Friday, August 15, 2008

Cleveland Indians Get Kicked En Route to 66

After showing some life with a three game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays north of the border and taking the first two games of a four game series with the Baltimore Orioles back home at Progressive Field, the Cleveland Indians returned to their losing ways dropping the last two games to the Orioles, 6-1 and 11-6.

I will spare you the gory description as you probably know the sequence of events by now. A solid but not brilliant effort from the starting pitcher, failure to come through with offense when given a chance to break the game open and a total meltdown by The Son of the Bullpen From Hell. All in all, par for the course for the Wig-Wamers. If you are a masochist and want the brutal details, check out Bleacher Report’s David Wiley’s recap here.

But the bigger story is that the loss Thursday night dropped the Indians to 54-66, a .450 winning percentage. Why is that a huge story? Last year the Indians went 96-66 (.593) en route to the AL Central Division Title. They have already matched last year’s total of losses and still have a whopping 42 games to play. That is a quarter of the season left to play out.

To expect to win 96 games again might not have been a realistic goal for the 2008 Tribe but being a contender in the AL Central was not. Heck, just being a good or above .500 baseball team should not have been an unreasonable thought. But it all seemed to derail before the season even started.

It started in the off-season when Indians GM Mark Shapiro sat on his hands and decided not to address some of the team’s obvious offensive shortcomings. It continued in Spring Training when injuries to closer Joe Borowski and DH Travis Hafner (and perhaps C/1B Victor Martinez) were kept under wraps and the players were allowed to play instead of being placed on the DL.

Those injuries were then accentuated by Martinez’ injury on opening day, for the second year running, and the revelation that he has had been playing through a nagging injury for over a year. The starting pitching kept the team in the hunt early on but a hip injury to Fausto Carmona and season-ending Tommy John Surgery for Jake Westbrook placed both on the DL and derailed the any hope of the Indians contending.

To top it all off the young players who flourished in 2007 came back down to earth, and even lower, in 2008. 2007 catalyst 2B Asdrubal Cabrera earned himself a trip back to AAA Buffalo by hitting under .200 for the first half of the season. OF Franklin Gutierrez and 1B/DH Ryan Garko look lost at the plate on a nightly basis. Relief pitches Jensen Lewis and Tom Mastny fell off the wagon and were hit more often than a piƱata.

The bullpen itself completely imploded starting with Borowski’s injury and subsequent release. This put the spotlight on Rafael Betancourt who responded with a 6.02 ERA in 2008 after a 1.47 ERA in 2007. Rafael Perez has been the only bright spot in the bullpen but even he is prone to starting a fire now and again. Japanese import Masa Kobayashi has already pitched more innings through three-quarters of the season than he did regularly in Japan and is burnt out.

In the end only CC Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd remain in the play-off chase in 2008. Unfortunately for the Tribe faithful, it is with the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, respectively, as all three were traded to help replenish the farm system. A farm system that may have a few pieces for the 2009 Indians, but not many.

So the last quarter of the season is left us to watch auditions for 2009, Cliff Lee’s pursuit of a Cy Young Award and 20 victories, Grady Sizemore’s brilliance night in and night out, and for signs that 2007 was no fluke and that 2008 is not as bad as it seems.

But we are left shaking our heads at this wasted 2008 Indians season. Not because the Indians fell but how they did so, so hard and so fast and without warning. There is no way to ignore that the Indians have serious issues like Mark Shapiro did after 2007. The fact that the Tribe has been kicked to Route 66 on August 14 should be reminder enough of that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cleveland Browns Training Camp Week 3: Let the Injuries Begin!

It’s been a week since the Browns faced off against the New York Jets in their first pre-season game and it will be another half week until the face the defending NFL Champions, the New York Giants, on Monday night football. So it’s been back to the daily grind on training camp in Berea, Ohio for the Brown and Orange.

Nothing really good can come with that long of a lay-off. For the Browns the injury bug has visited them in full force over the past few days. Nothing super serious to get worked up over but nothing that can be overlooked either.

It started with rookie linebacker Beau Bell, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery the day of the Jets game, and will be out four to six weeks. This coupled with the news that rookie tight end Martin Rucker will also be out four to six weeks after suffering a torn meniscus Monday afternoon.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot makes a great point and does some excellent math in her write up on Rucker’s injury. If both players are out the full six weeks they would miss the first three games of the season. The Browns bye week is Week 5. Could you get a rookie back up to speed in a week and even if you could what impact would they have?

Losing Bell hurts because they were expecting him to be a key member of special teams this year and the Browns Special Teams are just that, special. He can still contribute but any hopes of him getting worked in on defense will probably have to wait until 2009.

I am totally bummed about the loss of Rucker. He was a complete Kellen Winslow clone in the pre-season opener and I was drool over thought of those two and Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth on the field at the same time. Now that will have to be put on hold for a quarter of the season.

It also causes a roster conundrum. The Browns have a bounty of tight ends, so much so that GM Phil Savage has been trying to swing a deal for and experienced cornerback by trading one of them. But with Rucker’s injury, Winslow’s always troublesome knee and Steve Heiden still recovering from off-season back surgery they may be forced to keep four tight ends to start the season.

Going back to Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth, the two combined for some post-practice shenanigans on Saturday afternoon. The result was an undisclosed number of stitches and an overnight stay in the Cleveland Clinic for Edwards. He and Stallworth were goofing around in post-practice conditioning and Stallworth inadvertently stepped on Edwards’ heel.

This would not have been an issue if Edwards had been WEARING HIS FREAKING SHOES LIKE A NORMAL PERSON but he was not and now will likely miss the next two exhibition games if not the rest of exhibition season. He should be fine but you have to worry about his timing with the offense and QB Derek Anderson. Luckily the Browns seem to have some depth at wide receiver so it may be an opportunity for some of the young guys to show what they can do.

Stallworth was extremely upset at himself for the incident but one has to wonder if foul play was involved. We still haven’t heard from Nicco, the alien that lives inside Donte’s brain when he's on the field and spends rest of the time on Mars, since his arrival in Cleveland. Once has to wonder if Nicco had a hand in this bit of stupidity, er, I mean misfortune.

In other news, the Browns cut ties with defensive back Gary Baxter. No one can doubt Baxter’s heart for attempting to comeback after he tore both patellar tendons on the same play in 2006. The Browns released Baxter four days after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to remove loose cartilage because they could no afford to hold a spot for him with their lack of depth in the defensive secondary.

How bad was that secondary in the Jets game? Bad enough that safety Steve Cargile got cut after only one exhibition game. To take Cargile and Baxter’s spots on the roster the Browns signed first-year man Brandon Mitchell and rookie Travis Key. Let the revolving door begin.

Regardless, good luck to Gary Baxter with wherever he goes from here. Whether he does eventually make it back into the NFL or goes into the broadcast booth, Baxter is a class act and a good guy and deserves the best. Good luck, Gary!

Go Browns! Believeland! Believe In Now!