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Tribe Quick Hits for 6/3/2008

Posted by Fred on June 3, 2008

Still basking in the glow from Casey Blake’s 2 HR, 7 RBI explosion against the Rangers last night, some quick hits in a moment of quiet optimism:

  • Since 1956, a Cleveland hitter has had 7 or more RBI nine times.  Casey Blake now has two of them, the first being July 5, 2003 against Minnesota.
  • This is the fifth game in 2008 in which the Tribe scored 10 runs or more.  They are 5-0 in such games. They’re  4-0 in the game following a 10-run game.
  • This is the eighth game in which the team collected 12 or more hits.  They are 6-2 in those games, and 6-1 in the game following a 12-hit game.  Both of these stats are a bit surprising, as anecdotally it seemed as if offensive explosions were followed by ineptitude.
  • Over the last six games, the Tribe is hitting .267 which, while nothing to crow about, is a far bit better than their season average of .234.  Sizemore is hitting .250, but has an OPS of 1.067.  Casey Blake is hitting .375 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.  Over his last six games (excluding games in which he was only a defensive replacement), Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .368 with an 1.139 OPS.  Jhonny Peralta is hitting .400 with a 1.124 OPS.  Even Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .333 over the past six games in which he had an AB.
  • To win tonight, Cleveland’s going to have to do it again, as Jake Westbrook heads back to the DL.  Usual spot starter Jeremy Sowers is unavailable, having just thrown seven innings in Buffalo.  The start will go to reliever Tom Mastny, who has allowed just one earned run in his last nine innings in Buffalo.  Mastny, however, has never pitched more than three innings with the big club, so he’ll be followed by a series of relievers, including Jensen Lewis, just recalled from Buffalo, where he have up two runs in four innings.  On the plus side, the Rangers starter is also a spot starter – A.J. Murray last started on May 3 against Oakland, yielding 3 runs in 5⅓ innings.

The offense won’t be really turned around without a healthy Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, but things are looking a little better.  Couldn’t be much worse.


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Get Baseball Line Scores on Your Phone via Google

Posted by Fred on June 3, 2008

If you search for Indians score via Google on your mobile phone, you get this:

If you do the same search via, you get search results, but no line score. You can get the score via a PC by using I don’t know what it does if a game is in progress, but for that I like the MLB site better anyway, as it has the pitch-by-pitch updates.

Update: It also works if you just search for Indians.

[via RotoNation]

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Tribe Homestand (Pale Hose and Rangers) Wrap: Trendspotting

Posted by Fred on May 29, 2008

Question: When is a 2-4 homestand something to cheer about?

Answer: When the homestand features an offense that appeared to be in permanent hibernation.  In the just-wrapped six-game set against Chicago and Texas, the Tribe collected 55 hits and scored 31 runs.  On the preceding road trip to Chicago and Cincinnati, the Indians managed only 37 hits and 13 runs.  As a club, the Tribe hit .248 against Texas and .265 against Chicago, their best performance since an April trip to Kansas City that featured wins of 15-1 and 9-6.

With the exception of the trip to Chicago, the offense has been steadily improving in both batting average and OPS:


Individually, many of the Tribe’s regulars swung the bat much better in this homestand.  Six hitters hit better than .275 for the homestand, and seven had an OPS above .750:

Player AVG
Jamey Carroll .385
Andy Marte .333
Victor Martinez .316
Asdrubal Cabrera .308
Ben Francisco .296
Jhonny Peralta .280
Player OPS
Jhonny Peralta 1.013
Jamey Carroll 1.000
Grady Sizemore .955
Ben Francisco .866
Andy Marte .833
David Dellucci .813
Victor Martinez .771

Now if we could only do something abouth the pitching…

Up Next: The Tribe starts a brutal 11-game road trip in Kansas City Friday night.  Cliff Lee (7-1, 1.50) looks to continue his splendid 2008 against Gil Meche (3-7, 5.35).  Lee has been shakier his last two starts, but appeared to find control of his fastball against the Rangers, settling down after a couple of rocky innings.  Meche only gave up two runs his last time out against the Blue Jays, but struggled to throw strikes, needing 115 pitches to get through six innings.  C.C. Sabathia (3-6, 4.74) battles Brett Tomko (2-6, 6.11) on Saturday.  C.C. took yet another hard-luck loss in his last outing, a 2-1 loss in which he gave up one run on five hits in seven innings.  Tomko has a tendency toward the big inning this year, and gave up four runs in the second inning in his last start.  Sunday’s finale features Paul Byrd (2-4, 4.10) and Brian Bannister (4-6, 4.97). Byrd got hit hard by the White Sox his last time out, but managed to limit the damage to three runs, thanks to some timely double plays.

