When last I briefed you on the Indians, here is where I stood:
“So, it’s December and we are still without a closer, a healthy, power-hitting DH, 3 spots in the rotation are up for grabs and we don’t have a 3rd baseman. Needless to say, I’m a little concerned for next year.” So, have the holes been filled? Let’s take a peek.
Closer – Well, the Tribe did it. They went out in the free-agent market and got the second best closer available in Kerry Wood. (The top closer being Francisco Rodriguez who signed with the Mets for 3 years and $37m.) We got Wood for 2 years and $20m. He’s the first closer that I have felt good about going into a season since Jose Mesa.
Power-hitting DH – Only time will tell this one. Travis Hafner has not been the same hitter since he got hit in the face in 2007. New injuries last year limited him and threw a wrench into the lineup for most of the year. If Pronk is healthy and puts up his average numbers: 30HR, 100R, 100 RBI, things will be good at the corner of Carnegie & Ontario.
3rd Baseman – Once again, I feel good about the Mark DeRosa signing for 3B. He’s a solid guy that appears to be a great “team” guy. That allows Peralta to stay at short and Cabrera at 2B. Splitting time between Garko & Martinez at 1B. That is a solid defensive infield.
Rotation – Well, here, not so much. For all the good the Tribe did in the bullpen in the off season; Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Masa Kobayashi, they well asleep on the starting rotation. Carl Pavano, I will say it again slowly in case you thought you heard me wrong, Carl Pavano. This guy turned one good season with the Phillies into a 4-year, $40m deal with the Yankees. He then proceeded to make only 26 starts over the next 4 years(including just 9 in the past 2 years), to end up with a 9-8 record with the Yanks. If, he’s healthy, I see him as a #5 starter, at best. The other 2 spots (well, 3 WHEN Pavano gets hurt) will be fought over by: Reyes/Laffey/Sowers/Lewis/Huff/Jackson. If we can get some useful inning from Laffey/Sowers (they have done it before). Things may just be held together with spit and duct tape.
Bright spots – I see the outfield being this club’s strength for the year. Grady Sizemore is already an all-star, but I see this as the year he breaks outs, cuts down on the strikeouts and takes on MVP consideration. Flanked by Choo and Fransisco (that’s fun to say), the outfield should be solid defensively and consistent at the dish.
Catching will be solid with Kelly Shopach backing up V-Mart. Everyone young (Fransisco, Cabrera, Carmona, Garko) has one more year of experience in the big leagues and I am only worried about Choo’s sophomore slump potential.
Overall, I like this team’s prospects. Barring injuries in spring training, I believe the opening day batting order looks like this:
Only 14 more days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Baseball Fever, Catch it.
One day removed from the loss of the 2007 ALCS, I thought I would take a minute and reflect on the end of the Indians season. So, where did it all go wrong? Maybe a better question should be: How did the Indians win 3 games against the mighty Boston Red Sox. If you watched ESPN or the Fox analysts, Cleveland didn’t have a chance.
From the beginning, I had hoped for a simple game-plan. Get a split of the two games in Boston, get home to Cleveland and take 2 of 3. That would leave the Tribe with only one game to win back in Boston. Boston would have to win the last two game to take the series. As we all know, by now, that’s exactly what happened.Cleveland managed to win 3 in a row, only to have the Sox do the same and win.
Where did the Tribe fall apart?
1. The Tribe’s Aces: C.C. Sabathia & Fausto Carmona both managed to blow up in the ALCS. These two guys managed 38 wins this year. Both will probably finish in the top 4 in the Cy Young race. These guys were great this year. So what happened? Something that I have seen happen several times in the past few years. In 2004, Cliff Lee, got off to a great start, starting 10-1 with a 3.81 era. He finished the season 14-8 and 5.43. What happened? Well, it’s my belief that Lee in 2004 and Fausto this year — hit a wall. Lee had pitched about 30 innings more than he ever had. Carmona pitched 50 innings more than he had before. He simply was tired. What is C.C.’s excuse? He’s been the work-horse of the Tribe’s staff since he came up. This season he pitched 241 innings in the regular season, 15.1 in the post season and don’t forget the 1 inning in the All-Star Game. Total: 257.1 That’s a few more than the 210 he pitched in 2002. Bottom Line: They both were tired.
2. Grady & Pronk. Two of the best offensive players went missing leaving big holes at the number 1 and 3 slots. In July, Travis Hafner signed a big 4-year deal to stay with the Tribe. How did he reward the Indians? He went on an 0-21 streak. As with most power hitters, Travis is prone to hot and cold streaks. Unfortunately for the Indians, he got on of those cold streaks in the playoffs going 0-17 with 10 strikeouts. Watching the series, Travis looked over-matched at the plate by fastballs, FASTBALLS. They were blowing them by him. That just doesn’t happen when Pronk is on his game. Grady Sizemore, the superstar of the future had a terrible ALCS – in the last 4 games. Grady had about the same output in the division series in 4 games (1HR 1RBI) as he did in the ALCS in 7 games (1HR 2RBI). Bottom Line: For the Indians to win, Sizemore & Hafner have to be hitting.
3. Goofy Breaks that didn’t go the Tribe’s way. Where do I start? Let’s start at the end – Game 7. Kenny Lofton hits a ball off the green monster and tries to make a double of it. Manny played it perfect and threw a strike to second to nail Lofton. Replays show that Lofton was safe, getting his hand in on the bag. What followed was 2 more hits by the 8 & 9 hitters. If Lofton is called safe, the Tribe get 2 runs across not just one. Staying with Lofton, 3B coach, Joel Skinner, puts up the stop sign on a ball down the line when Lofton is on 2B. Lofton could have easily scored, tying the game. Had he been safe on that first play, Indians go up 4-3. Remember, this is an Indians team that likes to play with a lead. They are a different club with a lead, than playing from behind. Two balls hit to Peralta at short took goofy bounces for hits in Fenway. They let to runs, but it was clear they took odd bounces on the edge of the infield grass. Jake Westbrook did what he was supposed to in Game 7 — get groundballs. The problem with a groundball pitcher is sometimes they get through. In the first three innings of game 7, that was the case. Groundballs with eyes. Bottom line: Baseball is a game of inches and those inches went for the Red Sox.
4. Playing with confidence. After Cleveland got a split in Boston, they were beaming with confidence. Fans were behind them and they could do no wrong for 3 games. In comes confidence (and momentum stopper) Josh Beckett. After Boston took the last one in Cleveland, the momentum (and series) shifted back to Boston. Boston had it and didn’t give it back, winning the last 3 games a combined 30-5. Bottom line: Boston got the momentum swing at the right time.
5. Last, but not least – It’s this teams first Post-Season. Keep in mind that the Indians ended the regular season with a record of 96-66. Tied with, you guessed it, Boston for the best record in baseball. This is a great, young, team. Key word there being young. This was their first post season. Post season ball is different than the regular season and the Indians learned that this year. I hope that Tribe manager, Eric Wedge, learned that too. Managing for 162 game season is different from a 7-game series. Wedge continued to manage this team like it was game 73 not game 7. The coaching staff I’m sure learned something about post season ball too. In 1995, the Indians made the post season for the first time in 41 years. I was lucky enough to be in Cleveland that weekend. That team had a great mix of veterans (Oral Hersheiser, Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray & Tony Pena) and youngsters (Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga). There are no Murray’s on this team. Kenny Lofton is the lone grizzled vet. Good news, they have the core of this team in place for the next several seasons and these guys will only get better. Bottom line: It was their first party, there will be more.
Congrats to the Boston Red Sox and their fans. It was a great series and I hope you guys win it all. I hope we get to see you next year.