Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Food and some thoughts

The Tribe game ended pretty late last night so I didn't have time to post (my alarm goes off at 5:00).

So I figured I'd tick off a few quick thoughts while on my lunch break

Good thing I wasn't eating while watching last night's game. It was butt ugly, beginning with both starting pitchers. Neither the Tribe's Anthony Reyes nor the Sox' Brad Penny got out of the third inning, yet they gave up a combined 14 runs (11 earned) in 4 2/3 innings - tossing 175 pitches between them. Wow! The umpire had a postage-stamp zone, but still.

The Red Sox made three costly errors that led to runs, including the game winner in the ninth. In all, only 4 of the Tribe's 8 runs were earned. Making the game even uglier, the Tribe left 12 runners on base, 6 of them in scoring position with two out. Despite scoring 9 runs, you could argue the clutch hitting still wasn't there.

One bit of irony. I blasted Ben Francisco and Mark DeRosa on this blog Monday night as guys I was losing patience with. DeRosa went 4 for 5 Tuesday with a game-tying homer in the 7th. Francisco went 2 for 4 with a 3-run jack, which also - temporarily - tied the game in the 3rd. Let me just say this - Jhonny Peralta you're a bum.

Tony Sipp looked solid again last night. Really tough on lefties. Three Ks in 1 1/3 innings. Raffie Perez also looked good, allowing just 1 hit over 1 2/3 innings. They could be quite a duo if Raffie can get himself back together and Sipp keeps slinging it. Very few teams have the luxury of two solid lefties in the bullpen. Not saying we're there yet, but it's a pleasant thought right now.

As I mentioned in response to a comment Monday, it's beginning to look like David Dellucci will be arriving soon - and not Matt LaPorta. The PD quotes manager Eric Wedge as saying Dellucci may be up with the Tribe as early as this weekend. Can't wait.

Will it be Trevor Crowe or Ben Francisco who goes? My money is on Crowe, who looks like he could use more AAA time.

Well, now that the Tribe has put together its 6th one-game winning streak, let's see if they can make it two in a row for a change. With Wild Man Carmona going up against the most-patient team in the league at the plate, I don't like the chances. (Let's hope the TFIYL affect work as well with Fausto as it did last night with DeRosa and Francisco.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tribe one-game streak screeches to a halt

The Boston Red Sox came to town on a 10-game winning streak.

The Tribe entered tonight's game on a 1-game streak - their fifth 1-game winning streak of the season so far, and just one win shy of their longest winning streak of the year.

Something had to give.

I'll give you three guesses.

Well, we'll just go out and start a new streak tomorrow.

There was something a little different about tonight's loss though.

The Tribe sprung a new leak. One of the only working parts on the team so far this season sputtered.

Tonight Kerry Wood spit the bit - giving up a three-run jack to Jason Bay to spoil the night for Cliff Lee, who had held the mighty Sox offense at bay (if you will) for 8 innings.

Hey, these things happen, and I'm sure we won't see too much of that out of Wood this season. But it seems like every night something new goes wrong - except for the offense which has been wronging us for nearly 10 days now.

No wonder Eric Wedge is angry and frustrated. He verbally slapped his club again this afternoon - the everyday players in particular - saying they are leaderless, they are in their prime and they are playing like rookies.

Wedge managed to get himself tossed from tonight's game by arguing two calls on subsequent pitches in the fourth inning. It appeared Wedge was wrong on both calls, and they ended up being of no consequence. But you can't blame the guy for blowing off a little steam.

Now, if he got himself tossed on purpose to fire up his team - well, it didn't work.

Seems as though nothing works.

I can understand Wedge's annoyance with his club. Nobody expected what we are seeing. But he's starting to look desperate - which in fact he may be.

In chastising his team for lacking leaders, Wedge is quoted by the PD this afternoon as saying the following:

"Make no mistake. I'm the leader of this club. But I'm the manager, not a player. . .what a player can do for another player is, to rob a phrase, priceless."

He is saying his leadership alone apparently is not enough. While there's some truth to that, and it's not really a capitulation, it is only about three steps or so away from Chris Palmer's "runaway train" comments 10 years ago, back with the reborn Browns.

Sounds like Wedge is not too sure where to turn next.


A couple of other thoughts before I go.

Is anyone else growing tired of watching Ben Francisco. Anybody think it might be time to get a look at Matt LaPorta, who is tearing up Triple-A?. (Maybe that's one place Wedge can turn?)

A last thought (and I sure hope this feeling goes away soon - as I think it ultimately will). Does anyone else look out at Mark DeRosa at 3B and wish it were Casey Blake instead? Please tell me that feeling will pass.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hot under the collar

Don't know what it is like where you are, but today - for the second straight day - the thermometer is flirting with 90 degrees here in the northern suburbs of NYC.

