Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How Are the Cleveland Indians Like Michael J. Fox?

"Elvis is in everybody out there.
Everybody's got Elvis in them!
Everybody except one person that is...
Yeah, one person!
The evil opposite of Elvis.
The Anti-Elvis
Anti-Elvis got no Elvis in 'em, lemme tell ya.

Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him."

"Elvis is Everywhere" - Mojo Nixon

Right now, the Indians got no Elvis.

They got no Mojo. It's not just Pronk. It's everyone.

Please. It's up to all of us to help.

The Indians' Mojo could be anywhere. It could be directly behind you, right now. It's elusive and skittish, so turn around very slowly - make no sudden moves.

If found, please return immediately to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Tough weekend for the Tribe, as they lose very winnable games to the Twins on both Saturday and Sunday and lose a second straight series at home.

The weekend started out as if it were going to be party time for the Tribe on Friday night. Kenny Lofton was in the house, the Jake was rocking and Boof Bonser was throwing Minnesota Golden Gopherballs. Jhonny Peralta whent dheep twhice and Paul Byrd pitched a beauty and the Tribe won 10-4 on Trucker Cap Giveaway Night. (No kidding - it doesn't get much better than 10-4 on Trucker Cap night, does it?). Kenny Lofton went 3 for 5 and got a taste of Leadership Pie (TM).

Then came Johan Santana. For six innings on Saturday, he was virtually unhittable and had the Tribe guessing and flailing about cluelessly.

I had a bad feeling about Saturday's game when Jake Westbrook gave up an early line-drive home run to Jason Tyner, who had not homered in his previous 1,221 major league at bats. But, going into the bottom of the seventh, Westbrook had held the Twins to two runs, and the Indians were in the game. Then - a bloop single by Martinez, a monster shot by Pronk, and, suddenly, it was a tie game, Santana was out of the game, and hope had returned to the Jake.

Alas, it was not to be. Joe Borowski came on in the ninth, surrendered a double to Torii Hunter. A groundout advanced Hunter to third. JoeBo plunked Rondell White. The next batter hit a slow roller to Mike Rouse at second base, who had only one option - make a perfect throw home. His throw was high, and the run scored. JoeBo struck out the next two hitters, but the damage was done. Nathan retired Martinez, Hafner and Garko meekly in the 9th. Final 3-2 Twins.

Sunday, it was a pitching duel of CC Sabathia vs. Matt Garza, with the Tribe holding a precarious 1-0 lead going into the top of the 8th. Pesky Jason Tyner was hit by a pitch with one out. CC K'd Bartlett, so there are now two outs. Mike Redmond pinch-hit for Nick Punto and drove one to deep right field. Trot (Blind Squirrel) Nixon apparently did not understand that a batter with some actual skill had been placed in the lineup, and so he was playing shallow. The ball sailed over his head. Tyner scores. Game tied. Runner on second. The next batter hits a slow roller to Barfield, who boots the ball for error #1, then throws the ball past Garko for error #2. Another run scores. 2-1 Twins. The next batter, Morneau, rips a double down the left field line. Another run scores 3-1 Twins. That was pretty much the ballgame. Lew Ford added a solo shot in the 9th for the final 4-1 score.

When you give the other team 5 outs, chances are, they will score runs. However, this sequence creates a couple questions:
  1. Why was Trot Nixon still in right field in the 8th inning of a 1-0 game given his clear defensive inferiority?
  2. Isn't the job of the bench coach to remind Eric Wedge that it's a 1-0 game and that Trot Nixon is still in right field and Gutierrez in on the bench ready to play?
  3. Why didn't anyone on the bench notice how shallow Nixon was playing in right field and position him correctly?

I have a hard time blaming managers for losses - generally, the manager's job is to put the best players on the field in the best position to perform. This one, however, is on Eric Wedge, not CC Sabathia 0r Trot Nixon. He has to make that defensive substitution. Trot Nixon should never be out there in the field past the seventh inning in a one-run game given his clear defensive liabilities. Franklin Gutierrez catches that ball and the inning is over.

