Monday, June 30, 2008

Taking a break from the Tribe

After the dismal week last week in Tribeland I needed a break from all things baseball.

So I've been away, trying to hide myself from the reality that is the 2008 Tribe.

Where better to find a world with no baseball than in Montreal, where they not only don't have baseball, but where they kicked it out, advising the sport not to let the door hit itself on the way out.

And so my wife and I spent a great weekend north of the border, in the baseball black hole that is Quebec.

We did head out to Stade Olympique - but not for a ballgame. We went to check out the Biodome (think the rain forest at the Cleveland Zoo with an arctic component and an aquarium).

We found that Montreal is so over the Expos that the metro stop at the stadium has been renamed, with the stadium's name being replaced by the road where the stop is located.

While there were plenty of folks at the Biodome, the neighboring insect museum (do not adjust your eyeglasses, that is correct) and Jardin Botanique - all on the site of the Summer Olympics of 1976 - only about 5 or 6 people were milling around the outside the the monstrosity that is Olympic Stadium. So nothing has changed there. You almost got the impression an Expos game would break out at any second.

(In case your wondering, I'm running on to continue my efforts to ignore the Tribe, but Jim Thome just sent a three-run dinger to the opposite field in first inning and I can't ignore that, try as I might.)

Taking a quick spin through the blogosphere and local papers it seems there was a lot of talk about possible deals for CC Sabathia. That's not at all surprising with the trade deadline a month away and CC tossing one of his best games of the year Friday night.

What is surprising is the number of places I've read that Tampa Bay might be a frontrunner, if not the frontrunner in the CC sweepstakes.

I would have thought a Rays-Tribe July trade a decent possibility back in April, but I thought the Indians would be the ones getting the big name for prospects.

There was also some talk of a last-ditch effort to sign Sabathia before trading him. That only makes sense but no one should hold their breath waiting for the ink to dry.

(Ben Francisco just got caught rounding the base too far to end the Tribe's 3rd inning and Shin-Soo Choo just butchered a flyball down the rightfield line to open the bottom of the inning.)

The Tribe lost another series over the weekend, after winning the first game. Again, no surprise.

Jhonny Peralta remains in the cleanup spot and David Dellucci is still the DH, so at least two more of my wishes didn't come true while I was away.

And I checked out the standings after my weekend off and found the Tribe 9 1/2 behind the White Sox with a three-games series in the Windy City about to begin.

(Casey Blake just booted a ground ball - 4-1 Sox). There's another wish that didn't come true.

So it's back to reality for me now. Time to start that portion of the season that many of us who've watched the Tribe for 40 years or so have been through about 31 times.

Watch each game for the momentary thrill of a nice play or an unexpected run barrage. Talk about which of our big stars will be playing with someone else this fall in the playoffs and which 'stars of the future' we'll get to watch for the last two months of the year.

And know that next year it will get better. Right?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The last place Cleveland Indians

With another inspired and inspiring performance tonight at Progressive Field the Indians find themselves in the basement of the A.L. Central.

If not for the Seattle Mariners, the Tribe would be the worst team in the A.L. right now.

Banging out four big hits against Barry Zito - of all people - over 6 2/3 innings, and six hits overall, the Tribe put a big one-spot on the board in their loss to the Giants.

Hey, look on the bright side. They only struck out four times tonight.

Unlike last night, when the game was exciting before it became nauseating, tonight the Tribe showed no life at all. Nothing.

They sent up three hitters in four of the nine innings and four hitters in another four innings. The only time more than four Indians hit in an inning was the seventh, when five guys made it the plate and one made it all the way home.

Talk about going through the motions. Did anyone see anybody who looked like they gave a damn tonight? Maybe Jeremy Sowers who battled his way through a decent start, but no one else seemed to care.

It is time to start lining up the deals.

Let's get some new blood in here and see what we have for next year, because right now that picture aint pretty either folks.

At this moment the Tribe has a three-man rotation for next year - Aaron Laffey, Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona, assuming he has no lasting effects from this year's injury.

The bullpen? Kobayashi and Raffy Perez. Beyond those two, who do you see as a likely success in the pen next season? And even that duo has question marks.

Let's assume for a minute that both Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner come back as their old selves next season, not a small assumption.

Whose your 1B? Ryan Garko? Are you sure? I'm not.

2b? Who the heck knows. Asdrubal Cabrera is likely to be at SS next season so that leaves Jamey Carroll and Josh Barfield. Feeling confident there? I personally like Carroll's type of player and I think Barfield may still pan out. But I wouldn't put a nickel down to back up that bet.

How about SS? Cabrera will field the ball, and I think he'll hit. He may be the closest thing to a sure thing in the 2009 infield. And isn't that a scary thought?

What about the hot corner? Although Andy Marte has been given little chance to prove himself, when he has had the opportunity he has only proven himself to be a stiff. Casey Blake? Do we have to? Again? Jhonny Peralta? With any luck he'll be gone by July 31. If not, there's no way to know if he can play 3B, though I suspect that is where he'll be come August if he is still on the team.

