, part of me is rooting for the Tigers so they can knock the Yankees out of the post-season picture - even if that makes things tougher for the Tribe in the next two weeks.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Home again, home again...

The Tribe is back home and returns to the Jake tomorrow night, having stared down one of their biggest challenges of the season - the just-completed 10-game road trip to Minnesota, California and Chicago.

They opened the trip by defeating Johan Santana for the fifth time this year, used that momentum to sweep the Twins in the Twinkie Dome, split four games with the best home team in the league - the Angels - after losing the first two in that series, and took two of three from the White Sox.

As they have many times this year, the Tribe faced some extraordinary circumstances while taking 7 of 10 on the road.

They opened the trip with Santana, had to finish the California leg of the trip with a night game (thanks to ESPN), travel two-thirds of the way across the country for a game the next night against the Sox, played that game in a driving rain that resulted in a 2 1/2-hour rain delay and then played two more in Chicago before the trip-that-could-have-been-from-hell-but-wasn't came to an end.

Oh Ya! The trip was just the last leg of a 23-day stretch during which the Tribe played 23 games.

Can we cut them a break for being a bit sloppy on Wednesday? I'd say we can.

In addition to the continued emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera on this trip, a few other things came a bit more into focus.

Jensen Lewis is beginning to look a lot more like someone I will be glad to see on the playoff roster.

On the other side of that coin, Cliff Lee is pretty clearly - or should be - out of the Tribe's plans for the post-season roster, if not for next year as well.

Chris Gomez deseves more than the yawn he recieved when the Tribe traded for him.

The Kenny Lofton pickup was one of the better trade-deadline deals made in either league.
Travis Hafner is still firing on about three or four of his six cylinders.

And, this team has more guts than any of us were giving them credit for back in early August.

So now we look ahead.

The Tribe starts this nine-game homestand with a magic number of 11 and a 5 1/2 game lead over Detroit.

It would seem obvious that the key series of the bunch is the middle series - a three-gamer against Detroit. At this point, however, it's like playing the last couple of innings with a four- or five-run lead. You just need outs. In this case, you just need wins. It would be great to reduce the magic number two at a time by beating the Tigers head-to-head, but not essential.

Cleveland has 16 games left. The Tigers have 15. Of those 31 games, the "right" outcome must occur only 11 times. Clearly the Tribe has much less pressure on them than do the Tigers.

Nine of the Tribe's last 16 games are at home. Detroit plays six of 15 at home.

From there, things swing a little in the Tigers' favor schedule-wise.

Detroit has three games against a team with better than a .500 record. That would be the Tribe. They do have six against the Twins, who are close enough to the breakeven point that you might count them.

Cleveland has the three games against the Tigers and four on the road against Seattle. Their other remaining opponents (KC and Oakland) are below the breakeven mark.

The Tribe has one more trip to the West Coast. The Tigers go no farther west than Kansas City.

Detroit finishes with three on the road against Chicago, while the Tribe's last seven are away from home.

If the schedule seems slightly weighted in the Tigers' favor, just keep this most simple of barometers in mind. If the Tribe goes 8-8 the rest of the way, the Tigers will have to go 13-2 just to tie them.

Kick back. Enjoy the last two weeks, regardless of which way those three games go at the beginning of next week and no matter who is starting at quartback for that other Cleveland team.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dissed again by Big Apple know-it-all

The magic number is 12 and the lead over the Tigers is 6 1/2 games.

(UPDATE: Magic number now 11 after Tuesday's game)

Still, here in the Big Apple, the Indians continue to get no respect.

Yesterday I mentioned a talk radio guy commenting that the Yankees would be better off if the Tribe overtook the Angels for the second-best record in the league, so the Yankees would get to play the Indians in round one of the playoffs.

Today, his comments were more explicit. More in-your-face.