All things considered, however, the glass is very much still half full, maybe even three-quarters full for the Tribe. They are still only a half-game out of first place, since Detroit has obliged by going to LAnaheim and getting fLAttened. While the Tribe has been going 4-6 in their last 10, the Tigers have been even worse, going 3-7 in their last 10. In addition, the Tigers had to put Kenny Rogers on the DL, depleting their pitching staff even more. The Tigers play Oakland tonight while the Indians are off, so the Indians will either be tied for the lead or 1 game back when they start their next series at home on Tuesday with the Rangers. Considering how well the Indians have played lately, that's pretty good, and cause for much optimism.

In addition, the demotion of Cliff Lee and the trade for Kenny Lofton are a clear sign that management is playing for this year and no longer has the patience to let even a veteran like Lee work it out at the major league level.

The Lofton trade will not be the last one made by this team to upgrade before the deadline. This team still could use another quality bullpen arm, and could probably use an upgrade in their middle infield options. Mike Rouse was in the ballgame to make his not quite good enough throw to home on the key play of Saturday's game because Barfield was removed for a pinch-hitter. Granted, it's hard to do much complaining about the utility infielder, who only starts occasionally, but Rouse has made Neifi Perez look like a potential upgrade at the plate.

In other news, Asdrubal Cabrera, uberprospect middle-infielder who is tearing up AA has been promoted to AAA, where it is said he might play some 2b and 3b. If he lights up Buffalo, we may see him in a utility role sooner rather than later. Postseason rosters aren't set until August 31.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Return of Kenny Lofton

It's official - Indians.com is reporting that Kenny Lofton has been re-re-acquired by the Tribe, this time for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.

Ramirez was acquired by the Tribe for Bob Wickman last year.

Lofton will likely play left field against righthanded pitching, most likely platooning with Jason Michaels.

A press conference has been announced for 4 pm. Other trades may be in the works. Stay tuned.

Value Over Replacement Player

One of the more interesting recent "stathead" statistics for baseball is the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). The concept is pretty simple, although the calculations are not. Essentially, a hypothetical "replacement player" for each position is determined by using actual performance statistics in order to caculate the minimal acceptable performance levels that one could get from a backup, or as Keith Wolner says: "We define a replacement level player as one who hits as far below the league positional average as the league backups do relative to league average, who plays average defense for the position, and is a breakeven base-stealer and baserunner."

Without going into the calculations involved, this "value over replacement" strikes me as a useful calculation that one can apply to life. Imagine:
  • "I'm sorry, honey, but your contniued insistence on running up the credit card at Macy's compels me to give you a negative Value Over Replacement Spouse rating this month."
  • "Dude, scoring those box seats for the game gives you a serious boost in Value Over Replacement Friend rating this month. I'll even buy the first round."
  • "Mr. President, I'm sorry to report that your continued mangling of the English language, continuing failure to admit any mistakes and insistence that the war is going well have pushed your Value Over Replacement President numbers well into negative territory."
  • "Miss Crabapple, your continued insistence on making me write lines on the blackboard has pushed your Value Over Replacement Teacher well into the negative, though at least you've taught me enough math to calculate it correctly."
  • "Your continuing napping at your desk has your Value Over Replacement Employee ratings teetering into the negative this week, Dagwood."

And you thought all those stathead geek stats were worthless. Value Over Replacement. Know it, live it, love it.

Fleeing Lee?

Last night's game was ugly. 14 to 9 Boston ugly.

Cliff Lee was awful, even by recent Cliff Lee standards. And compounding the awfulness, as the boos rained down upon him from an extremely upset home crowd, Lee tipped his cap as he entered the dugout. Bad move, Cliffie. Not the kind of move that will endear you to the crowd or the current management team. Especially for a guy who has been sucking lately, and, in his previous performance hit Sammy Sosa in the head and got into a heated argument with Victor Martinez. Especially for a guy who still has an option left.

So, what can we do with Cliff Lee? It's no secret that Mark Shapiro has been in Buffalo the last couple days scouting Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers. Is a trade in the works? Does the Sleepy Kitten ride the Buffalo shuttle? Has he worn out his act in Cleveland, especially combined with a continued erosion of his onfield performance? It's not a coincidence that Laffey is pitching on the same day as Lee. Sowers has looked better in his last couple starts. Given Lee's track record, one would think that we could find a taker for him, maybe flip him and Francisco for a bullpen arm and a left-handed outfielder to take the pressure off the Trotmeister. Rumors are flying that St. Louis is willing to move Isringhausen and Duncan to Cleveland for the right price. Izzy is expensive, and an injury waiting to happen, but when healthy he would certainly improve the back end of the bullpen.