The outfield - with Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Chu, Franklin Gutierrez and Ben Francisco - seems to be in decent shape. But will Gutierrez figure things out and start hitting again? Will Francisco and Choo face the adjustments next year that Gutierrez is seemingly not making this year.

Well, at least we have two catchers. Maybe!

The Tribe is 8 out as I write this, with four teams ahead of them in the Central. They are 10 1/2 out in the wild card race - with ten teams ahead of them (not counting the three current division leaders).

There are those still holding out hope for this season. And to those who are - God bless you.

I'd say, though, it's time for the Tribe's management to start figuring out how they're going to fill the considerably large number of holes the Tribe will have next season.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Omar squeezes Tribe in return to Cleveland

He's not a prima donna like a lot of players of today. Us middle-aged guys grew up with players that actually loved to play the game and it's great to see a guy who plays baseball because he loves baseball."

The words of Tribe fan Glenn Sawyer, as quoted by

He was of course talking about Omar Vizquel, who returned to the place he knows as "The Jake" to receive the accolades of Tribe fans of all ages and, while he was at it, drive in what turned out to be the game-winning run with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze.

The bunt put Omar's San Francisco Giants up 3-1 in the 9th inning of a game that ended 3-2 and brought back memories of the good old days when he wore a Tribe uniform on those great teams of the 90's.

For the first 7 innings, Omar showed that time is indeed catching up with him.

Vizquel was 0-for-3 to that point and had left the bases loaded in the 7th with the score tied 1-1, having lifted a lazy fly to Grady Sizemore.

But in the ninth Vizquel flashed back to the days when he was the grease for the big machine that was the Tribe offense, laying down a perfect suicide squeeze that Casey Blake couldn't handle - not that he would have been able to do much except throw Omar out at first had he fielded it cleanly.

For good measure - with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out and the Tribe down 2 runs in the 9th - Omar went deep into the hole at SS, did a patented Omar spin-and-throw which had just enough on it to throw out at 2B a guy who would never have gotten a glove on the ball. Yes, Jhonny Peralta. If the ball goes through, it's 3-2 Tribe with 1 out and 2 on instead of 2 out and 1 on.

So, perhaps taking away some deserved credit from SF starter Jonathan Sanchez (though he did pitch his gem against the hitless wonders in Cleveland uniforms), the hero tonight is Omar Vizquel. And there's no surprise there.

While a part of me is happy for Omar, the rest of me is ticked.

Perhaps I'm pissed off because I looked up to see my stupid dog inexplicably pissing on the living room floor in the top of the 8th as the Tribe bullpen began to piss away the game away.

That didn't help.

But mostly I just can't keep watching the same old thing - a good (or at least gutty) performance by tonight's starter Aaron Laffey, a bullpen that blows the lead then widens the deficit and a so-called offense that is just plain offensive.

The game ended - classically - with a strikeout by Kelly Shoppach with the tying run in scoring position. It was just one of 11 K's on the night as the Tribe continues to pile up unbelievably high K totals night after night.

Earlier in the ninth, Ryan Garko put up one of the ugliest at-bats of the year, following up two singles to start the inning with a 3-pitch K that was just awful.

I could go on about Shoppach's throwing error that allowed the second SF run to score. Or the 3 K's overall by the guy who "would be a starting catcher on most other teams."

But why go on. It's the same old thing night in and night out.

By the way, anyone wonder why the Tribe continues to pile up has-beens at Buffalo. The latest two to join the Bisons are reliever Juan Rincon and infielder Tony Graffanino.

The duo joins starter John Halama and corner infielder Morgan Ensberg as recent retreads to join the Bisons as Tribe signees.

Are they piling up warm bodies to take the positions of some young guys they may bring up when the trading begins. We know Asdrubal Cabrera will be on his way back up before too long. Who else may be heading down I-90?

Or are they piling up these C-listers to fill out the major league roster when the purge begins? And won't that be fun? It'll be 2003 all over again.

Whatever the case, I've spent way too much time tonight thinking about a team that clearly doesn't deserve this much of my attention.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tribe fans to get more - not less - Peralta

Except possibly for Casey Blake, no player on the current squad of Indians raises the hackles of some Indians fans like Jhonny Peralta.

While he hits 260-270 with roughly 20 homers each year, those numbers seem to come in bunches followed by extended periods of nothing.

It's during those periods, especially, when Tribe fans seem to notice his totem-pole-like tendencies at SS and his sometimes uninspired approach to the game.

While many fans see some value in his bat, most seem to want him moved either to 3B or off the roster entirely.

Even the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto admitted today he's really seen enough of Peralta in the middle of the diamond.

So what is the word from Eric Wedge today?

Not only will we continue to see as much of Peralta in the middle of the diamond as we have over the past four seasons, we'll be seeing more of him in the middle of the order.

That's the word from's Anthony Costrovince on his blog today.

