Short Nerd Chief

Tribe-Yanks Wrap II: Lee to the Rescue, Again

Posted by Fred on May 9, 2008

With some late-inning heroics from David Dellucci and another stellar start from the resurgent Cliff Lee, the Tribe managed to take two of three in their last visit to the current Yankee Stadium, in the process securing a season series victory.  They were 4-3 against New York after going 0-6 in the regular season in 2007.  Eric Wedge attempted to wake up the club’s dormant bats – Ben Francisco got three starts in place of the designated-for-assignment Jason Michaels, while Victor Martinez sat out two games with a stiff neck. Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner each got some time on the bench, partly because they’re all mired in slumps and partly to allow Victor to DH in the one game he did play.  Unfortunately, the roster shakeup didn’t really wake up the bats (putting aside Dellucci’s three-run pinch hit HR off Joba Chamberlain on Tuesday night).  For the series, the Indians hit just .202, with almost as many strikeouts (18) as hits (19).

The Good

  1. Cliff Lee.  This is becoming a broken record, but Lee was fantastic again, as he out-pitched previously unbeated Chien-Ming Wang in picking up his sixth consecutive win to start the season.  He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits while striking out 7 and walking none. 74% of his pitches were strikes, and 76% of his fastballs were strikes.  Lee hasn’t walked a batter since the second inning against Minnesota on April 18, a stretch of 101 batters faced without a walk.  His ERA stands at 0.81, and he has an absurd strikeout-to-walk ratio of 39-2.
  2. Ben Francisco and Casey Blake.  Hitting heroes were hard to come by in this series.  Dellucci has the big HR in the first game, but for the series, Blake and Francisco were the most consistent.  Francisco had 4 hits in 11 AB in his first consistent playing time in 2008.  Blake had 2 hits in 6 AB, and drove in three more runs.  Casey is hitting only .210, but his 22 RBI lead the team and 15 runs scored is third.

The Bad

  1. Paul Byrd. After a stretch of several pretty good starts, Byrd got hit pretty hard yesterday afternoon, giving up 5 runs in 6⅓ innings. That’s bad enough, but Byrd continues to have trouble keeping the ball in the park, giving up three more HR.  He’s now given up 10 home runs, far more than anyone else on the team (C.C. Sabathia is second in that dubious category with 6).
  2. The offense.  With a couple of notable exceptions, the lineup just couldn’t hit, continuing a trend started in the KC series.  Overall, the Indians managed just 19 hits in 94 AB.  Asdrubal Cabrera and Victor Martinez were hitless in their single appearances.  Jamey Carroll was 1-for 7, Kelly Shoppach 1-for-10 in relief of Martinez and Ryan Garko 1-for-8.

The Ugly

  1. Fausto Carmona.  Last year’s feel good story, 19-game winner Carmona, continues to be the antithesis of this year’s feel good story Lee.  Whereas Lee isn’t walking anybody, Carmona can’t find the plate, walking 5 more in 5 innings.  Carmona managed to get a no-decision thanks to pitching out of jams and Dellucci’s 8th inning HR.  In 7 starts, Carmona has walked 31 batters and struck out only 15.  Between them, Carmona and Sabathia have nearly half of the team’s 103 walks.

Putting Lee’s Fast Start In Context

Cliff Lee continues to amaze, and is far beyond the form that saw him win 18 games in 2005.  Consider these 5 pitchers and their statistics after 6 starts:

Player A 6 0 0.81 0.163 7.86 0.40 19.5
Player B 6 0 1.98 0.192 7.46 3.07 2.4
Player C 3 1 1.31 0.182 5.89 1.96 3.0
Player D 5 1 2.06 0.211 12.57 2.06 6.1
Player E 5 0 1.99 0.183 10.87 2.17 5.0

Player A is, needless to say, Cliff Lee.  Player B is Brandon Webb in his first six starts of 2008, generally considered the best pitcher in the NL.  Players C-E are, respectively, Bob Gibson in 1968, Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Roger Clemens in 1986.  All three won the Cy Young in those seasons, and Gibson and Clemens were the MVP (Martinez was 2nd in 1999 to Ivan Rodriguez).  Lee is, so far at least, having among the best starts ever.

To put it in more context, since 1956 there have been only 13 other pitchers to win at least their first six starts and post a sub-1.00 ERA during the streak, led by Juan Marichal, who won his first 10 starts in 1966 with a 0.79 ERA.  Of those 13, 4 won the Cy Young Award and 7 received votes for MVP.  Bob Turley started 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA in 1958, winning the Cy Young and coming in second in MVP voting to Boston’s Jackie Jensen, while Fernando Valenzuela posted a 9-0 record with a 0.50 ERA in 1981, winning the NL Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and placing 5th in MVP voting.

Lee is, therefore, in select company, and time will tell if he is more like Juan Marichal or Bill Krueger, who started 6-0 for the Twins in 1992 only to be traded to the Expos, where he pitched in 7 of his final 9 games from the bullpen, finishing 10-8 with a 4.53 ERA.

Next Up: four games at Progressive Field against the Blue Jays.  C.C. Sabathia (1-5, 7.51 ERA) takes the mound in the opener against Roy Halladay (3-4, 3.00).  Sabathia is coming off his fourth quality start in a row after a slow start in early April, although he was not as dominant in the loss to the Royals as in the previous three.  Saturday pits Aaron Laffey (0-2, 2.84) against Dustin McGowan (2-2, 2.95).  Laffey was good in his last start against the Royals, allowing no earned runs on four hits over seven innings, but McGowan has been even better, posting a 0.61 ERA over his last two starts (unfortunately for him, the Jays have scored only 16 runs in his 7 starts).  Sunday pits Fausto Carmona (3-1, 2.95) against A.J. Burnett (3-3, 5.19).  Carmona looks to find the strike zone, which has been elusive this year, while Burnett looks for success against a Cleveland team that has hit him hard (1-3, 8.46 ERA in four career starts).  Monday’s finale pits Cliff Lee (6-0, 0.81) against Shaun Marcum (4-2, 2.59).  The Tribe pitchers will have to be strong, as the Jays are second in the AL in team ERA and first in strikeouts.


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