After seeing the ransom in prospects that Milwaukee paid for a suddenly-hittable Scott Linebrink, it may be that deadline deals this year will be even harder to do, as every selling GM will look at San Diego's haul and raise the price, assuming this deal sets the standard. I sense an epidemic of cases of Jim Bowden Disease coming on.

The rest of the bullpen was not that much better than Lee. In fact, the only reliever who did not surrender a home run last night was Good Fernando Cabrera, who made an extremely low leverage appearance in what, by, then, was a 14-9 game. Even Good Fernando surrendered a double to Wily Mo Pena.

The good news is that the bats finally woke up. Pronk got a cheap RBI with a bases loaded HBP and then earned one with a single on the next at bat. So, now he's off the schneid after an 0 for 20 slide. So, he's got that going for him. Gutierrez and Garko both homered.

The Twins are up next tonight on Trucker Cap Giveaway and Fireworks night at Jacobs Field. Seriously. After watching last night's game, I hope Cliff Lee has his real estate agent on speed dial, because he's probably going to need to find a place in Buffalo or another city within the next few days.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Turnabout is Fair Play

After the Indians got shutout 1-0 on Tuesday night, wasting a great pitching performance from CC Sabathia, the Red Sox returned the favor on Wednesday night, wasting a great pitching performance from Josh Beckett and running themselvs out of innings twice on their way to allowing the Indians to shut them out 1-0.

Victor Martinez continues to show that last year's defensive struggles were an aberration, throwing out two runners at second base and blocking the plate brillilantly to keep the the Red Sox scoreless. It the Indians get to the playoffs then I think Victor Martinez is the AL MVP. He's doing it with the bat at the game's hardest position and consistently making big plays. The guy's a hoss, but all you hear is about how terrible his defense is and how the Indians should move him to first base permanently. I don't think the national media has really watched Victor play catcher this year and they are basing their opinions on his bad year last year.

This just in - Fausto Carmona is pretty good. He struck out 6 and gave up only 4 hits while holding the BoSox scoreless. Only three balls left the infield. Three of the hits were infield hits. His stuff is filthy nasty. Word to your mother. Peace out, dawg.

The Indians' lone run came on a Franklin Gutierrez home run. It is worth noting that, had Gutierrez been in either right field or left field the prior night, then it is likely the game would have gone into extra innings a scoreless tie, because he would have made the catch on either of the bloop hits that turned the game. I will be extremely disappointed if the Indians trade Gutierrez for relief help at the deadline, as I am more impressed by this kid the more I see him play.

Pronk's Mojo continues to be away on holiday. The hitless streak is now 19 ABs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky...

The Tribe got outlucked by the Red Sox last night, 1-0, wasting a fine pitching effort from CC Sabathia. The Red Sox lone run was scored on two bloop hits, and Matsuzaka had the Tribe helping him out by swinging at bad pitches all game. The Indians appear to be pressing at the plate in this series, and it won't help that they face Josh Beckett tonight.

Pronk, meanwhile, is 0 for his last 16, and his Mojo appears to be taking a midsummer vacation. Some speculation as to where his Mojo may or may not be:

Come back, Pronk's Mojo! We implore you. It is up to you, Indians fans, to help find Pronk's Mojo and restore it to him before this team falls any further behind the Tigers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

T Minus 7 and Counting

I've been away from the blog for a few days. My parents were in town and I had a big project due at work, and it's good to have a few minutes to pontificate.

