Thursday, April 16, 2009

Series Rewind: Indians-Royals

The Tribe dropped their third series in a row, losing the first two of three to division rival Kansas City. Fausto Carmona started off very rough giving up three runs in the bottom of the first. He rebounded from there to give up only one run the next four innings but that’s where the Indians’ trouble for the first half of the season lie.

Their starting pitcher only went five innings, taxing an already frail bullpen. Carmona tossed 106 pitches in just five innings and was pulled. In this game Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi were able to hurl three combined innings of scoreless baseball to keep the Tribe in the game. Unfortunately, it was the Indians’ offense that kept them out of it.

Royals’ starter Zack Greinke was good but not great, needing 104 pitches to get through five innings himself. The Indians helped his out by going 4-13 with RISP, with most of those hits in the ninth inning, and starting 12 men on base. Once again failure to get the clutch hit doomed the Tribe.

In game two, the Indians’ bats came up empty again. Tribe starter Carl Pavano improve on his opening performance of 1 IP, 9 ER with a six inning effort in which he yielded four ER. His only real fault was allowing two runs in the bottom of the fifth after the Tribe had tied the game at two in the top of the inning.

The Indians’ bullpen could not jeep the Tribe in this game as after Rafael Perez came on in the 7th inning with a 4-3 deficit. He looked shaky in that inning but manager Eric Wedge sent him out in the 8th and the game derailed. Perez promptly game up a run to widen the gap to 5-3. He then loaded the bases with one out when Wedge finally pulled the plug and called on Vinnie Chulk, who promptly game up a grand slam to Kansas City catcher John Buck. 9-3. Ballgame Royals.

The Indians’ managed to avoid the sweep with a 5-4 victory on Wednesday. Recently promoted Aaron Laffey was solid in his 2009 debut giving up only 2 ER in 5 1/3 innings. He had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth but a fielding gaffe by Shin-Soo Choo put runners on second and third instead of first and third.

By overthrowing the cut-off man Choo turned a ground ball double play into a run scoring out and allowed the runner on second to eventually score and tie the game at two. He did redeem himself later in the game, nailing Mark Teahan at second but when a team is scuffling, things like hitting the cut-off man are magnified ten fold.

The Indians broke through for three runs in the 7th to take a 5-2 lead but another managerial head scratcher by Wedge almost cost them the game again. Jensen Lewis worked out of a jamb in the bottom of the sixth, getting the final out of the inning. He then worked a sketchy seventh inning, giving up a run to make the score 5-3.

For the bottom of the eighth, Wedge sent Lewis back into the game after struggling to get through the seventh. Just as he did the night before, sending a struggling Perez back in for a second inning. However, this was Lewis’ third inning he was pitching in which is odd for any reliever who in not the long man or mop up guy. Teahan drilled his single that Choo threw him out at second at and Mike Jacobs immediately followed with a home run to make it 5-4. If SHOULD have been 5-5 if Teahan had not gotten greedy, but thanks to Choo redeeming himself it was only 5-4.

Cue Rafael Betancourt v.2007 for 2/3 of a hitless inning and Kerry Wood for a seven pitch, perfect, 1-2-3 ninth for the save and the Indians hung on to win 5-4 and move to a putrid 2-7 for 2009. It’s nice to have a legit, flame throwing closer. It may make the ninth inning anti-climactic but it’s a nice change of pace.

So the Indians shuffle off to New York for a four game series with the Yankees to christen New Yankee Stadium. The only way the Tribe is going to get back into the swing of things is to start winning series. Three out of four would be ideal but is going to be tough even with the Yankees starting slow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Series Review: Blue Jays-Indians

Well at least they won one. The Tribe dropped the first two in almost the same fashion they dropped all three to the Rangers to open the season. They got behind early thanks to poor starting pitching and then failed to come through with the clutch hit with runners in scoring position. The ugly numbers:

Game 1 - 1-5 RISP, 11 K, 8 LOB, 1 DP
Game 2 - 1-9 RISP, 9 K, 8 LOB, 2 DP
Game 3 - 2-7 RISP, 11K, 11 LOB, 1 DP
Totals - 4-21 RISP (.190), 31 K, 21 LOB, 4 DP

The strikeouts totals are maddening. The Tribe striking out over 10 times a game is just a killer. Teams are going to make outs but when a third of those outs are completely unproductive it makes it very difficult to win.

Not that advancing runners into scoring position would have mattered with the prestine .190 average with RISP. Add into in that your first two hitters Grady Sizemore (10 K in 25 AB for the season) and Mark DeRosa (11 in 26) are your main culprits it means the table isn't getting set as much as you need either.

Victor Martinez looks to be back to a hitting machine and Travis Hafner is actually showing signs of life despite still look a bit slow on his swing. Shin-soo Choo has started to rake and Rayn Garko has been an OBP machine. If the Tribe can cut down on the strikeouts and improve in the clutch this team will score a boatload of runs in 2009.

The starting pitching remains horrid. Scott Lewis landed himself on the DL with elbow soreness that he has had the last few starts of spring but never said anything about. Aaron Laffey will start in his place on Wednesday.

Cliff Lee had another poor outing giving up four runs in five innings pitched. He did rebound in the last two innings of the start by working out of jams for the first time in a while but had already worked his pitch count over 100.

Anthony Reyes was the first Tribe starter to last over five innings going six strong on Sunday. He gave up four runs but three came after Shin-soo Choo lost a ball in the sun in right field. Still he put the Indians in position to win and beat out the Washington Nationals for last remaining win less team... phew!

The bullpen was very bipolar as Vinnie Chulk looked decent in his Tribe debut and Jensen Lewis bailed the Tribe out of a mess on Sunday to help secure the victory. And what can you say about Kerry Wood? An Indians closer blowing away the side, all via strikeout, in the 9th inning was a sight for sore eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum Rafael Perez now sports a 14.73 ERA with three walks and no strikeouts. Joe Smith and Masa Kobayashi continue to walk opposing batters at an alarming rate and Rafael Betancourt has been so-so at beast in his appearances.

But hey they finally won one, and even at 1-5, only sit 2.5 games behind the 4-3 Detroit Tigers. A seven game road trip to Kansas City and having the honor of opening up New Yankee Stadium await them this week. Anything less than a 4-3 trip may leave them in an April hole that they are all too familiar with under Eric Wedge.