Saturday, June 16, 2007

WTF Uncle Eric?!?

Eric Wedge, I dub thee Uncle Eric from this point forward.

Now up until this point I have neither been an Eric Wedge supporter nor an Eric Wedge detractor. But last night's inexcusable handling of the pitching staff may be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Let's recap. After being up 3-0 on Atlanta the Indians found themselves tied 3-3 after a number of weak ground balls found holes in the 6th inning. In the bottom of the 8th Casey Blake led of the inning with a solo shot onto the homer run porch at The Jake to put the Indians up 4-3.

And warming up in the bullpen... no one. Now C. C. Sabathia has shown this year to be one of the premier pitchers in MLB. He has shown incredible stamina this season despite his giant stature. And he was coming off back to back 9 inning, shut out performances. But he was coming off back to back 9 inning, shut out performances... Hello, McFly! This is not the 1970's. Pitchers rarely go back to back complete games let alone 3 in a row in the 21st century. I figured Uncle Eric would know this.

Add to that the fact that C. C. was not his overpowering self. He had given up 10 hits. Now they were all singles and most of those were weak flares or ground balls with eyes, but the Braves were still making contact with the big guy. He was well over 100 pitches, not overly dominant and coming off two consecutive 9 inning outings. It was the 4th and 5th time that the Brave hitters had seen him that night. He should NOT have been out there in the 9th inning.

But he was and was subsequently greeted with two absolutely crushed, I mean crushed, doubles off the big green wall in left (sandwiched around an error and a sacrafice bunt) and the Tribe was down 5-4. Game, set, match Bravos.

Now I do not care that Borowski, Betancourt and Perez were all used heavily over the past week and maybe weren't available. I don't care that Cabrera and Mastny have been shaky, and that's being nice, over the month of June. And I don't care that Roberto Hernandez is almost 50 years old. Someone other that C. C. should have been out there to try and finish off the game. Even if the bullpen would have blow it maybe we would have found out something about these "fringe" guys that seem to be lights out one month and garbage the other.

The manager's job is to put the ball club in the best position to win. Uncle Eric didn't do that yesterday. And now instead of being up on the Braves in the series, the Tribe must win the next 2 to take it. The Tigers are back within 1 game in the Central. The Indians can not afford to give game away, but Uncle Eric did that very thing last night.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Conundrum That is the Cleveland Indians

On Tuesday, the Indians had lost 7 of their last ten games after being shut out 3-0 by the Florida Marlins and pitching powerhouse Scott Olsen. The day before, they let the Mariners jump out to a 7-0 lead, came back and tie it at 7, only to give up the losing run in the top of the 9th. The day before that, They spoiled 9 shut out innings from C. C. Sabathia (who SHOULD be 12-1), and lose a series to the last place Reds, after a 1-0 loss in twelve innings. Earlier that day they optioned the disappointing Jeremy Sowers to AAA Buffalo to hopefully work out his troubles. It looked as if bad baseball, bad managing and Interleague Play had caught up to them as they let a 4 1/2 game lead over the 2nd place Tigers disappear. They were deadlocked at 37-26 with the Tigers atop the AL Central. It looked as if their season may have peaked. Detroit was streaking. Cleveland was slumping. We had reached Defcon 1.

Then they were down 3-0 in Game 2 versus Florida after a piss poor 1st inning by Cliff Lee and nothing that resembled Major League hitting. Then something happened. Cliff Lee hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch and half way to first base Miggy decided to make the lamest charge of the mound in baseball history. Benches emptied and the fire that had been missing from the Tribe suddenly seemed to rekindle. Could this be the awakening we needed like the series versus Toronto when Jason Phillips got in Josh Barfield's face only to be shoved out of the way by David Dellucci and the Tribe went on to win 6 of their next 8 games???

The Indians stormed back with a 6 run sixth and ended up taking the game 7-3. They followed that up by turning the tables on an opponent by calling up a soft tossing lefty (normally the Indians foil), Jason Stanford, and getting him his first win since 2003 in his first appearance in the big leagues since 2004. It wasn't pretty but the Indians did what they needed to do came away with a 3-2 win, and suddenly were 2 games up on the Tigers once more.

More than any other major professional sport, baseball is a marathon and a war of attrition. Teams are going to go through streaks, good and bad. The key is to maximize the hot streaks and minimize the cold ones. The Indians just went through a cold streak that was pretty bad, but it could have been a lot worse. They are coming home to play 14 of their next 17 at home, where they have the best record in baseball. They take on Atlanta, Philadelphia, Oakland and Tampa Bay (sandwiched around a trip to DC to take on the Nationals). None of whom are baseball powerhouses this year.

Can they step up and remain in first place until the All-Star game? That is the conundrum that is the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tribe Falls Flat in Battle of Ohio Part 2

Flat is an understatement. Ugly is a better term. Sunday the Tribe squandered nine shut-out innings from ace C. C. Sabathia and managed to lose 1-0 in 12 innings to the Last Place Cincinnati Reds. That left the Tribe with a series loss and a season series split of 3-3 against the hapless Reds.

The Reds were 15 games UNDER .500 when the series started. They have quite possible the WORST bullpen in the National League yet the Indians managed to drop 2 of 3 to them. It just seemed as if something was missing over the weekend. Where as earlier in the season, if the Tribe was down you felt they were gonna come back and win no matter how poorly they were playing. They would fins a way to win.

In Cincinnati, there was a different aura. You never quite got the feeling they were into the series. Dellucci, Hafner and Peralta all struck out in key situations Friday. The Indians got lucky on Saturday but once again a huge strikeout in a key spot as Ryan Garko whiffed with the bases loaded. No clutch hitting whatsoever from the team.

Travis Hafner remains in a funk, get solid contact at times but not finding a hole but looking completely over matched at others. C. C. Sabathia cost himself a victory Sunday by failing to advance to 3rd base on a passed ball that was so far away catcher David Ross he could have skipped to third easily, but no he chose to say put, leaving himself stranded on third after Victor Martinez's single rather than coring the winning run. Jeremy Sowers got a ticket back to Buffalo to sort out his trouble and Matt Miller greeted us with a one pitch cameo to allow the game winning hit.

Not a good start to the meat of the Interleague Play portion of the schedule where the Indians normally thrive. A quick cameo at Jacobs Field for a Snow Game versus Seattle and them off to Florida for 3, site of their last World Series appearance. If they want to make one for the first time in ten years they need to pick it up now, as their lead over Detroit has shrunk to 1 1/2 games.