Today this talk-show host said it would be "absolutely huge" for the Yankees to get the Indians in the first round instead of the Angels. He said he "never thought the Indians would stay in the race for the division much less win it" when he was in Cleveland with the Yankees at the beginning of August. In fact, he said the Tribe "looked liked a Triple-A team" when the Yankees visited the Jake.

He didn't stop with the Tribe. He also said there "is no way the Yankees will blow their lead over the Tigers" for the wild-card spot. "It's just not going to happen."

The guy mentioned that the Yankees were 6-0 against the Indians this year, that "the Yankees have the Indians' number and they've always had the Indians' number."

This is nothing unusual for me to hear. I hear it all the time from the fine citizens of NYC and its surrounding area. Of course they don't know Fausto Carmona from Asdrubal Cabrera, but they're pretty sure it doesn't matter and that they have a firm handle on how things should and will go in the post season.

My announcer friend never stopped to consider that the Indians met the Yanks during two very cold periods for the Tribe, early April and during their dreadful post-All-Star-Game slump. Or that the Yanks came into the August series averaging nine runs a game for nearly a month - a pace no team could maintain.

Much more importantly, our baseball expert failed to compare the Indians rotation with that of the Yankees. And, as other baseball experts will tell you, pitching wins in the playoffs.

I'll take the Tribe's top two over the Yankees first two starters any day.

CC Sabathia is 17-7 with a 3.15 ERA . Fausto Carmona is at 16-8. 3.20.

For the Yankees this year, their ace Chien-Ming Wang is 18-6 (with the best offense in baseball supporting him) and an ERA more than a half-run higher than CC's at 3.69. Their No. 2 man is Andy Pettite at 13-8 and 3.78, once again more than a half-run higher than Carmona.

Mike Mussina has the next-highest win total on the Yankee staff at eight, but with his 5.51 ERA he's been dropped from the rotation. Roger Clemens is next at six wins, with a 4.45 ERA. True Clemens took the first few months of the season off, but that seems to be his style. He pretty much takes every inning after the fifth off in most of his starts, having averaged 5 2/3 innings in his 16 starts. The middle of the Yanks' bullpen is no better than the Tribe's, so they might need Roger to stretch those old bones for more than a five-and-fly in the playoffs.

At this late date, the Yankees aren't even sure who will make up their starting rotation during the playoffs. As I mentioned, Mussina has been kicked to the curb, rookie Phil Hughes has been a below-average starter since returning from injury and has only two wins all year, with an ERA of 5.33.

On the other hand, the Tribe is quite set with Jay Westbrook and Paul Byrd at three and four in the rotation.

Byrd has 14 wins and a 4.30 ERA and either he or Westbrook would be a decent matchup for Clemens.

Westbrook has only five wins on the year, but was 4-1 in August - after a bout with an injury earlier - and posted a 1.90 ERA. In two September starts his ERA is a more realistic, but still very solid, 3.35.

So more than the Tribe's top two, I'd take the Tribe's four-man rotation over the Yankees top four (if they ever figure out who that would be) without batting an eye.

The Yankees are a far superior offensive team, but they have had two extended periods of offensive ineptitude this season. Who's to say it won't happen again - around the first of October.

I'm not naive enough, or pompous enough, to say that I KNOW the Indians are a better all-around team than the Yankees.

All I'm saying is I know enough about both teams to know the Yankees may find out the Tribe is not the walk-in-the-park that their fans, and my talk-show friend would have you believe.

By the way, should you wish to let this guy know what you think of him, his name is
Michael Kay. He's the Yankees play-by-play guy on the YES Television Network (with one of the most amateurish home run calls I've ever heard). He also hosts a radio talk show on ESPN 1050 in New York on weekday afternoons. Drop him an e-mail, won't you?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tribe finally getting noticed

The Tribe made a first-in-a-long-time appearance on ESPN last night, topping the Angels to go 2-2 in the four game series and improve their record on the road trip to 5-2.