Here's quote of Wedge lifted from Castrovince's blog:

"He did such a good job for us last year, and I know he's had some problems this year," Wedge said. "But I just really feel like he's going to be a run-producer. The sooner he gets used to being in the middle of the lineup and just takes that as the norm, the better off he's going to be."

I'm not sure what's more infuriating. The idea that we'll be seeing Peralta (he of the 11 HRs but only 30 RBI's) batting cleanup, as he did today, or the reasoning behind it.

"He did such a good job for us last year"? (Of course he has sucked at the plate for pretty much most of this year and we are - in actuality - playing in the present).

The sooner he gets used to batting in the cleanup spot the less big of a deal it will be. (And, of course, once Peralta gets comfortable someplace that's when he puts it on autopilot).

Maybe Wedge is trying to goose Peralta's numbers to make him attractive to somebody as the trade deadline gets closer.

Who knows why he'd bat Peralta regularly at cleanup?

But now we not only get to see Peralta in the middle of the infield, but we also get to see him more often in the middle of the batting order. Hopefully they'll bat Dellucci at No.5 to give Peralta some protection.

While we're on the subject of shortstops, the greatest ever to play the position for the Tribe will be making his return to what is now Progressive Field.

Omar Vizquel - after a four-year absence - will return Tuesday to the ballpark formerly known as The Jake when his SF Giants come to Cleveland.

Over the winter I did a story about why it should be a no-brainer for Omar to make it into the Hall of Fame if/when he retires. Click here to check it out if you missed it back then.

CC: Staying with Tribe 'out of my control' (and other bull)

Another great outing yesterday by CC, and oh that dinger!

You've got to love Sabathia's body of work.

But some comments from the big man in the PD this morning have me a bit annoyed.

It's the song and dance we here from soon-to-be-free athletes trying to skip town without leaving the fans there feeling spurned, at least not until he's grabbed the cash and is long gone

When asked about his HR and the opportunities he could have in the batters box on a regular basis if he signs with an NL team this winter CC uttered the tired old refrain that came most-recently in Cleveland from the lips of Jim Thome:

"The situation isn't in my hands. I'd like to stay here with my friends. These are the guys I grew up with, but it's out of my control."

Out of my control, he says.

Just who's control is it under exactly?

The Indians have put a more-than-generous offer on the table. It's not the best offer he will get. Not even close. But it is an offer that will make a very rich man much richer. And he can stick around with his chums and the fans and the team and the city he professes to love.

If he really wants to "stay here with his friends" he would have to give up millions. But with the millions already offered, would he even notice?

It's out of his control?

The hell it is!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Key columnist pulls plug on Tribe

Nearly two weeks ago in this space I pronounced the Indians dead for this season.

I wrote the column after much thought. There are just too many things that need to be fixed, and more things go wrong with each day.

The Indians then went on a run of five out of six and cut their deficit with the Sox to 5 1/2 games.

I was feeling a bit lonely out on the limb.

But as the offense has disappeared again, and with the Sox lead over the Tribe widening again and the injury picture just getting worse, I'm sad to say I'm becoming more confident in my initial assessment. Ten Ks in five innings against Jorge De La Rosa tonight only strengthens my conviction.

And today I was joined on the limb by some pretty good company.

Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer, the best sports writer in the state - something you can tell just by reading him regularly but also backed up by his winning the official designation many times over - has declared the season over.

Pluto writes:

There will be no contention this season, not even in the pathetic American League Central Division.

Not with the Indians being 8-9 in June and ranking last in the AL with a .246 batting average. Not with the second-worst bullpen (4.83) in the AL. Not with scoring two or fewer runs in 25 of 72 games this season.

I have to say I agree. The team seems incapable of going on a run of more than four or five games. And every time they put something together, they follow it up with a week's worth of ineptitude.

The latest news on Travis Hafner is that the Tribe has no idea when he will be back. It's pretty much the same story with Fausto Carmona. The bullpen is a disaster and the offense a bust.

There's nothing to suggest there's any real hope for an extended run that will put the Tribe back even with the Sox, and they are now chasing two more teams - the Tigers and Twins.

As Pluto suggests, it's time to burn up the phones and be ready to dump CC Sabathia, Joe Borowski, Casey Blake and David Dellucci, just as soon as a good offer is available for each.

We know Sabathia will draw major interest. Every contender needs a reliever. Blake offers versatility needed on a playoff roster and teams can always use a veteran lefty bat.

The moves would clear the way for the younger talent that will arrive in those trades to get their feet wet as well as allow some of the younger players currently on this team now to show if they are for real.

Eight games (looking at the moment like 8 1/2) is not insurmountable if there are hopeful signs that your team may be getting it together.

I see no such signs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Injury bug chomps down harder on the Tribe

You've heard the expression 'no news is good news.'

Well today there's plenty of news about the Tribe. Injury news.'s Anthony Castrovince is reporting it all on his blog tonight.

First up: Travis Hafner is going to see the Kevorkian of shoulder doctors - Dr. James Andrews.

The name alone is scary.