If the Tribe hopes to stay in the AL Central race, they really need to take at least two from the Royals, with Sunday being on paper the hardest one to win.  The White Sox are in Tampa bay to face the Rays, who (somewhat amazingly) sport the best record in the majors at 32-21.

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Tribe-White Sox Wrap II: Mostly Ugly

Posted by Fred on May 23, 2008

Another series of offensive ineptitude, another three-game sweep. This time it was the White Sox doing the honors, as the Tribe’s losing streak reached six. The offensive numbers truly do tell the tale: .145 batting average, .202 OBP, .229 slugging percentage, .431 OPS. The Indians had as many strikeouts (18) as baserunners(12 hits and 6 walks), and managed to score only 4 runs. The Detroit Tigers, who actually seem to have figured out how to hit, scored 30 runs in their most recent series; Cleveland has scored 26 runs in their last 11 games. This team simply has no chance of contending unless serious changes are made, and Eric Wedge’s claim that the team just has to battle through it looks more ridiculous by the day – one or two guys can be in a slump; when it’s a whole team and the “slump” has lasted for 47 games, it’s a serious defect in personnel, coaching or both.

The Good

One is tempted to say “nothing”, but there actually were a few decent performances against Chicago:

  1. C.C. Sabathia.  C.C. has clearly put his horrible start behind him, and had another good start on Friday night, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits over 7 innings.  He walked only 2 while striking out 8.  Unfortunately, he also gave up two solo homers, and with the current Tribe offense, that was more than enough to condemn Sabathia to another hard-luck loss.
  2. Aaron Laffey.  The good news is Laffey had another good start, also giving up 2 runs over 7 innings, yielding 6 hits while striking out 6 and walking 1.  The bad news is the offense couldn’t score runs for him either, and he also took a hard-luck loss.  The better news is that his value as trade bait continues to increase, and a healthy Jake Westbrook may mean the club can package Laffeyfor a hitter with a batting average actually north of the Mendoza Line.
  3. The Rafaels.  The bullpen wasn’t anything worth bragging about in this series, but Perez and Betancourt showed flashes of their 2007 form, pitching 1scoreless innings.
  4. Ryan Garko and Michael Aubrey.  The closest thing the Tribe had to offensive heroes against Chicago was the first base combination of Garko and Aubrey, who combined to hit .333 with a solo HR.

The Bad

  1. The rest of the bullpen.  Outside of Perez and Betancourt, the bullpen was pretty bad, which is doubly dangerous when the offense can’t score any runs.  Masa Kobayashi gave up a run charged to Laffey and a run of his own yesterday, breaking a 1-1 eighth inning tie. Craig Breslow had as many homers (1) as outs on Wednesday. Jensen Lewis gave up two eighthinning runs on Monday, eliminating any chance the Tribe had of a ninth inning comeback against Bobby Jenks. In all, the bullpen gave up as many 8th inning runs as the offense scored in 27 innings.

The Ugly

  1. The offense, of course.  Other than Garko,Aubrey and David Dellucci (2-of-7), no Indian hit better than .200 for the series.  No hitter managed more than 2 hits in the 3 games. Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklin Gutierrez, Johnny Peralta, Kelly Shoppach, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez were a combined 2-for-38 (.053) with one run scored and one RBI. 