First, the Tribe looked like they were a pretty good team in beating Texas three out of four. They got some timely hitting and pitched just well enough to beat a bad team. Of course, the series was not without drama:
  • 6 to Make 3: Friday night, JoeBo had to get 6 outs instead of the customary 3 in the 9th inning as his infield kicked the ball around like the Columbus Crew to make a 3-0 lead going into the inning stand up for a 3-2 victory.
  • How is Cliff Lee like Three Mile Island? They both appear prone to potentially dangerous meltdowns. Saturday night, Lee spotted the Rangers to a 5-0 lead in the first, hit Sammy Sosa in the helmet with a pitch, and was caught on camera jawing with Victor Martinez between inning. These are all indications of a bad, bad night. The Indians went on to lose this game and then hold a players only meeting after the game. Yikes. Players only meetings are usually a very bad sign.
  • Where in the World is Aaron Laffey? After Lee's meltdown, Aaron Laffey was pulled from a game on Sunday after just 50 pitches, with much speculation that he was going to then come to Cleveland and pitch on short rest , probably in Lee's spot. He apparently cleaned out his locker and the rumors started flying. He's coming to Cleveland. He's getting traded. He's not coming to Cleveland. He's going to Disneyworld. Lee is gone. Lee is still with the team. At this point, Laffey is still with the Bison, Lee is still with the Indians.
  • Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn: Trot Nixon actually made a couple valuable clutch contributions for the team during the Rangers series. Seriously. He got a couple big hits. The bad news is that this actually led to the amazing scene in last night's game where Trot Nixon pinch-hit in the 9th for Franklin Gutierrez.
  • Kenny Lofton v. 3.0? Speculation continues to whirl around Kenny Lofton's second potential return to Cleveland. I'm not necessarily against or for this one. I think it would be an interesting move that might bring some people nostalgic for the good old days of the 90s back to the ballpark, and he's certainly a better lefthanded platoon candidate that the Trotster. It would depend on the price. It would have to be pretty low. We got to watch Kenny for a couple games, and he looked pretty good, when we weren't plunking him at the plate.

Last night's game? Well, let's just chalk it up to the baseball gods favoring the good news feel good story of Jon Lester and leave it there, shall we? Westbrook had his traditional one bad inning. The baseball gods made a series of batters who should know better get themselves out in the 4th inning when the Indians had the bases loaded. Jon Lester, lymphoma survivor, gets the win in front of his parents after a long struggle with disease. The Indians would have looked like cads had they beat him like a rented mule. The good news is that we're only 2 back of Detroit still. The bad news is that we still have 3 more with Boston and then a series with the Twins.

So, it's T minus 7 until the trade deadline. The trade deadline always seems to bring out the loonies and conspiracy theorists (hence, the Aaron Laffey Affair). Most people have unrealistic expectations of how trades really work, particularly the balancing of prospects, contracts and salaries. I have a coworker who believes that the Indians need a third baseman and so they should just trade for Miguel Cabrera - that would solve all their problems. Like it would be just that easy. When I try to explain the nuances of making trades and why this would be pretty much unfeasible, he pretty much refuses to accept any of my arguments.

It's hard to argue with people who refuse to see reason. Unfortunately, many of those people who refuse to see reason somehow end up as general managers of baseball teams (yes, I'm talking about you, Dave Littlefield - Victor Martinez for Mike Gonzalez? What planet are you from, dude?). Either they are extremely protective of their prospects (despite the fact that only a few will eventually pan out) because they don't want to make another Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell or Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade and get reamed by their fans for trading a potential Hall of Famer - or, they pull a Jim Bowden and overvalue their pending free agents by asking the moon and the stars for them (see Soriano, Alfonso) and end up getting nothing.

So, there are very few sellers and many buyers, and the bidding for the main prizes is intense. It looks like this year's main prizes are Octavio Dotel and, potentially, Mark Teixeira. The rumors are flying. It looks like the Royals want Gutierrez in any trade for Dotel while the Indians are offering Francisco. There's very little incentive for the Royals to trade within the division without extracting a premium, and it's highly likely that any team with back-end bullpen arms will be playing Cleveland against Detroit, and possibly New York, who may now be a buyer after all after their hot streak finds them within striking distance of the Red Sox.

What I think we can count on is that Shapiro, unlike his predecessor, will not make a stupid trade just to make a trade at the deadline. And that's about all we can ask. Would it be nice to pick up a left-handed outfielder so Trot can ride the bench more and have more time for piemaking? Sure. Would it be nice to have another impact arm in the pen? Absolutely. Could we get help for the pen from withinn the organization? Maybe. Jensen Lewis has looked pretty good in his last couple outings. Maybe Aaron Laffey is ready. Maybe Eddie Mujica will find what he had last year. Maybe Ferdinand Cabrera can turn it around.