But, according to Castrovince, the Tribe doesn't think Hafner needs an operation but is going to see Andrews so he can "offer advice on a proper return-to-play program." Hafner was supposed to go out on rehab this week, but the shoulder is still too weak.

The news on Fausto Carmona is equally bad, at least as reported by Castrovince.

It seems Carmona felt soreness in his hip after a 50-pitch simulated game at Mahoning Valley yesterday. The Tribe isn't sure if he has re-injured the hip or he just wasn't fully healed from the original injury. Either way, his rehab stint - also expected to start this week - is also on hold.

Also in his blog Castrovince reports that Josh Barfield's middle finger required surgery and that he will miss 6 to 8 weeks.

And for good measure, The Buffalo News reports that Michael Aubrey - the oft-injured Tribe farmhand who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues a few weeks back - is also back on the Buffalo DL.

The delay in Hafner's rehab was already known, but the Dr. Andrews news is new and ominous. As we said, the Tribe says it's not as big a deal as it might sound, but how often has the Tribe been honest with us about injuries this season?

The Carmona news is also a major cause for concern as Jeremy Sowers is a fifth starter trying - but not really succeeding - to replace a No. 2 with ace-like tendencies.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Someone (in NYC) really, really wants our CC

The Indians have won five of their last seven, finally discovering that if they put injured guys who can't swing a bat on the DL instead of in the 3 and 4 holes in their batting order they might be able to score a few runs.

The Tribe has cut an 8 1/2 game deficit with the White Sox to 5 1/2 and things are beginning to look as if they are moving in the right direction (as long as the bullpen doesn't have to play too big a role in any particular game).

The Sox, meanwhile, have lost 5 of their last 6 games and look to be about to put Paul Konerko on the DL.

So now does not appear to be the right time to pull the trigger on any trade involving CC Sabathia.

But you can bet Mark Shapiro is getting plenty of phone calls from the 212 area code trying to convince him otherwise.

The Yankees, who have won 17 of their last 25 and have moved to 4 games over .500 and 6 game out of first in the A.L. East, have put together a decent starting staff of late, with the addition of Joba Chamberlain and Darrell Rasner (is he doing it with mirrors?) and the resurrection of Mike Mussina.

But all that may get flushed down the pinstriped pot if, as expected once MRI results are in, staff ace Chien Ming Wang is put on the shelf for most, if not all, of the rest of the season with what is believed to be a broken bone in the foot.

The New York Times is already speculating that the Yanks' GM Brian Cashmen has the speed dial to Mark Shapiro fired up.

"The Yankees’ season changed irreversibly on Sunday. Chien-Ming Wang’s season is in jeopardy with a serious injury to his right foot, and C. C. Sabathia instantly became a very important name in the Yankees’ universe." -- lead of today's New York Times story.

The Times story seems like nothing more than a logical conclusion - no names of any kind are mentioned and no quotes from anyone are included.

The New York Post - also apparently speculating - doesn't seem to think the Yankees have the goods to get it done.

"The Yankees' options to replace Wang are limited. The Indians aren't about to deal C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees don't have the major league-ready arms Cleveland would want. Dan Giese is in the Yanks' bullpen, and Daniel McCutchen, Alan Horne, Jeffrey Marquez and Kei Igawa are at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre."

That is assuming the Tribe is only interested in pitching in return - which may not be a great assumption.

Meanwhile, the Yankee blog published by the Journal News, my local paper, is already speculating about who the Yanks might have to sacrificed to get CC to replace Wang.

"LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS: C.C. Sabathia (Indians): He knows how to pitch in the AL, he’s a lefty (always a plus at the Stadium) and you’ll have a few months to try and sign him. But if the Yankees are desperate, Mark Shapiro will seek the world for his ace, especially if he’s going to an AL team. Start with Robinson Cano."

Robbie Cano would seem like a good place to start, at least if you look at his career numbers. But check out these numbers from for the Yanks lost and bewildered 2B this year.

"Going into Saturday night's game, Cano had the lowest on-base percentage (.260) and third-lowest slugging percentage (.316) of major-league players with at least 250 plate appearances."

If the Yanks were to put Cano in as a centerpiece of a package for Sabathia the Tribe would be getting - for now - yet another player who is underperforming miserably this season. Shapiro would have to try to determine if this year is an aberration or the start of a trend.

As has already been established in the linked articles, the Yanks don't have much in the way of MLB-ready pitching (not counting the injured Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy) and they themselves are trying to fill 1B with the likes of Jason Giambi and Shelley Duncan and Wilson Betemit.

They also have nothing to offer at 3B (Betemit is their backup there too) and the corner outfield spots are taken by veterans who the Indians wouldn't necessarily want if they end up punting on this season and trading CC.

So while the pressure will be brought to bear on Shapiro by the Yanks' front office, it's not clear what the Yankees have to offer in the way of young, healthy major leaguers who are playing up to their potential.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shapiro not ready to bail on season

Tribe GM Mark Shapiro says the Indians will wait as long as they can before pulling the 'abort-mission' button.