Up next: The Tribe comes home after a road trip (in which they scored 13 runs in 6 games) for three against the Rangers.  Fausto Carmona (4-1, 2.25 ERA) starts against Kason Gabbard (1-1, 3.12) tonight. Carmona is coming off his best start of the season, in which he gave up no walks in a 4-2 loss to the Reds; prior to Saturday, he had issued 35 walks in 48 2/3 innings. Better yet, all but three of Carmona’s outs in the game came on the ground, which is absolutely vital for a sinkerballer like Carmona.  Cliff Lee (6-1, 1.37) tries to rebound from his only subpar start of the year on Saturday against Scott Feldman (1-1, 4.10).  In his five starts, Feldman has posted a 3.45 ERA, pitching at least six innings every time.  He’s never started against the Tribe, but has an ERA of 1.42 in five relief appearances.  C.C. Sabathia (3-6, 5.14) faces Doug Mathis (1-1, 10.13), who is filling in for injured ex-Indian Kevin Millwood.  Sabathiahas pitched well in May, posting a 2-2 record (that probably should be 4-0) with a 2.25 ERA.  Mathis pitched well in AAA (5-0, 3.42), but did not fare so well for the big club, giving up 9 runs (6 earned) in 2 innings against the Twins.

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Tribe Fans: Time to Panic

Posted by Fred on May 22, 2008

I’ve been holding off pushing the panic button, given that the 2008 season is only 46 games into a 162 game season, but after yet another inept offensive performance that wasted an adequate start from Paul Byrd, it’s time to start thinking about running around in a circle screaming. The offensive statistics for the season to date are really awful. A .234 team batting average (last in the AL). A .313 OBP and .362 slugging percentage (next to last in the AL). Last in hits, 12th in runs, last in triples, 10th in homers, 11th in strikeouts in the 14 team AL. The only offensive category the team leads the league in is times hit by a pitch, which is truly pitiful. In 26 of 46 games, the Tribe has scored 3 runs or fewer, and hasn’t scored more than 4 since a 12 run outburst on May 10th against Toronto. The current 5 game losing streak includes losses of 4-3, 4-2 and 4-1.

So now that we’ve decided to panic, what next. The team has three basic choices: some new blood from the minors, in the hope of providing the same sort of spark that Asdrubal Cabrera did in a similar situation last year, a trade, or something even more major. They’ve tried the first approach already. Michael Aubrey has a couple of homers in his brief, just-until-Borowski-comes-back trip from Buffalo, but his .250 average isn’t a hyge improvement. Ben Francisco is the only hot hitter on the team, and has relegated Franklin Gutierrez to a platoon role for which he is extremely ill-suited (his average against lefties is worse than against righties). Shin-Soo Choo should be ready to come back soon, and has hit .353 in 17 AB over 5 games since May 15, with a 1.009 OPS. Other than that, pickings are sort of bare – Brad Snyder has 10 HR, but do we really need another .211 hitter in this lineup?

A trade is a more promising possibility, although the action won’t really pick up until teams are ready to give up on the season. The most persistent rumor has Aaron Laffey going with Josh Barfield to Colorado for Garrett Atkins. Any trade with Colorado has an element of risk, given the Coors Field Effect, but Atkins actually has a higher OPS on the road (.903) than at home (.822) and has hit 5 of his 7 HR away from Denver. Colorado’s pitching staff is horrid, with a 4.57 ERA that is 14th of the 16 NL teams, so they may be willing to pull the trigger on the trade. I’d do that deal in a heartbeat if Jake Westbrook shows anything close to his pre-injury form.

The best solution, however, may be something more radical. Hitting coach Derek Shelton is a disciple of the Yankees/As-style approach that calls for taking opposing pitchers deep into the count. In theory, this should lead to walks and a higher OBP and elevated pitch counts. Most teams have weak middle relief, so getting the starter out in the 5th or 6th inning should be an advantage. It has worked, to an extent, as the team is 9th in the AL in walks, certainly better than most other offensive categories. Unfortunately, the approach hasn’t led to hits or runs. Whether this is an error in approach by the coaching staff or an error in execution by the players is unclear, but it is clear that something isn’t working. In 479 games under Shelton, the team has struck out 3,484 times (to 1,642 walks). In 539 games under Eddie Murray, the team struck out 3,407 times (to 1,768 walks). This year’s performance looks remarkably similar to the first part of 2005 that led to Shelton’s hiring in the first place:

2005 53 1811 209 437 87 12 57 203 154 336 .241 .307 .397
2008 46 1503 186 351 78 2 37 182 147 321 .234 .313 .362

It also seems fairly clear that Shelton’s approach has led to a power outage in Cleveland. Victor Martinez is still looking for his first homer of 2008. Travis Hafner has hit far more groundballs than he used to over the past couple of years. Grady Sizemore’s HR totals are up, but his statistics would suggest he hasn’t really taken Shelton’s approach to heart, as he remains a free swinger who strikes out too much.