I guess the national media is starting to notice Cleveland and give them some credit, though I did hear one sports blabberer on the car radio in NY today say he thinks the Yankees are probably hoping Cleveland will end up with a better record than the Angels (they trail LA by one game right now) so the Yankees can play the Tribe in the first round of the playoffs (God I hope by some miracle the Tigers knock them out!!)

And so Rodney Dangerfield lives!

But the New York Times (through the A.P.) yesterday did give the Tribe some props - finally. The wire story picked up by the Times praised the Tribe for fighting through its struggles this year, and intimated the Tribe has the best starting rotation of any team likely heading into the playoffs. "Unmatched" is the word they used.

Just for good measure the Times ran another item on Cleveland baseball, in particular John Adams, the man with the drum. For some reason it's in the pay-to-view part of the Times Web site, so you can't get at this "exclusive" without a Times subscriiption. So I'll cut and paste it below.

Busy schedule tonight. Don't know if I'll be able to do a post of my own. Here's the story on John Adams:

Cheering Section

Heart of Indians Baseball Beats From the Cheap Seats


John Adams, a 55-year-old baseball fan from Brecksville, Ohio, said he received an invoice the other day for four Cleveland Indians playoff tickets, all in the top row of the left-field bleachers at Jacobs Field, right beneath the colossal scoreboard.

Should the Indians reach the playoffs — and their chances look better every day — two of the tickets will go to friends. Adams will use the third, and the fourth will ensure a spot for his weathered bass drum, probably the most famous drum in all of baseball.

Adams, a lifelong Indians fan, figures he has taken the drum, part of a $25 set, to all but 34 of the more than 2,500 home games the Indians have played since Aug. 24, 1973.

If the Indians are winning a game heading into the top of the ninth inning and if the veteran Kenny Lofton is playing the outfield, Lofton will try to hit Adams’s 26-inch-wide drum with a warm-up ball.

“I’ve never talked to him,” Adams said.

The drum, christened Big Chief Boom-Boom by the Indians announcer Herb Score not long after its debut at Municipal Stadium, has helped Adams meet a lot of other dignitaries, including senators and a Pakistani government official.

Adams, who works on computer systems for AT&T, has become a celebrity. The Indians gave out John Adams bobblearms dolls last year. He could surely get an upgrade for him and his drum, at least, but Section 182 Row Y Seats 28-29 will do.

“It’s my Fantasy Island,” he said. “It’s my getaway from the real world.”

Adams starts a drumbeat as the Indians take the field for the start of a game, but he picks his spots carefully after that: if the Indians have runners in scoring position, are tied or trailing late in a game, or are ahead in the top of the ninth.

He says he never beats his drum after a pitcher on either team sets his motion. That, he says, would be downright cheeky. Fans often clap along with his beat, and often this season, the Indians have rallied to win the kinds of games they might have lost in the past.

Adams was simply trying to whip up a little enthusiasm for a perennially beleaguered team that had fallen out of another pennant race when he took the drum into a $2 seat in the lower bleachers at Municipal Stadium for the first time.

The tradition almost died before it started.

“It was Date Night, and 16 people came and sat right in front of me,” he said. “A guy sitting in front of me said, ‘You’re not going to hit that thing, are you?’ ”

Adams had promised a police officer assigned to the bleachers that he would not bother anyone. But then, someone from the top row of bleachers — Section 55 — told him he could bang his drum up there. A reporter from The Cleveland Press noticed.

“One of his questions was, ‘Are you going to be there the next game,’ and I told him, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” Adams said.

But the newspaper reported that Adams would be returning, so he decided to give it one more shot. One game led to 2,500 more. On May 15, 1981, Adams and the drum were there when Cleveland’s Len Barker pitched a perfect game.

There have been other highlights. The Indians played in the World Series in 1995 and 1997, although they lost. It has been 59 years since the Indians won a World Series, more than a lifetime for Adams. He seems determined to stay on his beat.

