Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cleveland Indians: How a 15-1 Win Can Be Frustrating

15 runs. 17 hits. No errors. 1 run allowed on only 6 hits. 8 of 9 starters getting a hit. 8 of 9 starters scoring a run. a 6 inning, 4 hit, no run, 11 strikeout performance by the reigning CY Young Award winner. 3 innings of 1 run mop-up work for the bullpen. An all around great performance for the Cleveland Indians and yet I am not satisfied. If anything it frustrates me to no end.

Why? Because in each of the past two weeks the Tribe has pulled a one game performance like this and gone through the motions in the rest of the games. Don't get me wrong, I am not dogging the effort or the energy of the club. Its just the approach and the way the season has unfolded at the start.

In 2007 the Indians had so many obstacles to overcome it was incredible they won 96 games, the AL Central and game within a game of heading to the World Series. It really was. Whether the scheduling issues with the snow outs, the injuries to the starting rotation or even the metamorphosis of the bullpen, the Tribe overcame it all in 2007.

Throw in the fact that Travis Hafner never got his groove back, Grady Sizemore really didn't have the year he could have and the corner outfielder revolving door and it was even more amazing what they did. With all that didn't go their way last year I felt that if they could stay focused as they did last year they were one of a few legitimate title contenders. 2008 has not started with them looking like one in any way shape or form.

Hafner still looks lost at the plate. The one guy who didn't get a hit or score a run in the 15-1 romp over the Royals... Pronk. Granted, he has been hitting the ball hard and to all fields of late, but he's just not producing the way he needs to. A .213 average and 20 strikeouts in 75 at-bats is not good. This team will only go as far as Travis Hafner takes them. With him in Pronk mode the line-up is completely different.

After a hot start, Sizemore has fallen off and currently sits at a .356 average and still continues to strikeout an inordinate amount of times for a lead-off hitter (16 in 78 ABs). If Hafner is the alcohol that give the drink it's kick than Grady is the straw that stirs it. He's not getting on base enough to be a nuisance in the running game to give Hafner and Victor Martinez those RBI opportunities they need. Martinez who has average around 100 RBIs a year the past few seasons only has 7 in 20 Indians games so far.

Martinez is worrisome, too, as his lack of power and ability to drive the ball is cause for concern. A .345 average is outstanding but when only 3 of your 19 hits are for extra bases and you hit clean-up that is not going to cut it. I don't know if the hamstring is still an issue but Victor is normally a doubles machine, even for how slow he is, but this year it's not been the case.

When these three guys go 1-5, 0-5 and 1-5 respectively and you win 15-1 it is great that the others guys step up. But it also should give you an idea why the Indians have struggled to beat a rebuilding Oakland A's team and a Minnesota Twins team that is so putrid on offense I am surprised if they score 3 runs in a game.

No offense to David Dellucci, but when The Looch has the third highest batting average and second highest OBP on the team that is not good. When Frankie Gutierrez has to go 3-5 and Casey Blake has to go 4-4 to raise their averages over .200 it tells you the offensive struggles the team has had. Vic, The Looch and Ryan Garko are the only guys hitting above .260. If the Tribe has the same focus at the plate as they did in Kansas City on Tuesday (and in 2007) they can come out of their offensive funk. If they don't, it's gonna be a long summer of wasting great starting pitching.

As far as CC is concerned, it was great to see him have an outing where he mixed his pitches and hit his spots well. That's what Cy Young CC does. But it was against Kansas City. No offense, Royals fans, but you are not an offensive juggernaut. Let's see how well he does against the Yankees and go from there. The rest of the rotation has worked itself out of its funk but Jake Westbrook's injury is disheartening. Let's see if Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers take advantage of the opportunity.

The post-Iron Joe Borowski bullpen is beginning to shake itself out as Jorge Julio, Raffy Perez and Masa Kobayashi seem to be getting into a groove. We will see how Raffy Betancourt adapts to the closer's role and if he can handle the pressure. Jensen Lewis continues to be shaky which makes my ordaining him as the future closer look foolish. My bad, Jenny, I didn't mean to jinx you. I still think either he of recently promoted Tom Mastny needs to get "right" if the bullpen is going to compare to the 2007 version.

So yes, a 15-1 win can be frustrating to some. Hopefully it is the beginning step towards the ultimate goal. If it is a weekly aberration, as it has been, then the Indians are in deep doo doo. The Tribe has the talent to contend, they just need to start using it on a nightly basis.

It's Tribe Time Now.

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