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State of the Indians Address

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Despite their current state, I believe the Cleveland Indians can win.

Lately, all anyone in sports can think and talk about is the circus the NBA free agency period has become. All eyes and ears are on the news surrounding the top prize, Lebron James. More so now since James scheduled his announcement to be broadcasted live on ESPN. After the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, many Clevelanders became cynical and even despondent with the belief that James will leave the city for a bigger market or to team with fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I, on the other hand, prefer not to become too involved with that mess and would rather spend my time focusing on my favorite sport, baseball, a sport which currently has a season in play. For those of you frustrated or on the verge of tears with the Lebron James saga, allow me to deter your attention.

The first half of the 2010 Major League Baseball season ends this weekend. It has been a wild first half, to say the least. Some of the brightest stars of the future have made their Major League debuts while stars from the past are stepping down from their pedestals. There has been much evidence to support the declaration that the steroid era, while not forgotten in baseball lore, is long gone.

I could talk at great length about my thoughts regarding the 2010 MLB season thus far, but that would take days. So I will just go over some points about my favorite team, the hometown Cleveland Indians. Yes, the Indians are one of the worst teams in baseball. But trust me, this entry will not be as depressing as it may seem at first.

Going into this season, nobody expected the Indians to be anywhere near contention, and to this point they haven’t even come close to surprising anybody. However, there were definitely plenty of questions, some of which still have not been answered.

The biggest question on the minds of many diehard Tribe fans like myself was, after a disastrous 2009 season, could the organization form a pitching staff that could keep the team in games? The rotation was sketchy as can be with Jake Westbrook finally returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Fausto Carmona coming off a horrible season in which he was sent all the way back to A ball, and the remaining three spots up for grabs in a competition between at least five guys.

The rotation looked very strong early on during the season. Westbrook bounced back from a rough opening day start to show that he has fully recovered from his year-and-a-half long layoff. His 4.59 earned run average is deceiving as when Westbrook had his off-games, he was destroyed in them. He has also had his share of quality starts this season. Carmona’s performance is a testament to all of the hard work he put in over the off-season. With an ERA of 3.68 and only 37 walks in 103 innings, he turned in quality start after quality start to earn his first all-star selection. Part of his turnaround seems to be the abandoning of his 97 mile-per-hour fastball. This season Carmona has relied more on a sinker that tops out at 93 along with off-speed breaking balls, which he appears to have more control over. The big surprise so far this season has been Mitch Talbot. As a rookie who got beat up during his only other Major League opportunity, nobody was expecting him to perform the way he has. Like Jake Westbrook, when Talbot was beaten, he was beaten hard. But like Carmona, the majority of his starts have been quality, with an ERA of 3.86.

Westbrook, Carmona, and Talbot made up the good of the Tribe rotation so far this season. Now to discuss the bad part of it. After winning a team high eleven games last season as a rookie and winning the fifth spot in the rotation, I expected David Huff to continue improving. He appeared as such in his first two starts, but then spiraled downhill. Huff fell into the dreaded “sophomore jinx” and was sent back to Triple-A Columbus with a 2-9 record and 6.04 ERA. Justin Masterson was handed a spot in the rotation as an experiment to see if he can be transformed into a starter. So far, the results have been very negative. He lost his first five starts, struggles against left-handed hitters, and has control issues. With Aaron Laffey pitching well since being called back to Cleveland after Huff was demoted, I would expect Masterson to move into the bullpen once Carlos Carrasco gets the call back to the Indians.

While the rotation has its ups and downs, the Indians bullpen has been Jekyll and Hyde on seemingly a nightly basis. Like last season, the Indians have been calling up and demoting pitchers like a revolving door for the better part of the season. Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis have both been sent back to Columbus this season to figure out their issues with mixed results. Rafael Perez appeared to have the same issues which plagued him for most of last season, but has since calmed down and may be playing back to form. Hector Ambriz has been solid. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he must remain with the Indians all season long. With this season in the basement, the Tribe might as well keep him on, even if he falters, just to get a better look at him. Closer Kerry Wood is one issue that baffles my mind. His last season with the Chicago Cubs, his first as a closer, he saved 34 games with a 2.95 earned run average. The Indians signed him to a two-year contract and his career has rapidly declined. His issues could be explained by a lack of work. Since the Indians are a losing team, Wood has not had many save situations and rarely gets into ballgames for mop up duty. Interestingly though, the month of June has been very good for Wood. In ten appearances, he converted six of eight save opportunities, including three in a row in dominant fashion to close out the month. The one consistent bright spot for the Tribe bullpen has been Chris Perez. He started out as the closer when Kerry Wood began on the disabled list. After struggling the first few weeks, Perez has settled into a very stable setup role.