“I don’t see myself as being anything extra special,” he said. “I’m just a sports fan — a tough sports fan. And anybody who’s a sports fan in Cleveland has to be tough.”--

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Back to the pennant race

Suddenly it's starting to feel like early August all over again.

I don't know what it's like where you are, but outside my door its hot, hazy and humid. Just like early August.

No matter where you are, if you watched the Tribe the past two nights - or at least read about it when you got up in the morning - you saw them score a grand total of five runs in the past two games.

You also saw the Tribe lose two games off their lead over the Tigers, who with two last-at-bat wins over the White Sox, seem like they might be ready to rip off a string of victories. They sure seemed to be a different club against Seattle last night. And Gary Sheffield - for now anyway - is back in the lineup and Kenny Rogers is back on the mound.

As Indians fans it's a very natural to start getting that queasy feeling after just two small steps backward over the last two nights, but I don't think we should panic just yet.

There are a few differences between where the Tribe is now and where they were during that awful post All-Star period, when they (and the Tigers as well) couldn't get out of their own way.

Most importantly, they still have a five-game lead over the Tigers, which would have looked pretty sweet in early August.

Just as importantly, the Indians of early September have another advantage the Tribe of a month ago did not have. The finish line is in sight. They're no longer working to get, and then expand, a lead over the Tigers. With just three weeks left, all they have to do is play tit-for-tat with the Tigers, if not even a little bit below that level.

Two things make me believe they will be able to do at least that much over the final three weeks.

They continue to pitch extremely well and may have even found that extra arm they need in the bullpen in Jensen Lewis. If they continue to pitch as they have, they will should be able to play at a .500 clip at the minimum, which is all they really need to do to run out the clock on the Tigers.

In addition, unlike the early-August Indians, the Tribe last night made some adjustments at the plate against a very tough pitcher and did manage to put up some hits, if not many runs. After one trip through the order they began to collectively realize that if they took John Lackey the other way they'd have a better shot against him. The early-August Indians - in a panic about their slump at the plate - would have continued to flail away against Lackey, hoping to put every pitch into the seats.

With a bit of a cushion in the standings, I think the Tribe will be able to relax a bit more at the plate and - if they are heading into a batting slump - shake their offensive woes more quickly this time around.

This four-game trip to California has had me worried from the start. But, as I said in an earlier post, a 5-5 trip to Minnesota, California and Chicago would be acceptable and good enough to keep the Tribe in the the driver's seat in the A.L. Central.

Despite a little bit of rumbling in my stomach, I still feel that way this morning.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Last-minute magic.

Since the last time I wrote, four games key to the Central Division race have been completed - three of them were won with some last-minute magic.

When I last posted, the Tribe trailed 5-3 with two out in the top of the ninth against the Twins Tuesday night. An Asdrubal Cabrera double and Travis Hafner homer later and the game was tied. The Tribe eventually won in the 11th and went on to sweep the Twins yesterday, scoring three in the ninth to break open a one-run game.

Meanwhile, with a touch of clutch (or perhaps desperation) the Tigers eked out a run against the White Sox in the 11th on Wednesday night for a 2-1 win.

Similarly, the Detroiters scored two in the ninth today off of Bobby Jenks in the bottom of the ninth to top the Sox again, this time 3-2. The Tigers were helped by an infield single-and-error combo that put leadoff hitter Timo Perez on second. A couple of well-placed bouncers into left field followed and the Tigers had a walkoff 3-2 win. The two runs were the first scored off Jenks since the Tribe touched him up for two back on July 17. Yes, July 17.

The Tribe started off the current ten-game trip with three wins in Minnesota and is in Anaheim for four with the Angles, beginning tonight. They've gained 1 1/2 games on the trip so far. With the schedule winding down if they can hold their ground against LA and the Sox they should be in very good shape when the Tigers come to Cleveland later this month.

Truthfully, if the Tribe plays .500 the rest of the way the Tigers will have to go looking for the wild card.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

An early slide

With the Tigers already losing, the Tribe game going at a snail's pace and my alarm clock set to go off at 4:40, I'm taking an early slide.