And he says and if the time comes to make 'next-year' trades, we'll be seeing the Tribe reload rather than rebuild.

As for this year, if he determines the division title is still a realistic goal when the trading season heats up, his main concern is the bullpen.

Those are the main points to take away from an in-game interview with Rick Manning and Matt Underwood on SportsTime Ohio on Saturday night.

Those interviews are often more revealing than you'd expect, as Shapiro is about as forthcoming as a GM can be in a situation like that and Manning seems to ask the right questions.

"At no time this year have I thought or will I think about a rebuilding," Shapiro said in response to a question from Underwood. "It's just a question of do you take certain guys who are in the last year of deals. Do you look at, can we bolster next year's club?"

Translation: If the time comes when we don't think we can win this year, we will look only to trade people we may lose to free agency (CC Sabathia, Paul Byrd), or anyone we consider dead wood for next year.

And how do you decide when to fish and when to cut bait?

Shapiro says you have to ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly.

"It's a mixture of your emotional side and your subjective feelings, but also to objectively ask, Is the team good enough? Is someone in the Central too good to catch? Are we a championship caliber team?"

Which way is he leaning right now?

"Our feeling is we've got some guys that are coming back – (Victor) Martinez and (Travis) Hafner, (Fausto) Carmona – that can bolster this club so we're going to be very careful about when we make that decision."

Translation: We really don't know yet. If the current roster can hang close for a while yet, we just may still keep this team together and go for it.

Complicating the decision, Shapiro says, is the fact that teams are becoming less and less likely to give up what the Tribe would want for Sabathia - young major leaguers, or major-league-ready players who will make next year's team better.

"I can tell you that in general the Bartolo Colon trades just don't get made anymore. ... The going price today for any player is less," Shapiro says. "There's a greater reality across the board in all markets, not just the small and mid markets, that young talent is not only cost effective, but that balance in terms of having the veteran players and the young players is a more effective way to win."

He points to the Boston Red Sox as the prime example of a successful mix of vets and up-and-comers.

And should the Tribe decide to be a buyer instead of a seller as the trade deadline approaches, Shapiro says it's the bullpen that is his biggest worry.

"That's a bigger issue than our offense. You see the offense every minute of the game so you feel that more frequently and when the offense struggles nothing feels worse, nothing feels less energetic than a team that's not hitting. But the reality is that even when we lead in games we're going to have to turn it over to the bullpen at some point."

Shapiro says Raffy Perez and Masa Kobayashi - and Joe Borowski since his return from the DL - are the only three guys in the pen coming close to expectations.

And so what to do there?

"We need to get Raffy Betancourt back to being what he can be. We need to get a few other guys to step up and we even need to get Perez even closer to what he was last year."

And says Shapiro, the injury bug has bitten the bullpen, if indirectly.

"Adam Miller, Brian Slocum have taken themselves out of it because of injuries. We're going to have to continue to look for guys."

To be sure.


Hafner update:'s Anthony Castrovince reports Hafner is not ready to go out on a rehab assignment as it was expected he might as the Tribe heads out of town and out west this week. The report says they'll take another look at the DH when they return home May 23.

During the TV interview Saturday night, Manning asked Shapiro if the Tribe might be targeting the All-Star break (July 18) as a time for Pronk's return. Shapiro says he's still hoping it will be sooner than that. He also said he's hopeful Fausto Carmona will be back in the Tribe's rotation by the end of this month.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tribe a better team without Pronk, Victor impostors

Could it be that the Indians are a better team without Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner?

The question is absurd on its face.

But the results on the field seem to suggest there may be something to that thought.

The once-impotent Tribe has scored 104 runs in 18 games since Hafner last played on May 25. That's 5.8 runs a game. It's not the '27 Yankees, but it aint bad.

In winning 4 of the last 5, Cleveland has scored 34 runs, or about 7 per game.
In the 3 games they've played without Victor and Hafner in the lineup, they've scored 25 runs, or just over 8 runs a game.

Clearly the Indians are not a better team with the guys they thought would be hitting 3 and 4 this year, the real Pronk and the real Victor.

But the players they were running out there with those names on their backs were a shadow of the real thing. They weighed-down the lineup in just the wrong spot - the run-producing middle.

In response, the complimentary players on the team began to take too much upon themselves, trying to make happen what wasn't happening in the middle of the order. That led to the downward spiral that produced the Indians putrid offense in the first two months of the season, and in May in particular.

With those two dead weights out of the middle of the lineup the runs are flowing more freely as everyone seems to have relaxed a bit and come to the realization that they can only do what they can do - which so far has been substantially more than they had been doing in the past several weeks, when they had been putting unrelenting pressure on themselves.

This is not to knock Hafner or Martinez. No one can hit with shoulders, elbows and legs that ache.

So at this juncture a look back and a look ahead are in order.

Just what did the Indians brass accomplish by trying to hide the injuries and running two inferior players out there in the middle of the lineup when they clearly were too injured to perform anywhere close to their normal capabilities?