Is firing Shelton the answer? Probably not the entirety of the solution, but this is a team that has been in a year-long funk, not just a few games in 2008. Over the past 162 games, the Indians have hit just .258 as a team, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack in the AL. In 2004, Cleveland was fourth in the AL at .276; in 2005, they were 5th at .271. After peaking at .280 in Shelton’s first full year, it has been all downhill.

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Tribe-Reds Wrap: Good, Bad and Ugly

Posted by Fred on May 19, 2008

The Indians have to be happy that the first interleague series is over and they can flee Cincinnati for the friendlier confines of the American League, following a truly ugly series at the Great American Ballpark.  The Tribe once again couldn’t score any runs, managing just 9 over the 3 games.  This series also saw the first bad start from Cliff Lee, the first blown save from Masa Kobayashi and a pitiful appearance by Jensen Lewis.  On the upside, there was the first hit from Michael Aubrey, a solo homer yesterday.  Overall, the hitting wasn’t that bad (.245 BA and .780 OPS), but with runners in scoring position, the Tribe managed just 3 hits in 27 tries, all coming yesterday. On Friday and Saturday, the boys were hitless in 16 AB with RISP.

The Good

  1. Fausto Carmona.  Carmona’s problem all year has been control, but his start on Saturday was by far his best of the year.  In 7⅓ innings, he didn’t walk anybody and gave up only 1 earned run on 4 hits.  For the first time, he showed signs of the form that led to 18 wins last year.  Unfortunately the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, as Masa Kobayashi gave up a walk-off three-run HR to Adam Dunn.
  2. Jorge Julio and Rafael Perez.  Other than Carmona, pitching stars were in short supply.  Julio and Perez, however, combined to throw 3⅔ innings of scoreless relief, allowing 2 hits and 2 walks (all by Perez) while striking out 5.  Perez appeared in all three games, notable mostly because Rafael Betancourt appeared in none.
  3. Grady Sizemore.  In this series, Grady looked more like a leadoff hitter than the #3 hitter he sometimes seems to be.  In 15 plate appearances, Sizemore was on base 6 times on 3 hits and 3 walks.  He also only struck out twice.  The offense couldn’t pick him up, however, leaving Sizemore stranded on base 5 of those 6 times.
  4. Ben Francisco.  More and more it appears Francisco’s subpar AAA numbers this year were an aberration and his hot spring more indicative of his ability.  Against the Reds, Francisco hit .455 with two doubles and a home run.  Add in one HBP and he had a team-high 1.409 OPS for the series.  In 12 games since his most recent arrival from Buffalo, Francisco is hitting .378 with a 1.010 OPS.  He’s also riding a five-game hitting streak in which he’s hitting .500 with a 1.359 OPS.
  5. Travis Hafner.  Yeah, it’s only two pinch-hit ABs due to loss of the DH in the NL park, but Hafner was on base both times with a walk and a home run.  Pronk continues to show signs of heating up (finally) at the plate. Over his last 10 games, Hafner is hitting .318 with a 1.028 OPS.  The big DH also has more walks (6) than strikeouts (4) during this period.  In the 30 games before that, he managed only 14 walks to 34 strikeouts.

The Bad

  1. Cliff Lee.  For the first time, Lee looked mortal, giving up 5 earned runs on 10 hits in 5⅔ innings.  The Reds hit .385 against Lee, who also gave up 2 home runs in watching his ERA swell to 1.37.
  2. Jensen Lewis.  Pitching for the first time in front of his hometown fans, the Cincinnati native clearly appeared to be affected by nerves, particularly in relief of Jeremy Sowers on Friday night, when he walked in the eventual winning run. Overall in that inning he gave up a bloop double and three walks.
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera.  Cabrera remains mired in a massive slump, as he is hitless in his last 13 at bats, and is hitting just .113 over his last 16 games.  Against Cincinnati, Cabrera was hitless in 10 ABs.
  4. David Dellucci and Victor Martinez.  Dellucci and Martinez combined to go 3-for-22 (.136) for the series.  Victor’s power outage continues this year – after hitting 25 HR last year and at least 16 each year for the past four years, Martinez is still looking for his first HR in 2008.