While preseason questions about the rotation loomed, the Cleveland Indians lineup looked like it could actually be productive. Anchored by veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, and a finally healthy Travis Hafner, this team was expected to hit. Until recently though, this team has not done anything of the like. With the exception of Cabrera and, at times, Choo, the Cleveland Indians struggled consistently to score runs or even get on base. Peralta continued his string of early season struggles. Sizemore, coming off surgery, showed he was not at 100 percent. To make matters worse, Luis Valbuena and rookies Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, expected to produce as the crown jewels of the C.C. Sabathia trade, also struggled against Major League pitching and were sent back to Columbus. Matters were made worse when Cabrera and Sizemore were lost for extended periods of time with injuries. As a result, the lineup fell completely out of sync. Many times opposing pitchers flirted with no-hitters and one even came within one out of a perfect game. Remaining Indians fans were praying for Carlos Santana to get the call, as he was tearing up the minor league system. It was only a matter of time as the season was quickly being lost and neither of the Indians’ catchers were producing at the plate.

Lately, however, something seems to be happening with this Cleveland Indians team. Jason Donald, making his Major League debut after Asdrubal Cabrera was hurt, is making the most of his opportunities. He plays every game with fire and adrenaline. I really like the hustle and effort he puts forth. He won me over when he hustled down the line at the end of the would-be perfect game when he could have easily dogged it and let the perfect game stand. Russell Branyan, who was signed during the off-season to my surprise and even displeasure, was traded back to Seattle and LaPorta was called back. Since then, LaPorta has been on a tear and is finally showing the potential fans expected of him. Carlos Santana finally got the call in early June and has never looked back. He was immediately given the third spot in the lineup and continued hitting a ton at the Major League level. The biggest surprise may be Jayson Nix. After the Indians claimed him off waivers, he’s hitting over .300 with four homers and seven RBIs in 11 games. While the youngsters are now producing, the veterans have seemed to finally catch on. Hafner and Peralta could always do better than they are now, but when they struggle, the younger players seem to pick up the slack. The one man who has never stopped hitting after an excellent start is Shin-Soo Choo. He has been such a highlight that he was heavily believed to be the Tribe’s only all-star this season. However, his crazy train was derailed late last week when he sprained his wrist diving for a fly ball. Like Cabrera and Sizemore, Choo will be out for an extended period of time and has given way back to Brantley, who was brought back to replace him.

Yes, like most of the Cleveland Indians season, most of this entry is filled with lowlights. However, unlike many people, I have not stopped following or enjoying Indians baseball. Maybe I just enjoy rooting for the underdogs. Whatever the case may be, the Cleveland Indians are now a team of young players who are hungry. I believe they can and will make the most of their opportunities. We have seen it happen with many other franchises in baseball. Not all World Series teams are bought like the New York Yankees. I have faith in my Cleveland Indians. They can win with the talent they have. Their recent five game win-streak is proof. It may take a few years, but the Indians will be back.

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2 Responses

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  1. The Indians have had their ups and downs so far this season but have the potential of becoming a better team in the future. Carlos Santana has been a wonderful surprise and has proven he belongs in the big leagues. There are some nights when the bats can’t wake up but players like Jason Nix, Matt LaPorta and Jason Donald are making the most out of the opportunities.

    Even though Acta didn’t do as well in Washington, having him as a manager and Tim Belcher as a pitching coach has helped. Acta seems more in tune with the game and more interested in helping the players. Belcher knows what it takes to win at the big league level and isn’t afraid to go out there and help out the pitchers.

    Jeff Sabo

    July 7, 2010 at 10:58 pm

  2. Great post, Anthony – not just the content but the writing – good as usual.


    July 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm

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