I waited as long as I could because I can't really accept turning on the AC in April, but with the inside temperatures hitting 84 (with the windows open) I had no choice.

Speaking of hot.

Seems the Tribe skipper got a little steamed last night for the first time that I can remember. Seems he's sick of watching the Tribe's offense flail away at anything and everything that comes anywhere near the vicinity of home plate. Join the club Wedgie.

Since their celebrated blowout of the Yankees last Saturday, the Tribe offense has been awful. No need to go over the details. They've been written about elsewhere and Matt Underwood dutifully regurgitated them incessantly for the first several innings of today's game. And, if you've been watching, you know.

After last night's game Wedge told the assembled press (quoted here by the PD):

"What bothers me more than anything is we're not making good outs. Outside of a couple of guys, our approach has been very poor. It's something we pride ourselves on and work hard at it. There's just no excuse.

"Whatever the hell it is, we better figure out it pretty damn quick because I'm not going to sit around and watch what we've been watching.

"We're beyond all this. They aren't kids anymore."

To illustrate that he was not blowing smoke along with the steam, Eric Wedge put a new-look lineup on the field today.

Among the changes:

Mark DeRosa started in right field, and Trevor Crowe in left - putting Ben Francisco (BA .216 OBP .286) on the bench. He gave Tony Graffanino a start at 3B and moved Asdrubal Cabrera into the No. 2 spot, while dropping De Rosa to seventh. Shin-Soo Choo (at DH) hit cleanup and Jhonny Perlata was dropped to No. 7.

The Tribe responded by pounding out four runs in the first three innings. But the bats were pretty much in hibernation the rest of the way (two singles and double).

"We're beyond all this. They're not kids anymore." Truer words have never been spoken and it seems to underscore a point I have tried to make many times in this space.

There may come a time - sometime soon - when the Tribe may have to admit that there is some basic flaw in this team. Something that prevents them from playing up to their collective ability - at least until the season is lost and the pressure is off.

Is it the manager? Does he have too easy a hand on the throttle producing mentally lazy players? As I've said before, I don't think that's it.

Does he turn the screws too tightly, putting the team on edge? Baseball is not played well by someone who is uptight. It hardly seems so, though we don't know what goes on in the clubhouse.

Maybe it's neither.

Maybe this particular generation of Tribesman is made up of guys that put too much pressure on themselves and can't perform.

This team has the talent to keep up with any other in the Central.

Whatever it is that's keeping them from performing like it, as Wedge says ""we better figure it pretty damn soon."

Maybe the manager is feeling some heat being generated by something other than the early spring heat wave.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baby steps for the Tribe as they take the Royals series

It's not exactly a reason to kill the fatted calf, but the Indians have their first series victory of the season to hang their hats on today.

A three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth by Grady Sizemore gave the Tribe a 5-2 win today at Progressive Field and their first series victory - two games to one.

Given that it was a series within the Central Division, it kind of takes a little bit of the sting out of the fact that the Tribe split the series in New York, when they could have easily swept the first-ever series at the New Yankee Stadium.

The offense, until very recently, has been the only reason for optimism for the Tribe. They still have their nights of K's and LOB's, but for the most part they've done the job.

The big difference lately has been the Tribe's starters.

In the last eight games, starting with the final game in KC last week, the Tribe is 5-3. The ERA for the starting pitchers in those games is 2.92 and 5 of the 8 met the (admittedly weak) standard to be considered a "quality start." The stretch started with Aaron Laffey's first appearance of the year, in Kansas City, and runs through today's fine outing by Anthony Reyes.

In the stretch, Cliff Lee has gotten things righted, Fausto Carmona has shown he at least still has some concept of how to pitch, Laffey has had two good starts in two tries, Carl Pavano had his bullpen-ruined gem in New York on Sunday and Reyes has been solid.

The only thing missing now is some longevity.

Over the past 8 games, Tribe starters have gone 49 1/3 innings, or just over 6 innings per start. A far cry from the early blowouts in the first 8 games, but still leaving plenty of room for improvement.

In the last four games the starters have gone 27 innings, 1 shy of an even 7 per start - and one might argue (as I already have) that Carl Pavano should have been allowed to go that one more inning on Sunday.

So things are looking up in the starting pitching department, even to the point where it's not quite clear just where Scott Lewis will fit in when he comes off the DL.

Anybody have any thoughts on that?

Which brings us to the bullpen - which three weeks ago was being heralded as the strength of the club.

Let's start with the good.

How much fun is it watch Kerry Wood come in and just blow people away? One might say it's worth - oh - $10 million bucks.

No more walks, singles, 3-2 counts and gnawed-off finger nails in the 9th. For the first time in a decade.