The Ugly

  1. Masa Kobayashi.  With the failures of Joe Borowski (18.00 ERA) and Rafael Betancourt (7.36 ERA) as closer, Kobayashi looked like the leading candidate for the back end of the bullpen with two straight converted save opportunities.  On Saturday in relief of Fausto Carmona he looked terrible, however, allowing a 3-run homer to Adam Dunn to lose the game.  At this point, he still looks like the best candidate for the job, unless the 3 ER, 2 hit, ⅓ IP is a sign of things to come.

Up next: Having watched the White Sox turn a 1½ game deficit into a 1½ game lead over a weekend, the Tribe travels to Chicago after an off-day today.  C.C. Sabathia (3-5, 5.47 ERA) faces Jose Contreras (4-3, 3.35) on Tuesday.  Sabathia appears to have put his horrible start behind him, as he is 3-2 with a 1.49 ERA over his last 5 starts, including a complete game shutout in his last oating against Oakland.  Paul Byrd (2-3, 3.61) matches up against Javier Vazquez (4-3, 3.53) on Wednesday.  Byrd’s problem has been the long ball, but he kept the ball in the yard in his last start, holding the A’s scoreless.  Aaron Laffey (2-2, 1.35) makes what may be his last start for a while on Thursday against mark Buehrle (2-5, 5.27), as Jake Westbrook is due to come off the DL soon.  Laffey has been fantastic, so Eric Wedge could take his time and let Westbrook have an extra rehab start or two.  Buerhle has had real trouble against Cleveland, with a lifetime record of 8-11 and a 4.93 ERA.  On Opening Day, Buerhle lasted just 1⅔ innings and giving up 7 runs on 7 hits.

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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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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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Tribe-Royals Wrap II: Paging Jobu…

Posted by Fred on May 5, 2008

My favorite sequence in major League is this exchange between Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen):

Pedro Cerrano: Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.
Eddie Harris: You know you might think about taking Jesus Christ as your savior instead of fooling around with all this stuff.
Roger Dorn: Shit, Harris.
Pedro Cerrano: Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.
Eddie Harris: You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?

Not sure about Jesus, but the Tribe couldn’t hit much of anything against the Royals this weekend, managing a paltry .136 average and 2 runs over the two-game rain-shortened series. Clearly the team needs an offering to the gods, or hats for their bats. The series continued a recent trend of offensive ineptitude, and continued a pattern of turning inexperienced pitchers into Cy Young.  Over the past three seasons, the Indians have faced relatively new starters (defined as starters making 30 or fewer appearances) 88 times, with fair success at best:

2008 1-4 2.25 .170 .522
2007 20-21 4.66 .252 .745
2006 15-17 5.22 .263 .802
Total 36-42 4.70 .251 .754

In 2008, their only win came against Ian Kennedy, who hasn’t been able to beat anybody (and even then, the Indians managed only 3 runs off Kennedy in a 4-3 victory).  This weekend, it was Luke Hochevar, who held the Tribe to 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings.

The Good

  1. Aaron Laffey.  Laffey was one of the few bright spots in the entire series, as he surrendered only an unearned run on 4 hits over 7 innings.  He received no support from the offense, however, and was on the hook for the loss in the 2-0 Royals victory.
  2. C.C. Sabathia.  The good news is that C.C. didn’t give up 9 runs. The bad news is that he did give up 10 hits, leading to 4 Kansas City runs.  Nevertheless, he pitched into the 7th inning and gave the team a fighting chance, which they could not capitalize on against Hochevar.
  3. The bullpen.  With the exception yet again of Rafael Betancourt, the bullpen performed admirably.  Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez and Masa Kobayashi combined to pitch 4⅓ innings of shutout relief, allowing only 2 hits and striking out 3.  Kobayashi has been pitching particularly well, and has now allowed only one earned run over his past 9 appearances, covering 10⅓ innings.
  4. Grady Sizemore and Ryan Garko.  There was little good on the offensive side of things this weekend.  One bright spot was Sizemore, who had 2 hits in 7 AB, including a solo homer that accounted for half the team’s run production for the series.  Garko had 2 hits and a walk in 6 AB. Since breaking an 0-for-21 slump, Garko has 4 hits in his last 10 AB.