Blake's escapades on the basepaths and Tom Mastny's ineptness on the mound also helped me decide to pack it in early. Not to mention leaving the bags loaded in the seventh.

At worst, the Tribe will still be six games ahead when I wake up. Any time the Tigers lose on a 2-run homer by Alex Cintron the night can't be all bad.

Tonight was Aaron Laffey's first tough outing (4 innings, 5 runs) but his defense didn't help much.

Whether you blame Casey Blake's throw or Ryan Garko's inability to dig it out (the Twins' announcers couldn't agree who was at fault), the door was opened for the Twins in the third by an error. And, while it's probably not fair to expect Sizemore to catch every ball that stays in the park, he usually catches that double hit by Justin Morneau that drove in the three runs.

One thing to look for from this game is whether or not Laffey will be able to put it behind him and come back next time throwing well.

One positive was Jensen Lewis' middle-relief outing.

Still two innings to go, so it aint over, as they say. But for this early riser, the Tribe has shown me just enough tonight to make me realize that bed is where I should be.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Off and running!

The Indians kicked off perhaps their most important road trip of the year with a big 5-0 win today against Johan Santana and the Twins.

It's the fifth time the Tribe has beaten Minnesota's ace this year. The Tribe has lost only one game Santana has started against them in '07, but that one became a bullpen battle and neither starter got a decision.

Last time we looked at the Tribe's offense against Santana. Today, looking briefly at the Twins offense against the Tribe in those games, we see the other side of the coin.

Minnesota has scored a total of eight runs in Santana's five losses to Cleveland this year. They have been shut out twice and have not scored more than three runs in any of Santana's losses to the Tribe. Fausto Carmona has beaten the Twins' ace lefty twice, while CC Sabathia has beaten him thrice.

One thing I liked about the Tribe win today was the way they continued to add on against Santana and the Twins. They did not manage more than one run in any inning, but did score in five of the first seven innings. Last time, you'll recall, they scored four in the first and had to hold on to win 4-3. Today's attack was nice and balanced, if not spectacular.

A couple of other things:

Does anyone have an explantion for Wedge's decision to pinch run Grady Sizemore for Chris Gomez in the sixth inning? The score was four - zip and the Twins had four more at-bats to go. Seems like an unusual way to use up your best bench hitter in a not-so-crucial spot - especially since they never started up Sizemore to steal and set up an insurance run. It really made little sense.

Is it just me, or does it feel like Alexi Casilla - hitting .230 going into today - is always on base against the Tribe? The Twins' second baseman went four-for-four today and is eight for his last 12 against Cleveland.

The Tribe benefited today from the ping-pong table that doubles as a playing field at the Twinkie Dome. Travis Hafner shot a ball to the right of second base in the seventh that might have been a tough-luck groundout on grass, and certainly would have been no more than a single. Instead the ball went all the way to the wall, allowing Asdrubal Cabrera to score from first and Hafner to lumber into second. The Twins can't move to their new stadium fast enough for me.

I spoke with five different Yankee fans today at the swim club in my NYC suburban town. All five seem to think (finally) that the Yanks may be in a bit of trouble. And that was before they learned that Roger Clemens was sent for an MRI on his right elbow after his abbreviated outing today. My guess is it was just the anger of the moment and these self-entitled Yankee fans will wake up tomorrow once again feeling like the World Series is theirs for the taking.

Tribe starts crucial 10-day trip against Johan

The Tribe begins a three-city, 10-game trip today that could either put them well along the path to a division title, or put them back in a scramble with the Tigers.

CC Sabathia will open this trip in Minnesota against Johan Santana - a great indicator of just how tough the next ten games will be.

On the trip, the Indians will play three in Minnesota, head off for four in Anaheim and finish up with three in Chicago.

If the Tribe manages a split of those ten, they could be in pretty good shape when they come home mid-month.