Wouldn't it have been better if the Tribe had sucked it up and put Hafner on the DL right out of spring training, so he could rest and then strengthen his ailing shoulder, as he is doing now? He probably would have been back by now and it is not unreasonable to assume he would be doing better than the impostor who had been playing in his place for most of the first two months.

The same could be said for Martinez. Victor hid the elbow injury on his own for the first two weeks that it was bothering him, but Tribe management was responsible for keeping it on the QT for another month as the injury festered. And that doesn't even take into account the hamstring injury that we all knew about but ignored right along with the Tribe brass.

So that brings us to the next question. What happens from here?

Clearly the starting pitching is still running close to full-throttle despite injuries there as well.

The newfound offense, with guys seeming to be trying to do only what they can and no more, seems to be on the right track.
It may only get better in the future when Martinez and Hafner - properly rested and healed - come back to the club.

But there are still two obstacles to be dealt with - the 6 1/2 game deficit that was built up while the Tribe kept running out damaged players every night, and a bullpen that has been mostly awful to this point but has shown on occasion that they can get the job done.

In fact, since Sunday and excluding Joe Borowski's meltdown in Minnesota Wednesday, the Tribe pen has allowed just 2 runs in the last 19 2/3 innings.

With all the injuries, I'm not sure there's much of anything the Tribe can afford to trade if they indeed decide they are "buyers" as the trade deadline nears. But the addition of at least one more dependable bullpen arm would go a long way toward making the hopes for the season last at least a bit longer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tribe fans in a half-full/half-empty debate

There seems to be an attitudinal divide among Cleveland sports fans, and, from what I can tell, it seems to be generational, though I'm sure individual personality plays some role as well.

The divide is plausible in the blogosphere for sure.

Most of my fellow bloggers, from what I can tell, are 30-year-olds, give or take three or four years.

They like to talk about OPS and all the other fancy new stats that are somewhat like a foreign language to many of us in the next-oldest generation.

And, to their credit, the younger crew seems to have a lot more optimism about the Cleveland sports scene than those of us who have gotten our invitations to join AARP - however premature those mailings may have arrived at our homes.

Most of the blogs I read (some of them are perma-linked to the right of this post) have a positive bent, and I read them in the hope of finding a reason to believe in this year's Tribe team.

Perhaps the most positive of them all is Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe, who - on a regular basis - offers plausible reasons why the Tribe just may pull it off. If you need a lift, I suggest you read his latest post.

The 30-somethings were born in the mid-to-late 70s and undoubtedly started to take a keen interest in the Tribe in the mid-80's. Of course for the most part the team sucked in the first decade of their fandom, but the overwhelming success of the team in the following ten years undoubtedly washed away any bad vibes they may have developed early on.

Since then the team has had its shares of ups and downs, has been torn up and rebuilt, much in the fashion of the typical sports team.

So the prism through which this generation of Cleveland sports fan views the Tribe has a bit of a rose-colored tinge.

Not only do I not knock that perspective, I'm a bit envious of it.

But I just can't adopt it.

I'm from The Curse of Rocky Colavito generation, the generation that has watched the Tribe baseball that PD sportswriter Terry Pluto describes in his book by that name.

I was born in 1956.

My Uncle Ed took me to my first Tribe game when I was 6 or 7. I remember two things about it. It was against the Twins, and - even though GA seats were only about 75 cents for kids at the time - my frugal uncle told the usher I'd be sitting on his lap in the near-empty cavern of Municipal Stadium so he could get me in for free. The ticket-taker seemed to just be glad we were there and waved me through.

No one was too excited about the Tribe back in '63. Our parents and older brothers were still angry that Rocky Colavito had been traded away three years earlier; and that Norm Cash and Jim Perry and others were sent packing for what turned out to be nothing in return.

Fan interest was at an ebb, with a twist of bitter.

While the team was basically an average team for the rest of the 60s, it was awful in the 70's, 80's and early 90s.

So those of us from the boom generation in Cleveland joined baseball fandom in an atmosphere of bitterness brought on by Trader Lane and then watched three decades of mostly horrid baseball.

Any time there seemed to be a spark of hope, it quickly died. Think Ray Fosse until he met Pete Rose; the '74 team which was in the race into August until injuries forced them to play Joe Lis as a regular at 3B the rest of the year; the 1987 SI pick-of-the-year Indians that fell flat on their faces before April was over.

It is that gray-tinged prism through which we look at the Tribe.

This is not a case of the "experienced" old goat telling the whipper-snapper the realities of life.

It is simply an observation that the two generations rightly look at the Tribe's current situation and see different likely outcomes.

The 30-somethings have seen the Indians have a reasonable record of success, and as a result they, quite logically, have more of a reason to expect that success to continue.

For us 50-somethings, losing is the norm. The 90's were the aberration. Losing is what we know best. Of course it is logical that our view of the current state of the Tribe is a bit different.

On that note, let me point out that's Anthony Castrovince has a great story based on a conversation with Tribe GM Mark Shapiro posted on today.