The Bad

  1. The offense.  Even including Sizemore and Garko, the offense was anemic over these two games.  Asdrubal Cabrera, Casey Blake, Franklin Gutierrez, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner combined for an 0-for-30 skunking, with 3 walks and 7 strikeouts.  Sizemore, Garko, David Dellucci and Victor Martinez each collected 2 hits, but even they had almost as many strikeouts (6) as hits (8).

The Ugly

  1. Rafael Betancourt.  The Tribe’s putative closer had another bad outing in a non-save situation. After Perez retired the first two Royals in the top of the ninth with KC clinging to a 1-0 lead, Betancourt surrendered a solo homer to Miguel Olivo before striking out John Buck. Over his last three appearances, Betancourt has an ERA of 27.00, giving up 5 ER on 6 hits over 1⅔ innings. That’s not a whole lot better than Joe Borowski, who had an ERA of 31.50 over 2 innings in his last 3 appearances before going on the DL.  Their lines are remarkably similar, as each had twice as many HR (2) as strikeouts (1).  Betancourt will turn things around, however, which is more than one could hope for with Borowski.

Next up: The Tribe had a chance to move into first in the AL Central this weekend, but now has dropped back to 4th, 2.5 games behind the division-leading Twins. The Indians now travel to the Bronx for three games against the Yankees beginning tomorrow night.  Fausto Carmona (3-1, 2.60 ERA) faces Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.93) in the opener.  Pettitte’s had some success against Cleveland, but not at Yankee Stadium, where he is just 1-4 with a 5.48 ERA.  Wednesday features a pair of undefeated starters, with Cliff Lee (5-0, 0.96) matching up against Chien-Ming Wang (6-0, 3.00).  Wang outdueled Sabathia 1-0 in his last outing against Cleveland.  In Thursday’s finale, Paul Byrd (1-2, 3.74) hopes for some rare run support against Mike Mussina (4-3, 4.23).  Over his last 4 starts, Byrd has an ERA of 1.71, but is just 1-0 with 3 no decisions because his teammates scored only 4 runs during his time on the mound over those 3 starts.

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Tribe-Mariners Wrap: Closer wanted, apply within

Posted by Fred on May 2, 2008

The Tribe’s most recent series, which saw them take 2 of 3 from the Mariners was a complete reversal of the previous series, a four-game split with the Yankees.  Against the Bombers, the four starters were 1-2 with a 4.38 ERA (and it was only that low because C.C. Sabathia allowed only a single run in eight innings of work). The bullpen, on the other hand, allowed only a single run in 11⅓ innings, marred only by Jensen Lewis’ blown save (in a game the Indians won anyway on a Victor Martinez walk-off single).  In this series, the starters had a 1.77 ERA in 20⅓ innings, but only picked up one win, thanks to a bullpen that gave up 7 runs in 8⅔ innings (a 7.28 ERA). Some late-inning heroics last night salvaged the 2-1 series win, but a better performance by the pen would have rewarded Paul Byrd and Fausto Carmona with victories as well.

The title of this post is a bit harsh, as Rafael Betancourt has blown only one save in three chances since taking over for the injured and ineffective Joe Borowski. He entered Tuesday’s game in the ninth inning, however, and watched a 2-2 tie turn into a 7-2 debacle, giving up three runs and recording one out.  Betancourt’s numbers as the closer are not much different from his numbers as the primary set-up man for Borowski:

3/31 – 4/14 7 4 5.14 7 1 2.14 .367
4/17 – 5/1 5⅓ 4 6.75 5 1 1.31 .273

So what gives? He had a truly horrid performance on Wednesday night, putting a tie game out of reach.  Before that game, Betancourt had not pitched since April 25. Last year, Betancourt had a 1.33 ERA on less than three days’ rest, and a 1.93 ERA on three days’ rest or more. For his career, it’s 2.63 on short rest and 3.58 with more rest.  Given that, it is incumbent upon Wedge to get him work, even if it means occasionally closing with Kobayashi instead of Betancourt.

The blown save last night was only partially his fault. He allowed a single to Ichiro and threw a wild pitch to Raul Ibanez that allowed Suzuki to advance to second.  had Casey Blake not committed an error on a stolen base attempt, the outcome of the inning may have been different. Of course, had Betancourt not heaved a wild pitch, Ichiro would still have been at first, so it was a bungled inning all around.