A team on a title run has to have some things like that happen along the way, but I'm not sure I want to count on any of these things. We've already been fortunate with Carmona, and the resurgence of Casey Blake, and the phenomenal play of Kelly Shoppach at times. The Tribe is contending despite getting mediocre pitching from 2 of its starters. You can only count on so much good fortune. Now is the time that Mark Shapiro needs to go out and make some more good fortune for this team.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bad, Worse, Worst

Bad: The Tribe was totally confounded by Mark Buehrle, while Jake Westbrook had one bad inning. The result: Chicago 5, Cleveland 1. Chicago wins the series, 2-1. This marks the first time Buehrle has beaten the Indians in over 2 years.

Worse: The Tribe goes on the road to play Texas, a team that they have historically had problems beating, even during the dynasty days of the 90s.

Worst: Detroit beat the Twins to stretch their AL Central lead to two games.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Ryan Garko is getting used to a post-game helping of Leadership Pie .

Garko's 2-run homer in the 9th off Bobby Jenks sent the game into bonus baseball, and his bloop single to centerfield scored Jason Michaels with the winning run as the Tribe came back yet again, this time against the White Sox, 6-5.

Paul Byrd appeared to have been replaced by his beta unit, walking two batters, hitting one (Punkzynski) and giving up 4 runs in 6 innings. The Tribe got to Jon Garland in the first for 2 runs, but then let him wiggle off the hook and he ended up lasting 6 innings, and left with a 4-2 lead.

The Indians' relief staff was solid except for Tom Mastny, who gave up a run on a bases loaded hit by pitch in the 9th. The good news is that he hit Punkzynski. You gotta give the guy some credit. He dives over the plate and is always willing to take one for the team. Doesn't make him any less of a punk, though.

Pronk: 1/3 with a walk. He singled in the 8th and was replaced by pinch-runner Ben Francisco, who allowed himself to get thrown out at the plate on a very shallow pop to right field.

So, the bottom line is this - Indians win, Garko remains en fuego, and Punkzynski got hit by a pitch twice. All in all, a generally satisfying night of baseball. Day baseball today: 12:05 first pitch, assuming the weather cooperates.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not Quite

After spotting the White Sox an 11-2 lead, the Tribe made it close before losing 11-10.

Cliff Lee pitched poorly, but the Indians were in the game 5-2 when he left with 1 out in the sixth. Unfortunately, Fernando Cabrera came in and pitched batting practice, letting in 2 more charged to Lee and giving up 4 more runs charged to himself in 1/3 of an inning. Jensen Lewis came in and acquitted himself reasonably well in his major league debut, getting out of the 6th and pitching a tightwire 7th, where he was saved by an amazing wall-hugging leaping non-catch in deep centerfield by Grady Sizemore that was ruled a catch.

The Indians came back with 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th on a Franklin Gutierrez 3-run home run, and then put up 5 in the bottom of the 8th, with the rally capped by a 2-run single to right by Pronk.

After Rafael Perez struck out the side, the Indians managed to rally in the 9th against closer Bobby Jenks, when Gutierrez singled and stole second to put the tying run in scoring position for Josh Barfield, who popped up weakly to the catcher.

The Good: This team is never out of any game. Pronk went 2 for 4, with 2 RBI, 1 run scored and a walk.

The Bad: Cliff Lee is inconsistent, especially when he can't or won't throw the curve. His fastball is eminently hittable.

The Ugly: Fernando Cabrera is out of options and is rapidly becoming the latest incarnation of Jason Davis. Just when you think he's got things figured out, he comes out in a high leverage situation and lays an egg like this. Don't be surprised if we hear this afternoon that he has been DFA'd and that Matt Miller has been called back to the Indians from Buffalo. After this performance, we might finally be able to slip Cabrera through waivers and get him righted in Buffalo, which would be the ideal solution.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Weekend With the Royals

The Tribe escaped a weekend series with the KC Royals, taking 2 out of 3 at home.

