Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Indians Limp Back Home

Well it could have been worse. If not for a Ryan Garko walk off walk and a Travis Hafner homer the Indians could have gone 0-6 in their first West Coast trip of the season. But they managed to salvage, barely, two games which is better than the alternative of zero. The Tribe has been a notorious slow starter out of the gate under Eric Wedge, except for last year, so its nothing new for them. The disconcerting thing is that the one year they didn't start off slow is the only year they've made the playoffs under Uncle Eric. Coincidence? Only time will tell.

The main cause for concern in the offense. No one outside of Grady Sizemore is off to a great start and Grady still is striking out WAY too much. Jhonny Peralta is showing signs of coming around but has also shown signs of swinging at breaking balls low and away as he did circa 2006. Victor Martinez has been hurt so the line-up shuffling doesn't help things. Ryan Garko has been solid yet unspectacular and Travis Hafner still looks lost at times. The Tribe can't seem to string a group of hits together to put crooked numbers on the board on a consistent basis. There is no situational hitting and the patience at the plate that defined the Indians at the dish last season just isn't there right now.

Throw in the fact that the defense has committed 6 errors in 9 games and it's not hard to figure out why they are 4-5. The left side of the infield has looked shaking both on ground balls and throws. Blake and Peralta have not had the form they had last year so far in 2008. Throw in the fact that Kelly Shoppach has made the passed ball an almost daily occurrence and that Martinez allowed 5 of 6 runners to steal bases safely on Monday and the Indians have looked more like the 2006 underachievers than the 2007 AL Central Division Champions.

The starters have looked good for the most part as both Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook look dialed in to start the year. Fausto has been a little erratic with control off the bat but it may have to do with adjustments he needs to make on his grip since leaving the toasty confines of the Florida spring. Westbrook has been phenomenal and hasn't skipped a beat since his 18 scoreless innings this spring. Cliff Lee also got off to a good start to the year but it will be interesting to see if he can sustain it.

C. C. Sabathia and Paul Byrd have both been atrocious in their first two starts. C. C. seems to be pressing and throwing not pitching while Byrd has been shelled and shelled badly. C. C. needs to come out of his funk, which he should, but Byrd could be an interesting conundrum. The Tribe picked up his one year option but were not hesitant to cut bait with both Roberto Hernandez last year and Aaron Fultz this spring. Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey are lurking in AAA Buffalo so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

The bullpen has been very schizophrenic. Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis have looked good out of the gate. Craig Breslow has been a pleasant surprise so far. Masa Kobayashi and Jorge Julio have looked a little better with each subsequent appearance. Not dazzling but you can see improvement. The concerns are Rafael Betnacourt getting hit like a pinata and Joe Browowski's inability to throw strikes. If Betancourt can not be close to dominant as he was last year it is a huge hit to the bullpen. They need him to pair with Perez to be one of the best late inning shut-down combos in baseball. If Iron Joe can't get the ball over the plate and continues to put men on base for free the 9th innings are not going to go well for the Tribe. They are an adventure with Joe to begin with but if he can't throw strikes the Indians chances are slim.

The good news is it's early and none of the contenders in the American League have gotten off to a tremendous start. That bad news is that the Indians are a talented team and could be taking advantage of that fact and getting a jump on the competition. Irregardless the Indians need to shake off the cobwebs and kick it into gear as they take on the young A's at home before the Red Sox and Tigers visit. Hopefully a day off and the the friendly confines of The Jake, er, I mean the Prog, um, the PP, uh, Progressive Field are just what the doctor ordered.

It's Tribe Time Now. Believeland.

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