The Good

  1. Grady Sizemore. After watching his consecutive games played streak end when he turned an ankle against the Yankees, Grady had a good series against the Mariners, collecting 4 hits and 4 walks in 15 plate appearances, for an on-base percentage of .533. Better yet, all four hits were for extra bases (3 doubles and a lead-off HR), so his OPS was a robust 1.442 for the series. Over his last 7 games, Sizemore is hitting .333 with a 1.138 OPS (3 doubles and 2 HR in 27 AB plus 7 walks). He also collected more walks than strikeouts, a nice change from his career ratio of 1.89 strikeouts for every walk.
  2. Franklin Gutierrez. The second-year outfielder is showing some signs of emerging from his slump, and got 6 hits in 13 AB against the Mariners. Over his first 11 games, Gutierrez hit only .158 with 12 strikeouts in 38 AB. Over the last 16, he’s hitting .352 with only 9 strikeouts in 54 AB, scoring 7 runs and driving in 8.
  3. Ryan Garko.  After watching his batting average free-fall 90 points in 7 games, Garko turned it around a little against Seattle, picking up 2 hits in 5 AB and reaching base 4 times in 8 plate appearances.
  4. Paul Byrd. After a rocky start, Byrd has now posted quality starts in three of his last four outings. Against the Mariners, he recorded two outs in the eighth inning, his longest start of the year. He allowed only four singles and a walk and was efficient in doing so, throwing 72% of his 87 pitches for strikes.
  5. Jensen Lewis, Jorge Julio, Masa Kobayashi and Rafael Perez. The news wasn’t all bad for the bullpen, as Perez, Lewis, Kobayashi and Julio allowed only one earned run in 7 innings.

The Bad

  1. Asdrubal Cabrera. Although he redeemed himself somewhat by picking up the game-winning hit in the 11th inning last night, Cabrera was only 1-for-11 for the series.  For the year, Asdrubal is hitting only .202 and has seen an increasing number of his at-bats go to Jamey Carroll (whose own average has fallen to .216).
  2. Jhonny Peralta.  The Tribe shortstop was hitless against Seattle, and has managed only 2 singles in his last 18 at bats.
  3. Fausto Carmona. Although he put the team in a position to win on Tuesday night, allowing only 2 runs (1 earned) in 6⅔ innings, Carmona continues to allow too many baserunners. In 2007, he had a WHIP of 1.21; this year it’s 1.73. Against Seattle, he gave up 8 hits and 4 walks, and had multiple baserunners in 5 of his 7 innings.  Carmona induces enough ground balls to pitch out of trouble, but he’s walking a really thin line this year and consequently has pitched 7 innings only once this year, after doing so in 20 of his 32 starts last year.

The Ugly

  1. Rafael Betancourt. The Tribe’s new closer cost the team one game and nearly lost a second last night. In 1⅓ innings he allowed 4 runs on 5 hits, and had more difficulty finding the strike zone –  against the Yankees, 89% of his pitches were strikes; against Seattle, only 66% were.
  2. Casey Blake. In addition to nearly costing the team a win on his 9th inning error, Casey was 2-for-12 for the series, striking out 5 times. Over his past 7 games, Blake is hitting .125 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at bats.

Up Next: The Indians now sit in a second-place tie with the surging Tigers in the Central, 1½ games behind the White Sox.  The Tigers head to Toronto to face the last-place team in the AL East, while the Tribe hosts Kansas City, which has fallen from first to last in the AL Central.  C.C. Sabathia (1-4, 7.88 ERA) faces Luke Hochevar (1-1, 5.91) in the opener.  After a very rocky beginning, Sabathia has allowed only one run over 14 innings in his last 2 starts. On Saturday, Aaron Laffey (0-1, 6.35) gets his second start of the year against the Royals’ Gil Meche (1-4, 7.22).  Meche was rocked by the Tribe in his previous outing in Kansas City, giving up 8 runs in the 15-1 romp.  Sunday pits Fausto Carmona (3-1, 2.60) against Brett Tomko (1-3, 6.26), who made it into only the fourth inning in his last start against the Rangers.  Carmona wasn’t great in his start in Kansas City, however, giving up 4 runs on 9 hits in only 5 innings.

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