Here's how the numbers stack up against Detroit.

First of all, using the most simplistic barometer, if Cleveland (78-58) wins just half of their remaining 26 games, they would finish the year at 91-71. Detroit, currently at 73-64, would have to win 18 of their remaining 25 games just to pull even at the finish line.

Current records aside, the Tigers clearly have an easier go of it schedule-wise.

The Tribe plays 17 of its last 26 games on the road. Detroit is at home for 16 of its last 25.

The Tribe still has two series - eight games - on the West Coast, in two separate trips. The Tigers are done out west.

Cleveland plays 11 games versus concenders (Minnesota is not counted here). Eight of those 11 are on the West Coast - four each against Los Angeles and Seattle. Detroit has only six games against teams still vying for the playoffs - three of them at home against Seattle.

In the only head-to-head matchup remaining, Cleveland will host the Tigers for three games starting two weeks from today.

Both teams have 15 division games remaining. Each team has one doubleheader and the Tribe has three days off while the Tigers have four.

In putting the two schedules side-by side, the key period is the next 10 days. While the Tribe is toiling away on the road against the Twins, Angels and White Sox, the Tigers host the White Sox, Seattle, Texas and Toronto (1 game).

Unless the Tribe does a complete folderoo on the road, the Tigers would have to win 7 or 8 of their 10 home games to put a decent dent in the Tribe's lead. It's the Tigers best remaining chance to erase the Tribe's 5 1/2 game advantage. Five wins on this current trip should at least keep the Tigers on the defensive as the head-to-head meeting looms.

Now, having said that, why is it the Red Sox six-game lead over the Yankees seems much safer than the Tribe's 5 1/2-game bulge over the Tigers - except to my Yankeeland friends and neighbors of course, who still publicly maintain the Sox are easily catchable?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Eight straight with revamped lineup

Paul Byrd was the story tonight for the Tribe, without a doubt. He was about as good as a pitcher can be through the first eight innings of his four-hit, complete-game shutout, though he seemed to tire in the ninth.

But I want to focus on the Tribe's offense, which put a seven spot on the board tonight, a run or two at a time, and has come to life in the past week or so.

The Indians have run off eight straight wins since last Saturday, not coincidentally the day when the lineup was shuffled to put Asdrubal Cabrera in the two spot and Casey Blake at the bottom of the order.

Since the switch Cabrera has batted .281 (9-32) and Blake .400 (10-25).

Cabrera is a switch hitter who strikes out at a lower rate than Blake (1 in 7.3 at bats for Cabrera versus 1 in 5 for Blake) and - as we saw again tonight - can lay down a bunt or move a runner in other ways, He is much more suited for the two hole than is Blake.
(Cabrera's numbers hold up in the minor leagues as well, where he struck out only once in every eight at-bats at Akron and Buffalo this year - 50 Ks in 406 ABs).

The Tribe took an early 1-0 lead tonight because Cabrera laid down a sacrafice bunt with two on and no out in the third. In textbook fashion, Travis Hafner drove in the run with a ground ball to the middle of the diamond - in this case second base.

Had Blake come to the plate in Cabrera's spot he would not have been asked to bunt and - depending on what Blake would have done with that at bat - Hafner's grounder would likely have been the start of an inning ending double play.

Blake, as we said, is flourishing at the bottom of the linuep, having knocked in 7 runs since the switch one week ago. In fact, going back to last night's last at-bat, Casey is 3-for-3 in his last three trips with RISP. Not bad for a guy who's average with RISP was 160-something while hitting higher in the lineup.

Some guys just perform better when the pressure is reduced, as it certainly is batting ninth rather than second. This isn't a knock on Blake, it is just a fact. It is why some guys who are lights out in the set-up or middle-inning role fail miserably as the closer.

Coincidence or not - and I firmly believe it is not - the Tribe has won eight games since the switch.

Wedge seems to have found the button he'd been searching for for weeks when he moved Blake out of the two hole eight days ago.