Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cy Yuck - C. C. Struggles Again

Three times is a trend and for the Cleveland Indians it is not a good one. Reigning AL Cy Young Award Winner C. C. Sabathia was thumped again as the Indians fell to the Oakland A's 9-7 in the series opener on Friday night. It was the third time in as many outings that Sabathia has struggled in 2008 and this one was the worst of all. His stat line was as follows:

3 1/3 IP, 12 hits, 9 runs (all earned), 2 BB, 4 K, 91 pitches

That stat line is god awful but here are a few more beauties that don't show up in the box score. In the top of the second 8 of 9 batters got a hit during one stretch of the inning. So in one time through the batting order, in one inning, 8 of the 9 A's got a hit. All of the Oakland starters had at least one hit by the third inning. So it wasn't as if a couple guys were eating C. C. up, it was the entire line-up. Eight of the 9 A's starters score a run (shame on you Daric Barton). Oakland was 8 of 12 with RISP. So when you need your ace to hunker down, Sabathia could not. It may have been worse if Grady Sizemore hadn't had made an amazing catch running into the CF wall at full speed in the 3rd.

Whether C. C. stay or goes after 2008 is irrelevant. What's important is the Indians can not contend with him. He was their stopper last year. When they needed a win to stop a losing streak, he got it. He's looked so over matched and lost for answers that it's is very worrisome. He needs to right himself if the Indians are going to right the ship. For now it's up to Fausto Carmona to be the stopper tonight in C-Town.

It's Tribe Time Now. Believeland.

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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Things That Go Boom In The Night

The Indians-Angles game had a little bit of everything that made you think that the Tribe might be ready to jump out of their early season funk. The return of Victor Martinez. Jhonny Perlata's swing looking like in did in Winter Haven. Jamey Carroll showing Cleveland why Colorado loved his hand, heart and hustle. Another dominant, all be it a bit wild, performance by Fausto Carmona. Some clutch hitting in the 9th when it seemed all was lost. But it all was for naught as the bullpen cost the Tribe a chance to get over the .500 mark.

Rafael Betancourt gave up a solo home run to former Twin Torii Hunter in the bottom of the 8th to give the Angles a 2-1 lead in a game where the Indians' offense had done nothing but a Jhonny Peratla solo shot in the 4th. But against a wild and eventually hurt Franciso Rodriguez, the Angles closer, Travis Hafner earned a lead off walk and Martinez delivered the tying run with a double down the RF line. Peralta then brought home pinch runner David Dellucci with a double of his own but was thrown out trying to advance to third. After a Ryan Garko walk and Franklin Gutierrez single, Casey Blake delivered another single for a 4-2 Tribe lead.

Enter Joe Borowski. Chone Figgins flew out to left and then Iron Joe imploded along with the Indians chances for victory. Borowski's poison pill in the walk. At least when the ball is put into play there's chance it's hit at someone or it's foul but your defense had a chance to make a play. Well walks to Gary Matthews and Garrett Anderson were sandwiched around a Vladimir Guererro single. Torri Hunter delivered a walk off grand slam for a 6-4 victory and ruined my Tuesday at 1:15 AM.

The Tribe had some growing pains last year and they have had some similar issues in the first week of the season in 2008. The re-appearance of "bad" Travis Hafner. Martinez's hamstring injury and subsequent offensive shut down. The lack of clutch hits. Defensive lapses. The lack of production from LF (Coming soon to a city near you... .000 hitting David Dellucci and .056 hitting Jason Michaels!). All things that are treatable and not super surprising.

But the one thing that was the Tribe's "rock" (no offense to your wife Jim Thome) was the bullpen. Betancourt has now allowed 7 hits and 1 walk in only 2 1/3 innings. That's a WHIP of 3.43 and opponents are hitting .583 off of him. Borowski has given up 3 hits (2 HR) and 4 walks in the same amount of innings pitched. A small sample size but still staggering. If the back end of the bullpen continues to perform like that, the Tribe is in big trouble.

I believe the Indians only lost 1 series from April to June last season, the 3 game sweep in New York at the hands of the Yankees. They now are on the brink of losing 2 of their first three series of the season. Yes it's early and yes I expect them to come out of it but it's disconcerting nonetheless. The Angles are one of the top teams in the AL and with Boston and Detroit on the horizon it doesn't get any easier.

It's Tribe Time Now. Believeland.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cliff Lee Helps Tribe End Losing Streak

No one has any idea what to expect from Cliff Lee this year. I think we'll all take 6 2/3 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 1 unearned run and 4 strikeouts in start number one. Lee outlasted Oakland's Joe Blanton just long enough to pick up his first victory of the season an even the Indians' record at 3-3 on the year. Yesterday, the one day they spent below .500 at 2-3 was more days then they spent below .500 in all of 2007, zero.

Neither team was on offensive juggernaut as the Tribe managed 7 hits to the A's 4. Oakland only had one inning in which they had more than one base runner, the third. Kurt Suzuki singled and advanced to second on a passed ball. Mark Sweeney single Suzuki to third and Travis Buck brought him home for a 1-0 lead.

The Indians looked like they might put up a goose egg as they were unable to get more than one runner on base until the 7th. Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach generated a pair of one out singles and were followed by a Grady Sizemore walk to load the bases. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a probable double play ball to that ate up A's 1B Daric Barton, who could only manage the out at first, allowing pinch runner Jamey Carroll to score. For some reason slumping Travis Hafner was intentionally walked to re-load the bases and Ryan Garko delivered with a walk of his own giving the Indians a 2-1 lead.

Lee might have lasted longer if not for a 12 pitch battle with Travis Buck to start the game and a 9 pitch duel with Jack Hannahan to end his night in the 7th. Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt and Joe Borowski came on to pitch 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief to close the door. Only an Iron Joe 9th inning walk prevented a perfect bullpen outing. Cleveland rejoiced in the relative ease in which Borowski closed the door today.

In addition to Lee's strong outing, Grady Sizemore continues to impress. 1-3 with two walks this afternoon and he should of been 2-3 but was robbed in the bottom of the 3rd by a diving stop by Barton. Ryan Garko hit clean-up today which seems to be a much better option with Victor Martinez out than Travis Hafner. But the bottom line is that without Martinez and a "right" Travis Hafner the Indians line-up doesn't look anywhere near as potent as it could be.

Some other causes of concern other than the lack of run production, Martinez's health and Hafner's head begin with Jhonny Peralta. After a monster spring, he is swinging at that breaking pitch low and away with regularity and he has been bailed out by Garko on a number of his throws from shortstop. C. C. Sabathia also had crappy start 2 of 2 in 2008 on Saturday afternoon as he is uncharacteristically wild and seems to be pressing. Is it due to the Cy Young Award or impending contract payday? Who knows, bu the hefty lefty needs to get right, especially with the Indians offense struggling, if they want to have the type of season they are capable of.

The other glaring problem is the dreaded David Dellucci/Jason Michaels LF platoon. Dellucci is 0-7 with 2 strikeouts. Michaels is 1-13 (.077) with 5 strikeouts after a double into the LF corner today. So that a whopping .050 average out of that spot so far. Yes it's only 6 games but not the kind of start you want from the position most under the microscope by the fans. It is Cleveland so I am sure calls for Ben Francisco or a trade are already well underway.

The Indians finish off their West Coast swing with 3 versus the Los Angeles Angles before heading back East for a pair of 2 game sets with AL powers Boston and Detroit. Let's win that Angles series before measuring up with the AL's elite.

It's Tribe Time Now. Believeland.