It seems Shapiro sees the glass both half-full and half-empty, but admits there's some evaporation going on that may upset the equilibrium. Check it out here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Time to stop kidding ourselves Tribe fans, there are too many leaks in this boat

Whatever IT is, the Tribe does not have it.

Not this year.

There will be no division title this season. No playoffs. Nothing but a "talent" dump about six or seven weeks from now.

This is not a knee-jerk rant following what must have been one of the most gut-wrenching losses of the year.

(I wouldn't know because when FOX monopolizes Saturday afternoons I don't get to see the Tribe on the dish - and let me thank Uncle Rupert for small favors today).

The Tribe is 7 1/2 out of first and three weeks from tonight they will have played their 81st game - the half-way point of the season.

This, my friends, is a trend.

It is reality.

It is no longer believable to spout all those things that sound good - and are often true - in April and maybe even into early May.

"It's early, there's plenty of time." "They'll start hitting when the weather gets warmer." Blah Blah Blah.

There were many times throughout this season that I felt like pulling the trigger on a posting just like this one. But I said all of those things to myself about the team getting things straightened out and how no one is running away with the division.

Well, the Sox have won 20 of their last 30 and seem to be starting to build that head of steam - that quiet confidence - that allows you to pull away when everyone is is still trying to figure out how to get the train on the tracks.

The Tribe's longest winning streak this season has been five games - April 22-26. Of course they followed that up by losing three straight.
Their best stretch of the year was their 8-2 run from May 6-15, when the starters were on that incredible scoreless-inning run.

You will probably remember that the Tribe followed that up with seven straight losses.

Through all of that I checked all the various fan blogs, poured over stats, watched most of the rest of the division struggle - all in an effort to find a reason to believe that this season was going to mean something after the 4th of July.

It is becoming pretty clear that the only thing that will matter after Independence Day is the July 31 trade deadline. The results of that day, or the days leading to it, unfortunately will be the measuring stick that will determine if anything at all was accomplished this season.

The offense got a boost of confidence in the hot winds of Arlington earlier this week. After weeks of struggling to put up one or two runs in a game, it now seems to have reached its true potential - four runs in a typical game.
There will be scoring outbursts again to be sure. But the most you can expect from this group day-in and day-out is four.

Two starting pitchers are on the shelf. Yet I have few worries there. The starting pitching depth built by the organization seems to be showing itself to be capable of weathering the storm.

But this team, because of its below-average offense and quality starting pitching, will play a lot of close games - or at least games that are close until the bullpen gets in on the action.

Other than Joe Borowski since his return from injury, there is not one arm out there you can count on. (And truthfully, how long do you think Borowski will last on that list of one?)

For Eric Wedge, getting through the last few innings is like playing Russian Roulette, only with three of the six chambers loaded instead of one.

Masa Kobayashi hasn't been bad, but you never know when he'll come out and blow up.

Ditto for Raffie Perez.

Raffie Betancourt is a disaster.

No sense going through the rest of the pen because the names change almost daily and Wedge never has the confidence to use any of them anyway.

Very few noticed when the Sox picked up Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel over the winter. And those in the Cleveland blogosphere who did notice snickered at the pickups.
But those two have helped to stabilize the Sox pen - a key difference between this year's team and last.

The Indians pen has done a 180 as well. But in the wrong direction.

There doesn't seem to be much chance of the Tribe becoming more than a 3-to-5-runs-a-game team.
The starters can't throw shutouts every night. The bullpen needs to be consistent and consistently good.

There are about four pieces missing out there and it looks like there's little chance of making enough moves to fill that many holes.

For those of us who have been watching this team for the past 40 years or so we know the drill.

Head on out to Berea for a practice or two and wish for better things for the Indians next year.

Nothing would please me more than to turn on my printer on Sept 30, punch up this piece, print it out, pour a large glass of water and eat my words. But I don't think that is going to happen.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Tribe's newfound offense - is it a mirage?

The Indians are averaging just a speck under 12 runs a game, on 16 hits, in the first three games in Texas this week, and one wonders if this is the beginning of the "market correction' we've all been waiting for from Tribe hitters.

Or does it have to do more with the hot stiff breeze that has had the flags at the Ballpark in Arlington standing at attention for the entire series.

The question becomes tougher to answer when you consider that the Indians scored just eight runs in three games in Kansas City over the weekend, but 16 runs in three games against the White Sox in losing a three-game series to the Sox before heading off on the current road trip.

Given that the Tribe's highly rated pitching staff has given up 30 runs in the three games at Texas, you might lean toward believing the Tribe's offensive outburst there has been the product of the swirling winds and the inept staff that toes the hill for the Rangers.

Still, the Rangers did score a bunch of those runs against the bullpen-by-committee that pitched Tuesday night and Cliff Lee - who seems to be in the middle of a market correction of his own - on Wednesday.

Perhaps it's best not to ask - just to sit back and enjoy it while it lasts.