True enough Wood provided some drama Tuesday, giving up a two-run homer with a three-run lead, but I'm giving him a pass on that one. The inning was prolonged by an infield hit and the dinger barely made it over the wall in right field. He dominated four of the five guys he faced, though one did manage to eke out that single.

The other slight ray of hope presented itself last night, with the arrival of Tony Sipp. The just-recalled rookie lefty made his debut with a perfect inning, which included a K. Sipp - from the few pitches he threw - seems to have a decent fastball with serious movement, and a big slow breaking ball. The movement on both pitches, and the drastic changes in speed made him look tough to hit. If he can hold down the fort against lefties until Raffie Perez gets it back together, or grab the reins himself in the late innings, the huge hole in the pen will seem just that much smaller.

Jensen Lewis slammed the door on a bullpen-induced rally by the Royals Monday night with his best outing so far this year. But, while he pitched two scoreless innings today that 8th inning was still pretty shaky. Still, his last two outings have been an improvement, so there's reason for hope there.

I suggested the Tribe try Joe Smith in a bigger role. My bad. Smith had difficulties Monday night and he and Masa Kobayashi nearly blew a 6-1 lead in the 8th. He needs to find a way to get lefties out or he will be limited to that rarest of roles - the righty specialist.

Let's not take the pen off the feeding tube just yet.

Still, after starting the season at 0-5, the Tribe is taking baby steps in the right direction.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium; Why it may be time to fire Wedge, and a few other passing thoughts

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium ended up much the same way as so many trips to the old park did - the Tribe holding on to a lead late into the game, only to be done in by a bad call, a bad bullpen, bad fielding, lousy clutch hitting, stupid managing, or just bad karma. Sunday it was at least five out of six of those factors that did in the Tribe.

The most talked-about moment of the game of course was the fan interference / two-run homer that put the Yanks ahead to stay in the seventh inning.

From my $350 seats (no I did not pay for them - we'll get into that later), I was an entire baseball field away from the chief action of the day. I clearly didn't have the angle - though from my seat it looked like Trevor Crowe had the ball in his glove and then lost it on his way back to earth.

My next-door neighbor, the biggest Yankee fan I know (that's saying something) and who just happens to have Sunday-plan tickets on the right field porch, said, "From my angle, slightly to the left, the ball was over the wall/on top of the wall, very close and the fan’s hands were above the players glove."

How's that for definitive.

After getting home and watching a replay on YES - the Yankees broadcast channel - it looked like a homer. Until I saw another replay, which clearly made it appear the fan was reaching into the field.

The point is, the argument is pointless. Plenty of things went wrong from the seventh inning on - and a split-second decision by an umpire was not one of them (I don't think).

Back to those other five things.

Let's start with lousy clutch hitting. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, the Tribe had Mark DeRosa and Vic Martinez coming to the plate. With those odds they should have squeaked across at least one run through osmosis. If Cleveland gets one or two more runs there, maybe Carl Pavano gets to go another inning. At the very least the bullpen would have more margin for error.

Though clearly, by what happened the rest of the way, there is no such concept where the Indians bullpen is concerned.

Our "lefty specialist" comes in to face two lefties. A single, a double - he's gone. Nice job Raffie.

Jensen Lewis - the one pitching this April like last April's version, instead of the August-September guy - is brought in to give up the controversial dinger. Having had to stand around for nine minutes while the umpires watched the replay, Lewis had to come out of the game - yielding to Raffie Betancourt, who fared no better.

Which brings us to the bad fielding, and more bad relief pitching.

After finishing off the seventh inning for Lewis with two Ks, Raffie Betancourt manged two quick outs in the eight, with the Tribe still down one. A double, 2 walks (one intentional) and something scored as a double in the box score made it 7-3 and Betancourt was gone. The three runs scored on a sky-high fly ball to left that Shin-Soo Choo apparantly gave up on as foul (some say he lost it in the sun) or was just not adept enough to get to for whatever reason. The ball dropped near the line in left filed (on the fair side) and the game was out of reach. (I love his bat, I like his arm, but oh that glove!)

Which brings us to bad managing.

Those of you who have read this blog over the years know that I am not a blame-the-manager-first type of guy. But Raffie Perez? With just a two-run lead? You can't just go by the long-term track record. Sometimes it is smart to ask, "what have you done for me lately?" Perhaps the 14.00-plus ERA should have served as a reminder to Wedge that Perez hasn't been getting it done so far this year. Jensen Lewis has been nearly as bad - so of course let's bring him in next.

Any thought of letting Carl Pavano (89 pitches through 6 innings) come out for the seventh instead?

Anybody ever heard of Joe Smith? He comes in two or three times, gets his one right-handed batter out then disappears. Might Wedge have rolled the dice and brought him into the game, even if it meant he would have had to face two, or dare we say it, three hitters? Seems like a better bet than what Lewis has been giving us lately.