Friday: Cleveland 5, KC 4

After the Tribe tried to give this one to the Royals after JoeBo, staked to a 1-run lead going in to the 9th, gave up the tying run, the Royals gave it right back by giving up a run in the bottom of the 9th. After $57 Million Man Pronk smashed a double to right, Ryan Garko knocked pinch runner Mike Rouse in from second base with a bouncer up the middle off the mound. This was Garko's first walk-off hit in the majors, and, for his efforts, he got a taste of Leadership Pie. Pronk was 1 for 4 with a walk, with the double that ignited the winning rally as his only hit on the night. Westbrook spotted the Royals a 3-1, lead through the middle of the third, but then Westbrook settled down and the Indians regained a 4-3 lead going into the dramatic 9th inning.

Saturday: KC 6, Cleveland 5

CC Sabathia spotted the Royals a 5-0 lead after giving up a two-run double to Billy Butler in the first and, even worse, a 3-run big fly to Emil Brown in the second. CC settled down, and the Indians got to within 5-4, but then KC got a gift run in the 7th on a double followed by a fielders choice and a throwing error on Casey Blake allowing the run to score. Pronk drove in the final run with a sac fly in the bottom of the 7th. The Indians got the tying run to second in the bottom of the 9th, but could not push the run home. Pronk went 0 for 4 with an RBI on the sac fly. Ryan Garko hit a towering two-run shot to the home run porch in the 6th.

Sunday: Cleveland 5, KC 3

Pronk gave a Jorge de la Rosa pitch a one-way trip to Pronkville, going 3 for 4 on the day including a 2-run homer to the right field mezzanine in the first, and Fausto Carmona held the Royals to 2 runs through 7 innings. De la Rosa only gave up two hits, but both were homers (Garko hit a solo shot). The Tribe tacked on two more in the 6th and the Royals got one more on a home run by Jason Smith (who?) off Rafael Betancourt (huh?). The one home run per half of the season that Betancourt typically gives up is now out of the way, so we can all move on.

It looks like Pronk is snapping out of his funk. His shot to Pronkville was a line drive reported as travelling 436 feet. Later he smoked a ball off the wall that normally would go as a double, but the ball was hit so hard, and Teahen played it perfectly and threw a strike to second, nailing Pronk.

While the Indians were taking 2 of 3 from KC, the Motor City Kitties were splitting a 4-game set with the suddenly hot Mariners, so the Tribe has gained a half game on the Tigers. The Tribe us now 54 - 37, one half game behind the 54 - 36 Tigers.

The rumour du jour: the Tribe is looking to bring back Kenny Lofton. I would not necessarily oppose this at the right price, especially if packaged with Otsuka, and if the price is not too high. Lofton is having an excellent season. He gets on base and he's still running, and he could platoon with Michaels in left field (he doesn't have the arm for right field - well, actually, he never did). The Indians visit the ballpark formerly known as The Ballpark in Arlington for a four-game series on Thursday, and if anything is going to happen with a trade to Texas, this might be the week.

Next up: The Tribe has the next shot at sticking a fork in the White Sox for three. Pitching matchups: LHP John Danks (5-6, 4.62 ERA) vs. LHP Cliff Lee (5-5, 5.23), tonight at 7:05; RHP Jon Garland (7-6, 3.85) vs. RHP Paul Byrd (7-4, 4.41), Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.; LHP Mark Buehrle (6-5, 2.98) vs. RHP Jake Westbrook (1-4, 6.08), Wednesday at 12:05 p.m.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pronk Needs $57 Million

Word from those in the know indicates that Pronk will sign a 4-year, $57 million dollar extension tomorrow. This contract will keep him in Cleveland through 2012.

According to Paul Hoynes, $9 million of that money will be to pick up his option for next year and sweeten his deal for the remainder of this season and next year. The remaining $48 million consists of 2 additional years at $11 million per (2009, 2010) and 2 more at $13 million per (2011, 2012).

With the new contract signed, will Pronk be relaxed enough to begin pummeling opposing pitchers again? We can only hope. Tune in tomorrow and find out.

Let the negotiations with CC Sabathia begin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Skidding Towards the All-Star Break

The Indians ended the first half of the season by generally playing pretty crappy baseball.

Thursday: Tigers 12, Indians 3. CC stunk. Verlander didn't. Enough said.

Friday: Blue Jays 8, Indians 6. Cliff Lee stunk. So did Halladay, but much less than Cliff Lee.