Looking ahead - and hoping this is not just a Texas mirage - the offensive spike could be with us at least a while longer.

The Tribe moves on to the Motor City this weekend to take on the Tigers - not exactly a pitching-rich group.

But the Tribe has developed some pitching problems of their own of late. Fausto Carmona has been on the DL for a couple of weeks now, and Jake Westbrook appears to be facing a much longer stint than that on the shelf.

Cliff Lee has been shelled a couple of times now, and the Tribe has been busy shuffling relievers on a near-daily basis, to very spotty results.

So which - if either - is the anomaly?

Is the offense truly waking up?

Is the pitching staff losing its grip?

With so many injuries, can the Tribe afford to trade for more offense? Will they need to?

We're clearly at a pivotal point in the season and all we can do is sit back and hope the worm has turned - in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Blue Jays peskier than the midges

Certainly no Indians fan worth his salt is unfamiliar with the so-called "bug game," the game the Indians won over the Yankees in the playoffs last year.

Yankee fans will tell you with great certainty that the only reason the Tribe won that game was because Joba Chamberlain was mercilessly attacked by the Lake Erie midges.

Tonight - to great acclaim (it's all I've heard about for days) - The Great Joba made his first major league start, at home against Toronto.

Because he has been in the pen since he came up with the Yanks last year, Joba had to be stretched out innings-wise so he could take his place in the New York rotation.

So, Chamberlain went out to the mound knowing he would get yanked after 65 to 70 pitches, no matter what the inning and no matter if he's throwing a shutout.

The talk around town was that Joba would get at least four, and likely five, or even six innings so he could pick up the win.

The Toronto Blue Jays can read the papers too though (at least I suspect that most of them can), and they went up to the plate tonight looking to knock Joba out early - by keeping their bats on their shoulders.

After one inning, The Great Joba had logged three walks and 38 pitches, more than half his stash.

By the end of the second he was at 54.

After facing the second batter of the third inning, The Great Joba was gone. Sent to the showers with a 2-1 lead after four walks overall and 62 pitches.

And so The Great Joba's debut as a starter comes to a premature close thanks to a swarm of pesky Blue Jays who knocked him out by keeping their bats at bay.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Time to trade CC?

The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto makes an argument today that it may be getting to be time for the Tribe to make CC Sabathia a take-it-or-leave it offer and then ship him off if he doesn't sign.

Pluto borrows some numbers reported by Jayson Stark to support Pluto's argument that if the Tribe continues to flounder on this current 11-game trip it could be time to get something for Sabathia if he is not ready to re-up with the Tribe.

Here are numbers Pluto borrowed from Stark:

"Stark wrote that in the wild-card era, only 13 of 104 teams that had losing records at the end of May went on to make the playoffs. ... But the real statistic is that only the 2005 Houston Astros came back from more than six games out to be a playoff team. So if the Indians come home on June 10 more than six games out, it's time to face reality and start trading off some veterans who will be free agents (Sabathia, Paul Byrd) and others not in the future plans. " --Terry Pluto

While it's hard to give up on the year, it's also hard to argue with the logic.

But there is way for the Tribe and their fans to have their cake and eat it too.

What if, instead of trading Aaron Laffey or Jeremy Sowers and/or some other integral piece of the future, the Tribe trades Sabathia - a stud free-agent pitching in waiting for an equally studly free-agent hitter in waiting.

Even with Sabathia gone, the Tribe's rotation would stack up well with the rest of the division (at least once Fausto Carmona returns) and they could get a bat they sorely need.

At the end of the year, and assuming this big bat heads off for greener pastures, the Tribe would be no worse off than if Sabathia leaves them at the altar.

I'm not saying I'm sold on this, but I am intrigued by the idea.

And who might this stud hitter be?

How about this rumor reported on the Braves Blast Web site Friday night?

"There are a couple rumors here - one mentioned by the announcers during today’s game involved the highest profile free agent on the team. Reportedly the Braves would send Mark Teixeira to the Cleveland Indians for starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia."

While the Tribe has about six or seven guys on the roster now who could play 1B none of them offer a compelling reason not to trade for Teixeira - even though help at third or at a corner outfield position would be better.

Whether the Tribe makes a pitch for Teixeira long-term is a question for later.

For right now we'd be trading a big arm that is likely to leave at the end of the season and could conceivably be replaced from within for a big bat that is sorely needed now and is likely to leave at the end of the year.

Given the current state of the offense, it makes sense to at least think about a trade something like this if not this exact trade, although Teixeira seems to be the most tempting name to fit this scenario.

Here are some others from the full list of players who will be free agents at the end of the year and my comments on each one. There are plenty of other free-agents-to-be to pick from but they are not on teams looking for a rent-a-pitcher.
  • Joe Crede: not enough of a difference-maker with the bat; why hand Sox the division?
  • Jim Thome: do we want to go there?; why hand the Sox the division?
  • Bobby Abreu: Maybe if they "throw in" Robbie Cano
  • Manny: won't happen
  • Jeff Kent: no thanks!