Maybe Smith could have gotten us through seven, and Kerry Wood - who has pitched all of three innings in 13 games - might have been pushed for a two-inning save (especially with an off day coming up).

Do we need to try something different?

Didn't someone once say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

I don't say this lightly. But since he is so firm in his ways - ways that seem to backfire on him regularly - maybe the something different we need to try is a new manager. Before this thing gets out of hand.

I say that not because I would have handled yesterday differently, or because the bad managing came on a day that I had tickets and am ticked because we lost.

There have been many times over the years I've been tempted to say it's time to pull the plug on Wedge, but then I think it over and say maybe not.

Well, he's been around for six-plus years now and where has the Tribe gone with him?

The first years were rebuilding years, so we'll look past them. In 2005, the Tribe was one of the big surprises in baseball. But when they needed just one win in the last week of the season to make the playoffs, they couldn't get it done. We can chalk that up to a young team that felt the pressure.

In 2006 there were, justifiably, some rather large expectations. Followed by an awful season. Again, we can say the guys were young. They weren't ready for the pressure.

In 2007 lots of things fell into place and the Tribe made it to the ALCS. They had a 3-1 lead in the series in fact. And then, like a guy on the high wire who makes it three-fourths of the way across before he mistakenly looks down, the Tribe got woozy and choked against the Red Sox.

Last year, again, was a year of high expectations. The season was over by Mother's Day. Once the heat was off, the Tribe managed to right the ship and finish at .500.

And now with most observers giving them at least an equal chance to anyone else to win the Central Division, they've started the season once again with a swan dive.

Are we picking up a pattern here?

Why can't this team play when there is something to play for?

Fans criticize the team's motivation and the low-key approach of the manager. I think this team has heart - but not stomach. They can't handle the pressure that comes with expectation, or moderate success.

Whatever the case, this manager has proven time and time again he can not get the most out of his players when the heat is on.

The Tribe has played 13 games. They have 19 to go before Mother's Day (an arbitrary choice perhaps, but one that seems to be at about the right point in the season). If there has not been a significant change in the team's fortunes by then, Wedge should be gone before the season can't be salvaged.

In the meantime, some quick decisions need to be made about how to get this thing going. Who needs to go. Who needs to replace them. Who should do what in the bullpen.

That said, let's get back to a more pleasant topic.

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium yesterday was a lot of fun, despite the final score.

As you probably know, the park - on the outside - looks pretty much just like those grainy films you've seen of the original Yankee Stadium, prior to its refurbishment. The nostalgia rush is terrific.

Inside, as much as I thought the old place was fine, the new place is definitely a significant improvement.

At seat level, if you let your mind wander even a little bit, you feel like you are still at the old stadium. The dimensions are the same. The fans are the same, the "feel" is the same. Those of you who are local will be happy to know that even Freddie - the frying pan man - was able to make the transition to the new place.

The biggest improvement of all is in the concourses. The wide, open concourses. At the old place, they were narrow, dirty and tunnel-like. At game's end, with 50,000 people filing out you could scarcely move. In the new stadium there's plenty of room for everyone, you can see the field from the concession stand lines (many of them anyway) and the bathrooms are habitable by human beings after the third inning (something that was not true across the street.)

Still, with all of the improvements and amenities, I'll take Progressive Field and Camden Yards over the new Yankee stadium because they feel more "homey" or intimate. More like ballparks than a stadium.

As it turns out the first ticket I got to the new Yankee Stadium will likely be the best I'll ever have.

The face value on the ticket for the seat I was in was $350. It was nine rows from the field and to the right of the Tribe dugout, about even with the on-deck circle. Since there was no screen to contend with, as there is for seats right behind the plate, I, arguably, had the best seat in the place, especially when you consider that the seats in the first eight rows (in front of a five-foot walkway that separated my seat from those), were selling (or in this case, not selling), for $2,650. Yes, that is for one seat.

I was invited to the game by a friend of mine, Yank Poleyeff, who works for a big corporation in the city and who also is a long-time writer for the magazine Indians Ink. Yank and I met over the winter through this blog and now can depend on each other to jointly weather the slings and arrows that come the way of a Tribe fan at Yankee Stadium, rather than going it alone. (There's a long story about how he got the nickname Yank, but trust me he's a Tribe fan.)

Yank's buddy, Mike Francesconi, drove from well upstate New York (five hours each way and he got there in time for Tribe BP) to join us.

Thanks to the two of them for a great day of talkin' Tribe. A special thanks to Yank for the tickets and to Mike for taking the photos that accompany this posting.

It's been some time since I've posted. For those who have been checking back regularly, I thank you. I've had some issues intervene over the past few months that have made posting very difficult. I'm hoping to be able to pick it up in the days ahead. Please pass the word that the Tribe Fan In Yankeeland is back.