Saturday: Indians 9, Blue Jays 4: Carmona pitched well. The Indians hit the ball. Heck, even Trot Nixon got a home run. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn.

Sunday: Blue Jays 1, Indians 0: The Indians got shut out by Josh Towers and friends, wasting a great pitching effort by Paul Byrd. As Bill the Cat once so eloquently said, "Ack!"

The end result - the Tribe went from a 3-game lead over the Tigers to a 1-game deficit, in second place in the AL Central with a 52-36 record, 2 games back in the loss column. If you had asked me at the beginning of the season if I would be happy if the Indians had won 50 games by the All-Star break and were 1 game out of first place, I would have said then I would be ecstatic. This team still has an extremely good shot to win the AL Central, or, if not, to be the wild card team and play post-season baseball.

Pronk's Mojo? Well, it may be circling the field waiting for a landing. At times over the last couple weeks, Pronk has put together some at bats that look like the old Pronk, but he's often had little to show with it, as he's scorched line drives right at people, or he's been foiled by the Pronk Shift. With any luck, Pronk will have had a nice relaxing break and will come back ready to club some baseballs. If Pronk returns to being Pronk, the Indians really don't need to add another bat. This team could be really fearsome offensively if Pronk takes off, considering how well they've been doing with him underperforming.

What the Indians need to keep competing: another solid bullpen arm would be nice. The guy I'd love to see the Indians get, and who I'm sure will be available given the Reds' impending yard sale, is David Weathers. He's reasonably dependable, he can close if necessary, and he can give you more than one inning.

It would also be nice to see the Indians get a left-handed corner outfielder who can platoon with the guys we have (Michaels, Gutierrez and Francisco) so that we don't have to keep running Mosey Nixon out there so often.

Here's hoping the Tribe comes back from the break tanned, rested, and ready.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

STO Responds

My wife, when the Indians game went off the air on Tuesday, went to the STO website and filled in a form saying, essentially, "Hey, what happened to the game!?" This morning she got a response from STO:

"We apologize for the lost signal in Tuesday night’s game. We had an interruption of our transmission because the company we hired had us on a timer instead of basing our feed on the live event. Thus when the game went long, we just went off the air. We are sorry for the inconvenience and are working to prevent this from happening again."

I know you have all been waiting on the edges of your seats for the official word from STO on what happened. This is all just another part of the full-service blogging that you've come to expect.

Old Scratch Stepped Up for Kenny Rogers

Old Mudhands' Kenny Rogers' deal with Old Scratch remains in effect, as the Tigers beat the Indians 6-4 last night. The Indians hit him hard, but it was one of those nights where during key at bats, the ball was scorched by the Tribe, but right at someone, or one of the Tigers made a leaping out-of-his mind catch. Even when the ball did fall in it didn't always help, as we failed to score a run on a ground rule double which, had it stayed in the park, would most likely have been a triple.

What was the problem? Could it be, luck? No. Could it be stellar defense? Maybe. Hmmm, could it be, I don't know, ....... SATAN!

The angels, however, let Pronk hit one out, so that was good, but I think that was a make-up for the smash up the middle that Satan allowed Carlos Guillen to get to despite the ball almost taking off his glove hand it was hit so hard.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Good Thing STO Isn't Doing Your City's Fireworks

I hope for you that the fireworks show you're going to see tonight (or saw last night, in the case of those of you who might have gone to Red, White and Boom in Columbus) is run much more effectively than SportsTime Ohio ran their broadcast last night. Otherwise, you might miss the finale completely. After the Indians defused a bases loaded/one out threat from the Motor City Kitties, STO did not come back for the top of the 11th, instead broadcasting static.

After checking to see that the problem was indeed with STO and not my cable (other channels were broadcasting successfully), I turned on the radio in time to hear Casey Blake smash one out of the Oversized Litter Box to give the Tribe the lead. Shortly after this occurred, STO realized, "Hey, we might have a technical problem! Better let people know!" and then a technical difficulty screen appeared on my TV. The picture came back as the Tigers were starting the bottom of the 11th.

