Short Nerd Chief

Tribe Homestand Wrap: Jays and As

Posted by Fred on May 16, 2008

[I missed the wrap-up for the Jays series, so we’ll do a combo edition – too bad the East leaders weren’t in town, or we could do Jays, As and Rays]

The Tribe has now surged to the top of the AL Central (not that the Central has been a beast so far in 2008 or anything), thanks to a 6-1 homestand that really should have been 7-0. The story was, of course, the pitching, particularly the starters.  The run of scoreless innings fell yesterday when Aaron Laffey allowed an unearned run, but the starters haven’t allowed an earned run since C.C. Sabathia gave up a single run on May 9.  The offense wasn’t horrible (largely due to a 12-spot hung on the Blue Jays), but the story was pitching and defense, which included four shutouts and an unassisted triple play.

The Good

  1. The Starters.  Cliff Lee has been doing it all year, but apparently the great pitching was contagious.  For the 7 game homestand, the five starters were 6-0 with a 0.16 ERA.  In 55⅓ innings, the starters had 43 strikeouts to only 12 walks and a 0.92 WHIP.  No starter threw less than 63% strikes, and Paul Byrd hit 70%. Opposing batters hit only .206, and of the 39 hits, 34 were singles (the remaining 5 were doubles).  Were it not for a complete absence of offense in Cliff Lee’s start (a 3-0, 10 inning loss), the crew could have been 7-0.
  2. Relievers not named Betancourt.  Take away Rafael Betancourt’s two disastrous appearances, and the bullpen is left with an ERA of 0.00 with 8 strikeouts to one walk.  Masa Kobayashi had two saves in two tries. Craig Breslow and Jensen Lewis each pitched a pair of scoreless innings, and Rafael Perez got out the only batter he faced.
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera.  His hitting wasn’t great (.238 BA with one HR and 4 RBI), but he was incredible in the field.  His unassisted triple play got all the press, but it may not have been his best play of the series – the glove flip to Jamey Carroll to start a double play in the first game of the May 12 doubleheader brought back memories of Alomar and Vizquel, and the diving grab in shallow center on Wednesday against the As was even better.
  4. Grady Sizemore, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.  The offense wasn’t all bad, although it was mostly bad.  Grady Sizemore is now only 4 leadoff homers behind Kenny Lofton for the franchise lead in that category.  For the series, Grady looked like the #3 hitter in a leadoff body that he is, hitting .286 with 3 HR, 2 doubles, 6 RBI and 9 strikeouts.  He posted a team-best 1.012 OPS over 7 games.  Ben Francisco emerged from his mini-slump with 5 hits in 15 AB, plus 4 RBI.  Victor Martinez hit .316 in 6 games, with a .458 OBP.  For the season, Victor has reached base in 27 of the 32 games he’s appeared in.  The best news of all, however, is that Pronk is actually starting to hit.  In 7 games, he hit .300 with a .462 OBP.  Hafner is still hitting only .222 with a .675 OPS, but he’s rebounded since being moved down in the order on May 1. In the 26 games before that (when he hit 3rd or 4th), he had a .210 average and .642 OPS.  In the 12 games since, he’s hit .257 with a .766 OPS.

The Bad

  1. Andy Marte.  As good as Aaron Laffey has been filling in for Jake Westbrook, Marte makes the rumored Laffey and Josh Barfield for Garrett Atkins trade look really good.  In 3 games, Marte managed 2 hits in 13 AB.  Combined, Marte and Casey Blake had 6 hits in 27 AB for the homestand (.220). Over his last 7 games, Atkins has 11 hits in 26 AB (.423), with a double, triple and home run (1.083 OPS).
  2. David Dellucci and Franklin Gutierrez.  While Sizemore and Francisco played well, the Tribe’s other two outfielders did not.  Dellucci and Gutierrez combined for 4 hits in 34 AB (.118) in 5 games apiece.  They also struck out a total of 8 times, with only 1 RBI.
  3. Kelly Shoppach.  While the Indians’ backup catcher was good behind the plate, he was 1-for-9 as a hitter, with 4 strikeouts in 3 games.

The Ugly

  1. Rafael Betancourt.  The Tribe’s current fill-in closer had an ERA of 27.00 in 1⅓ IP.  He gave up 5 hits and 2 walks for a .714 BAA and 5.25 WHIP.  If Wedge hadn’t yanked him after he loaded the bases yesterday, he likely would have added a blown save to the blown tenth inning he had in Cliff Lee’s start.  Not every lights-out setup guy is a good closer, and Betancourt really hasn’t been a very good closer.  I’ve said all along that Masa Kobayashi would be a better closer, given his track record in Japan, and it appears I may have been right.  With the offense’s struggles, Eric Wedge may not have the luxury of waiting to see if Betancourt straightens himself out.

Up next: Interleague play (abomination that it is) starts tonight, as the Tribe heads down I-71 for three games at the Great American Ballpark.  Thanks to a rainout/doubleheader against the Jays, Jeremy Sowers (0-0, 5.06 ERA) likely gets a spot start tonight against Reds rookie Johnny Cueto (2-4, 5.91).  Cueto has pitched well overall, but got shelled in his last start against the Mets, when he gave up 6 runs on 8 hits (5 for extra bases) in 4⅔ IP. Fausto Carmona (4-1, 2.40) faces Aaron Harang (2-5, 3.32) on Saturday.  Carmona still walks too many, but managed to get enough ground balls in his last start to pitch a complete game shutout.  Harang has pitched pretty well with abysmal run support in 2008, although he gave up 3 HR in his last start (an 8-7 win over the Marlins).  Cliff Lee (6-0, 0.67) looks for his seventh win on Sunday against Reds ace Edinson Volquez (6-1, 1.12).

But for Lee’s gaudy numbers and the win machine out in Arizona, Volquez would be getting a lot more attention – he hasn’t given up more than one earned run in any of his eight starts this year, which apparently hasn’t been done since Mike Norris did it in Oakland in 1980. In his ninth start that year, Norris gave up 6 runs in a 7-3 loss to Texas.  He finished 22-9 with a 2.52 ERA, coming in second to Baltimore’s Steve Stone for the AL Cy Young.  He may well have won it but for dropping two games 1-0 and a third 2-0.  Volquez’ big weakness is that he throws a lot of pitches, and hasn’t made it beyond the seventh inning in any start, and has a not-so-stellar 1.26 WHIP.

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