What we could see of last night's game was exciting. I was out at a movie with my wife and missed the first 6 innings or so, but I saw on replays a great play by Kelly "Quadzilla" Shoppach to block the plate on Gary Sheffield to save a critical run in the fifth. The Ben Francisco "Treat" continued his run of stellar play with a pinch-hit home run to tie the game and send it into bonus baseball. Franklin Gutierrez caught a ball up against the fence in right field despite his best efforts to give himself poor position to make the play in the 10th. Tom Mastny pitched himself into bases loaded peril in the 1oth and then cleaned up his own mess.

Among the weirdness and mind games going on:
  • The home plate umpire was truly incapable of providing a consistent strike zone, leading to much sniping from both sides.
  • The umpires exercised an obscure rule that never gets enforced, probably at the instigation of Jim Leyland, that the pitcher has 12 second to deliver the ball or the umpire has the authority to award a ball to the batter. While I think it is unquestionable that Betancourt is one of the slowest and most deliberate pitchers in the league, the suddenness of enforcing this rule with runners on base in the 8th inning of a tie game in a critical game with pennant implications is pretty penny ante stuff. There has to be some way to retaliate against the Tigers for this pissy garbage. After the game, Wedge was actually angry. This is a big deal and it's not over yet. Maybe Wedge can have them impound Magglio Ordonez' bat and have it x-rayed for cork - there's something mighty suspicious about his .369 batting average.
  • Catchers interference was called against Ivan Rodriguez during a plate appearance by Pronk in the 3rd inning, after which Pudge spent the rest of the game bitching to the home plate umpire that Pronk was out of the box on every subsequent plate appearance. The hit he was awarded on that catcher's interference call was Pronk's only hit of the evening.

About the previous night's game against the D-Rays, well, let's just say that right now the D-Rays are D-Moralized, as they played defense about as well as your average tee-ball league team and threw away the game. The Indians won 10-2 behind solid pitching by Carmona, who got picked up when he hit the wall by Rafael Perez. Perez pitched out of a bases loaded/no outs jam in the 7th to give the Tribe time to keep the Tribe ahead 3-2 and give the Tribe the chance to blow it open in the 8th with 7 runs as Tampa Bay's defense collapsed and the Indians' bats woke up, capped by a Sizemore grand slam.

Ben Francisco - 3/3, with a home run.

Pronk - 1/4 with a run scored.

The stands were packed with friends and family of D-Rays starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, a northeast Ohio native who went to Kent, and who pitched well against his hometown team, giving up 3 earned runs in 6 innings, and keeping his team in the game.

At any rate, the Indians are 3 games up on Detroit and as a team they seem to have their mojo working completely, and are now, officially, in the Tigers' heads. The Tigers are now 0-4 in their own stadium against the Indians. The Indians know how to Beat Michigan.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Hey, Now, You're an All-Star!

The Tribe has now rolled out four straight victories, with an 8-6 victory Saturday night and a 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The key has been solid pitching from CC Sabathia (Saturday) and Cliff "Sleepy Kitten" Lee on Sunday. Borowski got saves each day, making it 4 straight games for JoeBo with a save.

Pronkwatch: Saturday: 1/3 with a big fly to right and two BBs. Sunday: 1/4 with a caught stealing. Pronk was sent on a hit and run by Eric Wedge not once, but twice. Really. I am not making this up. Garko fouled a pitch off the first time, in the second inning, and ended up singling. The next time, the D-Rays were ready for it and Pronk was caught stealing in the sixth.

Ben Francisco made another appearance in Sunday's game, going 1 for 3 with a run scored.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have salvaged a pitcher's duel tonight with the Twins, and the Indians' lead stays at 1.5 games.

Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and CC Sabathia - you're on the All-Star Team. Call your agent and exercise that bonus clause! Go win home field for the World Series, and don't even think about participating in the Home Run Derby, even if they ask politely (see Abreu, Bobby).

In other news: Mike Hargrove steps down as manager of the Mariners, in the middle of a 7-game winning streak that has put his team in the pennant race, saying, essentially, that his heart isn't in it any more. I suspect that there's something else going on that we may not hear about until much later, but I certainly wish Mike Hargrove well. I have fond memories of the Human Rain Delay as a player, and he managed certainly the greatest Indians teams of the last 40 years. Good luck, Grover. And the M's won today in his final game, making it 8 straight.

And, finally, the Reds fired manager Jerry Narron because they couldn't fire the entire team.